Friday, April 26, 2013

First Bite: The New Listening Room Cafe

Posted By on Fri, Apr 26, 2013 at 7:56 AM

  • The Listening Room on Facebook
There are plenty of places on Lower Broad to listen to some good music and eat some nice food ... but rarely both in the same building. More prevalent are places with great food and no music (Merchants) or great music and decent bar food (Robert's Western World) or more along the lower end of both scales (Honky Tonk Tequila Beaver Speakeasy Inn.) This is why it would certainly be worth an extra block or so of walking to find a good listening room with better food.

And now we have one called...well, The Listening Room Cafe. You may remember the original incarnation of singer-songwriter Chris Blair's restaurant when it was located on the south end of the ground floor at Cummins Station. That location was best known for good burgers, great pickles and crappy sight lines for watching a band, though not as bad as Mercy Lounge before their notable pole removal.

So Blair packed up and moved his operation from one cursed room to another. You can just review the past decade of police blotters to remember the infamous names of the various residents of 217 Second Ave. S. (An interesting note: You can search the restaurant's entire website and not find the address anywhere. Maybe they are trying to hide from the previous fans of infamous late-night troublemaker bars like The Place, Luau Louie's Hula Hut, Have a Nice Day Cafe, Bluesboro, Lotus Ultralounge and a few others that came and left before the name on the sign was burned into the collective conscious.)

Blair aims to rehabilitate the building's location by considerably classing up the joint. First off, he offers 30 spots of free parking (yay!) behind the building, so early birds are rewarded with a precious 60 square feet of downtown real estate. He has installed a great sound system and a very attractive stage area backed with a large brick wall that reminds me of the long-missed Cafe Milano, which was my favorite downtown jazz venue before Gibson bought it and closed it. Grr ...

The Listening Room Cafe is family-friendly and smoke-free, but still has a nice little bar scene thanks to 14 craft beers on tap, plenty of canned beers and a full cocktail and wine menu. Since the venue is equally focused on music as well as food, they've developed an interesting hybrid system of reservations through Open Table. Instead of a cover charge, they require a $7 food and drink minimum, and patrons make reservations for two-hour blocks at a table, although if you decide to linger for the music and continue to eat and drink, they'll do their best to accomodate you.

Blair has already booked some fantastic bands and songwriters into The Listening Room Cafe, and they were one of the major venues at the recent Tin Pan South songwriters' festival despite the fact that the restaurant has only been open since January. If you'd visited earlier in the month, you could have seen your favorite Nashville characters, Lennon and Maisy Stella. Unlike other songwriter performance spaces in town, there is definitely not a "no talking" policy at The Listening Room, so you can enjoy a meal, a show and some quiet conversation without worrying about being shuuusssshed.

And you very probably will enjoy that meal, because the menu is definitely a cut above normal bar food. Now serving lunch, dinner and a Saturday brunch, the kitchen specializes in upscale Southern-style comfort food. In addition to a fine burger, I really enjoyed a specialty sandwich they call a Turkey Apple Crisp. Sliced smoked turkey is piled on a slice of wheatberry bread and topped with Swiss cheese, cranberry aioli applewood bacon and a crisp slice of a Granny Smith apple. It was like a nice offseason Thanksgiving leftover sandwich.

Heartier fare like a smoked pork steak and hickory barbecue ribs are available for bigger appetites or you can burn up your $7 minimum with interesting appetizers like goat cheese charred jalapeƱo peppers or an order of those great fried sweet-and-spicy pickles. A roster of salads are available for lighter meals or a quick lunch and feature lots of seasonal ingredients. No matter what you choose, I believe you'll find the food at The Listening Room Cafe a surprising upgrade over anywhere else downtown that also provides live entertainment.

As always, if you drop in for a show and get a chance to try more of the menu, share your experiences here in the comments.

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