Thursday, January 9, 2014

Pinewood Social: Four Things Left on the Cutting Room Floor

Posted By on Thu, Jan 9, 2014 at 2:53 PM

Fried broccoli at Pinewood Social
  • Michael Bunch/SouthComm
  • Fried broccoli at Pinewood Social
Quite frankly, I just ran out of room in the Pinewood Social review for everything. There's just too much going on, but I wanted to note a few things over here on Bites.

1. The service is great. I went four different times and was taken care of exceedingly well. Here's why going multiple times is important from my perspective — I'm pretty sure one time that the staff and kitchen were aware that our party was there on a review (we try to go anonymously) and, honestly, I couldn't tell the difference in service. That includes some lunches where the place was absolutely slammed and a breakfast where we were one of three tables eating food. For a place that's only been open a short time, that's outstanding. (Also, if you think you recognize some familiar faces from other restaurants around the city, you did. As with the opening of Husk last year, there's been a lot of shifting in the service sector over the last month or two.)

2. The dessert isn't much to speak of right now. We had a variety of pies on different visits and they were all just fine (although, if you're interested, the chocolate is better than the buttermilk pear). At some point, this will get better, but my impression was that the sprawl of the menus and the pressure of opening had kind of sucked up all of their bandwidth. My prediction is that this will get better.

3. It's a strong kitchen. Chef Josh Habiger was pretty effusive in praising his team of sous chefs and cooks. The sous have an impressive background of restaurants (Rolf & Daughters, Alinea, Per Se) and it shows up in the cooking and the smoothness of the service. That kitchen has helped them handle the huge rush of diners for a place that's been open a month. "Honestly, we had no idea it was going to be as busy as it has been. It kind of blew our minds. It's insane," he told Bites. "Numbers-wise, we are pretty much doubling our projections already. I'm not complaining at all, it's just a completely different animal. At Catbird, we would do 38 people a night. We're doing literally 10 times that for dinner service. It's pretty crazy. Luckily, I found some really amazing sous chefs."

4. Change is hard, but it's coming. I asked Habiger about being able to flip the menu at Catbird vs. at Pinewood Social and, yeah, it's more like steering an ocean liner than a speed boat. It doesn't exactly stop on a dime. "I think I'm pretty happy with everything that's on there right now. With Catbird, it was easier to change. If you weren't happy with something on Saturday night, you could switch it by Wednesday. We'd change the menu every week like that. It's harder to make those changes [at Pinewood Social]."

However, a couple of weeks of feedback have him pondering some tweaks. "I think after watching how people use the menu, I think we need more sharable appetizers. I think in the next two weeks we'll have a new iteration of the menu. Some more substantial things like a steak entree or a fish entree," he said.

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