Friday, January 10, 2014

First Bite: Two Bits, a New Bar and Restaurant on Demonbreun

Posted By on Fri, Jan 10, 2014 at 7:24 AM

Beer Cheese Croquettes (left) and Dragon Wings with a Pic-a-Nic Basket cocktail.
  • Beer Cheese Croquettes (left) and Dragon Wings with a Pic-a-Nic Basket cocktail.
I've often said that if I could have back all the quarters that I pumped into the Defender video game at the game room where Sportsman's Grille sits at the Highway 70/100 split, I would have a fully funded 401k by now. As it is, I spent a lot of time and money trying to save those little astronauts from the invading space monsters.

If only Two Bits had been around then ...

Two Bits is the newest project from the masterminds behind The Tin Roof, the Demonbreun live-music-and-bar-food joint that has quietly grown into a chain of 11 locations. I know! When did that happen? When the former location of Mirko Pasta came open next door to Tin Roof, owner Bob Franklin jumped at the opportunity to try something new.

Two Bits is a hybrid restaurant/bar/arcade/hangout that is shoehorned into a narrow shotgun space that has been dressed out with exposed brick, leather booths and custom tables crafted from the hardwood floors of Hatch Show Prints old location on Broadway. The bar runs the length of the front half of the building and serves a surprisingly sophisticated cocktail menu. Well, it's only surprising because the Demonbreun strip has not traditionally been a hotbed of creative mixology. It shouldn't be surprising when you realize that the cocktail program was designed by Alan Kennedy, beverage director at Music City Tippler and a former bartender at Holland House.

The drink menu takes advantage of an upscale selection of top shelf liquors on the shelves. Don't expect a shot of Jäger here. It's Averna instead. Yes they'll have Fireball, but it will be a custom version that they mix up from Canadian whiskey and real cinnamon, accented with a hint of banana liqueur. Cocktails are cheekily named and creatively mixed. The Koopa Beach is a Tennessee version of the classic Vieux Carre, made with rum and whiskey instead of rye and brandy. El Fuerte is Two Bits' version of a shandy made with tequila, Tecate beer and Hellfire bitters. It goes down disturbingly easily. A drink that I know will immediately become a craze is the Pic-a-Nic Basket, Kennedy's take on a classic whiskey sour. Since everybody knows that a pic-a-nic is Yogi Bear's favorite meal, this particular cocktail is served in an adorable little bear-shaped honey bottle, which management knows will end up in some purses going home with patrons. Don't worry, they've built the cost of those bottles into the prices of the cocktails, which are in the $8 to $11 range.

While that might seem a little steep, when you consider the quality of the ingredients in the drinks, I think it's pretty reasonable. Even the well liquors are good choices like Old Forrester and Camarena Tequila. There's also a healthy selection of beers on draft or in cans and bottles, most of which are local or regional favorites.

The food menu is also really ambitious for bar fare. Chef Will Zuchman comes to Nashville from Alma de Cuba in Philadelphia, where he was executive chef. During his culinary career he has worked alongside such chefs as Mario Batali, Masaharu Morimoto, Marc Vetri and Andrea Forcella, so he comes well-trained. The menu Zuchman put together for lunch and dinner features some bold flavors and lots of comfort food.

Appetizers like Bacon Popcorn and really good Beer Cheese Croquettes seemed popular the evening I visited. Personally, I thought the croquettes were outstanding straight from the fryer, and for $5 an order, I'll be getting them again soon.

Two Bits' Dragon Wings are not for the typical Buffalo fan. Instead these Asian wings are sticky and sweet with an orange and sesame glaze, but they were crunchy and satisfying underneath. There's a little Asian flair in the prawn dish, as well, with a chili vinaigrette and grapefruit to add a citrus kick. The fact that they were served with the shrimp's head left on was the first sign that this isn't typical pub grub. (Although fabulous fellow SouthCommie Abby White was pretty much grossed out by her food staring back at her. Not to worry, Mr. Pink and I took care of them for her.)

A short list of sandwiches highlights more clever options from a Rock Shrimp Peppadew Roll to a Korean Hot Dog with kimchee relish and chogochujang. They plan to sell those hot dogs late night, even after the rest of the kitchen closes, for a quick snack for revelers walking up and down Music Row. Fellow Bitester Dana Franklin tried the Stout Pot Roast and pronounced it fork-tender and tasty, but the real surprise of the evening was a dish Two Bits calls “Veatloaf,” a vegetarian version of meatloaf served with butternut squash and carrots. As an avowed carnivore myself, this dish might single-handedly get me through Lenten Fridays this year.

Right now, Two Bits is open for lunch and dinner, but brunch is planned for the near future. Oh yeah, what about the videogames? Ironically for a place named after the standard unit of currency that powered the video games of my youth, you won't need to bring any quarters to join in the fun. All the games are free!

In addition to some of those multi-game units that simulate scores of classic Atari and Konami favorites, there are several stand-alone games set up for free play. Defender (2, not the classic), Ms. Pac Man/Galaga (the cocktail table version), NFL Blitz 2k Gold Edition, Space Invaders and Extreme Hunting 2 line the walls of the back half of the room and will probably take up a few more hours of my life. Once folks find out that you can play Golden Tee for free at Two Bits, they may need to move in a couple of cots. There is also a bar shuffleboard table and several different types of console video games that patrons can borrow (after leaving a credit card for a deposit) and then play on big screen televisions hanging over the booths.

Good food, good drink and free video flashbacks from my youth? And it's a two-minute walk from the Scene office. This could be trouble ...

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