Thursday, April 10, 2014

Opening City House and the New Nashville

Posted By on Thu, Apr 10, 2014 at 4:39 PM

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Over in the print edition, I talk about the New Nashville and the idea that we're living in a pretty good time for the city's dining scene.

When did it begin? I'd argue that it starts with the opening of City House on Dec. 12, 2007. What Tandy Wilson has built is pretty impressive. It's our most lauded restaurant (although The Catbird Seat comes pretty close), and Wilson is a finalist for a James Beard award (best chef in the Southeast) for the second straight year.

I talked with Wilson about opening the restaurant and the double-duty he was pulling. He had been working for another esteemed chef, Margot McCormack, since 2004.

When I got to Margot, I still wasn't sure I wanted to open a restaurant. I watched how she did it, with skill and grace and respect for the people who worked around her, and that really inspired me a lot to do my own thing.

Looking around at spaces in Germantown, I had earnest money on a space that still isn't out of the ground yet. Across the street where the pizza place [312 Pizza] is going in, standing right there, it was still an industrial building and pretty much a concrete lot. Nothing was there, really. They were describing that building to me, but it took years to get out of the ground. We were up and operating and they're finishing the space 6-and-a-half years later.

Eventually, he and his realtor asked about the space at 1222 Fourth Ave. N.

Went on vacation for two weeks in Southern Italy, to vacation and eat. When I landed in Philadelphia, there was the message from [his realtor] that he needed to talk right now.

It took six or eight months to build out. I think we started early spring. Our soft opening was on Dec. 8. I was there every day. I would go to work at the restaurant in the morning and Margot at night. After three or four months of that, we got far enough along that I had to be there all the time, every day. But it was crazy.

Back then, it was fun, and if they didn't have people there, I would just jump in and start working. They hated that. The foreman loved it, but the guy above him was worried about what might happen, and I was like "shut up, I can run a chop saw."

That's kind of par for the course for Wilson. There was one line that stuck out in our interview:

"Being a chef is like a creative industry, or so we're told," Wilson said. "I've always seen myself as kind of a blue-collar guy."

Coaches always talk about how good it is when their most talented players are also their hardest workers. In Nashville's case, it's good when their chefs are as well.

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