"I went down the street to the 24-hour grocery. When I got there, the guy was locking the front door. I said, 'Hey, the sign says you're open 24 hours.' He said, 'Yes, but not in a row.' "
Well, as far as Fish and Grits goes, not at all anymore. They closed their doors at the corner of Eighth Avenue and Division a few months ago and have been replaced by a new operation called Mac's Restaurant. Basically a diner, Mac's serves breakfast, lunch and dinner all day from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday, and all night on Friday and Saturday.
Highlights of the menu include chicken and waffles with a nice cinnamon waffle and bone-in chicken. Our server said the specialties of the house included battered and fried chicken wings in several sauces and a buffalo burger. I tried the burger, and after hearing about all the wing sauces expected a spicy sauce. Instead I got a lesson in close reading of a menu when I encountered a really unique texture and slightly gamy flavor in the patty. It turns out that the burgers are actually made from buffalo, which the owners buy at the Kroger in Goodlettsville. You learn something every day ...
Needless to say, I was intrigued when I heard about Salsa Puerto Rican and Latin Cuisine, on Palmer just down the street from Cummins Station. Last week they had a soft opening, and sent out invites for folks in the media who wanted a free dinner so they could work out some of the kinks.
Our party of four was quite pleasantly surprised, both by the food and the ambience. Frankly, at first blush the name Salsa sounded a tad generic, so I was fearing a suburban chain vibe. But the restaurant is tastefully decorated: Owners Marcos Cruz and Juan Reyes (who heads the kitchen) have created a fashionably minimal space, with what looks like reclaimed barn wood on the lower walls, white paint on the upper walls, an attractive bar and a variety of intriguing light fixtures.
We started with a sampling of appetizers. Our faves were the black bean hummus and the beef empanadas. (The crab empanadas were OK, but we all agreed the beef were better.) The sorullos de maiz (corn fritters) were also popular at our table.
Swaffles is a locally owned stuffed waffle shop. Essentially, the waffles — a bit thinner than most Belgian waffles — are folded and stuffed to make a sandwich. There are savory and sweet waffles as well as a number of side items. Since I was still rather, um, stuffed from lunch, I decided to get The Southern for my husband. It’s one of their most popular savory waffles, served with a generous chunk of chicken that they bread and fry themselves. I got the accompanying cheese, tomato and greens on the side so that I could re-heat the sandwich later. Win-win: He gets to have fried chicken for dinner, I don’t have to make dinner.
The chicken and waffle both warmed up nicely in our toaster oven. Even hours later and reheated, Mr. Eats really enjoyed his swaffle, saying that it was some of the best fried chicken he’d ever had. (Note: it’s not hot chicken.) I have to admit, it did smell really good. I’d guess that’s a buttermilk breading they’ve got on there. And the waffle itself is not particularly sweet and is nice and crispy. The Southern swaffle got two enthusiastic thumbs up (and one frowning face from the person — me — who had a salad for dinner).
Now, after a successful Kickstarter campaign, the Spinellis have opened a cafe and market in Bellevue. It’s tucked into the strip of shops at the northwest corner of Highway 70S and Old Hickory Boulevard (near the TJ Maxx). The husband, Tiny Diva (who just turned three) and I stopped in for lunch recently to check it out and, as expected, we had a fantastic lunch.
As soon as we were seated, I began to peruse the menu for something appropriate for the Tiny Diva. Luckily, the server was right behind us with the kids’ menu (and some crayons). And, to our great relief, the menu offered her requested lunch of cheese and crackers (it's obvious the kids’ menu was created with thought and care; the Spinellis have two small children). Also on the menu is a hummus plate, pancakes, and waffle fried chicken fingers along with the usual suspects. The cheese and crackers were served quickly while my husband and I sampled the beer cheese soup. The result was a happy (and well-behaved) toddler, which I’m sure was a relief to the other patrons.
Happily, Barber has re-emerged with a restaurant project in Berry Hill, Patrick's Bistreaux at 2821 Bransford Ave., across from Monell's. After spending a couple years planning and building out the old house into a really attractive dining space, Barber recently opened for lunch only, 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, with a limited soft-opening menu of po'boys, jambalaya and crawfish etoufee. He hopes to open for dinner soon, but currently is still looking for staff to work the evening shift. (So head on over if you're job-hunting.)
Using old family recipes and authentic Louisiana and Mississippi ingredients, Barber has created a great fast-casual dining experience that he intends to expand to table service once he opens for dinner. He imports the real deal Leidenheimer french bread for his sandwiches, giving his po'boys the combination of crunchiness and chewiness that only comes from Big Easy bakeries. On a recent visit, I sampled an excellent barbecue shrimp entree that he hopes to include on the menu soon. Served in a half sheet pan to hold in all the greasy goodness, the shrimp were piquantly seasoned, and slices of French bread made for excellent sauce-sopping.
They called it "Pizza and Little Cokes." The deal is that you have to wait until the tree is up and the house is decorated for the holidays. Then you order a pizza that is better than your normal takeout and enjoy it with real Cokes out of real glass bottles. My household jumped on the idea and has celebrated it for the past six years. So when it came time to pick this year's pizza, I figured Nonna's was the place to go.
Since I was visiting for lunch, I opted for lighter fare. I started with the (vegan!) spring roll appetizer, which had a really nice chili sauce with just the right amount of kick. For my main course, I had the house salad. I’m glad a friend of mine pointed this salad out to me, because I typically skip right over any part of the menu that includes the words, “house salad.” I have been conditioned to believe that its definition is “iceberg lettuce, tasteless tomatoes, shredded carrots, stale croutons and honey mustard dressing.” I guess I’ve spent too much time in “casual dining” and “casual steakhouse” restaurants over the years.
But this salad is different. There is butter lettuce! Baby greens! Jicama! Pecans! Planks of quinoa croquette! And I topped it with a house-made honey-miso dressing that is really fantastic. A good dressing can make or break a salad. Though I think this salad could easily be as good with a simple vinaigrette or no dressing at all.
There are several other salads to try, but this might just be the one that keeps me crossing the river to come back. And for something heavier, there are flatbreads, sandwiches (a BLGT looks tempting, minus the B), and dinner-sized entrees (including a several seafood and other omnivorous options). When I visit at dinner, though, I will probably skip the entrée pasta and order a trio of sides instead. Gorgonzola mac and cheese is very tempting. And the rainbow chard (because I refuse to prepare chard at home; too much work for too little yield).
Despite the fact that the sidewalks in front of the restaurant are all torn up as part of the redevelopment of that strip of the Avenue of the Arts, you can still get to the front door by playing a little Frogger back and forth across Fifth. The front door is not well marked, but there's not much else open on that end of the street between Church and Union. Inside, the space is surprisingly spacious with some unusual treatments on the walls to brighten up the dark room.
Someone described Bibap Fusion Rice as an Asian Subway, and that's pretty accurate. They do have a decent-sized sushi menu, but the highlight is the roster of Bibap specials.
Premade options include beef, spicy chicken and tofu rice bowls with rice, mushrooms and egg. You can also design your own bowl, first picking a base from white rice, brown rice, fried rice or noodles for between $2.99-$4.50. Step 2 is to choose your protein from expected options like beef, chicken tofu or shrimp and from surprising choices like beef or chicken gyro meat or spicy chicken.
These will add four or five bucks to your total. Finally, diners select from a steam table of toppings which is definitely Subway-like. Tomato, banana pepper, olives, onions, zucchini, mushrooms and cucumbers are things you might find in a typical stir-fry or Mongolian barbecue place, but the option of shredded cheese kind of puzzled me. I just skipped it.
The cooks at Bibap go through an unusual process to heat the ingredients. All dishes are prepared in aluminum-foil takeaway bowls, even if you are dining in. The protein is heated separately in a microwave, and then after the toppings are added, the whole dish goes into what looked like a steamer to bring them all up to temp.
The resulting dishes were certainly helped out by the various sauces they offer, including a spicy sriracha-based and a garlic/soy sauce. In the end, lunch cost about nine bucks and was fairly filling and quick. Would I skip other nearby Asian options to return? Probably not, but if you happen to be in the neighborhood, it could be another option for some quick on-the-go dining.
I was still a little hungry after lunch, so I figured I'd hop across the street into the Arcade to try out a new doughnut shop that another reader had tipped me off to. Peace Love and Little Donuts is located in storefront No. 12 in the Arcade, but you can't miss it with the big tie-dyed sign and half of a Volkswagen Beetle sticking out of the wall by the front door.
The new building is gorgeous, with lots of exposed brick and warm wood tones to the decoration. True to the building's former incarnation as Lavender Motors, automotive design elements dominate the interior, along with some owl statuettes which refer to the restaurant's logo. Particularly striking is a huge chandelier-type sculpture constructed from old car mufflers which dominates the main dining room. There are also lots of fun hubcab wall hangings all over the restaurant.
The dining room has tall ceilings and a textured tin ceiling, but still manages to feel comfy and charming. A long bar stretches the length of one of the rooms, with over 25 beers on tap and room for even more. A host of high-def big-screen televisions should make this a very popular sports-watching spot, if any of the Tennessee football teams turn it around and become worth watching. (Commodores excluded.)
Located only a block off of I-40 and within just a couple of minutes from anywhere on 440, M.L. Rose is worth a visit. Despite the multitude of cars in the lot during my recent lunchtime visit, there were plenty of seats available inside, and service was prompt and courteous.
Since I only had the chance to try their fiery chicken sandwich and those utterly addictive waffle fries, I can't speak to the entire menu yet, although I've heard the XXX hot wings will light you up! If you get a chance to eat a little deeper in the menu, please share your comments and let us know how you think the food stands up to the original incarnation.
The secret is to drive to Dan McGuinness Pub at the top of Music Row from whatever direction you would normally come from to get your Scotch Egg on. When you pass the pub on the roundabout, take the next immediate right down the hill on 16th Avenue. DeSano is on your left in the first block of 16th across from the parking lot to Off Broadway Shoes. They just put a new sign up at the entrance to the parking lot, so that should help, but remember that since 16th is a one-way street, you won't be able to leave the same way you came.
Almost everything is made fresh in-house, and they use very high quality ingredients. The delicious dough is made from just four ingredients: 00 San Felice Flour, 100 percent sea salt dehydrated from the waters of the Mediterranean, water and yeast. Their mozzarella di bufala is flown in from Italy weekly, and their delicious sausage comes from Chicago.
All of those ingredients are featured on their signature pizza, the San Gennaro, along with peppadew peppers and caramelized cippolini onions. I have to say I think it is my favorite pizza I've ever eaten in Nashville.
DeSano is an offshoot of the popular Antico Pizza's in Atlanta, and we're lucky that Antico's head pizzaiolo, Brandon Blumber is in town training the new staff. The man certainly knows his way around DeSano's three oakwood-fired ovens. The process of baking a pizza at DeSano is much more active than what I have experienced at other restaurants, as Blumber works the pizza peel like a maestro.
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