There's no shortage of talk lately about the Good Old Days. While the creeping nostalgia spans everything from victory gardens to life before Twitter, presumably the thing people actually long for is a Dow north of 10,000.
For anyone who really pines for the kinder, gentler previous decade, however, there's Boscos. The Nashville branch of the Memphis brewpub opened in Hillsboro Village in 1996, and it has remained a steady anchor for the Vanderbilt dining corridor. It's something of a hangout where time stands still—a mixed blessing for those who recall the decade of "bubble" the noun, "jiggy" the adjective, "is" the disputed verb and "Lewinsky" the euphemism with something less than fondness.
Located in the corner building that formerly housed F.W. Woolworth & Co. as well as the short-lived Multi Bob and Flying Fish restaurants, Boscos was a local trailblazer in the '90s trend of in-house brewing. Copper brewing equipment gleams upstairs at the back of the dark, cavernous two-story room, giving it a focal point, and massive vat-like light fixtures extend the motif of oversized metal tanks. The other central element of the menu—brick-oven pizza—provides a second visual focus, in the form of a glowing wood-fired hearth in the back corner.
To the extent that the vat-and-oven form of the restaurant follows its beer-and-pizza function, it could be argued that Boscos' style is timeless. But the building is showing inconvenient signs of age. On one recent lunchtime visit, for example, we suddenly found ourselves in darkness. Our server explained that the lighting system frequently overheats, causing the spots to shut off automatically. Consequently, among so many restaurants pumping money into plant and equipment—plasma TVs, concrete countertops, Air Blade hand dryers, to name a few indulgences—Boscos looks a little tired.
The same, to be brutally honest, can be said for the menu. It reads like a retrospective of late 20th century cuisine, dotted with smoked chicken club and blackened grouper sandwiches, seared tuna salad, crab cakes and spinach-and-artichoke dip. It says something that after a dozen years, the best meal at the Hillsboro Village Boscos is still pizza and a beer.
The bar, which occupies the cheery front section by the big plate-glass windows, has four brews on tap—Flaming Stone, IPA, Germantown Alt and Isle of Skye Scottish Ale—as well as four seasonal and specialty beers. Near the back, the glowing wood-fired oven spits out delicate flame-pocked thin-crust pies paved with fresh combinations of goat cheese, sun-dried tomatoes, basil, pine nuts, olives, sausage, pepperoni, artichokes and spinach. The small pies make an ample meal or a good group nosh while sipping pints.
Among the newer recipes, the Santa Fe Shrimp pizza layered ancho-dusted shellfish, black bean sauce, mixed cheeses and pico de gallo to produce the pizza equivalent of a quesadilla. Quattro formaggi was a refreshing alternative to standard cheese-and-red-sauce pie, with mozzarella, feta, parmesan and cheddar bubbled across a crust laced with garlic-infused oil. The sturdy Germantown Purist—with its sweet blend of barbecue sauce, chicken and pink onions—recalls the heady days when Boscos was young, brick-oven pizza was novel and the NASDAQ was rockin'.
Veering off the pie chart, the calamari appetizer was surprisingly tender, though the batter was slightly undercooked and gooey rather than crisp. Crab cakes were heavily breaded, with an interior akin to the consistency of tuna salad, dotted with bits of scallion, red pepper and celery. Tiny smoked duck spring rolls suffocated shreds of gray meat and wilted vegetables in thick tubes of fried wonton wrapper.
While the appetizers set a disappointing tone, the entrées were more rewarding. Wood-oven planked salmon with a side of sautéed asparagus was particularly successful and attractive. Delivered on a charred shingle, which imparted a delicate smoky hint, the tender fish wore a subtle glaze of soy and pineapple and made for a light and flavorful meal.
The oyster po'boy scored top marks for succulent oysters in crisp cornmeal coating, but, as is too often the case north of New Orleans, the sandwich suffered from lackluster bread—in this instance, a spongy sourdough baguette that overwhelmed the seafood. On the other hand, a soft Kaiser roll was just the right vehicle for Boscos' robust burger, cooked a perfect medium rare.
Asian grilled chicken salad had the clunky brute presentation of a salad that one might cobble together at home from baby spinach, hunks of cold chicken breast, mandarin oranges, slivered almonds, minced red pepper and an overabundance of wonton strips.
More satisfying was the seared tuna salad, a longtime menu staple, which in the early days of Boscos was a positively progressive item. A generous serving of cool purple fish encircles a bed of mixed greens, garnished with a sushi-style pile of pickled ginger and a squirt of wasabi paste. The persistent flaws in this dish are the heavy-handed spice rub caked on the fish like a layer of rust and the heavy-handed mustard vinaigrette that goes out of its way to upstage the beautiful tuna. Less would be more with this salad.
While Boscos' food has evolved little over the years, the formula has been successful enough to propel the Memphis company to a second midstate location, opened last year. (The company also has outposts in Memphis and Little Rock.) Unlike the Hillsboro Village site, which enjoys the urban coolness of its reclaimed architecture, the Cool Springs Boscos bathes in the pendant-light glow of a new building. While the sterile office-park structure lacks the earthy brewpub patina of its in-town sister, from whom it purchases beer, it offers a clean, well-lighted atmosphere for Sunday brunch—which, in our experience, is where Boscos really shines.
At a recent brunch in Cool Springs, the bright room hummed with singer Minnie Murphy and a trio of musicians as glorious eggy plates and light crisp waffles emerged from the kitchen. While pizzas may have been the restaurant's original signature dish, the pies have been upstaged by a battery of Benedicts.
Oysters Benedict elevated the sweet, succulent fried delicacies from the po'boy to breakfast glory on a bed of English muffins, graced with velvety hollandaise and thin slices of sweet, salty Canadian bacon. Poached eggs, which emerged from hot water in rustic freeform rather than in molded disks, erupted with sunny molten yolks, coating the crisp, grainy oysters with a silky finish.
Eggs Sardou arrived with plump poached eggs balanced atop tender artichoke hearts on a bed of English muffins doused in spinach-artichoke sauce. Oskar Benedict infused the traditional muffin-egg-Canadian bacon combo with sautéed crabmeat and sautéed coins of sliced asparagus. With the exception of the $13 ribeye steak Benedict, the egg dishes clocked in well below $10. Add that to a $3.50 Bloody Mary and you've got a surprisingly affordable weekend indulgence—the next generation, perhaps, of the Good Old Days.
Boscos opens at 11 a.m. daily. On Sundays, brunch begins at 10:30 a.m. with live entertainment at both locations.
Email email@example.com, or call 615-844-9408.
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