7108 Charlotte Pike 356-5005
Rounding the bend of Charlotte Pike just past River Road, I was nearly blinded by the glare of sun bouncing off of chrome. The potential driving hazard emanated from the gravel and dirt lot in front of Brewhouse West, where nearly two dozen motorcycles were parked on a picture-perfect Sunday afternoon, lined up silver haunch to silver haunch, like an army of gleaming stallions.
At the front door, their riders turn right as if directed by a secret sign: Bikers' Deck This Way. Having arrived in a four-wheeled vehicle, I felt unworthy, and suffering a serious case of motorcycle envy, I turned left instead, into the main room of the most authentic rendition of a roadhouse that exists in Middle Tennessee.
The wooden-sided, tin-roofed building was already steeped in tradition, having served many years as a family-owned stand selling produce, preserves, country ham and honey from local growers long before the Super Wal-Mart down the road started luring customers with cheaper vegetables trucked in from Florida and Arkansas. After that, it was Fate's Pig & Pie, the barbecue joint owned by Fate Thomas Jr., son of the late and legendary Davidson County Sheriff Fate Thomas. Lil' Fate and partners John Hamilton and Michael Mudd established the location as a swell spot for a cold beer and pulled pork sandwich; when Lil' Fate got out of the restaurant business, Hamilton soon closed the retail end, keeping the kitchen for his catering business until he found a place that suited him better in Bellevue.
Thankfully, Kelly Jones heard the building was available before location scouts for Chili's, Olive Garden or Outback Steakhouse did. These days, Wal-Mart's predictable success has opened the door for other soulless corporate behemoths to settle in these parts: a huge Jim & Nick's Barbecue is hauling in the masses almost next door, and beside that, a new structure that looks suspiciously chain-ish in design is in the framing stages.
Jones, a longtime motorcycle man himself, established his cred as a leader of the pack at his popular midtown tavern Broadway Brewhouse, which backs up to Mojo Grill, where chef, pepper-head and undaunted Jets fan Ed Arace cooks up the best damned bar grub in town. Jones teamed up with Jim Simpson, a regular at the BB who prefers four wheels to two, and together they signed the lease at 7108 Charlotte Pike. Where Logan's Roadhouse might have seen the potential for a very nice profit margin, Jones saw a natural watering hole for bikers coming off an afternoon ride down winding River Road.
You don't have to be a biker to enjoy Brewhouse West, though you might be able to hitch a ride with one if you smile real pretty. (I'd advise only women to employ that method.) Of the 10 people who rotated on and off my table at the Brewhouse on the previous Sunday evening, only three were people I knew before I walked in the door for the first time. But by the time I left, my original party of four had spent quality time with Edwin, the stage manager guy; his bar buddy Ron, whose occupation remained shrouded in mystery; Greg, who told us he wrote a George Strait cut, "I Found Jesus on the Jailhouse Floor" (though he didn't reveal whether the discovery was made standing or supine); Bob, another successful songwriter who lives six miles away, drinks red wine and loves his dog; Bill, an apartment/condominium developer; and his pal in the Keith Bulluck Titans jersey, whose introduction coincided with the roar of a motorcycle engine in the parking lot, so I never did catch his name. We just called him Keith all night. That's not even counting the women I chatted with waiting for a free stall in the ladies' room, the gentleman at the bar who sent us a round of beers just for being blonde, or the woman who was kind enough to show us the trick we watched her perform for her date at a nearby table. Not that kind of trick, but a nifty sleight of hand with a $2 billBrewhouse West is lively, not licentious.
That's the kind of place Brewhouse is; come twice, and the bartender and waitresses will treat you like a regular. That's not dissimilar from the original on Broadway, but the one on Charlotte is at least three times as big, with seating indoors and out.
Before they opened this January, Jones and Simpson knocked out the wall behind the bar, and now stools belly up to an L-shaped structure, with tall tables in the base end of the L. Customers who prefer more conventional seating can choose one of the four-top tables in the main area of the room or go out to the perimeter, where screens on the large windows bring the outside in while keeping the dust kicked up by the bikes to a minimum.
We spent our evening in the main room, at a table right next to the three-songs-for-a-buck jukebox, well-stocked with classic tunes from Tom Petty, Bob Seger, Bruce Springsteen, The Stones, The Allman Brothers, John Mellencamp and the like, as well as enough current country to keep BMI's and ASCAP's Nashville offices happy. We heard "Redneck Woman" and "Live Like You Were Dyin' " at least a dozen times each.
Had we gone outside, we could have caught the last of the sunset from a bar stool while planting our elbows on a wide shelf attached to the wooden fence enclosing the patio, or we could've gone under the roofed portion and settled in at one of the picnic tables. A raised level currently furnished with porch swings and rockers will be converted to a stage for some live music Thursday through Saturday nights, beginning in June. The horseshoe pit alongside the deck is now covered with wooden planks, and a circular bar currently under construction will serve beer. Sounds like a decent trade to me.
Particularly considering the choices. Just like at the Broadway branch, a customer would be hard-pressed to order a beer Brewhouse doesn't carry; there are 24 on tap, and close to 100 in bottles. Sundays are two-for-one from noon to midnight. If your brand comes in a bottle, you might want to consider bringing your own huggie, as policy is to deliver them both at once. We were all draft girls, and when we whined that our second beer might get warm, our very accommodating waitress brought us each tall red cups with ice to hold our back-ups, which kept them cool until we polished off the first.
Broadway Brewhouse has a full bar, including its signature Bush Whackerwith chocolate and coffee liqueurs, coconut and Bacardi 151the inspiration behind the probing question posed by a large sign on the wall: "Have You Had Your Bush Whacked Lately?"
No amount of alcohol will pry that out of me, but in any case, I think beer is the best beverage to complement Arace's menu, much of which originated in town. His spectacularly popular and irresistibly addictive roasted wings are in the lead-off position, rightfully so. Wings is something of a misnomer; these are actually drumettes taken from a chicken on steroids. The monsters come in four flavors: gringo (mild), chipotle barbecue (medium), Panama (hot) and Mojo (Wow!). The last of these, swathed in habanero sauce and described as sticky/sweet/hot, definitely have a kick, but nothing that a swig of suds won't cure. At the opposite end of the heat spectrum was the cucumber salsafresh, cool and infused with plenty of chopped cilantro. It comes with chips, and we scooped the bowl clean.
Chicken and andouille sausage gumbo and bowls of smoky red beans and rice bring a taste of N'awlins to the table, while quesadillas and big fat burritos will make fans of Mexican fare happy. Sandwiches are big and burly, served either on toasted Kaiser buns or crusty French rolls. We couldn't even get our hands, much less our mouths, around the grilled shrimp po'boy or Texas hot beef and cheese (beef brisket topped with Monterey Jack), both served on the rolls, so we ate the contents with fork and knife and enjoyed them just as well. House specialties include Mojo's signature jerk chicken, a juicy roasted half-chicken marinated in island spices; and Santa Fe chicken, seasoned Southwestern style, with big chunks pulled from the bone and served with red beans and rice. The fish of the day was a moist and flaky marlin, which escaped the drying effect grilling over open flame often has on fish. Several daily specials are also listed on a blackboard.
Brewhouse West couldn't be any more welcoming, but it may not be for everybody. If you set boundaries, if you need a lot of personal space, if meeting new people makes you nervous, and conversing with strangers gives you hives, you should probably do us all a favor and go on down the road. As for everybody else, I look forward to meeting you sometime soon at Brewhouse West; I'll bring my own helmet, just in case.