While grocery stores, car dealerships and banks mount huge marketing campaigns to trumpet their grand openings, independent restaurants typically favor a quiet approach, cracking their front doors just wide enough for so-called “soft openings” with friends and family. Similar to Broadway plays opening out of town before audiences more forgiving than New Yorkers, restaurants enjoy a dress rehearsal, without fear that forgetting a line or missing a cue in front of the toughest critics will mean curtains.
Two restaurants opened soft last week, and though they will surely evolve over the next few months, they are now taking reservations and receiving guests, and reports are positive.
The restaurant formerly known as Chapel Bistro is now Eastland Café, but more than a name change has taken place in the 75-year-old building at the corner of Eastland and Chapel in the 37206 ZIP code. Park Café’s Yvette and Willy Thomas purchased the property in June with the idea of closing for a few weeks of deep-cleaning and reopening on Aug. 1. Once in possession, they found both more and less than met the eye. They enlisted a construction crew for heavy lifting and hired interior designer Kathy Anderson to give the dining room and bar a makeover. The result is dramatic. Gone are the wooden booths, whimsical folk art and concrete bar. In their place, warm hues of brown and cream, booth benches and contemporary chairs upholstered in a chic print, and a gorgeous mahogany-and-glass divider between the new bar (managed by Nick & Rudy’s vet Aimee Spencer) and the warmly sophisticated dining room.
The new menu represents collaboration among Thomas, chef Hal Holden-Bache and his sous Nathan Wells, and while the latter two will ultimately helm Eastland, expect to see Thomas behind the new glass wall as he familiarizes himself with the neighborhood and his new clientele. According to Holden-Bache, Eastland will offer “simple food served in elegant fashion,” and the first edition debuts with autumnal fare. Two apps sound especially appealing as the weather cools: a goat cheese brûlée with chestnut honey served with grilled flatbread, oven-roasted tomatoes and peppers and balsamic syrup, and crispy polenta with portobello mushrooms, roasted chicken jus, rosemary and roasted garlic cloves. The iceberg wedge with blue cheese dressing gets tweaked with the addition of fried green tomatoes, roasted corn, chives and bell pepper relish. Entrées—all but one priced under $20—include a grilled flatiron steak with creamed spinach and pommes frites; pan-roasted chicken breast with reduced chicken stock, caramelized root vegetables, ricotta gnocchi and sweet potato hay; and a pan-seared salmon with horseradish mashed potatoes, country succotash with sour apples and crispy fried leeks.
Eastland Café, 97 Chapel Ave., 627-1088. Doors open at 4:30 p.m. Monday through Saturday; kitchen is open 5 to 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday and until 11 on Friday and Saturday.Prepare for takeoff
Flyte World Dining & Wine took off this weekend, opening its doors on the outer rim of The Gulch. Though it is breaking uncharted dining destination ground, the new restaurant has landed on the high-visibility corner of Eighth and Division, just down the hill from Frugal McDoogal, which will be entering holiday mode and bringing even more traffic to the block. Owned by Scott Sears from Tampa and Scott Atkinson from St. Louis, who joined the same band while attending Vanderbilt, Flyte aims to present international wines in an educational yet accessible fashion, alone or with a multicultural menu created by co-owner and executive chef Robert S. MacClure, recruited from Chicago. Though the large room was still in the final stages of construction on a drive-by visit last week, menus and wine lists had been printed. Soups and salads can be ordered individually or in flights of three, a thoughtful nod when contemplating intriguing salads like caramel apple, sweet and heat orange, macadamia nut and dried cherry, and grilled radicchio. Appetizers and entrées exceed the moderate ($20 and under) price category, with the former ranging from $9 to $12 and entrées starting at $18 for Cajun rotisserie chicken and roast vegetable Wellington, and topping out at $30 for a filet. Other big plates feature pasta, fish and game.
Flyte World Dining & Wine, 718 Division St., 255-6200. Bar opens at 4:30 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday; kitchen open 5 to 10 p.m. Tuesday and Wednesday and until 11 p.m. Thursday through Saturday.Cribb notes
Veteran Nashville chef Michael Cribb has forwarded his address from Bistro 2one5, where he last roosted, to The Trace, the once red-hot Hillsboro Village watering hole and restaurant purchased in late 2004 by health care exec Ken Perry. Though the spot’s hip factor has cooled considerably since its heyday in the late ’90s, it has remained a popular dinner spot for music bizzers and young professionals, even as the kitchen has undergone considerable turnover. Since taking possession, Perry has focused on the wine program—there are now more than 400 names on the list, and The Trace has won two consecutive Wine Spectator awards—and marketing special events like Wine Wednesday and wine dinners. Cribb’s assignment is to bring the food back to the forefront, a task he has undertaken by first persuading Perry to open the restaurant Tuesday through Saturday so that Cribb can be in the kitchen every day it is open. He is currently redoing the menu and has already added three apps and three entrées, all flavored by his favored Asian-Caribbean-Mediterranean influences. Perry notes that with the restaurant now closed two days a week, they will undertake some refurbishing of the interior. The Trace also has a new website, tracerestaurant.com.
The Trace, 2000 Belcourt Ave., 385-2200. Open 4 p.m. to midnight Tuesday through Thursday and 4 p.m. to 2 a.m. Friday and Saturday.