Figlio’s on the Row
26 Music Square E. 256-6600
Mon-Fri. 11 a.m.-9 p.m.
During his 50-year career, artist Saul Steinberg created 85 covers and 642 other drawings for The New Yorker, the distinguished highbrow magazine celebrating its 100th anniversary this year. His most famous work was ”View of the World From 9th Avenue,“ which appeared on the magazine’s Mar. 29, 1976, cover.
The drawing is a bird’s-eye view of the world looking west from Manhattan; the well-defined streets and buildings of New York fade into vast clumps of dull lands beyond the most exciting city on earth. Like much of Steinberg’s work, it pokes fun at its own audiencein this case, New Yorkers who tend to believe their city is the center of the universe.
When I moved to Nashville some years ago to work for a record label, I was a little confused about the term ”Music Row,“ which I thought would be a street, like Printers Alley. But as I soon discovered, Music Row was actually a collection of streets, squares, circles, avenues, and alleys. In the years since, I have often mentally compared Music Row with Saul Steinberg’s cartoon, retitling it ”View of the World From 16th Avenue,“ with the Music Row world being much smaller and more limited than Manhattan’s. The similarity resides in the fact that denizens of Music Row also tend to believe their neighborhood is the center of the universe.
In a sense, though, Music Row is more like The Pentagon, though its barriers are not quite as visible: To the outsider, it seems impenetrable; inside, top-secret doings are taking place. One of the reasons why Music Row has always seemed like a fortress is that no one actually lives there. There are few places in this city more deserted than Music Row on weekdays before 9 a.m. or after 8 p.m., or from Friday evening until Monday morning.
Besides offering scant residential accommodations, for years there was no place to eat on Music Row. Then, sometime in the mid-’80s, someone got the brilliant idea to open a bar/restaurant on 16th Avenue South. I assume the name Tavern on the Row was a nod to New York’s famous Tavern on the Green restaurant, located in Central Park. It wasn’t long, however, before the activity at Tavern on the Row earned the restaurant a nickname reflecting the high times that defined the music industry of the era. Suffice it to say that probably very few people who patronized the place can remember one single thing they ate there; in fact, there was very little eating going on at all.
Inevitably, Tavern on the Row crashed and burned. Briefly, the space was occupied by 9 Point Mesa and Toucan before being taken over by restaurant and catering vet Jim Stradley, who opened and successfully operated Sammy B’s for almost six years. In October 1999, Mike and Rita Figlio took over the lease, renamed the restaurant Figlio’s on the Row, and revamped the menu to include some recipes from their family kitchen.
Based on a couple of recent visits, the dining experience at Figlio’s can be a wildly uneven one, ranging from pleasantly serviceable to downright awful. On my first visit, lunch for four on a Thursday, no stone was left unturned in delivering one of the worst dining experiences I’ve been subjected to in some time. Service with a snarl seemed to be our waitress’s motto, and three was her magic number: Once we asked for something three times-drinks, bread, plates, condimentswe usually got it, whether we still needed it or not.
Although our server’s surliness was reserved for her own tables, other diners endured the same interminable waits for food. Poor Harold Bradley, at a table nearby, sat nursing his glass of milk for an hour until he and his companion finally got their bowl of soup and a sandwich. For cryin’ out loud, the man’s a legend; give him some respect. At another table, attorney Mike Milom and his companion twiddled their thumbs even longer. We waited a half-hour for our appetizer, another 15 minutes for soup and salad, nearly another 30 minutes for entrées, and 15 more for dessert.
The food was hardly worth the wait. First, I am making a public plea for restaurant owners to cease and desist calling something bruschetta when it is not. For the hundredth time, bruschetta consists of crisp, toasted rounds of Italian bread or baguette rubbed with a good olive oil and garlic. Occasionally, one might add fresh chopped basil, roma tomato, and a sprinkle of grated Parmesan. But Figlio’s and other restaurants are simply serving cheese bread, not bruschetta.
Both soups, the pasta-bean and the sweet-and-sour chicken, had a burned flavor. The dismal greens in the Caesar and house salads were fighting for their life under a deluge of dressing. Of the entrées we sampled, the chicken Alfredo was the most satisfying, thanks to the good creamy sauce and the fat strips of sautéed fresh chicken breast. The lite-bite blackened salmon offered a pretty presentation and a good choice for dieters, with plenty of sliced fresh fruit.
I should have asked for my tuna to be grilled rare, but I didn’t, so instead I got a piece of tuna with the texture, color, and flavor of wallboard. The chunky marinara sauce on the ravioli was quite good, but the cheese filling in the premade, packaged pasta was stone cold. When we brought these complaints to our server’s attention, she responded with a smirk and flounced off without offering any remedy. Nor did she take the ravioli off our check, though it was sent back to the kitchen uneaten. When Mike Figlio, roaming the floor, sensed our dissatisfaction, he tried mightily to make things up, but by then we were eager to be on our way.
My return visit came off without a hitch, at least as far as the service went, thanks in large part to our good fortune in having Stretch, Nashville’s best and most famous waitress, assigned to our table. The food was, on the whole, better. But I was puzzled by the inclusion of gazpacho on the menu in late winter, and the breadwhich is brought in a basket, and used for many of the sandwiches and the alleged bruschettawas just plain awful.
Otherwise, the entrees were much improved. My grilled tuna was delivered rare as requested; the pasta of the day with ham, white beans, tomatoes, and kale in a light sauce was excellent. The chicken breast in the chicken picatta was succulent and tasty, with the capers a nice addition to the lemon-garlic sauce. The big burger on a hard roll was hand-patted and lean, and the French fries that accompanied it crisp and salty. If you’re a dessert person, the Oreo cheesecake provides a sweet finish.
I’m glad I gave Figlio’s another try. Mike and Rita are trying hard to please, and their restaurant is a convenient, satisfying, moderately priced lunch and dinner option for Music Row passholders. Figlio’s plays it safe, but the same might be said of the industry it serves, so the partnership should be harmonious.
Not a week goes by that someone doesn’t ask me about the restaurant property on 12th Avenue South and Elmwood, formerly occupied by Laurell’s Central Market. It was a surprise to many in the 12South neighborhood when Sheila Warren went out of business, locking the doors one day last May, leaving the restaurant fully furnished and looking as if the closure had been some terrible mistake.
Recently, there has been a flurry of activity around the building. The furniture is gone, and a locksmith was spotted there early this week working on the entrance doors. Indeed, the building landlords, 1221 Partners, led by Realtor Mark Deutschman and businessman Joel Solomon, have spent the last eight months diligently seeking another restaurant tenant. Word is they have recently come to terms with one group that includes some restaurant industry veterans.
Though Solomon will not release complete details of the venture, he says he has no doubt the mixed neighborhood will be happy with the new tenant, which expects to be operating by summer. The full-service restaurant will be open for lunch and dinner; will serve at least beer and wine; will possibly, if all codes requirements are met, have a full bar; and will offer something innovative and new to the Nashville market.
1221 Partners has been intrinsically involved in the blossoming of the 12South neighborhood; in addition to the Elmwood Building, they also own and lease the Paris Building and the Linden Building. Solomon, who has been involved in Cakewalk/Zola, Tin Angel, Fido, and Bongo Java, believes strongly in independent ventures in vibrant, urban areas. ”People need to take chances,“ he says, ”or we’ll end up with nothing but a bunch of chain restaurants.“ In addition to the forthcoming Elmwood property, he thinks the neighborhood could use a non-alcohol-serving cafesimilar to Fido and Bongo Javaand says his group would be willing to work with entrepreneurs who have a similar vision.