A couple weeks ago, my friend Michael Catalano of the Nashville Film Festival called to pass on a recommendation not for a film, but for a little restaurant in the Farmers Market. In his view, this place had the best veggie burger in town. Just days earlier, my hairstylist had told me of a place in the Farmers Market that was selling the best fruit tarts and pastries in town. Neither of them could remember the name of the place. Though I am a committed carnivore and do not possess a sweet tooth, the coincidence was enough to send me off to check it out for myself.
It was 2:30 on a Monday afternoon when I arrived at Parco’s Café in the Farmers Market. A small display case held a half-dozen dessertsas pretty as those in any of Nashville’s tony bakeriesincluding the aforementioned fruit tarts. A handwritten sign touted their veggie burger. Bingo. This must be the place.
Unfortunately, owners Tsuo and Chun Fu were closing up shop for the day. The four stools that provide seating were upside down on the small counter, and the couple was wiping down the prep area and locking up the refrigerator. I sidled up to the service entrance and tentatively cleared my throat.
”Excuse me,“ I said, ”what are your hours?“ Tsuo smiled at me winsomely and asked if there was something they might get me. I assured her I just wanted to ask some questions, but before I knew it, Chun had turned the stools right-side up on the floor and I was seated at the counter. Tsuo was insisting that I try a cup of their coffee and a fruit tart.
I have five different ways to make coffee in my house, but I have never seen anything like the contraption that Tsuo used to make my cup of Blue Mountain coffee. It resembled a Bunsen burner, with water going up one glass tube and coffee coming down another. She poured it into a pretty clay cup that was set on a pretty clay saucer large enough to hold the tart as well. A clay spoon lay beside the cup, and creamer was in a tiny clay thimble. The entire presentation resembled a serene still life. My hairstylist was right; slices of fresh fruitstrawberries, blueberries, pineapple, apple, pear, and orangeprettily nestled in a mound of vanilla cream made for the best fruit tart I have ever tasted.
One moment later, Courtney Patton, a regular customer who works in the neighborhood for Zeigler & Company, was sitting on the stool to my right. She was battling a lingering cold and feeling more than a little stressed as the Zeigler enterprises prepared for two huge Super Bowl parties in Atlanta. I didn’t hear her place an order, but the Fus knew just what she needed. Chun placed a sandwich and bowl of steaming chicken and wild rice soup before her while Tsuo made her a pot of Silk Road tea in a tea press. The dazzling emerald-green tea smelled like a spring meadow and, Tsuo assured me, has remarkable restorative powers to boot. Patton insisted I share her sandwich, a tuna salad made with basil, capers, and onion, but with no oil or mayonnaise. It came on lightly toasted and buttered thin slices of Tuscan bread, with green leaf lettuce and sliced green tomatoes, which turned out to be the perfect finishing touch.
I spent nearly an hour at the Fus’ counter, one of the most enjoyable visits I have spent in a Nashville restaurant in ages. The couple moved to the States from Taiwan nearly 20 years ago and until recently owned and operated a Chinese restaurant in Murfreesboro. When it became too large for them to manage alone, they sold it and opened Parco’s last May. Chun makes all the desserts, soups, and a few hot entrees in a satellite kitchen; the dozen sandwiches on the menu are assembled at the café. Coffee drinks, a plethora of black and green teas, and smoothies are also available. I highly recommend the iced fruit tea, which, unlike its cloyingly sweet Southern counterpart, is subtly flavored with fresh apple, berries, melon, and orange, then sweetened with homemade grape sugar.
I couldn’t bring myself to ask for a veggie burger, which Chun makes from his own mix of tofu, veggies, and secret seasonings. But I have no doubt whatsoever that Michael Catalano was absolutely right. I’ll bet the bank that they are the best veggie burgers in town. Go see for yourself seven days a week, from 9 a.m. until, well, at least 2:30 p.m.later on weekends.
Another relative newcomer to the Farmers Market is Joe’s Bar-B-Que & Fish. As the name implies, they serve pork and beef barbecue, whiting, catfish, and buffalofish sandwiches and platters, as well as smoked and fried chicken, hot wings, ribs, and side dishes. Unfortunately, by mid-afternoon on a weekday, Joe’s was shut up tight for the day. Always on the lookout for the best fish sandwich in town, I’ll be back to try Joe’s. By the way, I am told buffalofish is a white-meat fish with lots of bones.
Last week, Scene photographer Eric England and I were driving down Murfreesboro Road when I spied a sign with Middle Eastern writing hung over the door of a little market. ”Stop!“ I demanded, and Eric, accustomed to braking for food when I am his passenger, obligingly steered into the parking lot at 1104 Murfreesboro Rd., at the intersection of Thompson Lane.
The moment we walked into A&H Food, we were overwhelmed by the comforting aroma of baking bread and the heady scents of exotic spices, teas, and cheeses. Behind the counter, proprietor Ibrahim, his head covered in a white turban, smiled engagingly through an impressive beard.
The native of Jerusalem told me he had been open for a couple of years, selling Middle Eastern groceries, imported cheeses and olives, and Halal beef, chicken, goat, and lamb, which means the meat has been approved for consumption by Muslims. He insisted we try a freshly baked pita bread. He let me in on his plans to expand into the vacant space next-door and open a restaurant, where he will serve shawermas, falafel, tabbouleh, hummus, dolma, and foul (a fava bean salad pronounced ”fool“).
”Foul!“ I exclaimed excitedly. ”I love foul! I haven’t had foul since Baraka Bakery stopped making it a couple of years ago.“
”Baraka!“ he replied. ”I cooked at Baraka! I made their foul!“
I asked him if he also knew Ali Baba, the restaurant on Thompson Lane. ”Ali Baba? Of course I know Ali Baba. They buy their bread from me!“ Just as he said that, the front door opened, and a man I recognized from Ali Baba came in to pick up their order of pita, bagged and ready to go on the counter. We all exchanged pleasantries. I promised to come back soon to Ali Baba, and Ibrahim promised to call me as soon as he gets his restaurant open. It’s a small world to be sure, but in Nashville, it’s getting more interesting and diverse by the moment. And that’s good news indeed.