Wow. Go out of town for a few days, and all hell breaks loose. I just returned from 10 days in Crested Butte, Colo., an annual business trip that kept me so busy I didn’t even have time to visit the two French restaurants, the new game restaurant, or the half-dozen New American Cuisine restaurants all located in the tiny downtown of this quaint, slightly bohemian ski resort. In fact, in 10 days, I only had three sit-down dinners; two were in a homey restaurant that serves fried chicken, mashed potatoes, creamed corn, and biscuits family-style, and one was in a local hangout known for its big breakfasts and pizza. The chicken was surprisingly good; the pizza dinner was perfect.
Mostly, I was sequestered in a conference room eating M&M’s (love the new crispy variety) and candy conversation hearts. I was running so fast from morning to night that I barely had time to skim USA Today, much less keep up with real news or what was happening at home. I spent my first night back going through stacks of accumulated mail, e-mail, voice mail, faxes, and newspapers. Catching up is hard to do.
I understand there’s a new restaurant opening in the coveted location formerly occupied by the West End Bagel Cafe. Martini’s opens for dinner this weekend on Friday and Saturday nights, then opens for lunch and dinner seven days a week beginning Monday, Feb. 21. A Sunday champagne brunch will be added within the next month.
As one might guess from an establishment named Martini’s, the popular cocktail is a key element in the mix. There will be 48 kinds available for your drinking pleasure, including the Mae West, the Blue Monday, the Jackie O, and the Dean Martini. I’d love to see their stemware costs.
Principal players in the restaurant, located at 3009 West End Ave., are industry vets Robert Holly, Andy Auerbach, and Paul Pullian. The front-of-the-house trio has snagged South Street’s Jennifer Wood to run the kitchen and create their menu. The phrases ”bistro-style“ and ”grown-up casual“ are being tossed about; the latter sounds more accurate to me, and some of the items sound intriguing. Among the sandwiches are a crab burger, a lamb burger, a French Dip, and a Hot Brown; entrees at lunch and/or dinner include a salmon-potato tart, flank steak, pan-fried catfish filet, and country ham with cucumber chow-chow. A late-night menu will be available until 2 a.m. Piano music will entertain diners in the early part of the week, live jazz takes over on weekends.
Wild Iris in Brentwood has a new general manager, a new chef, and a new menu. Both GM Brad Hacker and chef Lane Meinert come from Merchants in CoolSprings. Iris owners Katie and Gep Nelson are currently focusing on their other restaurant, The Yellow Porch, at 100 Oaks.
Among the new entrees on the Wild Iris dinner menu are grilled ginger-soy tuna served on lemon-and-chili-pepper linguini tossed in wasabi cream sauce and topped with kimchee; pan-seared walnut-pesto salmon served on sun-dried tomato polenta; rosemary- and juniper-rubbed pork tenderloin served on Creole mashers and finished with a chipotle-peach BBQ sauce; and crawfish-stuffed chicken with a jalapeño relish. Given Meinert’s spicy bent, it’s not surprising to find that he has also worked with renowned Nashville pepper-head Michael Cribb, who shares chef duties at The Bound’ry with Willie Thomas.
Clayton-BlackmonA Bistro also has some changes on its menu board. Chef Christian Morgan has added a grilled shrimp penne pasta, a daily grilled pizza, vegetarian pasta, and steak and biscuits to the lunch menu. At dinner, new entrees include chicken curry, wild mushroom ravioli, grilled swordfish Provençal, and Cajun shrimp with tasso ham on smoked cheddar grit cake with hot black-eyed pea relish.
CB is now serving Sunday jazz brunch from 11 a.m.-3 p.m. with build-your-own omelets, Southwestern-style baked eggs on polenta with four-pepper salsa, breakfast pie, and sourdough French toast. The restaurant will be closed for dinner on Sunday.
Also closed for Sunday dinnerand Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday dinneris Jubilee, the highly anticipated restaurant that opened on Jefferson Street in February 1999. Touted as one of just a handful of large-scale, minority-owned business projects in the historically African American business districtTreachery Price’s Price Plaza at the TSU end of the street is anotherthe $1.7 million project was funded in large part by AT&T Capital Corp., the Mid-Cumberland Area Development Corp., and the Metropolitan Development and Housing Agency.
As the neighborhood’s first full-service restaurant to offer live music in years, it was hoped Jubilee would remind people of Jefferson Street in its heyday of the 1930s-50s, when it was a hotbed of enterprise, education, and entertainment before I-40 and desegregation dealt it a deadly double whammy. It was also hoped by community leaders within and without the neighborhood that the restaurant/nightclub might spur a rebirth in the area.
Unfortunately, from the moment it opened, Jubilee was beset with problems. Every restaurant owner in town will attest to the fact that the city’s low unemployment rate has made it extremely difficult to staff service positions, from busboy to cook. The 7,500-square-foot restaurant had the capacity to seat 250, but never the employees necessary to service that manya problem that often resulted in long lines waiting for a table, even though half the tables in the room sat empty. Once you were seated, waits of 15 minutes and more for even a glass of water were not uncommon. On two visits, wine glasses were brought to our table still dripping and hot from the dishwasher. Food was delivered sporadically throughout the meal, and nearby tables covered with the remains of someone else’s meal sat unbussed for hours.
I’d heard a rumor that Jubilee was in trouble. Calls placed to the restaurant were answered by a recording left some months ago announcing that as of Nov. 1, hours of operation would be changed. Callers are advised that they can reserve the private dining area or the entire restaurant by leaving a message for a Harriett Odom, yet the message center is then announced to be full and unable to take a message. Repeated calls placed during the alleged Sunday brunch and weeknight hours were greeted with the same recording.
One afternoon I did finally get a person who seemed unclear on the actual operating hours, saying she thought the restaurant was open on Thursday nights and the first Friday of every month for poetry readings. Calls placed on those nights were also answered with the same recording. Calls to AT&T and Mid-Cumberland were not returned.
Despite its problems, Jubilee was a highly likable place, for its live music, its creative menu by chef Cass Mitchell, and its potential. Let’s hope that the beautifully refurbished restaurant, located in the former Church of God Sanctified, will be saved.
There’s more bad news where that came from, though it emanates from a different side of town: the bustling commercial zone that straddles the borders between Belle Meade, West Meade, and Bellevue. The area, also known as the Hwy. 100/Hwy. 70 split, has long served as a cozy home to locally grown businesses like Phillips Toy Mart, Sperry’s, West Meade Liquors, McClures, Corner Market, Illusions, Belle Meade Brasserie, Bread & Co., The French Shoppe, and, more recently, PJ’s 106. Long lusted over by national retail and fast-food chains, the area has thus far managed to resist the salacious advances of the bullying big boyswith the exception of one garish Krystal.
That changed recently when it was announced that Shoney’s and Amoco, already shuttered, will soon be bulldozed to make way for yet another pharmaceutical outpost of the evil Walgreen empire. Well, you know what they say about standing united and falling divided. The next to fall, according to talk on the street, is sure to make Vince Gill cry in his chicken tortilla soup.
Word is that Sportsman’s Grille, a 15-year tenant, will not have its lease renewed when it expires next year. The landlord of the property, which also includes an Exxon station, has allegedly sold her soul to Ronald McDonald. Could this mean that Gill, who frequents the Grille about as often as he picks up a golf club, will soon be pulling up to a drive-through window? Happy Meals, indeed.