When people ask me where I lived in New York, I don’t give them a very specific answer; in seven years, I lived in a half- dozen different apartments. With one exception, they were all in borderline neighborhoods that were on the verge of becoming desirable. Chelsea, the Upper West Side, and the Lower East Side were marginally dangerous when I lived there. After I moved away, they became hot, hot, hot.
My predilection for risky real estate followed me south, first to an apartment on Belmont Boulevard, then to East Nashville, where I had to give a dinner party if I wanted to lure friends across the river.
So forgive me a little gloating over the incredible prescience I exhibited with the move to my current neighborhood. In 1993, my real estate agent referred to our street as “transitional,” but what mattered to me was that the house was zoned for Percy Priest Elementary, that it was around the corner from Becker’s Bakery, and that it was within walking distance of both Sunshine Grocery and Hillsboro Village.
Remarkable changes have taken place around me in the past couple of years. You know things are really looking up when your neighborhood gets a fancy name, and these days, when people ask where I live, I breezily reply, “Oh, I’m in 12 South.”
Sheila Warren, the owner of Laurell’s Central Market, which has just opened in 12 South, knows something about transitional neighborhoods; she opened Laurell’s Restaurant down on Second Avenue long before that part of town became known as “The District.”
Locals in 12 South kept a close eye on Warren’s renovation of the old building at 2315 12th Ave. S.; then they lined up the welcome wagons outside Central Market almost from the day she illuminated the neon fish that edge the tops of the Market’s windows.
Laurell’s Central Market is primarily a take-out operation. There’s only one table inside, with a few other tables outside awaiting balmier temperatures. Much of the menu recalls the downtown Laurell’s with its spicy, Cajun-inspired, seafood-heavy repertoire.
If you’ve always been a big fan of Laurell’s chilled spiced shrimp, crabcakes, crawfish étouffée, and chicken and andouille gumbo, you will be pleased to know you can now pick them up and enjoy them in your own home. At the counter, one of two large refrigerated cases is devoted to salads (sold by the half-pint, pint, or quart); my favorites include the excellent seafood salad, with its big chunks of fish and crawfish, peppers, and plenty of curry; the unique broccoli salad with sunflower seeds and golden raisins; the spicy shredded cole slaw; and the grilled chicken salad with crisp julienned vegetables and a ginger kick. The big hit was the cold sliced tenderloin, pink at the center and laden with peppery seasoning. Every bite was melt-in-the-mouth tender. Another section is devoted to seafood. There’s raw fish ready for cooking, including gorgeous slabs of sushi-quality tuna, swordfish, and salmon; raw and cooked shrimp; crabcakes ready for frying or baking (if you must); and chunks of crawfish tailmeat.
To the side, a cooler case is stocked with to-go containers of Laurell’s popular gumbos, white bean chicken chili, corn chowder, beans and rice, and lobster bisque, as well as sauces, dips, spreads, and marinades. Also available are prepackaged dinners, ready to zap in the microwave. We weren’t crazy about the lobster alfredo, but we loved the roasted Cornish hens with jambalaya stuffing.
Hot or cold lunch boxes are available at the counter; selections include crawfish étouffée, spinach basil lasagna, and chicken Baton Rouge. Lunch boxes include dessert. Delivery is available for orders of 10 or more. Catering is also available.
With Sheila’s charming son, Zackary Davis, as manager, the tone at the Central Market is friendly and helpful. This is the sort of place that would be a welcome addition to any neighborhoodfor those of us who actually seek out “transitional” streets, it’s a fine reward for sticking it out.
Laurell’s Central Market is located at 2315 12th Ave. S. (615-292-1177). Open Mon.-Sat. 11 a.m.-7 p.m.
If simplification is on your personal list of New Year’s resolutions, here’s a potentially helpful dining tip.
Market Wraps, a new concept from the Spinnaker’s chain, puts a meal in a tortilla. You get fiber, starch, veggie, protein, and sauceall on one plate. No utensils are required (some well-bred types may not find that so appealing), but you’ll need plenty of napkins.
The wraps phenomenon is huge in California. Market Wraps’ recipes have been developed by local food-industry veteran Hoyt Hill in cooperation with David Tsang, the owner of the West Coast-based House of Tsang, which is known for its Oriental sauces, marinades, and rubs.
Market Wraps come in several varieties. Salad wraps include Caesar, Oriental chicken, and Frisco. “Hometown” wraps, not surprisingly, include meat ’n’ three (meatloaf, mashed potatoes, zucchini, yellow squash, and tomato sauce) and a club. Among the international options are Southwestern, Roman Rhapsody, Tahitian, Mardi Gras, and Bangkok. The tortilla’s flavor complements the ingredients; the Southwestern is wrapped in a chili tortilla, the garden veggie in a tomato tortilla, the Frisco (chicken breast, rice, lettuce, sesame seeds, pickled ginger, and teriyaki sauce) in a spinach tortilla.
Each wrap is wound tightly enough to remain intact until the last few bites, then a fork may be called for. Least successful are the wraps that involve mashed potatoes. While the flavors are good, eating them is an unpleasant sensationlike having mashed potatoes squeezed into my mouth through a pastry tube.
We really liked the garden veggie wrap with black beans; the Mardi Gras wrap with andouille sausage, shrimp, chicken, and red beans; and the Southwestern wrap with chicken breast, black beans, rice, peppers, cheese, and salsa. The Jamaican wrap, with jerk-rubbed steak and peppers, was also good, but we’d replace the mashed potatoes with cubes of roasted sweet potato. Wraps are filling for the average human, weighing in at about a pound apiece.
A different soup is featured daily and comes with a strawa warm tortilla that’s been brushed with a sauce and then rolled.
Fruit smoothies and dessert smoothies are made with yogurt, sorbet, and fresh fruitno chalky powders, ice, or water. If you’re feeling the flu coming on, you can add a health boost to your smoothie for just 35 cents.
Market Wraps is sleek and modern. (It was designed by those sleek-and-modern architects Patrick Avice du Buisson and Manuel Zeitlin.) There’s plenty of stainless steel and lots of cool surfaces. On our visit, service was fast and efficient.
While Market Wraps may not be coming soon to my part of town, I understand preliminary talks are under way in Green Hills. Some neighborhoods have all the luck.
Market Wraps is located in Brentwood Place Shopping Center, across the parking lot from Kroger, 330 Franklin Rd. (615-376-08151). Open seven days a week, 11 a.m.-8 p.m.