During my time in New York, brunch was practically de rigueur. Typically, your party would gather at the chosen restaurant at about 3 in the afternoon. Usually, it had been just hours since you had said goodnight to the same people. But in between you’d had time to grab a few winks, shower, peek at the Sunday Times headlines, and politely dispose of any bad choices you had made the night before. (When you’re in your early 20s, recovery from a long, hard night of revelry is almost instantaneous, usually requiring nothing more than some facial astringent, a few drops of Murine, a Coca-Cola, and a few aspirin.)
While waiting at the bar, you reenergized with mimosas or bloody Marys, and by the time your omelet was set before you, the party was back in high gear. Sunday brunch was not just a breakfast-lunch combo; it was dinner as well, easing the way into a good night’s sleep.
About a month after I moved here in 1981, friends invited me to meet them for Sunday brunch. By that time, I was no longer staying out until 5 a.m. on weekends. Still, I wasn’t prepared for a brunch that started at 11 a.m. My friend gave me a matter-of-fact explanation for the early call“To beat the church people.”
We met at 11 a.m., and I ordered a mimosa, only to learn that you can’t drink in Nashville restaurants before noon on Sundays. I also learned that my friends were right about the church peopleby 12:15 they were lined up five deep at the bar.
For a variety of reasons, I never got into the brunch scene here in Nashville. I am a church person myself now, and I am a parent. By the time church school is finished at 11, the rest of my day is planned. Brunch, I now believe, is the province of single people, childless people, retired people, or that weekend’s non-custodial parent.
Still, if some of my New Yorker friends were in town and insisted on brunch, and if I threw my to-do list to the winds, I’d take them to Tin Angel, which is located, coincidentally, on the site of my first brunch in Nashville, back in 1981. Back then, the place was called Bishop’s Corner, and, quite honestly, I have no recollection of what I ate, although I would guess it was probably a mushroom omelet or maybe eggs Benedict. You can find eggs Benedict on the Tin Angel menu, but I’ll bet that, 17 years ago, no one in Nashville would have known what huevos rancheros was, much less ordered it.
Last October Vicki and Rick Bolsom moved the brunch from their first restaurant, Cakewalk, to the more casual Tin Angel. Judging from the full house that packed the place by 11:30 a.m. on a recent Sunday, it was a wise business decision. Even if you’re eating with the unchurched, you may encounter a wait; after 12:30 it’s guaranteed that you’ll spend some time hanging out in the bar. If other parties don’t linger over their tables, like we did, you won’t be cooling your heels for long.
The Tin Angel brunch menu resembles the Tin Angel lunch and dinner menus in its devotion to fresh ingredients, creative combinations, colorful presentations, well-executed interpretations of classics (such as the spectacular home-fried potatoes), and just-right servings. (You won’t hurt yourself by overeating here.)
We began with one of Tin Angel’s signature startersAngel Wings. The Sunday version is a flour tortilla filled with thin-sliced, grilled Granny Smith apples, caramelized onions, and baked brie. Served in three triangle-shaped slices, it’s small enough, and good enough, to keep you from wanting to share. Lox of Pizza, a very thin pizza crust topped with cream cheese, smoked salmon, sliced tomatoes, red onion, and a handful of capers for good measure, can be split between two. A basket of bread costs extra ($3.50), perhaps because bread comes with each entrée. If you must have something to munch on while waiting for your table, I’d try one of the pizzas, each of which costs just $3 more than the bread basket.
Of the entrée selections, our favorites were the Creole crawfish croquettes, which were good enough to remind my friend and me of our recent trip to New Orleans. The plump croquettes are chock-full of crawfish, and they have a nice kick to them. Each is topped with a perfectly poached egg and a spicy Hollandaise. The consistency of the huevos rancheros, served with black bean chili and avocado slices, was just right for wrapping in the flour tortillas on which they were served. Carnivores will be well-fed with the San Francisco Joea mix of tender slices of filet mignon, caramelized onions, fresh spinach, cheese, and scrambled eggs. Vegetarians might try a slice of the Roman tart, a quiche-like assembly of smoked mozzarella, black olives, and Roma tomatoes in a flaky crust. Of the several omelets, we liked the Greekwith fresh spinach, olives, onions, and fetabest. The crêpes Josephine, a lasagna-type construction, was too heavy for me, particularly with the Mornay sauce on top.
From the sandwich board, we sampled the salmon burger, which is a patty, not a filet, served open face on toasted baugette.
Brunch for eight (with the 17-percent gratuity automatically added to parties of six or more) came to $157.40.
Especially for East Nashvillians, another alternative to the feed-trough brunching one finds at most major hotels is Radio Cafe, the coffeeshop/restaurant/music club at the corner of 14th and Woodland. A true neighborhood treasure, Radio Cafe offers a cozy brunch in its whimsically decorated little dining room, where there’s delightfully subdued musical entertainment in the cabaret-singer mode. Since the room is so small, you will probably encounter a wait here as wellalthough the patio will expand the seating capacity as the weather warms.
Radio Cafe’s brunch selection is limited to a couple of omelets, huevos rancheros, French toast, bagels, and fruit salad, and a few heartier entrées after 10:30 a.m. Service is efficient, since you mark your own selection on an order pad.
Rice is a major component in several of the egg dishes, an unexpected but not unpleasant surprise. Omelets were not quite so fluffy as we’d hoped, but they were generously filled. On everythingincluding the Southwestern dishesthe seasonings were timid, and we all made good use of the hot sauce on the tables. The single order of French toast was enough for a child, but adults will want the double or triple order. Kristy’s Favorite adds a cup of fruit salad, yogurt, and granola to a single order. As expected, the coffee and the specialty coffee drinks were excellent. The food we sampled at Radio Cafe was good, not great. But the friendly service, the prices ($49.74 for six), and the terrific ambiance more than compensate.
Tin Angel is located at 3201 West End Ave. (298-3444). Brunch is served Sundays 11 a.m.-3 p.m.
Radio Cafe is located at 1313 Woodland St. (262-1766). Brunch is served Sundays 9 a.m.-3 p.m.