It’s not unusual for independent restaurants to showcase the work of local artists. In fact, it’s a clever plan to fill the empty wall space while adding an affordable brushstroke of personality to the décor. More often than not, though, the food leads the way, and the art is an aesthetic afterthought.
But that’s not exactly the case with the Rumours restaurants, where the creativity and skill of local painters and craftsmen infuse virtually every aspect of the interior design.
When co-owners Christy Shuff and Whitney Ferré started their respective entrepreneurial careers in the 12 South neighborhood, their interests were in fostering an artistic community. Ferré, a painter and art teacher, founded Creative Fitness Center in 1997, and Shuff opened The Art House gallery in 2001. Both women were trailblazers along the burgeoning retail corridor between Gale Lane and Linden Avenue, long before the nickname “12 South” stuck and a feature story in The New York Times put the emerging district on the map. It was a time when the neighborhood was gathering momentum, but to paraphrase art critic Gertrude Stein, there was still relatively little there there.
Rather than sit back and wait for a retail and restaurant community to draw traffic to their nascent artistic ventures, Shuff and Ferré decided to create it themselves. In 2004, they teamed up to open Rumours Wine & Art Bar in the petite bungalow where Shuff had initially launched The Art House. She moved the gallery next door, ultimately tying the two properties together with a dramatic brown picket fence and effectively establishing a creative compound and culinary landmark on 12 South’s fledgling pedestrian-friendly thoroughfare. Over the next few years, Shuff co-founded 12 South Market, which morphed into The Taproom, and the neighborhood continued to gain critical mass (there started to be some there there) on both residential and retail levels.
Meanwhile, across the Cumberland River, where another gentrifying area was enjoying an infiltration of upwardly mobile residents and all their ancillary restaurants, coffee shops and galleries, folks starting trying to lure Ferré and Shuff east. But the timing wasn’t quite right until early 2007, when Red Wagon restaurant near Five Points pulled up to a halt. The departure of Meg Giuffrida’s beloved vegetarian-friendly lunch-and-brunch spot left a rambling Victorian house without a tenant. Enter Shuff, Ferré and business partner chef Hernán Borda. In early 2007, the team embarked upon an ambitious overhaul of the Red Wagon space. In October, Rumours East debuted.
The second Rumours location is the unmistakable offspring of the original understated 12 South bungalow wine bar. But this time, Ferré and Shuff really strutted their creative stuff, unveiling a dining environment that feeds the eyes as well as the appetite. Gone are the clean, pop colors of the former tenant, replaced with jewel-toned fabrics on vintage furniture and deep drunken hues of blue and purple that recall the contents of a vintage magnum more than of a metal paint can. At every turn, fixtures and accessories reflect thoughtful design. Many of the elements, such as the custom-made chandeliers and the windows embellished with floral stencil designs, are Ferré and Shuff’s handiwork. Others come from their creative circle of friends: paintings by Becca Durnin and Caryn Cast, hand-hewn counters of walnut by Aaron Anderson, tabletops carved from tree trunks by Aaron Durnin, and a haunting mural of dark woods by local painter Emily Leonard. The restaurant’s creative pièce de résistance is artist Tony Ellis’ massive serpentine bar in the back room, with layers of wood and copper swirling gracefully in front of the Cruvinet wine-refrigeration system like a strip of ribbon candy. If the über lifestylists at Anthropologie—who mass-market the contemporary fusion of earthy materials, sumptuous fabrics and rich craftsmanship—were to open a restaurant, it almost certainly would look like Rumours East.
Borda, who mans the kitchens in both Rumours locations, translates his partners’ artistry into a refreshingly simple repertoire of fresh, seasonal cuisine. In the larger East location, with its comparatively sprawling kitchen, the menu expands upon the tight roster available at 12 South, but there is plenty of overlap between the two restaurants.
In visits to both Rumours locations, we quickly identified a template for many of Borda’s entrées: a meat gently cooked, drizzled with a delicate sauce and plated with an amusing medley of vegetables, an inventive starch and an abundant tussle of lightly dressed greens.
Our favorite version of this culinary MadLib was a corvina special. The flaky white fish was sautéed, drizzled with honey-saffron beurre blanc, served with a gratin of sweet and regular potatoes and topped with a fluffy mound of shredded cabbage and arugula. The juxtapositions of warm fish and cool greens, silky sauce and crusty gratin topping, creamy potatoes and sweet-potato crisps made each forkful a dazzling composition.
The sesame seared tuna (with citrus beurre blanc, parsnips, carrots and arugula salad) and the seared scallops (with arugula, spinach, asparagus, gratin and a Dijon beurre blanc) were similarly fresh combinations of delicate flavors. By comparison to the melt-in-your-mouth seafoods, the flavorful pork loin—stuffed with herbs and drizzled with a bright chimichurri—was slightly tough.
In addition to the abundant stacked entrées, we also enjoyed the appetizer of shrimp and Parmesan grits—a sweet-and-creamy canvas for a drizzle of Balsamic reduction—and the mussels steamed in a rich broth of butter and garlic. We would have enjoyed more of the broth for sopping with bread. In fact, we would have enjoyed a crustier loaf than the rubbery slices that accompanied the shellfish. On the other hand, after our large meals, we felt refreshingly un-stuffed, a welcome result of not filling up on bread. In fact, we were not offered a breadbasket on either visit.
For dessert, we ordered the only homemade item on the menu, pumpkin streusel, which faintly echoed the flavors and texture of the sweet-potato gratin, an appropriately autumnal coda to the meal.
Rumours East, with all its brooding colors and original fireplaces, offers a cozy refuge on a cold evening, but come spring, it will be just as easy to describe the restaurant as the place to while away the lengthening days while sipping from any of the 100 wines on the very accessible list. Out back, a sprawling brick patio offers comfortable and ample seating at tables—and in swinging chairs suspended from the beams of an arbor that mirrors the Victorian roofline. In this urban oasis, bordered with rose bushes, a kitchen garden provides herbs, tomatoes and other fresh foods for Borda’s seasonal repertoire. Construction is almost complete on a massive outdoor grill, where Borda, a native Argentine, will bring his South American culinary background to bear on a repertoire of grilled meats.
Rumours East recently opened for weekend brunch-lunch, with a menu of quiche, omelets, paninis, shrimp and grits, soup and salad available 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday.
When the 12 South-based Art House and East Nashville-based Plowhaus Artists’ Cooperative merge in the coming months, uniting their studio and gallery spaces under one roof, the combined nonprofit organization probably will take up residence in East Nashville. So while art may have led the way to food at Rumours, food is leading the way to even more art at Rumours East. In both neighborhoods, the end result is a delicious boost to the there there.
Rumours East opens for dinner at 5 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday and serves brunch 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Rumours Wine & Art Bar is open 5 p.m. to midnight Monday through Saturday.
While opening presents - coffee & Godiva Milk & Dark Chocolate Turtles Christmas Breakfast -…
Jehovah Jireh's Bakery & Catering Service offer Complete Homemade Grandmama's Christmas Dinner as well as…
Christmas Eve always means heavy hors d'oeuvres and plenty of cocktails and the day of…
Gbea - Fleet Street Pub in Printers Alley will be open on Christmas Eve and…
Gbea,I hate to spoil the surprise of my Monday post, but as a public service…