The Red Rooster
4501 Murphy Road. 279-8010
Open 7 a.m.-9 p.m. Mon.-Thurs.; 7 a.m.-10 p.m. Fri.; 8 a.m.-10 p.m. Sat.; 9 a.m.-3 p.m. Sun.
Last week, I met a friend who lives nearby for a casual dinner with our children. We decided to try a fun new neighborhood restaurant. Unfortunately, we had to drive there, because the new restaurant wasn’t in our Belmont neighborhood, but in Sylvan Park.
Over portobello mushroom and Caesar salads, pepperoni pizza, a veggie calzone and roll-ups at The Red Rooster, she and I talked about the brouhaha that recently erupted in our neck of the woods concerning the redevelopment of two small, centrally located buildings in the Belmont-Hillsboro neighborhood. The buildings, situated next to each other at the corner of Belmont Boulevard and Dallas Avenue, have been in commercial use for decades. The most recent tenants included a barber, a photography studio, a drapery store and the H&M Beer Market, a seedy convenience store that earned neighborhood fame after a violent holdup there many years ago.
Both buildings are owned by out-of-state landlords with strong historic and current ties to Nashville. In late 2002, the property was vacated and has since been undergoing an extensive, costly and historically sensitive renovation. The transformation is exciting and eye-popping, perfectly in sync with the architecture and landscape of the neighborhood. For years, a faction of folks in the area have wanted to see a restaurant move in on that block, and as the work being done on the property revealed itself day by day, they got their hopes up once again.
As it turns out, nothing could have been more complicated. For starters, because there’d never been a restaurant there before, zoning rules required that the property lessors appear before the Metro Board of Zoning Appeals (BZA) to obtain certificates of occupancy for any prospective tenants who wanted to change the use of either building. Meanwhile, some residents of the quiet, primarily residential neighborhood began to express concern about the proposed tenants, and the Belmont-Hillsboro Neighbors became involved. Chief among those concerns wasyou guessed itthe rumor of a restaurant moving in.
Small, work-group meetings were set up, in hopes that designated community leaders would be able to reach agreement on acceptable tenants before the owners made an application to the BZA for a zoning variance. Two larger public neighborhood meetings followed in late April, but a major divide still existed less than two weeks prior to the zoning hearing on May 1. On one side: residents emphatically opposed to a restaurant going into the space. On the other side: residents in favor of a restaurant. In the middle: the property owners, represented by local attorney Shawn Henry, project architects Dryden Abernathy Architecture Design, and leasing agents.
The discussions became heated at times, with much of the fire coming from those who opposed the restaurant primarily on the grounds of theoretical parking problems and increased noise. In fact, the meeting was so heated that neighbors were unable to reach agreement, with some of the most intransigent opponents threatening to file a lawsuit to prevent an eatery from moving in. The property owners and developers admitted defeat and, on May 1, withdrew their application to the BZA. Under existing rules, they are free to lease their space to a wide range of businesses as long as those establishments fall under grandfathered categories. Because the rezoning application was withdrawn, the property owners are no longer under any obligation to conform to the list of conditions that neighborhood residents tried to impose regarding lighting, signage, exterior paint, outdoor furniture and other cosmetic details. The owners could, if they wished, return the building to the same seedy state it was in prior to the neighborhood protests.
So there we were, my friend and I at the Red Rooster, incredulously hashing out the whole story. What, we wondered, would induce people to move to an urban neighborhood, on the same block as a decayed, commercially operated property, and then get their panties in a wad when the owners make spectacular improvements to that property in order to attract a higher caliber of tenants than the previous occupants? Isn’t the point of city living to create vibrant, interactive neighborhoods where people don’t have to climb into their cars if they want to go out for a meal? We couldn’t help but envy Sylvan Park residents, with their walkable and diverse dining optionsincluding the very restaurant where we were sitting.
Located in the former Portland Brew building, Red Rooster is owned by the same partnership that owns Caffe Nonna immediately next door. A small patio with lovely landscaping provides the welcome mat to the delightfully sunny room, which has a Mediterranean ambiance, thanks to the terra-cotta and ocher walls, polished concrete floor, hand-painted tables, lazily swirling ceiling fans, and a gleaming oak dining counter under a length of windows hung with darling café curtains. Rooster-themed art provides whimsical touches throughout the restaurant, which also offers a view into the compact and busy kitchen.
The menu is colorfully chalked on blackboards hung high overhead and printed on paper handouts as well. In the a.m., customers can fuel up on an Italian frittata, veggie or farmers’ roll-ups, eggs, baked goods, yogurt and granola, and fruit smoothies. (They can also enjoy all these dishes in the p.m. too, since breakfast is available during all operating hours.)
In the afternoon and evening, Red Rooster offers diners simple, healthy, freshly prepared choices at very moderate prices. There are two options to start: a mound of garlic-laden hummus with toast points, or a black bean quesadilla. Sandwiches, including a tomato and fresh mozzarella option, are made to order on wheat, rye, sourdough or a baguette. Five salads provide fiber and greenery; the Caesar and portobello mushroom salads that we sampled were portioned large enough for an entrée or to share as a side, full of chilled greens, robust house-made dressings and quality extras like roasted yellow peppers, briny black olives and toasted nuts.
The basic margherita pizza begins with an 8- or 12-inch, hand-thrown thin crust topped with a savory marinara, creamy mozzarella and fresh basil; pies can be embellished with about two dozen toppings, but I would ask for my crust to be better crisped. The fat and happy calzones are stuffed with ricotta/mozzarella/ Parmesan cheeses, along with a variety of other ingredients, and chewy garlic breadsticks come six or 12 to an order.
Soup changes daily; I suspect some collusion between the Rooster and Nonna kitchens here, and I mean that in a most positive sense. Roll-ups include tuna, chicken salad and black bean varieties, along with a daily changing special; on the night we visited, it was the Big Fat Greek Roll-up with chicken, feta, kalamata olives, peppers and rice. All are large enough for sharing.
To put it simply, Red Rooster is exactly the kind of place you’d want near your own home: It’s got a warm, comfortable vibe; it’s reasonably priced; and the food is commendably good. It’s perfect for a quick breakfast, a laid-back brunch or an easy, low-key, family-friendly dinner on a balmy summer night.
In a story last November announcing the imminent opening of Red Rooster, Bernard Pickney, president of the Sylvan Park Neighborhood Association, was quoted as saying, “We can deal with parking one way or another. We’re hoping people will walk. We’d much rather have something there than it be vacant. We’re happy to see it coming. It brings a lot of people into the neighborhood that wouldn’t come otherwise.”
Such as people who live in the Belmont-Hillsboro neighborhood?