Glancing at the nostalgia-themed decor of Sixth & Pine, the restaurant inside Nordstrom at the Mall at Green Hills, it's easy to lose track of time. It's not just the fact that the self-styled "hip diner with the heart of a deli" is on the lower level and bathed in cheery artificial light that obscures the hour on the clock. It's a longer-term sense of time confusion, owing in part to retro-themed subway-tiled walls, hexagonal-tiled floors and a series of black-and-white photographs capturing local scenes of midcentury life, from a 1951 Easter Egg hunt to 22-cent gas at the Esso.
And while a further inspection of the establishment — a glance at the prices on the menu, for one thing — reveals that the present date is well beyond the era captured in the photos of Nashville's downtown theaters and infamous lunch counters, there's little edible evidence to suggest where or when you are dining.
Is this Seattle, the birthplace of the Nordstrom brand? Or Beachwood, Ohio; or Newark, Delaware; or Los Angeles, where the local Nordstrom stores also recently introduced the nascent Sixth & Pine nameplate?
There's no defining regional dialect to the menu, but the comfort-food vocabulary of sandwiches, soups, salads and entrées is unmistakably American, peppered with hearty and familiar items such as shrimp cocktail, Caesar salad, turkey chili, clam chowder, onion rings, Reubens on rye and cheesecake.
We're still scratching our heads over the hip-diner-slash-deli designation, but we assume it has something to do with latkes, lox and matzo, which rank among the most remarkable items on the menu. In fact, the arrival of Sixth & Pine's potato pancakes with apple compote, and golden chicken broth with fluffy matzo balls is particularly welcome news for fans of classic deli fare still lamenting the demise of Goldie's Deli.
When we mentioned Sixth & Pine to a Clevelander, the first response was to ask whether the Nashville store also offered the popular Louis salad, an old-school medley of shredded iceberg and romaine lettuces with lump crabmeat, large peeled shrimp, avocado, hard-boiled egg and a pink-tinged dressing reminiscent of Thousand Island. Indeed, Louis made the migration to Nashville, where it sits on the salad roster alongside a classic wedge with iceberg, tomatoes, bacon, candied pecans, red onions and chunky blue cheese dressing; chicken salad with mayonnaise, grapes, currants, celery and almonds; and chicken breast with artichoke and goat cheese; among other salads.
Ten sandwiches anchor the menu, including pastrami, corned beef, turkey Reuben and roast beef with bacon (all served on rye bread) and turkey, chicken salad and BLT with avocado (all served on wheat). Other sandwiches include meatloaf with caramelized onions and white cheddar on an onion roll and French dip on a thin baguette.
Beyond the soups, salads and sandwiches, chef Josh Shobe, who relocated with Nordstrom from Kansas City, oversees a short roster of entrées that work well for lunch or dinner.
We particularly enjoyed the fish-and-chips plate with three planks of flaky white fish, dipped in ale batter and fried into puffy golden mittens. While the shoestring "chips" were excellent, we couldn't resist trading them out for a precious little fryer basket of sweet potato fries — like glassy straps of crisp candy — with bright cilantro lime sauce for dipping. (More on that later.)
Meatloaf dinner fell a little flat, with thin, gray slabs of ground meat that lacked the brightness of herbs and accents of texture. While the presentation was promising — over a base of garlic mashed potatoes with lightly roasted lengths of carrot and stalks of crisp asparagus — the effect was undermined when the identical potato-carrot-asparagus trio accompanied the horseradish-crusted salmon entrée. (According to the menu, the same sturdy orange-and-green setup accompanies all the regular entrées, with the exception of the fish and chips.)
Now, back to the cilantro-lime sauce that paired so well with the sweet potato fries. It also goes nicely with the salmon, but you have to ask for it. Otherwise, the fish arrives sans dip or sauce to accent its crisp, sandy crust.
While you might not be able to discern the hour in this sunless subterranean retreat, you can tell the day by looking at the rotating soup du jour and specials menu. Sausage and peppers with polenta means it's Monday; turkey chili, Tuesday. There are also braised short ribs, skirt steak and panko-crusted shrimp with horseradish aioli. If the excellent execution of fish and chips is any indication of what to expect from the fried chicken, we'll be scheduling our next visit for a Sunday.
But in our experience, any hour was as good as the next to stop by Sixth & Pine, where the dining room managed to sustain a casual coziness and a festive hum of activity — and consistently excellent service — all day long. In fact, Sixth & Pine is one of the rare places in town that can fill the bill at teatime, when many establishments close between lunch and the evening rush. After a hectic day of work or errands in the traffic knot of Green Hills, Sixth & Pine would be a welcome refuge for a sip of something or a snack. (Beer and wine are available. On the sweeter side of things, we suggest the warm apple cobbler, whose chewy cake topping recalls the texture of a fallen meringue or macaroon.) While Sixth & Pine may offer little in terms of unique local flavor, it just might be this distinctly unfamiliar element of versatility that puts Nordstrom's restaurant on the map in Green Hills.
Sixth & Pine serves 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 11 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Sunday. Beer and wine are available.
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