4023 Nolensville Road
Hours: 10 a.m.-10:30 pm daily
Price range: $
What strikes me most about Super Pollothe new fast-casual restaurant on Nolensville Road, about 500 feet north of Harding Placehas nothing to do with the food. On my third visit there, in the space of an hour I heard Marvin Gaye, Freda Payne, ABBA, Marshall Tucker, REO Speedwagon, Sting, Santana, U2, Faith Hill, Bruce Springsteen and several Spanish songs I didn't recognize. Looking around the large, clean, brightly lit dining area, I saw a similar hodgepodge: at one table, four Hispanic men, and at another, a Hispanic family of five; an elderly Asian couple seated in the corner, next to a table with three middle-aged African American women; against one windowed wall, a young bohemian duo who obviously knew their yoga, considering the effortless way they folded their feet up into their laps under the table; and at my table, two single blond mothers with five blond children.
Contrary to that diversity, the menu at Super Pollo is narrowly defined. It's chicken from top to bottom: chicken wings, chicken plates, chicken sandwiches, chicken tacos, chicken tenders and chicken salads. The concept was developed by two very focused teenagers, Jeannette Ceja (18) and her brother Israel (19). With the help of their mother, businesswoman Carmen Ceja, they opened Super Pollo in June in the building that had previously housed Neely's BBQ.
When Neely's packed up their pork and moved to MetroCenter, one of the first to know was Carmenshe owns Ceja Enterprises next door, where she does independent CPA work for primarily Hispanic-owned businesses. She and her husband moved their family here from California eight years ago. In addition to being budding entrepreneurs, Jeannette and Israel are currently attending Belmont University.
When the siblings decided to take the leap and open a restaurant, they did something teens rarely do: they listened to their mother. "She thought this would be a great location," remembers Jeannette. "It is in the middle of one of our biggest Hispanic communities, but it is also one of the most well-traveled roads in Nashville, so hopefully many people would see us and come in to give us a try."
In fact, if drivers somehow miss the huge sign of a barrel-chested cartoon chicken with flapping wings, they can just follow their noses to Super Pollo, which lures potential customers from blocks around with the intoxicating scent of a backyard barbecue. "We knew that people in Nashville love chicken," says Jeannette. "But we didn't see any place like ours; char-grilled chicken is very popular in California, where we lived. It is healthier than fried chicken, and has the flavor of the grill."
Actually, as Jeannette explains, the chickens are first parboiled, which keeps them moist, then split and placed on the hickory-fired grills. The grilled chickens form the basis of most of the menu, with the exception of the wings and the fried chicken tenders.
Though we sampled all of the chicken options on my first professional visit, on personal returns with my kids, we go straight for a family packavailable in several sizes. We do #1 ($12.99), which includes eight big pieces of chicken, sides of rice and refried beans, and three individual packets of handmade corn tortillas. (The tortilla press is one of the new pieces of equipment the Cejas purchased for the kitchen.) Instead of the refried beans, I highly recommend the soupy, hearty charro beans, cooked with pork, bacon and chorizo. Chicken can be ordered regular, BBQ or BBQ spicy; after sampling all three, our preference is the regular, which has a clean, smoky flavor, fresh off the grill.
Family pack sizes go up to the #4, which, for $24.19, includes 16 pieces of chicken and feeds up to eight people. By my calculator, that's a rock-bottom $3.02 per person. You can't beat that with a stick.
While the Cejas oversee the business, chefs Francisco Alduenda and Juan Carlos are in charge of the kitchen, where a crew of culturally mixed employees make up the daily batches of fresh coleslaw with mango, potato salad, chicken salad, charro beans and the six different salsas on the salsa bar in the dining room.
Another lesson the Ceja offspring took from Mama Ceja was customer service. On every visit to Supper Pollo, we have been warmly greeted as soon as we walk in the door. There are menus in Spanish and English, and the bilingual staff can accommodate either language. After placing and paying for their order, customers fill their own cups from the soda fountain (or take one of the Mexican soft drinks from the cooler in front of the registers), and find a seat at a table in the dining room. An employee delivers the food, along with plates and plastic cutlery (my one complaintthese are too flimsy for cutting into a chicken thigh or breast), and suggests a trip to the salsa bar to sample the pico de gallo or salsa verde. The chef on duty makes intermittent forays into the dining room to inquire about the food satisfaction level. I like that in a restaurant.
"We knew Hispanics would like our food," says Jeannette. "But we have been so happy that it appeals to so many people outside of the Hispanic community. We love to see everyone in our dining room." And what about that music? "Oh, it is satellite," Jeannette answers. "My brother and I like all kinds of music, and we wanted to have something for everybody." By the looks of the dining room, the Cejas have accomplished their mission.