In the 93 years since it opened on Sept. 17, 1910, The Hermitage Hotel in downtown Nashville has both scaled the peaks of prestige and sunk into shabby decay. At one point in the early 1990s, loose terra-cotta tiles on the grand old hotel’s exterior were deemed such a danger to pedestrians that the building was partially wrapped in netting.
In the mid-’90s, The Cooper Companies of Memphis invested $4 million in the refurbishment and renovation of the hotel and its subterranean restaurant, The Capitol Grille. Their effortsand those of executive chef Willie Thomaswere almost immediately rewarded when Esquire named the restaurant one of the country’s 25 best new restaurants. The crowds responded in kind, and Capitol Grille quickly became the place to show off your culinary sophistication. In 1997, Phoenix-based Starwood Lodging purchased the hotel, Thomas departed, and the bloom, as they say, began to fade from the rose.
Last year, a group of investors purchased the property. Their track record is pretty impressive: They acquired Richmond, Va.’s 100-plus-year-old Jefferson Hotel in 1991, and within a few short years, it had earned the highest possible ratings from both AAA and Mobile Travel Guide.
The Hermitage has been closed for the past year, undergoing a $17 million face-lift. It reopened on Valentine’s Day with 119 rooms, much enlarged guest bathrooms, three executive suites, a $1,500-per-night presidential suite, a sumptuously decorated lobby, a luxuriously appointed fitness center, 24-hour room service, DVD/CD players in every room and concierge service. In other words, all of the amenities that the new landlords feel certain will vault The Hermitage Hotel into the celestial world of five-star ratings.
Central to that quest will be the Capitol Grille and the adjacent Oak Bar. Both have undergone additional refurbishment and some reconfiguration, with all-new decor and furnishings. A hot young chef, Sean Brock, has been installed to oversee the menus in both rooms. Brock, a Virginia native, has worked with Robert Carter at the Peninsula Grill in Charleston, and under Walter Bundy of the Jefferson Hotel’s Lemaire restaurant. An honors graduate of Johnson and Wales University, he grew up eating vegetables picked fresh from his grandmother’s garden and is devoted to using seasonal, regional product: “My goal is to bring upscale Southern food with creative interpretations to Nashville,” he says.
Among Brock’s appetizer temptations are a butter-poached Maine lobster, a warm foraged mushroom tart, and oyster-and-cornbread-stuffed quail. Main courses include acorn squash ravioli, pistachio-crusted rack of lamb, and hazelnut-dusted black grouper. A la carte entrées are bone-in prime rib eye, a veal chop, venison osso bucco, yellowtail tuna and roasted diver scallops.
The Hermitage Hotel is at 231 Sixth Ave. N. 345-7176.
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