Stacking the Decks 

Spring is here; roll up the walls

Spring is here; roll up the walls

We don’t have the biggest house in the neighborhood or the newest house in town, but thanks to our screened-in side porch, we of the West family are the envy of our friends and relations.

In spring and fall, the porch adds another room to our home, and we take many lunches and dinners there. (If it were attached to the kitchen instead of the living room, we would probably take all of our meals there.) On many summer evenings, once the heat of day has dissipated a bit and the children are tucked into their beds, my husband and I often enjoy a glass of wine and some cherished, uninterrupted conversation on our porch.

Nashville restaurants have taken the screened-in porch concept and used it to create whole new dining rooms. Many of these add-on spaces are equipped with cold-protective and rain-resistant side panels, so that they can be open all year long. Personally, I don’t begin to enjoy a porch dining room until the walls have been rolled up and the fresh air has been allowed to circulate around the tables. But these semi-sheltered sidewalk cafés do seem to be practical in Nashville, where no one ventures outside during the day from the Fourth of July until Labor Day. Still, even the true outdoor cafés enjoy their share of fans, impervious to the stifling temperatures, provided they have a chilled beverage, a cold beer or a frozen cocktail to help ward off the heat.

The following list, which is a completely subjective compilation, includes some of the spots that are my favorites when it comes to breaking out of winter’s hibernation and enjoying a bite to eat:

Sunset Grill (2001 Belcourt Ave., 386-3663) has it all: A small alfresco patio that seats about 24 and a protected patio that will accomodate about another 50 patrons. In the larger room, also known as the Sun Dome, the side panels can be opened, and two panels of the clear roof will retract, permitting a partial outdoor experience. Plenty of ceiling fans keep the air circulating. At Sunset, you’re bound to see someone you know, or know of. Now, for the first time, open on Sundays too from 5-11 p.m.

Iguana (1910 Belcourt Ave., 383-8920), in the same neighborhood, also offers an inside-out experience. Part of the side porch has been roofed and screened in, but you can also order your sushi burritos under the stars on the front deck.

Joe D’s Hot Chicken Club (behind Faison’s, 200 Belcourt Ave., 298-2112). Don’t be thinking of beating the heat at Joe D’s, a dive in the best sense of the word. It’s small, it’s dark, it’s hot, it’s smoky, it’s swampy. Chicken drummettes are grilled for flavor, sweetened with honey then blasted with Tabasco. Eat them standing up at the bar or take your plate to the little courtyard just ouside the slammin’ screen door.

With not one but two locations, Jay Pennington and Dan Goosetree have the monopoly on outdoor dining on 20th Avenue South. South Street Smokehouse & Crabshack (907 20th Ave. S., 320-5555) has garage-door style roll-up walls on two sides, opening up the lively bar area and about a dozen tables in the funky eatery.

At the newer Bound’ry (911 20th Ave. S., 321-3043), you have your pick of options (if you can stand the wait). In the jam-packed bar, the tall windows angle out, letting some fresh air in and providing a release for the hormones raging inside. To the right of the entrance is a small patio with wrought-iron tables, one of the few reminders of the building’s Closed Quarters-Third Coast days. Upstairs is a nifty balcony offering a full bar and more than a dozen tables. A roof will ward off the raindrops, and the protective plastic on the sides can be raised or lowered depending on the forecast.

Jimmy Kelly’s (217 Louise Ave., 329-4349), a bastion of tradition behind ever-evolving Elliston Place, astounded regulars last summer by putting out some tables and serving steaks on the side porch. Roll-up plastic siding is in place here too (some manufacturer’s marketing representative is making big bucks), but it’s hard to smell the magnolia blossoms until the cover comes off.

TGI Friday’s (2214 Elliston Pl., 329-9575) has a pretty patio that actually offers some shade in the form of umbrellas and real trees. Zillions of appetizers from which to pick and choose.

Red Hot & Blue (2212 Elliston Pl., 321-0350) is the new kid on the block, but it’s already wildly popular with the Capitol Hill set. Now that the Legislature has folded up its tents and skulked away, civilians should enjoy a place on the redwood deck, which offers a good, yet protected, spot for Elliston Place people watching and a groovy blues soundtrack. They’ve got ribs, wet and dry, and a nice selection of beers.

If you prefer pasta on the patio, and a room with a view, Sole Mio (94 Peabody Street, 256-4013) fits the bill. From the deck at the top of Peabody Street, diners get one of the finest panoramas of downtown, including the new arena. By day, large umbrellas on the tables shade patrons from the sun. Sole Mio’s tremendously expanded menu now includes more than a dozen pasta options, dinner entrées and an exceptional pizza selection. Italian wines are available by the glass or the bottle, and there’s Italian beer too.

Well worth the drive is Blue Moon Waterfront Cafe (525 Basswood, 352-5892). Watch the boats tie-up at Jack’s Marina while you sip a piña colada on the covered dock. Frog legs, craw cakes and yellowfin tuna have been added to the menu, complementing favorite interpretations of trout and catfish. The outdoor seating area is immensely popular year-round, but especially after boating season begins. The deck has been expanded, but you can still expect a wait on weekends.

Be the first on your block to see the Bicentennial Mall, still under construction right out back of the new Farmers Market. Get a gyro to go or a Jamaican meat patty or a corned beef sandwich from the Mad Platter Deli and take it outside to one of the round tables on the patio. Watch history in the making.

Probably my favorite outdoor dining experience isn’t a restaurant at all, but, as far as I’m concerned, even the humble hot dog tastes mighty good on a summer night at Greer Stadium (534 Chestnut Street, 242-4371), home of our Nashville Sounds AAA baseball team. On the third base line, my pal Dave keeps the cold beer coming. And there’s nothing quite like watching your 5-year-old dig into a bowl of melting Purity ice cream, served in a miniature plastic batting helmet.

Say cheese

The Corner Market will celebrate American Cheese Week, May 19-25, with daily tastings and seminars hosted by manager Jim Yonkus. The week will culminate with a casual and informal evening cooking class, “Cooking With American Cheeses” on Thursday, May 23. Chef Mary Comell will offer several ideas, working with risottos and fruit and cheese courses. The class will include recipes, instruction and tastings. Call 352-6772.

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