Sticks and Suds 

Hockey at the Arena, beer at the Flying Saucer—paradise

Hockey at the Arena, beer at the Flying Saucer—paradise

Of the three cold-weather major-league sports, there is none I am more passionate about than hockey. Raised in Wilmington, Del., I was a dedicated Flyers fan until I moved to New York and switched my allegiance to the Rangers. For a couple of years, I lived across the street from Madison Square Garden, and when I walked home from the subway after work, one of the scalpers outside would often give me a single ticket he hadn’t sold.

Later, the magazine I worked for not only had a luxury box at the Garden that I used from time to time, but my job introduced me to some of the staff and players, who left me tickets whenever I asked. I admit I was ridiculously spoiled. Not only did I never pay for admission to a hockey game, I always had a ticket in the “reds” or “oranges,” the seat colors of the Garden’s best sections.

When the NHL announced last year that Nashville was its choice for an expansion team to begin play in the fall of 1998, I felt my time had come. Determined to make my Southern-born children into hockey fans, I took them to every event surrounding the application, the campaign, and the season-ticket sales kickoff. Which is when reality hit me in the face like a 90-mph slapshot. In the 17 years since I last lived in an NHL city, ticket prices have gone up quite a bit. I studied the color-coded seating charts and even made a fact-finding mission to the Arena. From my point of view, the best seat was located behind the penalty boxes, mid-way up in the lower bowl. At $60 per seat, one season ticket would run me $2,340. Not that it isn’t worth every single penny of every single excitement-packed moment of non-stop hockey action, but the cold, puck-hard reality is I simply can’t afford it. While I turned myself inside out trying to find breathing room in my budget, grown-up priorities—mortgage, health insurance, college savings, dental bills, soccer fees, Brownie dues, art lessons, and new school clothes—kept taking precedence. Through a friend who holds season tickets, I splurged and purchased one ticket to three games:opening night, the Islanders game, and the Rangers game, as well as tickets to take Joy and Harry to see the Mighty Ducks on Nov. 28. I have gone so far as to consider placing a personal ad—Will Date for Predator Ticket; Hockey Savvy SWF will trade puck expertise for lower-bowl ticket—but I came to my senses. For the remaining home games, I will have to rely on the kindness of season-ticket holding friends with an extra seat.

For at least a few home and away games, you’ll probably also find me parked in front of the big screen at the Flying Saucer, a new beer emporium located in the former baggage building of Union Station. While there are five other Flying Saucers in Texas, Arkansas, and Memphis, the Nashville version doesn’t have the feel of a chain restaurant, thanks in part to its historic location. The tap house/restaurant is spread over three large rooms: a cozily outfitted billiard room, a sprawling glassed-in porch furnished with picnic tables and overstuffed sofas, and the huge main room, which reminds me quite pleasantly of a Texas beer hall. Sturdy wooden tables and chairs are comfortably spaced, and a bar stretches along the entire back wall, which is where you can study the distinctive pull handles of the 75-plus beers on tap. The Flying Saucer name comes from the 2,000 commemorative plates—depicting everything from Elvis to Mt. Everest—that are hung on the walls and ceiling.

But when it comes to winning customers, it’s the beer, stupid. Besides the international assortment of brewski on tap, Flying Saucer carries more than 100 bottles of beer on its wall, brewed in places as nearby as Louisiana and far away as Vietnam. The Flying Saucer offers a separate menu for its beer, one that will take far longer to plow through than the edible selections. The beers are grouped under draught or bottled, sub-grouped by Pale, Amber, and Dark, then further defined by country of origin. You can play it safe and be forever branded a beer weenie with a Bud Light (may I have that in a brown paper sack, please?), or go out on a limb with a Radegast from the Czech Republic. Thrill-seekers can take a free fall with a beer sampler—the Around the World Flight offers 5 ounce glasses of five beers for $6.25. On two visits to Flying Saucer, I tried two different drafts and one bottled; my only complaint beer-wise is that they’re nearly room-temperature. (I, like many Americans, prefer my suds served icy cold in a frosty glass.)

The Flying Saucer has wisely limited its menu to beer-friendly foods that reflect a Texas-Mexican-German lineage. To start, you’ll find the usual suspects of chicken wings, nachos, quesadillas, chips and salsa, and sausage and cheese plates, along with hot tamales, beer-cheese soup, and pickle popcorn. The chips under the beans and chicken nachos had gotten too soggy to pick up without utensils, the tamales were bland, and the beer-cheese soup, delivered in a hollowed-out round of bread, had the consistency of a dip. But the wings were plump and cooked in a tabasco-based sauce; the soft pretzel was generously sized and steaming hot; and the sausage quesadilla was very good. Anybody who will pay $1 for a small bowl of seasoned popcorn has probably had too many Road Dog Scotch Ales. Most places give this stuff away as a thirst-enhancer.

There are nine meat sandwiches, priced from $4.95 to $6.25 and served with chips or Fritos. The vegetarian selection comes wrap-style in a tortilla. Of the others, the Reuben and Big Dipper were best. Ultimately, though, the perfect thing to order at Flying Saucer is the Bratwurst. Grilled or smoked, on a bun or a plate, it is fabulous, topped with tangy sauerkraut and accompanied by a hearty German-style potato salad.

I wouldn’t have missed opening night of the Predators’ inaugural season for anything in the world. Despite the final score, it was absolutely victorious. The team lost the game, but they won over the 17,500 fans on hand. If you missed it, you’ve still got 39 more chances to sink your teeth into your Nashville Predators. And by the way, if you’ve got an extra ticket....

Little Italy

A couple of weeks ago I came home from dinner starving—never a good sign for a restaurant review. Thank goodness I had visited Marie and Carlo Giordano earlier that day at their Taste of Italy market and restaurant on White Bridge Road. I pressed my face up against their refrigerated case, and, as usual, I didn’t walk out empty-handed. In fact, I took home all that was left of the seafood salad, the Taste Treat of the Week. Forget what you know of Southern seafood salads, which toss a few boiled shrimp (and maybe some crab meat) in among the mayonnaise, celery, and chopped onion. Carlo’s uncompromising version combines as-fresh-as-it-gets shrimp, squid, scallops, and lobster meat, marinated in oilve oil, lemon juice, and fresh parsley. It is sublime, pure culinary sanctitude. I took it out of the refrigerator, poured a glass of chardonnay, and savored every last morsel. Available only on Friday and Saturday, it is priced at $16.99 a pound, and worth every blessed penny.

I have a feeling many more taste treats are in store at Taste of Italy, which is now serving private dinners for parties of six or more if reservations are made at least two days in advance. When you call, Marie or Carlo will discuss the options for your four-course feast, prix fixe at $39 per person. Here’s one that will whet your appetite. Start with orange scampi fritters, followed by either an Apulian mussel soup or homemade ravioli in a meat or cream sauce. Then select a main course of either beef tenderloin in green pepper sauce or marinated swordfish in a tomato sauce with pine nuts, capers, and black olives. Glazed peaches with zabaglione polish off the meal. For a $5 corkage fee, you can bring your own wine.

In a few weeks, the Giordanos hope to begin serving dinner six nights a week from a limited menu. And then, as God is my witness, I’ll never go hungry again.

Taste of Italy, 72 White Bridge Road, 354-0124.

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