Jazz by the Seafood
7657 Highway 70 South 662-6660
Hours: 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Mon.-Sat.
When Michael Stergis says he's goin' fishin', he's not goofing off. More likely, he's about to put in another long day at the fresh seafood store he and his wife Mickey, along with partners Betty Gaither and Mike Rapp, have opened in the Bellevue Village shopping center on Highway 70. A lifelong fisherman, Stergis has turned his passion into profession with Jazz by the Seafood. Actually, "passions" would be more accuratethe "jazz" in the name of the store refers to Stergis' tenure as a musician and his love of that genre, which plays on the store's stereo system, along with other picks from his personal collection.
"Everywhere I went on the road when I was playing, I brought my fishing gear," he says, standing in front of the case where at least two dozen varieties of fish and shellfish are displayed. "While the other guys in the band would be sleeping in, I'd be waist-deep in water in some stream in the Alps. It was fantastic. I got to see food from all over the world in its country of origin."
Stergis, a native of southern Illinois, first went to Los Angeles to play trumpet, then moved to Nashville 18 years ago, drawn by the music industry (he also produces advertising jingles for radio and television) and quality of life. Thirteen years ago, he helped Bob Lukens build and operate a live seafood store in Belle Meade, As Fresh As It Gets. That got him hooked on the mission of providing fresh fish to landlocked Nashvillians; it took a little longer to develop the concept for his store.
Jazz by the Seafood is primarily a source for fresh seafood, which comes from all over the world within two days of its catchone day on the boat and one day in transport. "We handle the fish differently than any other place in Nashville," Stergis explains. "We keep the meat whole in zip-lock bags so it is not sitting directly on the ice. That just dehydrates the fishall the ocean leaves the fish and goes into the ice. You can still smell the ocean in our cooler and when you open these bags. You don't want a seafood store that smells like low tide. Then we hand-cut the fish to the customers' order while they watch. They get exactly what they ask for."
As appealing as Jazz's display of mahi mahi, Dover sole, Chilean sea bass, swordfish, wild salmon, tuna, Loupe de Mer, oysters, scallops, shrimp and lobster is, Stergis has found that many people are intimidated by the notion of cooking fish. And he is cognizant of the fact that the quality of their product means it is pricier than supermarket seafood, so a mistake could be costly. To that end, everyone who works in the store is an experienced seafood cook or certified chef. When customers ask, "What do I do with that thang?" pointing to one of the 4-pound lobstersaffectionately known as Lobzillathey'll get instructions and some recipe suggestions.
More ambitious chefs can sign up for cooking classes that take place in the center of the store. A half-moon counter fronted by barstools overlooks a freestanding range and prep area. At the stove last Saturday was Nashville chef/restaurateur and noted seafood expert Josh Weekley, demonstrating to a rapt group of eight how to cook with shellfish and bivalves; his execution of a live lobster was quite impressive. While the class added to the lively atmosphere in the store, drawing onlookers to pause for a moment from their shopping, Stergis says that groups can reserve the store after hours for private lessons, and he will assist in scheduling a teacher, or do it himself.
In addition to the fresh goods, a small freezer case is stocked with store-made fish stock ("We make it with our own bones and shells," Stergis says) as well as frog legs and other frozen products. In a refrigerated case are zip-lock bags of baby vegetables that Stergis has shipped in from Creative Gardens in Knoxville, as well as bags of fresh herbs and spring greenseverything, in other words, to make a meal of your fish purchase. The metal shelves that line the pale-blue walls are being stocked with gourmet grocery items to further complement the main course.
"We are finding that people just like to hang out here," says Stergis. "When is the last time the guy behind the seafood counter at Kroger called you by your name and asked how you liked your scallops last week? We know our customers by name, and by what kind of fish they've tried. And you can't believe the number of fish stories we hear."
Nashville has a butcher once more
Pssst. Wanna buy some hanger steak? The flavorful meat known as "the butcher's cut"because the butcher often kept it for himselfis the centerpiece of the menu in any respectable French bistro. Until recently, it has been tough, if not impossible, to find in Nashville. Todd Lewis admits he didn't know what it was, even though he has been cutting meat for around 15 years and recently opened the Bandywood Butcher Block in Green Hills.
"One day right after we opened," Lewis says, "some guy named Bullet Gillespie came in and asked me if I had hanger steak, and I said no. So he pulls out a French meat-cutting diagram, shows me what it is, and asks if I can get it. I said, sure, I'll look into it. So I found a source and ordered some. About a week later, another guy comes in and says he heard we have hanger steak. I said yeah, we do. He said he could get it everywhere in New York but couldn't find it anywhere here. He was really happy we had it." The satisfied customer was novelist Jay McInerney, who splits his time between New York and Nashville.
Hanger steak is just one of the cuts of meat carried at the tiny shop in The Courtyard at Bandywood, the first butcher shop in Nashville since Green Hills Meat Market got out of the meat-cutting business and eventually became The Copper Kettle. Lewis' roots in the industry go back to the original GHMM, which was also on Bandywood. That butcher shop came about with the demise of the beloved Green Hills Market, which had stood for years on the property where Wild Oats is now. When the Primm family closed their grocery, the meat cutters were without a job, so a few of them got together and opened the GHMM to fill the need for a specialized meat store. Lewis, then in the food delivery business, was offered a job there and learned to cut meat from those veteran butchers. When that store closed, he and partner Randy Eade opened the Green Hills Meat Market on Granny White next to Pizza Perfect, and for several years provided customers with hand-cut steaks, chops, roasts, loins and ground meats. When he and Eade sold the business, a succession of owners gradually stopped carrying the meats; with the closing of Johnson's Meat Market on Charlotte, that left Nashville without a butcher shop for many years.
When Lewis decided to get back in the business, he felt Green Hills was where he needed to be, but with the prohibitive rents, he ended up with the smallest place he could possibly make work, but a price he thought he could afford. When he opened nine months ago, it was just him and his wife Rebecca. "It was tough," he says. "There were some nights I just wanted to lay on the floor and go to sleep." But word of mouth spread, business grew, and recently the couple have been able to hire some staff.
Rick Hellem, who moved here from Seattle and has been cutting meat since the '70s, serves as butcher. Eric Nichols is the in-house chef, responsible for the daily spread of meat-and-three, about a dozen freshly made sandwiches (with Boar's Head meats, as well as meat cooked in-store), rotisserie items, and marinades and rubs for some of the prepared meats, which are ready to take home and throw in the oven.
Butcher Block takes deliveries of meat on Mondays and Thursdays; the beef is from Coleman Meats in Colorado, the chicken from Bell & Evans or Ashley Farms; the lamb is American-raised, not imported. They also carry fresh seafood and packaged items like paté, chorizo sausage and a selection of cheeses. The compact size of the store's retail area means that all of the available meats aren't displayed, but they are listed on a wall-mounted blackboard.
"I can get you pretty much anything you want. We don't carry goat, but I can get it. If somebody wants lion meat, I could get that too." And the hanger steak? That's a bit tougher; he is surprised to find a challenge in meeting the growing demand. "I think it's all going to New York City, like that writer said. They must eat a lot of hanger steak up there."
Bandywood Butcher Block is at 2209 Bandywood Drive, in the Courtyard at Bandywood. 383-4888. Open 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Mon.-Sat.