It’s hard to tell.
It’s also hard to believe that Paradise is the sophomore effort of Ben Goldberg, whose maiden enterprise was The Gulch’s uber-chic Bar Twenty3, which opened in 2004. Whereas Bar Twenty3, with its high-end design and sleek clientele, quickly cracked the top-100 ranking by Nightclub & Bar magazine, Paradise would be more at home in the newsletter of the Double-wide Dwellers’ Society.
On the one hand, there’s no pretense at Paradise, which serves fried Spam sandwiches and MoonPies 24 hours a day in an atmosphere somewhere between NASCAR and Sanford & Son.
On the other hand, it’s all pretense, from the duct-taped screen doors, which are self-consciously falling apart, to the menu, which facetiously touts a lobster thermador (sic) that is never actually available.
“If I was going to do something else, I wanted it to be different from Bar Twenty3,” says Goldberg, 27, who is going it alone on Paradise after partnering with Austin Ray to open Bar Twenty3. One statistic in particular sums up the difference between the two ventures: the red 1977 Camaro that serves as the centerpiece of Paradise cost less than a single lampshade at Bar Twenty3. (And since Bar Twenty3 gets a makeover every year, the $1,000 lampshades are already gone.)
Other interior design highlights at Paradise include toilets with fake flowers blossoming out of the tanks, pastel-painted tires in the front window, pink flamingos, a wall of fame dedicated to mullet portraits and a veritable junkyard of rejected license plates. At the long bar in the back, beer chills in salvaged bathtubs. A colorful full-size mobile food cart connects the bar to the kitchen so bar patrons can order late-night munchies without crossing over into the restaurant.
In this playful pastiche of a latter-day dive bar, one detail links Paradise to its authentic Lower Broad roots: the oversize green neon sign. Longtime Nashvillians might recognize the icon of the bygone Heilig-Myers furniture showroom, which previously occupied the address. Goldberg had the sign refurbished into a garish salute to the late-night low culture of downtown Music City.
At this new, self-referential stop along the legendary strip of beer-stained honky-tonks, it can get a little confusing teasing out what is real and what is, for lack of better words, for show. For example, on a recent Saturday night, the cigarette smoke billowing through the foyer was so thick that we asked the cashier if tobacco fumes were being pumped in for effect. She guaranteed us they were not. Similarly, we wondered if the band was blaring so loud at 7 p.m. for some theatrical reason—as if to reinforce the hollering twang of a Southern rock show—even though the bar, pool tables and dining rooms were virtually empty. Either way, the smoke and the noise drove us away at the early dinner hour.
When we returned for lunch, the irony of Paradise was a little more subtle. In the daylight, without the evening glow of blinking Bud signs, the place just sort of looked unfinished. But the plastic patio chairs in the front room, whose windows open onto Broadway, offered a comfy spot for people-watching—which led us to wonder, “Does that tourist in the Memphis T-shirt think he is videotaping native Nashvillians in their unvarnished, boot-kissed habitat, or does he realize that we are actually watching him from inside this highly stylized diorama of Southern culture on the skids?”
All this and we weren’t even drinking.
But issues of who was watching whom faded away as soon as we retrieved our lunch from the counter. Like country cutup Minnie Pearl, who was really a genteel Southern lady in costume, the menu of burgers and fries is fresh, high-quality grub in trash-food clothing. For starters, if the cashier recommends ordering sweet-potato fries, listen to her. Feather-light with a nearly candied crunch, the spuds rivaled any in town. Meanwhile, the single-wide with cheese, a juicy third-of-a-pound burger swaddled in a fresh sesame seed bun, slid down like a fast-food grease patty—in a good way—but without the scary consistency of moist cardboard. And its kissin’ cousin, the patty melt, offered the same substantial beef, with Swiss cheese and caramelized onions between thick grill-kissed slabs of bread. The Shady Acre club sandwich piled on generous layers of Boar’s Head meats. And kudos to menu planner Austin Ray, who managed to put flavor into mac-and-cheese—an inevitably bland comfort food—with a medley of cheeses that delivered tang and a comforting creamy texture.
We didn’t try the veggie burger, but given the quality of the ingredients in the rest of the food, we wouldn’t hesitate to order the faux-beef cocktail of black beans and rice. Nor are we big Spam fans, but if we’ve got to eat potted meat, we’ll take Paradise’s version, served with crisp lettuce and tomato and slathered with mayo and mustard on perfectly crisped white bread.
Like MoonPies, Goo-Goos and Twinkies, not to mention the nonexistent lobster “thermador,” Spam was just supposed to add some campy flavor to the menu, Goldberg says. But it’s turned out to be quite a hit, selling out as quickly as he can replenish his inventory from Wal-Mart. (Memo to management: honey, Spam has a shelf life of, like, a decade—just buy more next time you go to the Supercenter. Stack it between the Camaro and the commode. It’ll fit right in.)
For folks who like hamburgers, hot dogs and corn dogs, this is paradise found. And the breakfast—with Boar’s Head sausage, fried chicken, biscuits, pancakes and various combinations of grits, eggs, cheese and meat—is a comforting way to start the day or end the night. That said, the coffee was distressingly lukewarm.
But as good as the grilled foods are, ya might oughta git yer salad someplace up the road. The grilled chicken salad came with tasty grilled breast and homemade dressing, but the greens were a little tired and the mushrooms were shriveled.
And Paradise needs a milk shake like a bowling alley needs anti-fungal spray. There’s no reason to serve a cheeseburger as good as the single-wide without a hand-dipped chocolate shake to wash it down.
Then again, there’s always the array of domestic beers, available by the pitcher. If you’re really trying to get into the trailer-park theme, Bud Ice is probably the right choice. Milk shakes just might confuse the Germans.
Paradise serves food in the restaurant 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The bar is open 11 a.m. to 3 a.m. The bar stops serving food at 2:15 a.m. Breakfast is available 5 to 10:30 a.m.
It seems so early for peaches, but I guess not if the Peach Truck is…
The eggs from the Schrock Family stand at the NFM, now set up under the…
It hasn't gotten warm enough just yet but for me farmers markets = tomatoes. A…
Jim, if Betty Joe's if half as good as Boscoli's Olives, I'm heading there tomorrow…