If there were an index tracking the volume of chicken salad being made from scratch in Bellevue's cul-de-sac kitchens, it should be plummeting faster than shares of a sub-prime lender. The launch of City Limits Bakery & Cafe, Eats à la Carte and One Hundred West in The Shops on the Harpeth strip mall brings an infusion of full-service, casual and take-out dining options—including plenty of ready-made chicken salad—to the burgeoning neighborhood on the road to The Loveless.
After starting out small in 2002 with a single City Limits nestled off Highway 70 in Bellevue, Terri and John Woods have made simultaneous leaps up and down the food chain. In May, they opened a second City Limits and debuted Eats à la Carte take-out market. In June they launched the full-service One Hundred West. Known collectively as Harpeth Food Co., the Woods' Highway 100 compound offers something for every meal of the day.
A single kitchen runs behind all three stores, where three separate shifts produce distinct menus and a single bakery serves them all. Early in the morning, Eats chef Traci Veno takes the kitchen, prepping the take-out food and grab-and-go meals. Later, the City Limits crew comes in to slice and prepare the deli meats and salads. Around 3 p.m., executive chef Justin Byler and chef de cuisine Jason Will—both alumni of Latitude restaurant—start churning out One Hundred West's repertoire of sturdy (if pricey) contemporary American cuisine.
If traffic at the 6-year-old City Limits on Clofton Drive is any predictor, City Limits 2.0 could become the newest magnet for moms with hungry kids and infant-carriers in tow. The soups, sandwiches and salads, including the mayonnaise-free grilled chicken salad, will be familiar to fans of the Clofton location, though the cavernous room, with gray-blue and mustard-yellow walls and a marked lack of art, is more sterile than the original spot.
In short order, we picked up our tray and tucked into comforting bowls of soup and a fluffy, lightly dressed Greek salad. Corn chowder studded with celery, potatoes and carrots had a simple flavor profile of sweet cream, which was predictable but satisfying. (In these days of soaring ethanol prices, we didn't dare to hope for fresh-off-the-cob corn, but for the record, we would have preferred it to the ubiquitous leathery niblets that lined the bowl.) The gumbo lacked spiciness, but it brimmed with okra and generous piles of shredded chicken and had a flavor that could work for a child's palate.
Looking at the turkey cheddar melt, we assumed the slices of bread were too thick to bite through. To our surprise, the fresh-baked sourdough had the soft, fluffy texture of angel food cake and gave way easily to the moist turkey. Unfortunately, the pale, flaccid strips of bacon did not match the quality of the bread.
Located just down the sidewalk from Monkey's Treehouse indoor playground, the bakery-cafe makes a convenient lunchtime default for tired toddlers and a wholesome respite from the nearby golden arches. But in our experience, there is little about the atmosphere or food that would merit a special trip to Bellevue.
While Eats, City Limits and 100 West share a common kitchen, their menus seldom overlap. Eats offers several cases with prepared foods available by the pound, including seared scallops, Parmesan-encrusted cauliflower, tomatoes stuffed with horseradish tuna salad, spaghetti with meat sauce, citrus-glazed pan-seared tilapia, barbecue chicken salad, portabella pizzas, orzo salad, twice-baked potatoes, egg salad, soy-glazed grilled pork tenderloin, macadamia-encrusted chicken breast, hamburger sliders, eggplant Parmesan and Cajun turkey with red beans and rice. Terri's sister Robin Figlio mans the counter, where she enthusiastically helps pair items for a complete meal.
One refrigerator holds a selection of brown paper bags packed with grab-and-go meals, catering to that coveted segment of customers with more money than time on their hands. On the day we visited, the $24 dinner-for-two offerings included enchiladas blanco with rice, salsa, salad and sour cream. The enchiladas layered flour tortillas with shredded chicken, green chiles, white sauce and Monterrey Jack cheese for a Tex-Mex spin on lasagna. The layers of flour tortilla were moist, akin to sheets of pasta, and the meal reheated well in the oven without drying out.
Following Figlio's suggestion, we reheated the mac-and-cheese with a drizzle of milk, which restored the tangy light-yellow cream sauce to a velvety texture.
The chicken salad blended generous chunks of white meat with mayonnaise and Dijon mustard, just enough that the sliced almonds did not get rubbery and the green apples retained a hint of crispness. With an evergreen hint of tarragon, the chicken salad will be drier and more herb-flavored than some people like. Not us. We applauded the conservative use of mayo and enjoyed the rustic texture and medley of herbs and fruits, including grape halves.
We splurged on a handful of chicken fingers ($2.40 each) in order to compare Eats' version of the kid-friendly staple to the big-brand nuggets across the parking lot. To be sure, Eats' chicken—with a light golden panko crust, textured with sweet coconut shreds—is chicken of a different feather. About the size of half a small breast, the chicken tenders rose above the deep-fried clutter of so many kids' meals and were arguably worth the hefty price tag.
The strip mall's western anchor, One Hundred West is decorated sparely in gray, brown and black, broken by dramatic red drum lampshades and the occasional orchid. The cavernous room nods at sleek, cosmopolitan design, but comes up feeling a little cold and hollow—like office space. Once the patio is complete, outdoor dining might offer a more intimate experience.
The opening salvo of a basket of homemade bread and soft butter—including fresh loaves studded with olives and various nuts and grains—helped to warm up our experience. For starters, we ordered a wedge salad, presented predictably with blue cheese, tomatoes and crumbled bacon. Next came an ambitious and attractive appetizer of beef tenderloin crostinis, which arrived as a trio on a long white plate smeared with a thick paint of balsamic reduction. Alas, the tough slices of tenderloin required such a strong bite that the dry biscuits crumbled out from underneath, causing the components—hunks of goat cheese and onion chutney—to fall awkwardly to the plate. We enjoyed calamari interspersed with deep-fried slices of zucchini and served with romesco—a Spanish-style sauce traditionally made of nuts ground with olive oil, garlic and red peppers—which our server incorrectly diagnosed as marinara. She also forgot to bring the crab cakes that we had heard so much about.
We had more success among the entrees. Chicken breast stuffed with golden figs and topped with cherries and a creamy red wine sauce offered a creative spin on a classic meat-and-potatoes meal. The comforting medley of earthy, tangy and fruity flavors blended contrasting textures of gritty fig seeds, chewy cherries and creamy mashed potatoes for a hearty meal.
The sea scallop entree was gorgeous, with four large pan-seared scallops lightly caramelized and served with jalapeno polenta and strawberry salsa. Served with the all-too-popular schmear of balsamic lacquer, the dish lacked a unifying liquid to blend the flavors and textures. The polenta crumbled like dry corn bread, with no connection to the seafood.
On one evening, we ordered two dishes that sounded very different but were oddly similar in appearance. The andouille-encrusted halibut with bourbon cream and the ancho-crusted pork tenderloin with morel cream both arrived on overwhelming nests of pineapple-pecan sweet potatoes, which gave both plates a redundant—and somewhat unappetizing—palette of browns.
The pairing of a small hunk of andouille and a larger cut of halibut added flavor to the bland fish while stretching the sausage's intense blend of pepper, smoke and salt across a larger meal. Despite its clunky presentation, the potato complemented the spicy ground pork with a rich and nutty sweetness.
The similarity in appearance begged comparison between the tenderloin and halibut, and we mildly preferred the former, for two reasons. The morel sauce offered a deeper flavor than the thin kick of liquor and cream on the fish. Also, while the fish came with no vegetables, a side of steamed broccolini, carrots and squash accompanied the pork, helping to break up the heavy bed of potatoes and cream, in both taste and appearance.
When I asked my dinner companion's opinion of the meal, I got this answer: "It's OK. But it's not like I'm paying $25 for it." When I pointed out that we were, in fact, paying $23, I got a slight grimace in response.
The most memorable bite of food at One Hundred West came in a tiny mug of thick chocolate sauce made with butter, Baileys Irish Cream and cream. Intended as a dip for homemade chocolate cake, the sauce made an outstanding shot on its own.
Like its sister café, One Hundred West offered little in the way of food or festivity to lure us south across the Harpeth River. But in a relatively sparse dining landscape, the Woods have built sizable infrastructure and good will that could allow them to set the standard for creative, independent cuisine. The Woods have shown they're not afraid to set their business expectations high. For the sake of Harpeth Food Co. and the hungry residents of Bellevue, here's hoping they can raise their culinary expectations to match.
One Hundred West serves dinner Monday through Saturday and brunch on Sunday. Eats à la Carte is open 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday. City Limits is open 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday
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