Dear James Beard Award Voters,
For years, Tandy Wilson waited his turn until the voters for Best Chef: Southeast finally recognized him for his work at City House. We get it, these things take time. But Nashville has other great chefs who have been doing Beard-level work for years. Here are two.
Matt Bolus’ 404 Kitchen puts out more good food per square inch than any other place in the city, working out of a 40-odd-seat dining room (and ridiculously small kitchen) created out of shipping containers. The Italian-influenced menu is replete with bombs of flavor like house-made burrata with mustard-pickled squash, crudos with buttermilk and fruit, skillets of cornbread with barrel-aged sorghum butter and a rich pork ragout and pasta that may change dance partners with the seasons (it was paired with peaches and yellow tomatoes this summer) but can never leave the menu. Bolus is pairing his food with the best whiskey collection in town (see “Best Whiskey Bar” later in this section), while creating some of the most satisfying meals in the city. With a bigger dining room and kitchen when he moves across the street to the former Watermark space later this fall, he’ll have the showcase space he deserves.
Philip Krajeck’s Rolf and Daughters, meanwhile, came out of the gates strong when it opened five years ago, and somehow seems to keep getting better, thanks in large part to the outstanding pasta dishes. The gold standard, and the only one that never leaves the rotating selection, is the garganelli verde with heritage pork, and it features some of the same characteristics that elevate all of Rolf’s pasta offerings — intriguing and delectable house-made pastas in a variety of textures and sizes, coupled with sauces that are bright, focused and intensely flavorful. A recent highlight has been the cecamariti — small, spindle-shaped sourdough pasta — with cultured butter and black pepper. It looks so simple and unassuming in presentation that you might be baffled at first, until you take a couple of bites and begin to squirm in gustatory ecstasy. But beyond pasta, Krajeck’s rustic style and superior sourcing were made to show off things like brook trout with beans or lamb sausage with eggplant. While Rolf and Daughters has rightly earned plaudits from national outlets, all the locals who fill the communal tables soon after opening are the best testament to Krajeck’s powers.
Either of these chefs — or even both — would be worthy additions to your selections this year. Don’t say we didn’t try to help.
STEVE CAVENDISH AND JACK SILVERMAN