Monday, July 29, 2013

Yet Another Burger Coda: Pharmacy

    Oh, Pharmacy. Why do I always have such mixed feelings about your burger? I love your East Nashville restaurant space. I love the back deck. I love the Beer Garden. I love the shakes. I want to love your burger,  I really, really do and this visit, I almost did. Actually, I did, for about an hour and then .. well, I'll get to that.
    East Nashville's bid for the perfect burger experience starts and ends at the Pharmacy, as far as I'm concerned.
Don't click this if you don't want to drool
      Few other Nashville restaurants have put as much thought into the overall experience as the team behind Holland House did when they opened their little burger joint just up the block, at McFerrin. In addition to the brick and mortar, the outdoor Beer Garden brought to Nashville an experience I'd previously only experienced in the Haight-Ashbury district of San Francisco.
    There have been some changes since the Pharmacy first opened, in early 2012.
    What was a mix of typical restaurant tables on the back deck and pub-style seating everywhere else is now almost entirely pub-style.
Also, the burger itself has improved in a big way. In my previous visits, although the presentation and atmosphere were top notch, what was between the bun wasn't all that much to write home about.

    I'll get to that, too.

 Juiciness: 6 Plenty moist as you can see from the photos, dripping was minor at best.

Attractiveness: 8 Just as Rod Stewart once looked far sexier with his clothes on (and probably still does) the Pharmacy burger looks better with its top on, too.
All photos ©Mary Brace 2013. All rights reserved
 On this particular visit I share partial blame because of a communication error that left me initially cheeseless. But as you can see to the photo at right, when fully dressed this is one bad-ass looking burger.

Flavor: 9 I don't know if they switched suppliers, or have made wider, less vertical patty that gets more and better browning, or if it's a seasoning change, but the flavor from a year ago has been jacked up for the better.

Atmosphere: 10 This Nashville Restaurant is appropriate for everything from Sunday brunch with the kids to a late Friday night out.

Digestivity: 6 The single disappointment of this visit was, an hour after finishing, I felt like I'd over-indulged at Logan's. You know, that sluggy feeling you get from one roll too many? One something loaded with trans-fats too many? Another hour later the feeling had passed, but it's not something I'd want to return to the office with.

Overall: 8 I'll be back and in less than a year, next time. Might skip the fries, though.

The Pharmacy Burger Parlor and Beer Garden on Urbanspoon

Sunday, July 28, 2013

The Great Nashville Hot Chicken Odyssey

360 Burger
At this point, I think I've had almost every burger in town worth trying, almost. I haven't posted a Pharmacy review, and do plan to later this week. Unless my next visit finds things have changed, the gist will probably be something along the lines of, "great hangout, okay burger," and they'll get high marks for presentation and atmosphere. Just a hunch.

I think there's a place in Lennox Village I have yet to try, Capitol Grille, and some sporadic family restaurants whose burgers I hear good things about and do promise to report back every once in a while. But for the most part, we've done that. I've seen other bloggers and media outlets replicate what Michael and I did, but I think we've done the best job of any of them and believe me — anyone who'd tell you Five Guys has one of the best burgers in town has an addiction to Velveeta they can't get over. That's okay. We like Velveeta, too. We just don't think it can overcome an otherwise unremarkable chunk of beef.

Pepperfire in the piehole
I was late to the party but last winter I finally had my first taste of Nashville Hot Chicken, at Pepperfire.  It was so hot I'm still not sure I tasted the chicken but what I do remember was how incredibly moist it was, probably due to soaking in buttermilk. We have an army of publicists in town who are working to make Nashville Hot Chicken our answer to Buffalo Wings. Why not? Have you seen the price of wings, lately?

And so ....

Nashville Hot Chicken Day One: Hattie B's Hot Chicken — Mary's Notes

All photos: Mary Brace
     Although this restaurant is a relative newcomer to the Nashville Hot Chicken scene, Hattie B's Hot Chicken gets ranked among top contenders — and it's the closest to my location, so it was east to make it the first stop.
     My lunch companion was Rose Laycox, who runs the local Meetup group for ethnic food lovers, called "What the Pho." We tried to suss out what basic criteria for characteristics Nashville Hot Chicken is supposed to have. We agreed that it should be moist; tender; the heat shouldn't overwhelm the chicken flavor; it shouldn't be too greasy. Everything else is bonus.
Feelin' hot hot hot
       I got Hattie B's regular hot, hot. Rose got "Shut the Cluck Up," two steps up ("Damn Hot" is the level between).  Everything is made to order, and at 1pm on a Sunday afternoon, Hattie B's was packed to the gills with Vandy students, tourists, and African-American families, so we had a good 15-20 minutes to chat and take in our surroundings while we waited. As Nashville restaurants go, it was an interesting mix.
      Seating at Hattie B's is provided in the form of picnic tables, with smaller tables indoors and larger ones on the 19th Avenue South-facing porch. There's a little bit of a pub atmosphere in that, if you want to sit outside, and you don't have a party of 6 or more, you're going to sit with
strangers, if there's a line outside the door. It was full when we arrived, so we ended up sharing a table with two families; one that was already there when we arrived, and one that grabbed the empty seats when they left. Once you get your brave on and relax enough to talk to your unknown neighbors, this turns into a great casual experience. So let's get down to it and hope Hattie B's score doesn't suffer from having gone first. 

"Shut the Cluck Up" is the hottest you get

Moisture: 7 Neither of us had any complaints, but I wouldn't write home about it.

Tenderness: 7 Again, good and tender, but nothing to stop a truck.

Flavor: 8 Now we're talking. Plenty of chicken savoriness came through the heat (hot; I tried a bit of Rose's dish and couldn't taste anything but hot hot hot), and during our wait the smells on the porch were whine-inducing. Of the coating, obviously there was cayenne, but there was more to it. This wasn't like someone just shook a jar of Frank's Hot Sauce over regular fried chicken.

Grease: 8 There was very little remarkable separation.

Atmosphere: 9 I likes it. I like the communal seating, I like that there's a screened-in porch in Midtown Nashville, and I like that the clientele is anything but homogenous.

Cluck & Waffles (Sundays only)
Sides: 9 The Pimento Mac & Cheese was excellent. I'm not a grits lover and can't be a fair judge there, so I'm not taking any points off for those. I've had worse.

Overall: 8 Hattie B's makes a great yardstick for beginning our hot chicken journey. Definitely a place to return to.

Hattie B's Hot Chicken on Urbanspoon

Saturday, July 27, 2013

July Restaurant Scores for Nashville

This is not a reflection on anyone's taste, but how the city inspectors view Nashville restaurant kitchens' cleanliness. July 1-27 — and it looks like everyone was very well behaved.

Restaurant Scores from 7/1/2013 to 7/27/2013

High Scores:
Dominos Pizza
2004 Belcourt Avenue
Date Inspected: 7/16/2013
Score: 97
Five Guys Burgers
4017 Hillsboro Road
Date Inspected: 7/11/2013
Score: 100
Jersey Mikes
2184 Bandywood
Date Inspected: 7/16/2013
Score: 100
Kentucky Fried Chicken
4744 Lebanon Road
Date Inspected: 7/17/2013
Score: 98
Papa Johns
5814 Nolensville Road
Date Inspected: 7/3/2013
Score: 94
Pizza Hut
5028 Old Hickory Blvd.
Date Inspected: 7/19/2013
Score: 100
4023 Nolensville
Date Inspected: 7/5/2013
Score: 95
Sonic Drive-In
398 Harding Place
Date Inspected: 7/1/2013
Score: 97
1323 Bell Road
Date Inspected: 7/17/2013
Score: 100
2181 Nolensville Road
Date Inspected: 7/16/2013
Score: 98
2416 Lebanon Road
Date Inspected: 7/11/2013
Score: 96
4000 Granny White Pike
Date Inspected: 7/11/2013
Score: 100
Taqueria Elotes Nayarit
227 Largo Drive
Date Inspected: 7/1/2013
Score: 95
Which Wich
2002 Richard Jones Road
Date Inspected: 7/8/2013
Score: 97

Low Scores:
There are no low scores available for the date range you selected.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Another Burger Odyssey Coda: Twin Kegs

Adverbs: Who needs 'em?
Although Burger Up still remains the crowned champ of Nashville burgers, as far as this blog is concerned,  I'm still finding plenty of good ones around town, especially since real burgers became trendy once again. And so, here's another one we stumbled onto — or into — better later than never: Twin Kegs.

Look, it's a dive. Not a faux dive, but a dive-dive. It has wobbly tables indoors, and cheap plastic tables with holes in the top, on the patio. It has a tabletop shuffleboard game! Some people are even afraid to go in, thanks to appearance + location (Thompson Lane, just west of Nolensville Road) — which works out just fine for the rest of us. Call it hipster rationale, but a place like this has got to have a good burger, right? 'cause it's not like the owners' investment money is going into restaurant design & marketing. So let's get on with it.

I'm going to start out by letting you know the one complaint I have about this burger: you can't get it medium rare. Probably can't. The first time I visited, someone up there took pity on me and it was made to order but on every visit since, the least they'd cook it for me was medium. Health department and all that. Therefore ...

Juiciness: 3 This is the one area the TK burger fails, for the above reason. I have had drier burgers — at someone's backyard barbeque.

Attractiveness: 7 This is a real working man's (and woman's) burger, and just a little on the homely side. The mix of white/yellow cheese is an original idea in Nashville; add-on points for that.

Cheeseburger, tots, and a Yazoo < $10
 It's hard to tell from the photos, but their "Bad Burger" contains a slice of crispy bacon buried under the cheese; it's not a very thick slice, and it's not a gourmet bacon from East Tennessee that needs identification on the menu, because the bacon isn't the star of the show.

Flavor: 9 This burger IS the star and it's a good'un. Hand-patted, and not over-worked. It doesn't have the texture of hamburger that was previously frozen, either. According to Twin Kegs menu, they do add some flavor enhancements, but from a taster's view, the enhancements (including the bacon) don't distract from a mediocre burger, they ...  enhance.

Atmosphere: 7 Told you already: it's a dive. If you look closely at the photo to the left, you can see a spot in the bar padding where the genuine naugahyde has a hole in it. But when you're paying $16 for two bacon cheeseburgers, a Coke & a Yazoo, is a trip back to 1982 really going to kill anyone?

Digestivity: 7 An hour later, I can still taste a little burger, but it's not unpleasant.

Overall: 6.5 but ... don't let that low number fool you. In spite of the kitchen's unwillingness to make a medium-rare burger, Twin Kegs is absolutely worth visiting, and coming back to.

Twin Kegs on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

This Post Has Nothing to Do With Nashville

 But it should be of interest to anyone in Nashville — and beyond — who eats. Word is traveling around the internets that someone(s) torched 6,500 GMO sugar beets in Jackson County Oregon, early in June of this year.
     The Oregonian broke the story on June 20th, with info that an agritech-friendly NGO has posted a $10,000 reward for info leading to arrests.
   As you might imagine, food activists are cheering on the matter, while noting the interesting lack of interest in the story from major media, other than a short AP article when the Oregonian broke it (and ain't it interesting to note the FBI was called in to investigate this local matter?) and a blip in the Spokesman Review. The other fun thing, in the few mainstream outlets that reported, is the reader comments. With that many people unashamedly cheering on arsonists ...

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Look Who Got Instagram

Let the food porn commence!

   From Toyama, a new Japanese place at Nipper's Corner that's getting rave reviews on Yelp & Urban Spoon right now. Morning traffic guy Michael Higgins says it's his new favorite. This very attractive dish was his, actually, and I got a Fire-something roll. It was all quite yummy.

This is a spread I put together, courtesy of Whole Foods. Figs, roasted garlic, olives + tapenade, St. Agur & Buttermilk blues, Robusto cheese, a crusty loaf. The smoked wings aren't exactly in the Mediterranean diet, but they were divine, nonetheless.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

We Say It "Leh-zhure"

 Offerings at the Nashville Garden & Antique show, the tony annual fundraiser for Cheekwood.

     Some inhabitants of the town I call home are “Bless their heart”-ing Travel & Leisure magazine right now; Nashville was recently named on its list of America's Snobbiest Cities (we're number 13!).
   Hold your outrage for 10 seconds, and think about that, Nashville: a magazine named Travel & Leisure thinks our city is snobby.
    Now, I'll say it with you: what the fuck? Sans the f-bomb, that translates to: exactly what parameters are the magazine's editors using to make this determination?

In the annual America’s Favorite Cities survey, we asked readers to rank 35 major metropolitan areas for features such as trendy food trucks or good-looking locals. To determine which city has the biggest nose in the air, we factored in some traditional staples of snobbery: a reputation for aloof and smarty-pants residents, along with high-end shopping and highbrow cultural offerings like classical music and theater.
But we also considered 21st-century definitions of elitism: tech-savviness, artisanal coffeehouses, and a conspicuous eco-consciousness (say, the kind of city where you get a dirty look for throwing your coffee cup in the wrong bin).
         People have long been bemoaning the dumbing down of America. The Closing of the American Mind was written in 1987. You know things are going really downhill, though, when someone names Nashville “Snobbytown USA,” partly because people are standing in line at food trucks. Come check out Nolensville Road, y'all, we stand outside there, too.
        Good looking locals? Things must really have changed on Dickerson Pike since I last travelled that road.
        Aloof? Okay, I'll cop to that, but I spent the first 30 years of my life in NY and VT, and sometimes I still can't stop people from telling me more about their personal lives within 5 minutes of an introduction than they'll learn about me in 5 years.
        Metro's public schools critics would be delighted to have a talk about “smarty-pants” residents. Travel & Leisure is actually right about that; I can't count how many times I've overheard a conversation between a 5th grader, trying to show off what they learned in school that day, only to be silenced by being told, “well aren't you smart ...”
        Yes, we have a Le Creuset store, and now, a Nordstrom's. But most of my friends and I do our shopping at TJ Maxx & Goodwill. I do have one acquaintance who has more than one pair of Imogen + Willie jeans and he got them free, for modeling. Gee, maybe we do have good looking locals, after all.
          Classical music? Okay. We love our Schermerhorn and our Symphony, even if they are having some financial difficulty at the moment. When our city flooded, our Symphony moved its show outdoors and played for free. What did yours do, T & L?
          Yes, we have theatre. That's theatRE. Unless, dear Travel & Leisure magazine, property of American Express Publishing Corporation, you're that afraid of showing your Gold Card roots. I'd like to move on, so let's just say: “everything else is priceless,” and skip on to why Nashville, specifically wound up on list.
“Long before the Grand Ole Opry came to town, Nashville was known as the Athens of the South, with its well-heeled and distinctly un-hillbilly crowd. Today, the foodie culture sometimes attracts celebrities; at sushi bar Virago, in the Gulch, you might see famous residents like Nicole Kidman or Sheryl Crow. Nashville also extends the red carpet to compulsive email-checkers: it won the survey for its excellent wireless coverage.”
         Wow. Nashville has excellent wireless coverage. How terrible? And seriously, is it so awful for a city to be called “home” by successful artists? When did that become a bad thing? How many young people flee their hometowns because the best jobs going are behind a counter at Golden Corral?
         Either “snobby” doesn't mean what these editors think it means, or somehow, it lost its negative connotations. Aspiring to something better is never going to be a bad thing, as long as you've got supporters who want to go with you. It'd be a bit disturbing to think the editorial staff at a magazine called “Travel & Leisure” didn't want America's cities to have any kind of cultural enrichment opportunities for the average Joes & Joans wouldn't it? Especially since the hotel that keeps earning the top spot(s) on their annual “Best of” list goes for $2k a night and offers rustic experiences that leave people breathless:
“The leopard hunt was the highlight of this safari for us. Even though we came back a little late in the evening the excitement didn't stop there. The lions were coming through the camp so we had to scamper to our tents very quickly. Lots of hippos outside as well and the elephant in the backyard never even bothered with us.”
         Okay, so maybe it's true. With an editorial agenda like that, maybe having a world class Symphony, with its own performance hall and cushy seats, does leave blue blood splattered all over downtown Nashville.
         I take it all back. Pass the Dom Ruinart, someone. And if there is none, I'll take a Yazoo. The criteria didn't say anything about craft brew.