Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Burger Republic: Resistance is Futile

All photos © 2014 Mary Brace all rights reserved.
When I moved to Nashville no one would have conceived of Nolensville as any kind of foodie test market. It was completely rural: housing was sparse and you could drive from a strip mall just below Old Hickory Boulevard, on the city's south side, and not see a red anything until you got to the stop sign at Highway 96, 14 miles later.

Twenty years later, I'm sitting in Burger Republic's first satellite franchise restaurant in Nashville's Gulch, and it makes perfect sense that developers who took some of the greatest chances on area real estate for the 'work hard/play harder' crowd would seek eateries putting well-researched, high end comfort food on the local map.

Like Martin's BBQ, aficionados have been telling Nashvillians about Lennox Village's (a high density, mixed use development that sprang up in Nolensville a decade ago) Burger Republic for a few years.  BR didn't make it into Bon Apetit and other gastronomic authority publications, though. With one major change, they could easily join the undisputed Nashville burger kings. It just happens that change would also mean disrupting the marketing of their main product, and possibly their franchise ambitions. I'll come back to that after the breakdown:

Juiciness: 6. As you can see from the photo, not much there there.

Attractiveness: 10. OMG well it's beautiful. The brioche bun gives it a distinct look among Nashville burgers.

Flavor: 6. I made two visits to Burger Republic, because on the first occasion I ordered a burger that had various gourmet elements that I thought might be overshadowing an otherwise boring burger. For the second visit, I stuck to American cheese & lettuce to let the taste of the beef come through. It didn't. Really, it's the condiments — gooey cheddar, thick bacon and special sauce — that brought the action on my previous visit and this score is based on basic burger flavor, of which there isn't very much of, on its own.

Atmosphere: 7. It's a very neutral look inside. Dark booths, white walls, large screen TVs and a wall of taps. Good sized patio.

Digestivity: 10  One hour later, feeling good.

Overall: 7.

First, Burger Republic lovers, before you start thinking I'm cray-cray, know that the overall score is actually higher than the numbers add up to and average. That's because the sides, Truffled Tater Tots and Mac & Cheese, were delicious. I have no doubt the spiked shakes are also wonderful.

So ... about the beef. Burger Republic makes a big deal of its source, in Certified Angus Beef. There's a big sign on the wall outside the door. There's Certified Angus Beef swag, in the oversized steak knives. True hamburger lovers know, though, Angus doesn't matter in the burger world. Most connoisseurs would put it well behind local organic grass-fed anything, local grass-fed anything, and organic anything. In that order. In making that one switch, from a beef chosen for flavor and local freshness, rather than its ability to taste the same in Tennessee as it should in Vancouver, Burger Republic could transition from being a great place for a burger to being a great place for a great burger.

Burger Republic - The Gulch -
420 11th Ave S Nashville, TN

Burger Republic on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

The Treehouse: Late Night Playspace

All photos ©2014 Mary Brace all rights reserved
At first, it's difficult what to make of Nashville restaurant The Treehouse: the building has a decades-long history with a well-known musical family in Nashville. When the house was undergoing the transformation from fiddle wizard Buddy Spicher's living quarters to nephew Matt's late-night fine fare, there was a lot of excitement generated for the coming East Nashville opening.

Opening in the fall of 2013, The Treehouse restaurant has now had several months to work out its kinks and establish itself as the East Nashville equivalent to Firefly Grille in Green Hills: a place where many creative people will feel right at home in its funky surroundings. The interior is mostly reclaimed wood, floors and tables both. Lighting is low and warm; seating is a mix of small and large, communal dining, with a few chairs left at the bar which separates the kitchen from the diners. There's also a back patio that I didn't get a good look at because of a passing storm.

My understanding is The Treehouse started as a mostly tapas-style restaurant, so it's no wonder the opening course was the favorite for both myself and my companion. I went for the Home Fries, while she chose Plantains. I'm not a huge potato fan because of texture-to-starch issues or something, meaning, more often than not, potatoes in whatever softish form - french fries, baked, mashed, etc - don't feel good in my mouth. But these potatoes did and whomever hit on this particular formula for prep and cooking deserves applause, and that's not even about the additional seasonings.
The Plantains were also a winner. Prepared with black beans, crema and, hot sauce the bowl had a lot going on, sweet and hot, spice and mild.

From there, though, things went downhill. At the left is fried chicken served with summer veggies and pepper jam. The best thing about it was that the chicken had a perfectly golden, crispy skin. The flavor was just okay, and the overall impression I had, as an eater, was that this was a  rushed dish. In fact, for both myself and my dining companion, who was unimpressed by the Ratatouille, it was worth noting that the entrees came out within about 10 minutes of ordering. I don't expect freshly-made Ratatouille to come out for every order, no, but the veggies in the chicken dish were still hard, and not very flavorful.

For dessert I ordered a tray of marinated cheese that offered parmesan chunks in a light coating of citrus and spice, with Marcona almonds. The cheese was intriguing at first, but after 3 or 4 pieces it seemed less like dessert and more like someone's kitchen experiment.

My companion went back to the snacks menu and had molasses-covered pineapple that was tasty.

Overall impression is this: people who go to The Treehouse for the cool vibe and stick to the tapas-type fare are going to come away thrilled. People whose idea of fine dining includes a full meal, at prices that match the quality, will be dissatisfied.

 $$-$$$ 1011 Clearview Avenue Nashville, TN

The Treehouse on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Gringo Taco #2 - Chago's Cantina

All photos ©2014 Mary Brace all rights reserved
UPDATE: Nashville Scene is currently running a "MyScene Deal" with 50% off certificates. Click here to buy.

Chago's Cantina has to be one of the more quietly intriguing of the Gringo Taco series restaurants. First, its location alongside the heart of the Belmont College campus is enough to keep many Nashvillians away. On top of that it's a little hard to define; owner Chad Head unashamedly chucks authenticity out the garage door windows in favor of the multitude of flavors he picked up in Southern California, New Orleans, and various parts of Latin America. In so doing, he goes beyond the typical tacos/enchilladas/etc., and offers wider treats; the top two spots on the menu are given to Ceviche (raw fish, cured by citrus juices — think of it as Latin America's answer to Sushi)  and Salvadoran Papusas. For this trip, though, I stuck with the traditional ... after all, the main point of the Gringo Taco series is leaving the comfort zone one baby step at a time.

I started with Chago's Cantina Dip sampler. Although the initial chips and salsa that were delivered to me, upon being seated, would have been just fine as an appetizer (the smoky, red, house salsa is excellent and unique), I wanted to taste what else was up for grabs and am glad I did. The pico de gallo was okay; queso better than the average; guacamole was on the bland side for me, even after I tarted it up with some additional lime juice; the green sauce was stellar and had a kick, the waiter told me, that comes from the addition of ancho chiles.

As I was dining solo, there was no way I was able to finish all the sauces but what was left of the green sauce did come home with me, in a little cup.

For my main treats, I ordered a simple chicken taco and quesadilla. Both came with Chago's grilled and seasoned meat, the taco adding truck-style onions and cilantro, the quesadilla utilizing more of the yummy cheese dip.

 Of the two, I preferred the latter. Could be because I like cheese dip, or it could be that the flavors in it played better off of Chago's Cantina seasonings than the taco did.

Overall, I like the place, it's solid — although I didn't have anything that knocked my socks off, the food tastes very fresh. If it were closer to my neighborhood I'd be here more often, and would definitely play more with the international menu items. At Happy Hour prices, the margarita is fine.

Service was initially shaky. At one point, my waiter went missing for too long and I had to get up and leave the patio to find him inside. After that he shaped up and was much more adequately attentive for the rest of the meal.

Chago's Cantina on Urbanspoon

Chago's Cantina - $$ - 2015 Belmont Blvd Nashville, TN 37212