Tuesday, August 26, 2014

First Look at Acme Feed and Seed

Nashville Restaurants and Food
First Look at Acme Feed and Seed
The Acme Feed and Seed project is three stories and 22,000 square feet worth of restaurants and bars, repurposing the entire historic Acme building from entrance to rooftop at the busy corner of First Avenue and Broadway. You would expect that such a huge enterprise would have lofty ambitions. Our first look at the first floor of Acme Feed and Seed surprised us with its informality and fun. The bones of the building preserve the history and charm of a turn of the century business. The Acme is best known as a farming supply retailer since the 1940’s and hence the theme of the restaurant complex. The Victorian style structure dates back much further than that, operating as a flour warehouse and buggy company.
Two bars and dozens of tables stretch out over the room and towering ceilings give it a beer hall ambiance that would probably be raucous on a Friday night. They’ve spent some time refining how they will handle such a large space and the accompanying large crowds. On the first floor, you order up front and take a number to the table. That’s fine, but we preferred to sit at one of the bars and chat with the pleasant bartenders.
We were prepared not to like this place, but it has won us over; especially the food. Chicken fried steak may have been a bit chewy on this day, but the peppery breading and sticky white gravy is quite good. Cole slaw is fresh and simple vinegar with what appears to be mustard seed. If that menu item sounds predictable for a Southern themed restaurant, the Hatchery, with curried chickpeas, coconut rice and puffy Indian style bread is certainly not. Our next stop will probably bring an order of the falafel and we’ll have to try the Mexican street corn. You can also get a hot chicken sandwich, barbecue variations, and beer belly tacos. It’s a concise, reasonably priced,  and laid back menu.  They are still working on the second floor sushi restaurant, but the roof top bar is open. We’ll have a full review of the first floor in a few weeks.
Acme Feed and Seed
101 Broadway
Nashville
615-915-0888

Friday, August 22, 2014

Thai Esane

Nashville Restaurants and Food
Thai Esane
907 12th Avenue South
Nashville
615-454-5373
People use the phrase “Thai hot” for good reason. Thai food ranges in spiciness, but many people enjoy it really, really hot. Native hot. You can actually get that level of heat at Thai Esane and that’s a bit of a rarity in the Nashville area. Spiciness doesn’t work on it’s own. The dishes at Thai Esane start with what seem to be fresh ingredients and there is clearly skilled execution in the kitchen.
The regulars already know co-owner Nina Sayasack by name and that’s not just due to their dedication to this new restaurant on 12 South; she worked at her parent’s place, the legendary King Market in Antioch, for more than six years, and she has pulled those patrons into her new space.  Sayasack and her husband, Tim Singto, have taken note of what makes King Market great: spice, deep flavor and authenticity. Bringing that to the area between 12 South and the Gulch just makes sense. Many of those loyal King Market customers, she explains, come from points closer to downtown Nashville.
Panang curry, ordered spicy, is blazing hot. Lovingly tender pork and crunchy veggies come with a modest serving of flavorful thick coconut curry sauce. That too may be a bit of a surprise; dishes don’t get overwhelmed by sauce at Thai Esane. There is a delicate balance. Pad Kra Pao is the popular basil stir-fry dish, ordered with minced beef on this occasion. The bell peppers and broccoli have snap. Ordered medium, the stir-fry still has a strong kick. Those who do not enjoy heat should consider ordering food at Thia Esane as mild as they will make it.
There is a careful attention to everything on the menu. Sticky rice is super-sticky. Tom Kha Gai soup is light and delicate with fresh scallions and peppers. Wide Malaysian noodles also sport an adventurous, spicy flavor and perfectly cooked tofu or chicken. 
Veggie Eater: Start with the spring rolls-these plump affairs are chock full of textures and tastes, including shrimp.  I’m sure you can request a no shrimp option, but I found it very easy to pick around.  The rice paper wrappers are perfect-elastic, without being too chewy or soggy.   Most menu items offer tofu or veggie options and I was like a kid in a candy store trying to figure out what on Earth I most wanted.  I finally decided on the Malaysian noodles and asked for native hot.  We did encounter a misstep as I was originally presented with a version that was definitely chicken.  No worries here, Nina owned up to the mistake immediately (“I don’t usually wait tables”), asked Meat Eater if he wanted to keep the chicken version (“Hell yeah”) and had my veggie (tofu) version back at the table in under five minutes.  The dish definitely had some heat, but it was not overwhelming.  Thai Esane’s iteration uses wide rice noodles, lots and lots of scallions (whole and sliced), mung bean sprouts, and is respectably hot, though not overwhelming or unbearable (though my nose was running).   Pair all of this with the chai tea, which is spicy, but not at all sweet, which almost also describes me. I am a little pissed that Meat Eater made the second trip without me.
Meat Eater: Don’t worry my spicy vegetarian friend, we’ll be back. I think it’s safe to say that Thai Esane is instantly one of the best Thai restaurants in town. The space feels much more comfortable in this current restaurant incarnation. It works for lunch and for dinner. You can get fun, Thai-inspired cocktails, such as a Bangkok mule with lemongrass.
I paid $23 for a solo lunch visit and we paid $47 for two.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Riddim n' Spice at Tomato Arts Fest

Nashville Restaurants and Food
Riddim n' Spice at Tomato Arts Fest

The folks at Riddim n Spice food truck were serving up their Caribbean tacos on Saturday at Tomato Arts Festival. They're still working on securing a brick and mortar location in Five Points, where the Edgefield restaurant used to be. If they can get it going, it will be a great fit for East Nashville. The smoked jerk chicken taco is a fun combination of lively flavors and fresh ingredients. Caribbean salsas go especially well in a taco. They also have a vegan version with seitan. The Veggie Eater loved the sweet heat with a strong after burn. Grilled corn and kidney beans go well on tacos.

You may know the Riddim n Spice family. Mom, Ouida Bradshaw, owns Jamaicaway at the Farmer's Market. Her son, Kamal Kalokoh, runs Riddim n Spice. We hope the foray into a permanent spot works out. Having another veggie friendly restaurant in East Nashville would be great. In the meantime, follow the food truck on their web page and connect to Twitter and Facebook feeds.

And a note of congratulations to the Tomato Arts Fest organizers. It was much bigger and even better this year. We especially enjoyed the beer zone street. Tomato Arts Fest is one of Nashville's best festivals.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Nashville Street Tacos

Nashville Restaurants and Food
Nashville Street Tacos
129 Second Avenue North
Nashville
615-942-5271
Who would have thought that there would be two places to get elotes in downtown Nashville? The Mexican street corn, grilled and slathered in mayo, crumbly queso and chili powder. Despite the mayo substitution, it’s done well at Nashville Street Tacos (the other street corn location is the new Acme Seed and Feed). While it’s not a Mexican revolution by any means, the new second avenue establishment is a considerable step-up from tourist food, and offers one of the better restaurant bargains downtown.
The line-up consists of the usual taqueria suspects: tacos, burritos and quesadillas. They originally proclaimed house made tortillas on their website, but we have not seen them served, probably due in part to the labor intensive nature of fresh tortillas. The guacamole is surprisingly complex. The green chili queso dip hits the spot. Scoop it all up with thick-cut and fresh-fried chips. The quesadillas are a big meal. The machaca is shredded beef in a red chili sauce. It’s flavorful and satisfying. Another visit brings a carne asada burrito. You can specify at the line what you want on your burrito or taco and the ingredients seem high quality: black beans, spicy pinto beans, cilantro, spicy salsa and some fresh pico. For those trying to avoid carbs you can get the burro (their name for a burrito) in a bowl. Meats include chicken, battered fish and the aforementioned beef versions. Their version of the Sonoran style hot dog sounds good:  bacon wrapped frank with beans and a spicy jalapeno sauce. They have a decent beer list on tap.
Mexican is always tough for vegetarians. Nashville Street Tacos offers a sin carne, veggie version, of each item, substituting guacamole for the meat. If you’re careful about your additional items you can eat well here.
Veggie Eater:  This is not a terribly original restaurant concept-pick your meat of choice and add your fixings of choice.  However, it is a nice option to have downtown. I’ve found the sin carne burrito does a wonderful job of sopping up pre Ryman concert beer (though beware, beer can be found and consumed here, which defeats the purpose).   There are some nice additions to the fixing choices, including queso fresco and fresh pico de gallo.  The obligatory bean and rice options are also available.  Once you are done customizing your item (be it taco, burrito, or quesadilla), you can further adorn it with a variety of different salsas.  Don’t ask for elotes, as the staff are apt to look at you like you have spoken Swahili, but if you request the grilled corn, they are happy to oblige and the product is worth the momentary confusion.  As with many Tex-Mex joints, the portions are large and the prices are fair.  Of note, the veggie option is $2 less than most of the other meat options, so it’s one of the few places I don’t feel like I’m being gouged. 
Meat Eater: The space is modern and large enough to accommodate crowds. The open front window makes for some fun people watching while you eat. Nashville Street Tacos may not be breaking any new ground, but they certainly offer a quality meal at a low price, perfect for before a concert at the Ryman, or to hold down all of that honky tonk beer. We paid $25 with tip on one visit and $34, including beers, on another visit.

Nashville Street Tacos on Urbanspoon

Sunday, July 27, 2014

First looks: Thai Esane and Chelsea Bistro brunch

Nashville Restaurants and Food
First looks: Thai Esane and Chelsea Bistro brunch
You can tell that you are well loved when your restaurant, open a little over a month, already has regulars that know you by name. Part of the attraction of the new Nashville restaurant, Thai Esane, is that it is run by Nina Sayasack, who worked at her parent’s place, the legendary King Market in Antioch, for more than six years.  She and her husband, Tim Singto, have taken note of what makes King Market great: spice, deep flavor and authenticity. Bringing that to the area between 12 South and the Gulch just makes sense. Many of those loyal King Market customers, she explains, come from points closer to downtown Nashville and now they are enjoying spicy Thai closer to home.
Panang curry, ordered spicy, is really hot. Like King Market, they don’t dumb down the heat. Lovingly tender pork, crunchy veggies and a flavorful thick coconut curry, put this dish over the top. Sticky rice is super-sticky. Wide Malaysian noodles also sport an adventurous, spicy flavor and perfectly cooked tofu or chicken.  You can get fun, Thai-inspired cocktails, such as a Bangkok mule with lemongrass. The room finally makes sense, after multiple restaurants. We think this one will last.
Another weekend winner is the Sunday brunch at Chelsea Bistro in Whites Creek/Joelton. This place has built a solid following for their excellent French bistro dinner and we think that the brunch is one of the finest north of the city. We had lovely quiches, generous in size and light in texture. The veggie and Lorraine versions are full of flavor and come wrapped-up in a perfectly cooked crust. The chicory (?) greens on the side are stealth: they don’t look dressed, but take a bite and find a bit of salt, mustard and something else to give them a fine flavor. Asparagus hollandaise will not only satisfy, but also inspire a mopping up of every last bit of the excellent, custardy hollandaise. Well-balanced and spicy bloody Mary’s hit the spot. We’ll be back for brunch again soon. It’s a pretty 25-minute drive from downtown Nashville. Just take Briley Parkway to Clarksville Highway and head north, to the top of the hill. They serve from 10am to 2pm on Sundays.
Thai Esane
907 12th Avenue South
Nashville
615-454-5373

Chelsea Bistro
5432 Clarksville Pike
Whites Creek
615-873-1741