Monday, August 03, 2009

Gone but not forgotten

I've been a bit out of pocket of late so I'm just now getting around to perusing the July 9-15 Nashville Scene. In that issue's "Dining Guide," Scene foodie Carrington Fox lists El Inca as a dining option in South Nashville. Problem is ... El Inca's been closed for over a year. Indeed, yours truly delivered the sad news here.

'Bout this time last year, I penned a couple of pieces about my favorite defunct Nashville eateries, the first of which included El Inca Peruvian Restaurant. Now seems as good a time as any to re-post 'em ...

El Inca Peruvian Restaurant

I could write about El Inca all day. In fact, one of the earliest A Man's Gotta Eat posts was a review of El Inca. Here's a portion of what I wrote:

My favorite item on El Inca's menu is lomo saltado: strips of juicy beef, grilled onions, tomatoes and fresh cilantro, served on a bed of rice. (The same dish is also available with chicken -- saltado de pollo.)

As much as I like the food at El Inca, what really makes me keep going back is the "green sauce" they place on each table as a condiment. It consists of olive oil, celery, cilantro, boiled potatoes, and imported Peruvian peppers. Ask nicely and they'll give you a big cup of the stuff to take home ...

Man, I miss that place.

Houston's Restaurant

Houston's is the only restaurant on the face of the earth upon which I ever heaped praise due to the quality of its salads. Houston's salads were filled with homemade dime-sized bacon bits, were covered with homemade dressings (bleu cheese being the best), and featured vegetables that were so fresh that you'd swear they'd been picked that day. I was told, but was never able to verify, that Houston's used produce straight from the Nashville Farmer's Market.

That said, I never went to Houston's just for their salads. No, I went for their grilled steaks and chops, which were every bit as good as the steaks and chops served at Nashville's high-end steakhouses ... and for half the price.

Boo's Hot Chicken

Hot chicken is a delicacy native to Nashville. For the uninitiated, hot chicken is fried chicken - usually a breast quarter or a leg quarter - that gets dusted with a mixture of cayenne pepper and hot paprika as soon as it comes out of the deep fryer. It's served on a couple of slices of white bread, and its topped with a fist-sized pile of dill pickle chips. If you like spicy food, you'll love hot chicken.

Nashville's had a lot of hot chicken joints that have gone as quickly as they came, and deservedly so. Boo's had it a good thing goin': a distinctive pepper mixture ( a unique pepper - the booglea (sp?) - grown only in Louisiana, and an equal amount of hot paprika and sweet paprika), great side items (fried corn and spicy cole slaw, among others), and a rotund proprietor straight out of Cajun central-casting (who was quick with what seemed like an endless repertoire of off-color jokes). Boo's was featured on WNPT's Tennessee Crossroads program 'bout four years ago, and then the place was gone ... replaced with a barber shop.

Boo's always had a steady stream of customers, so I was at a loss as to why the place closed. I still don't know why it closed, but I do know thisdo know this: I miss Boo's!

Elliston Place II

I lived for a short time about a quarter-mile from Elliston Place II -- or The Two, as my friends and I called it -- which was located on Nolensville Road in South Nashville. I never quite understood why the place was called "Elliston Place II," seeing that it was located a good six miles from Elliston Place. (And I was never able to locate Elliston Place I. Perhaps it was in North Nashville!)

The Two turned out some pretty good soul food for lunch and dinner (fried chicken, meatloaf, turkey and dressing, taters, beans, turnip greens, etc.), but it was the all-you-can-eat catfish, served every Friday and Saturday night, that made The Two a go-to place for me. The Two not only served up some of the crispiest catfish in town, they made their own tarter sauce, which was equal parts sweet and tangy and full of chunks of dill pickle.

The Two closed about five years ago. If you know anything about the restaurant scene on Nolensville Road, you can pretty much guess what replaced it.

Café Orient

Café Orient was owned by a chap from Japan who also had (and maybe still does) a pretty popular catering business. The sushi served there was first-rate, but it was the Thai-inspired dishes that I enjoyed most.

One particular dish featured juicy chunks of pork, and long strips of green peppers, jalapeños, onions, and carrots, which'd been simmered in a spicy, garlic-filled sauce. I would take a spoon and ladle the sauce over white rice, and eat the meat/vegetable mixture and rice separately. It was like getting two different dishes in one ... and I always had plenty of leftovers!

Café Orient didn't stay open for very long, a victim perhaps of the fact that it opened right across the street from the well-established - and damn popular - Your Choice Asian restaurant.

Joe's Hot Fish & Soul Food

I discovered Joe's pretty much by accident. I was driving down Nolensville Road one day when I had to turn around to retrieve something I'd left at home. I turned around in Joe's parking lot (Joe's occupied half of a Shell gas station) and came to a dead stop when I saw how many people were standing in line inside the restaurant. Intrigued, I went there for lunch the very next day. And I went back the day after that. To say that I was impressed with Joe's soul food is a profound understatement. Indeed, it quickly made its way to near the very top of my favorite soul food restaurants ... and it was close to my house, which was a plus.

Joe's had a pretty good spread of Southern-style meats and sides, but there were two things served there that kept me coming back for more. First, Joe's had some of the best fried cornbread I'd ever had. A lot of soul food joints have a hard time frying crispy cornbread without having it taste burnt. Not so with Joe's. I never - and I mean never - had a piece of cornbread from Joe's that wasn't cooked to perfection. Second, Joe's was the only restaurant in which I've ever eaten that served fried pork steaks like my Granny Ruby used to make. I probably frequented Joe's two-dozen times, and there were only two times when I went there that I didn't have their pork steaks ('cause they were out of 'em).

Old Heidelberg

When it comes to German food in Nashville, most people think of the Gerst Haus. While I like the Gerst Haus as much as anyone, it ain't exactly what you'd call "authentically German." Oh, sure ... they serve kraut and knockwurst and hasenpfeffer and German fried potatoes (all of which is pretty darn tasty), but they also serve hamburgers and other American-style pub food. Again, authentic it ain't

Up until a couple of years ago, folks in these parts could dine in a German restaurant that was as authentic as some of the "authentic" German joints you find some of America's biggest cities. That restaurant was located right smack in the middle of downtown Nashville, and its name was Old Heidelberg (which was located on Union Street near TPAC). Whereas the Gerst Haus - the new one anyway - has all the ambience of a Steak & Ale or some other such chain restaurant, stepping into Old Heidelberg was like stepping into a quaint little German-owned joint in NYC, D.C., or Chicago. Black and white photos of Germany bedecked the walls; soft German music was always playing; and when you were greeted at the door, the person doing the greeting always had a German accent. Then there was the food ...

When I worked in downtown Nashville, I ate lunch at Old Heidelburg at least once a week. For six bucks you could get a knockwurst or brat, potato salad, kraut, a slice of rye bread and a small bowl of chicken soup. And oh, man, was it good. With each bite you just knew that someone's German grandma was in the back doin' the cookin'.

I would give anything if I could have just one more portion of OH's potato salad. I doubt if I'll ever have potato salad that good ever again.

Belle Meade Cafeteria

Back in my undergrad days, I dated a girl whose parents lived about a mile and a half from the Belle Meade Cafeteria. The very first time she and I went out, I picked her up at her parents' house and we went to Nashville's Cheekwood art gallery. When I asked her where she wanted to eat she said (these are her exact words, which I can remember to this day): "Let's go to the Belle Meade Cafeteria. It's the only restaurant in Nashville that makes fried chicken and mashed potatoes that's as good as your grandmother's."

Well, the Belle Meade Cafeteria's fried chicken wasn't quite as good as my Granny Ruby's fried chicken, but it was pretty damn good. The green beans, mashed taters, fried okra, and turnip greens were also darn tasty. And - and this was one of the things that made the Belle Meade Cafeteria one of my very favorite after-church lunch spots - you could just taste the buttermilk in the BMC's cornbread ... and that is always a good thing (apologies to Martha the Ex-Con).

One of the Belle Meade Cafeteria's quirks was the dozen or so bow tie-wearing gentlemen who would take your tray to your table and then come back later to refill your drink. I can't tell you how many times one of these fine gentlemen not only refilled my drink but brought me extra portions of okra or cornbread without me even asking. And for that they were always well-rewarded. Indeed, I don't think I ever once left the BMC after placing less than a $5 tip on the table.

Most of the gentlemen in question were black, a fact that led one Nashville-based food writer to remark that she not only felt "uncomfortable" going to the BMC, she more or less compared the place to a plantation. I sent her an e-mail in which I reminded her of this: most of the guys who made her so "uncomfortable" had been working at the Belle Meade Cafeteria for years, and some of 'em had been there since the place opened in the '60s. It was hard to imagine that those great guys would've hung around that long if they (a) weren't paid well or (b) had been mistreated or dehumanized in any way.

2nd and Goal

2nd and Goal, which was located smack in the middle of 2nd Avenue between Broadsay and the Metro courthouse, had all the trappings of a typical sports bar: lots of sports-related crap on the walls, lots of high tables with stools, lots of attractive young waitresses, er, servers, and a no-frills menu that featured lots of fried stuff. That said, the folks at 2nd and Goal could serve up one hell of a grilled chicken sandwich A 2nd and Goal chicken breast went something like this:

A stumpy toasted hoagie roll. A juicy grilled chicken breast that spilled over the sides of said roll. Sliced red onions, sliced tomatoes, and green leaf lettuce.

2nd and Goal's chicken sandwiches didn't come with any condiments -- the chicken was so damn juicy and flavorful it didn't need no embellishment. Indeed, you had to request condiments for chicken sandwiches. I'm sure a great deal of snickering went on in the 2nd and Goal kitchen whenever some poor soul requested mustard, mayo, or (GASP!) ketchup for his or her chicken sammich (Only thing I ever put on a 2nd and Goal chicken sammich was a dash or two of Tabasco 'cause, well, I can't eat nothin' unless it has hot sauce on it or in it.)

Speaking of 2nd and Goal, I had two memorable experiences there -- and each time I ate a chicken sammich.

The first was in 1998 at a "draft party" for the Tennessee Oilers. The draft party took place two days after a tornado tore through downtown Nashville; thus, wasn't nobody downtown that day. I not only sat at a table with Nashville radio titans (!) George Plaster and Duncan Stewart, my beer-drinking visage appeared in the local paper the next day (I was literally lifting a mug of beer to my mouth in the pic).

On election night in 2000, my bud Mr. Mordecai and I ate dinner at 2nd and Goal before heading to the Wildhorse Saloon for the Tennessee Republican Party's election shindig. We all know what happened that night -- and what happened over the next 30+ days -- so I ain't gonna do no political rehashing. However, I can't think of that election night without also thinking about the excellent chicken sammich I devoured at 2nd and Goal.


chuck todd said...

houston's was great. great bar and great food.

FQ said...

I would add the Fifth Quarter to your list. That was the restaurant my family always went to for any kind of celebration like birthdays or graduations.

ceeelcee said...

Good catch on El Inca! Apparently the Ethiopian place that's there now didn't understand the question when the intern called to fact check.

Noted and corrected.