In what may be the last MLB winter meetings at the Gaylord Opryland Hotel outside of Nashville – praise be – I got to four new places, although I did add successful revisits to a couple of old favorites.
I’ll start with Two Ten Jack, an izakaya/ramen house in east Nashville that I’d visited solo back in April and thought would be perfect for one of our writer group dinners during the meetings. It was a huge hit across the board, and this time around I got to sample much more of the menu, including many of the yakitori (grilled skewer) options as well as many of the small plates, although I wasn’t going to skip their amazing pork-broth (tonkotsu) ramen either. Highlights included the tuna poke, JFC (Japanese fried chicken, which was thigh or oyster meat, with a negi dipping sauce), crispy Brussels sprouts, seaweed salad (not your ordinary one), the yellowtail sashimi with jalapeñ, and the pork belly yakitori. I also tried their sweet potato sh?ch?, a distilled liquor with a rather distinctive aroma but very mild flavor. The executive chef, Jess Benefield, is a big sports fan, and popped out to the table to say hello; she and her staff deserve extra praise for making many items gluten-free for the member of our party with celiac disease.
I finally made it to Barista Parlor, the ultra-hipster coffee joint in east Nashville that offers pour-over options from six different micro-roasters from around the country (including Four Barrel and Intelligentsia) and roasts their own blend, called Slayer, for espresso. The space is huge for a coffee shop, and the coffee options are fantastic, although the one pour-over I tried, an Ethiopian from Supersonic roasters, ended up kind of blah – if someone had handed me that cup blind, I would have guessed it was a blend of several beans because I didn’t pick up any notes or character in it. But the Slayer rocks, pun intended, and they offer pastries from Five Daughters Bakery, including the “100-layer donut” that most folks would recognize as a cronut before they inhaled it. I did make it over to Crema, my favorite local roaster in Nashville, before leaving on Thursday, but since they’re in the Gulch it wasn’t a reasonable commute from the Opryland.
Cochon Butcher, an offshoot of the two Cochon places in New Orleans, is all about the pig – if you don’t eat pig, I suggest you give it a miss – with various cuts of pig available in small and medium plate preparations. I was there for a quick lunch between appointments and had the pork belly sandwich with cucumber and mint along with a side of marinated Brussels sprouts. The pork belly was spectacular, not too fatty, and a reasonable portion of meat for one person (although I’m a small person so perhaps others would say it wasn’t enough), although I wish it had been on better bread – it came on white bread, better than store-bought but still a bit lacking in character to stand up to the strong flavors of the pork and the mint. The Brussels sprouts were salty and a tiny bit spicy, a bit more than I’d usually eat by myself but fine for sharing with another person.
Biscuit Love was the big letdown of the trip, especially given the name and my affinity for that very southern breakfast staple. Also located in the Gulch, Biscuit Love operated a food truck and has now expanded into a sizable space for breakfast and lunch, but what just killed it for me was that the biscuit was very plain and was very flaky, more akin to puff pastry than to the crumbly kind of biscuit I expect when I’m in the south. They also offer a number of options that douse the biscuit in things like sausage gravy, which is probably delicious but something I eat about once a year because it’s just so heavy. (I do love it, though – if you’re a carnivore, how could you not?)
And then there’s Avo, a brand-new spot near Vanderbilt’s campus, housed in an old shipping container, with an all-vegan menu with almost nothing cooked beyond 118 degrees. Our server gave us the tired shpiel about how serving the food in this raw or not-really-cooked state would “preserve the nutrients,” even though this is total bullshit, but the food was actually quite good. I had the falafel wrap, sprouted “raw” (but warm and clearly somewhat cooked) falafel wrapped in collard greens, served with raw tabbouleh and mint crème fraîche. The collard greens were the one mistake in the dish – they are way too tough to enjoy when raw and could use even a quick blanching to soften them up – but if I hadn’t known that falafel was sort-of-raw I would never have guessed it. The tabbouleh was solid, if a bit heavy on the parsley, and I don’t know what they used in the crème fraîche since they don’t use any dairy. My vegetarian friend said the vegan lasagna, made with a cashew-based ricotta, was also excellent, and her dish looked like it contained was about two days’ recommended allowances of vegetables. If you’re looking for a vegetarian or vegan option and/or just need more vegetables in your diet, I recommend Avo … but I can’t say I’d be racing to go there over Two Ten Jack.
I also ate at the Pharmacy (ate too much, to be exact) and brought a small and very appreciative group to Mas Tacos, where everything was a hit but nothing more so than their elote, grilled corn with cotija cheese and paprika. I could eat that three meals a day and be quite happy about it. And the Pharmacy’s tater tots and German potato salad are both superb, although I might have gone too far getting both of those as well as their farm burger, which comes with bacon and an egg on top. I don’t know how I was even able to move the rest of that night.