The Food Biz: Pasta premiere

Georgia chain looks to build Middle Tennessee network; Also: Blue Umbrella unfolding in Sylvan Park [From our print edition in this week’s City Paper]

Mirko Pasta, an Atlanta-based chain specializing in house-made pasta and other Italian-inspired specialties, opened four weeks ago on the Demonbreun restaurant strip adjoining the Music Row roundabout. It’s the company’s first restaurant outside Georgia, and the first of six planned for Middle Tennessee.

The company’s founder is Mirko Di Giacomantonio, a native of Tortoreto, a village on Italy's Adriatic coast. He worked as a chef and manager in restaurants across Europe before landing in Atlanta. The chain launched in Athens, Ga., before spreading across the state.

The menu is structured with parallel lists of about a dozen kinds of pasta and about a dozen sauces — leading to plenty of combinations to explore — plus salads, some heartier entrees and Italian desserts made in house, including tiramisu and cannoli.

The kitchen is open, and watching pasta and bread being made is part of the experience, said Missy Johnson, president of the group that is bringing the concept to Middle Tennessee.

Dinner entrees are in the $9.50 to $13 range. With pasta dishes, you pay separately for noodles and sauce, adding up to around $10, except on Mondays, when pasta is gratis and you pay only for your sauce. Got that?

Lunch is a little cheaper, hovering around $8. Everything comes with fresh bread and Mirko’s signature dip of white beans seasoned with carrots and bacon and topped with a swirl of olive oil. There’s also a kids’ menu, and the young folks eat free on Sundays.

The sauce list, in particular, is a little more interesting to browse than at a typical fast-casual chain. Some are familiar (pomodoro, Bolognese, Alfredo) and some are more novel. I am intrigued by pasta alla Norma — that’s tomato sauce with eggplant, Sicilian fresh ricotta and mozzarella cheese.

Demonbreun is a block where people like to raise a glass, and Mirko serves both beer (including Yazoo and Italy’s Moretti on draft) and wine, with an emphasis on Italian vintages. Pick your wine by the glass from four price levels: $5, $6, $7 and $8.

Johnson said a second Tennessee location will open in early spring, somewhere in Mt. Juliet. Four more cafes will open in the next two years. Those locations aren’t pinned down, but the team is looking for sites in Hendersonville, Brentwood and Cool Springs.

Mirko Pasta is located at 1520 Demonbreun St. The phone number is 401-5005. Watch the Mirko Pasta Nashville Facebook page for important updates, like their recent first-place triumph in softball.

Of fondue and feta

Last week in this space I felt pretty impressed that I could round up nine restaurants that are expected to open in the next few weeks. But new things are always popping up. When I wrote about Stone House Q, I wasn’t aware that it has a future neighbor next door: Blue Umbrella Fondue, 331 54th Ave. N. in Sylvan Park.

It’s still a work in progress, but Mandy Gencay, who owns the cafe with her husband Abraham, said it will be a casual-style fondue dining experience. They also plan to serve sandwiches made with fresh ingredients from local vendors. The Gencays hope to open in December or January, depending on the progress of construction.

Finally, there’s one long-awaited restaurant that I now have an opening date for: the Nashville location of Taziki’s, the Mediterranean fast-casual chain out of Alabama.

The Cool Springs outlet has been going strong for a while, but the Nashville location — going into the spot off West End Avenue where popular chef Deb Paquette ran Zola for 13 years — has been undergoing extended renovations.

But time and hard work yield results, and now, even as Paquette is assembling the kitchen for her next intriguing venture – Echo restaurant in the Encore condominium tower downtown near the new convention center, expected to open in March — Taziki’s is preparing to open its doors on West End.

Taziki’s launch date is the day after Halloween, Tuesday, Nov. 1. In the meantime, peruse the Cool Springs menu at tazikiscafe.com, and figure whether you’re a gyro lover or a Greek salad type.