The Food Biz: A 2011 recap

The openings of two restaurants — at both ends of the spectrum — delivered distinctiveness to Nashville's dining scene this year

Despite a weak economy and rising food costs, Nashville’s restaurant scene was vibrant in 2011. There were some painful closings, but at the same time, interesting restaurant launches were abundant.

In fact, there were too many openings to recap in detail, so let’s take a look at two different restaurant ventures, both representing local business veterans using their smarts and experience to bring something special to Nashville.

By far the highest-profile opening of the year was The Catbird Seat. Entrepreneur brothers Benjamin and Max Goldberg created a small, gemlike restaurant atop their successful cocktail haven Patterson House, with a unique concept: Two nationally known chefs, Josh Habiger and Erik Anderson, preside over a tiny but state-of the-art kitchen in the center of a semicircular, 32-seat bar. The chefs serve diners face to face, chatting and interacting with customers and explaining the dishes — which combine fanciful creativity, fresh local ingredients and meticulous preparation.

To enable the concept, The Catbird Seat has instituted practices that some would call audacious: The meal, which consists of at least seven courses, has a fixed price of $100 per person. (Beverage pairings are an additional $30.) The day’s menu is dictated completely by the chefs (though they will take customers’ allergies and dietary restrictions into account). Seating is by reservation only, booked online only, and diners must supply a credit card number in advance. Finally, at the end of the meal, an automatic gratuity is added to the bill.

Plenty of Nashvillians seem more than willing to play by those rules. As Nashville Scene restaurant critic Carrington Fox said in her laudatory review of The Catbird Seat, “It’s their party and we want to be a part of it.” In fact, the restaurant is booked up several weeks in advance.

Just a couple months after its opening, Catbird is getting positive coverage from national news outlets like The New York Times, and chefs Habiger and Anderson have received a prestigious invitation to cook at the James Beard House in New York.

Meanwhile, at the other end of the spectrum (at least in price range), is Cori’s Dog House. Started in Mt. Juliet in 2009, Cori’s opened a second location just off West End in August. Owner Sean “Sully” Sullivan was a 20-year veteran of the downtown bar and restaurant scene before creating Cori’s as a salute to America’s bounty of regional dogs.

Word of mouth generated  by the Mt. Juliet location allowed Cori’s to hit the ground running on Nashville’s high-profile West End corridor.

One of the things that attracts customers is the variety — 38 different dogs representing everything from the classic (the Chicago dog topped with tomatoes, onions, dill pickle spear, relish, sport peppers, mustard and celery salt) to the exotic (the Hawaii dog with pineapple and mango relish).

And the basics were chosen with care: Sullivan uses all-beef Sabrett’s dogs atop a special bun he commissioned from Provence, based on a New England-style lobster roll. It’s a thick and yeasty bun, which the cooks butter and grill to a golden hue before piling on the wiener and toppings.

Restaurants make a lot of extravagant marketing claims, but it’s hard to argue when Cori’s claims to serve one of the best meals you can find for $3.75. 

 

Area restaurant openings and closings in 2011

Here’s a compilation of restaurants that opened or closed in 2011. The list is likely incomplete — closings, in particular, tend to happen with little fanfare. In the interest of brevity, we haven’t included the explosion of mobile food vendors. We’ve also included a peek at restaurants expected in 2012.

Openings

Athens Family Restaurant, Bellevue
Au Bon Pain
AM@FM in Nashville Farmers’ Market
Amico’s New York Pizza
Back Alley Diner
Bagel Face Bakery, Main Street
Benchmark Sports Bar
Bombasha Brazilian Steakhouse
BrickTop’s Cool Springs
Bruster’s Ice Cream
Butter Cake Babe’s,
Nashville Farmers’ Market
The Catbird Seat
Chago’s
Chick-fil-A on Charlotte Pike
Chipotle on 21st Avenue
Chuy’s on Broadway
Cori’s Dog House, West End
Dick’s Last Resort
Dooley’s
Drake’s
Edley’s Bar-B-Que
El Stuffed Pepper
Fleet Street Pub
Five Points Pizza
Fish & Co., 12South
Fish & Grits
Germantown East
Green Asia, Nashville Farmers’ Market
GoGo Sushi
Jackalope Brewing Co.
Jeni’s Splendid Ice Cream
The Jam Coffeehouse
Jim’s Coney Island
Joey’s House of Pizza, Elm Hill Pike
The Judge’s Vinegarroon
Kalamatas, Belmont Boulevard
Kay Bob’s
Kayne Prime
Louisiana Seafood Co.,
Nashville Farmers’ Market
Luna
Monell’s at the Manor
Mirko Pasta
The National Underground
Ninki
Neighbors
Newk’s Express Cafe
Noodles & Co., Green Hills
and Cool Springs
Nothing Bundt Cakes
Pharmacy Burger Parlor & Beer
Garden (set to open Dec. 27)
Pinkberry, Cool Springs
PortaVia, Cool Springs
Porter Road Butcher/
The Bloomy Rind
Sixth & Pine, inside Nordstrom
Sloco
Stone House Q
Sweet CeCe’s, multiple locations
Table 3 (reopened after fire)
Tavern
Taziki’s, Cool Springs and West End
Vito’s Ristorante & Wine Bar
The Wild Hare
Whole Foods McEwen

 

CLOSINGS

Acorn
The Almond Tree
Baja Fresh
Blind Pig No. 55
Peter Chinn’s Korean BBQ Tacos
Cooper’s on Porter
French Quarter Cafe
The Grilled Cheese and Crabcake Co.
LB’s Market House
La Paz
McDonald’s at Vanderbilt Med. Center
Otter’s on Main Street
Pig and Pie
September’s
Shintomi
Southern Bred
Sparkle Cupcakes
Tom’s Elite Carryout
Tossed
The Wine Loft

 

COMING IN 2012

Barista Parlor
Echo at Encore
Lockeland Table
Silo
The Southern Steak & Oyster
Urban Grub