A very familiar name is returning to the Nashville barbecue scene.
For 15 years, John Hamilton has cooked up savory barbecue and sweet treats under the simple and descriptive name Pig & Pie. Hamilton, who has maintained a large catering business for two decades, is poised to open a new bricks-and-mortar location (the third for Pig & Pie) at 336 White Bridge Road, the former home of Hot Kabobs. He hopes to throw open his doors around the first week in March.
A trained pastry chef who grew up in his family's restaurant in Jackson, Tenn., Hamilton opened the first Pig & Pie at Charlotte and River Road in 1999. In the early days, his partners included Fate Thomas Jr., son of the legendary Davidson County sheriff — and sometime inmate — Fate Thomas Sr. The business was called "Fate's Pig & Pie," but Hamilton eventually bought out his partners and the "Fate" was dropped.
Later, the Charlotte building was taken over by Brewhouse West, and Hamilton seized a chance for low overhead by moving Pig & Pie to the troubled Bellevue Center, which has since closed.
"We did great there," he says. "Good rent, huge kitchen. I was the last person to leave."
Catering kept him busy, especially when he discovered a niche that he calls recession-proof: college athletics. He's had gigs cooking for both athletes and fans. "I like doing stuff for them. They're fun to be around."
He adds, "The baseball and basketball teams are so polite — ‘Yes sir,' and ‘thanks.' Those boys are used to Subway and then they get pork tenderloin and green bean casserole."
But Hamilton and his wife Jackie always wanted another cafe — they just had to find the right location. He says they've been parking the pink Pig & Pie van outside the building on White Bridge Road for a while and many fans have stopped by.
"It's West Nashville — a lot of our people are there, but it's still close to the hospitals and downtown for catering," he says.
At least initially, Hamilton expects to operate on weekdays from 10 a.m. to 6 or 7 p.m. He plans to offer plenty of things for commuters to pick up for dinner, like whole smoked chickens and to-go portions of his 13 daily vegetables as well as desserts.
Paquette's back for a bit
More than a year after closing her landmark restaurant Zola, popular chef Deb Paquette has picked up a prominent (though temporary) job running the kitchen at the French-inspired bistro Miel in Sylvan Park.
Paquette and her restaurateur/fishing guide husband Ernie are still planning to head to the Caribbean to run a fishing resort, but they've encountered bureaucratic delays.
"Deb's here while we look for someone long-term," says Miel's owner, Seema Prasad. As a former restaurant owner and a 25-year veteran of Nashville kitchens, Paquette is using her experience to help fine-tune things at Miel, Prasad says. "She's great on so many levels — costs, management, teaching. She's making this a business."
Miel's former chef, Freddy Brooker, a 20-year veteran of Nashville restaurants, has landed at another well-regarded outfit. He's now working for the team that owns both Germantown Cafe and Allium.
Burning for brûlée
Speaking of Miel, there's news that seems too amusing — yet strangely impressive — to ignore. Two major figures in indie rock, My Morning Jacket frontman Jim James and his friend M. Ward — an indie-folk solo act and half of the duo She & Him with Zooey Deschanel — have started a blog exclusively devoted to the caramel-topped custard known as crème brûlée.
And though neither lives in Nashville, they have selected Miel's crème brûlée as "the standard to which all other brûlée shall be held." So far the blog has three entries, and the rating system is byzantine. Happily, Miel's rating is "infinite," You go, pastry chef Angela Reynolds.
Even kookier are James' descriptions. Here's his account of eating the crème brûlée at Miel (we have standardized the punctuation for clarity):
"I notice two hummingbirds sitting on the shoulders of a younger Mark Twain as he licks the caramel off the bottom of his brûlée... and for the first time the idea of Huckleberry Finn pops into his mind and he smiles with the knowledge of future success. He notices me and holds up his brûlée in a ‘cheers' gesture — which I return. ..."
The entries are so baroque that it's hard to realize that one is an expressionist reaction to the flan at Back to Cuba in Nashville. It's a vignette set in Cuba in 1957. Only the text below an accompanying image of flan refers to the restaurant.
So with three entries filed, Nashville's looking good in the crème brûlée race. But the current competition is enough to crack your custard: Ward raves about the brûlée at a place called Dario's in Omaha, Neb.
Check out all the weirdness at cremebrulog.com.