Judge Bean is back in town. Aubrey Bean, who’s been serving up Texas-style barbecue brisket since he opened his first Judge Bean’s BBQ in 2002, has operated at various locations over the years, but he hasn’t had a restaurant in Nashville proper for a while.
While the Judge Bean’s BBQ location down south in Brentwood is still going strong, Bean (at right in our picture) said he sold his stake to his partners a while back, then spent a year resting and recuperating from a heart attack and planning his next project.
That venture is The Judge’s Vinegarroon, which opened a couple weeks ago at 1805 Church St., a spot that’s housed quite a few concepts (most recently the late Sportstown BarBQ). For those not familiar with Western lore, a vinegarroon is a whiptail scorpion, and it was also the name of notorious lawman Judge Roy Bean’s original settlement in West Texas.
Aubrey Bean, who says he’s kin to the famous judge, is gradually rolling out the full menu, but he’s already serving up his signature beef brisket and other goodies, like smoked half-chickens and the popular shrimp Diablo skewers (a jalapeno stuffed with shrimp and cheese, wrapped in bacon, skewered and smoked).
A new feature will be Bean’s steaks. He’s served steaks before, but he says these are better — he’s now sourcing the beef locally (from Triune, to be exact). Because he’s purchasing the cattle on the hoof, Bean says he’s getting higher quality and lower prices, and he promises to pass the savings on to the customer: with a 10-ounce rib eye or a petite filet with two sides going for $16 or less.
Longtime Judge Bean’s diners will find many things familiar, including the spicy cowboy beans enhanced with bits of brisket and the comfortable no-frills dining room with red-and-white tablecloths. Beer and liquor are served, and there’s a front patio that will be handy when the weather is less fiery.
A website for The Judge’s Vinegarroon (678-7116) is in progress, but you can visit the restaurant’s page on Facebook. Hours are 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily (a little later or Thursdays when there’s live music).
A new alley cat
Not far away, in the heart of downtown, another Nashville restaurant veteran has opened a new place that promises hearty fare made fresh in a convivial environment.
Back Alley Diner is in a cozy little spot in an alley off the Arcade. It’s owned by Charlie McCabe and his business partner David Olin. McCabe has been involved in restaurants for decades: His parents were longtime owners of the famous fried-chicken destination Loveless Cafe before Tom Morales and TomKats took it over.
McCabe’s more recent venture is PaSgetti’s, the Italian takeout spot in Bellevue. That’s where he met Olin, who’s worked his way up to co-owner at the new establishment. At Back Alley Diner, which opened in late June, McCabe handles the business side and Olin handles daily operations.
“Charlie taught me to cook and clean and take out the trash,” joked Olin, who can also be found behind the bar. The diner has something of a dual identity: feeding the hungry lunch hordes by day and offering a friendly refuge for downtown drinks after work. For now, it’s closed on weekends, but Olin said during the week it stays open until at least 9 p.m. — or later, depending on the crowd. On Fridays, Olin books live music to enhance the mood.
As for the menu, Olin insists that everything’s made from scratch, including the soups and the chicken (smoked, then grilled) that tops Dave’s Smoked Chicken Philly Sandwich ($8.99) and the Boston Bleu Chicken and Apple Salad ($8.99), which includes greens, blue cheese, walnuts and crisp apples.
A major focus is the burger list, which boasts 10 variations, including the Knife & Fork Burger (topped with chili, cheese and onions) and the slightly more svelte Turkey Burger. Burgers range between $7.99 and $9.99 and include either homemade potato chips or fries.
Back Alley Diner (251-3003) is at 217 Arcade Alley, tucked off the Arcade. Check out a menu and pictures of the bistro-like interior here. Hours are 10:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday to Friday.