The Food Biz: Hot tomato

Two prominent chefs team to bring 'upscale, casual' Italian to East Nashville

East Nashville has landed a diverse roster of restaurants in recent years, but one thing the neighborhood doesn’t have is a fine-dining spot devoted to Italian cuisine. Two highly accomplished Nashville chefs are joining forces to remedy that.

Pomodoro East — which will fill the former Cooper’s on Porter spot at Porter Road and Eastland Avenue — represents the first collaboration between chefs Willy Thomas and Joe Shaw. Thomas is the chef-owner of Park Cafe and its east-side sister Eastland Cafe. Shaw is a chef and manager with decades of experience; he’s a veteran of legendary chef Frank Stitt’s operations in Birmingham, Ala., and made his mark in Nashville at various restaurants including Watermark, The Standard and Miro District.

Of course, you can get pizza and some pasta dishes in East Nashville now, but Thomas stresses that Pomodoro (the word means “tomato” in Italian) won’t be typical cheesy Italian-American fare. Both he and Shaw said Pomodoro will deliver chef-driven cuisine with fresh local ingredients and meticulous attention to detail.

“Both Willy and I are farm-to-table kind of guys,” Shaw said. “So the menu will have seasonal qualities. We’re emphasizing upscale and emphasizing casual.”

Those adjectives may seem like opposites, but Shaw said the phrase means the team will strive to have high standards for ingredients, preparation and service, but not be stuffy.

“It will have an elegant feel, but also be approachable,” Shaw said. “We’re in a neighborhood. I live in the neighborhood.”

Expect the welcome to be warmed by the wood-burning oven the chefs plan to install in the restaurant space, which they are remodeling to lighten up the interior. “It’s a total makeover,” Thomas said. “It’s a more modern feel.”

Shaw — who’s both executive chef and general manager at Pomodoro — said the oven will yield wood-fired pizzas and other baked items like clams al forno.

Though he said he’s “in love with Southern food,” Shaw concedes he’s got a solid background in Italian cuisine, including years working at Stitt’s Northern Italian spot Bottega.

As for Pomodoro, Shaw said the menu is a work in progress, but we can expect antipasti, carpaccio, seasonal salads, pastas (including at least two handmade), seafood, “braised meats in traditional Italian style” and “a big fat steak.”

Pomodoro East, at 701 Porter Road, will have a full bar with beer, cocktails and a wine list emphasizing Italian vintages. It’s expected to open in April.

Meanwhile, a few doors down from Pomodoro in the same retail development at Porter and Eastland, one of Nashville’s mobile vendors has set down permanent roots.

Foxy Baking Co. (a vegetable galette with smoked tomato jam is pictured above), opened a storefront two weeks ago after owner Katy Branson traveled Nashville roads with a food truck last year.

“The truck was great — when it ran,” Branson joked. “I’ve been doing farmers’ markets, and I decided it was time to get a shop.” 

Branson is a retail veteran who worked for Starbucks for 10 years before becoming obsessed with baking after creating her first pie.

“I remember thinking, ‘I wish I had a job where I could hang out with my rolling pin all day,’ ” she said with a laugh.

The storefront came open after the previous tenant, Almond Tree Bakery, closed and Branson was able to take over the lease.

Her menu features baked goods both savory (quiches and veggie pies) and sweet (brownies and pies). She offers intriguing “pie pops,” which are 3-inch pies on a stick. Branson is starting the shop with fairly limited hours: 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Wednesday through Friday and 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. But she hopes to extend hours soon.

Foxy Baking Co. is at 707 Porter Road. The phone number is 260-6457.