The Food Biz: Smoking Chrome

Hot Rod Grille unites restaurant and trailer

A music business veteran and avid cook is gearing up to open a restaurant, and as a first step he’s firing up a food truck — actually, a fully outfitted mobile restaurant kitchen in an Airstream trailer.

Songwriter/barbecue fanatic Chris Michaels is launching The Hot Rod Grille, subtitled “a BBQ Joint With a Hot Rod Vibe,” in the little retail building at 611 Wedgewood Ave. that once housed the original location of Judge Bean’s. The Grillstream, as Michaels calls the silvery zeppelin of a food truck, will be deployed first, probably by the end of April.

The truck will serve up fare while Michaels and his business partner, entrepreneur Lance Salsgiver, work to clean and renovate the bricks-and-mortar space, which has been empty for a while. That opening won’t happen for a couple months.

Michaels said his menu will focus on barbecue — both pulled pork and beef brisket, coated in a dry rub and smoked over hickory or applewood — along with grilled entrees. Eventually, Michaels hopes to start offering exotic game like elk, venison and bison steaks. It’s an unusual twist made possible by his connections to an exotic game farm in Michigan.

Michaels is a founder of the Music City Chili Cook-Off, so he will also serve up his best bowl of the spicy stuff.

Though he’s spent 18 years in the music business in Nashville, Michaels said he always kept his hand in the food side, catering video shoots and cooking for friends’ big events. (And putting on the aforementioned chili fest.)

Though he was born in Tennessee, Michaels grew up in Colorado and has spent a lot of time in the Southwest, and he said that’s a big influence on his cooking. He’s made a hobby of collecting different chilies and spices, which he uses to perfect his own spice blends and dry rubs.

“I’m not trying to invent the wheel, just turn it around some,” he joked.

His mom will contribute pies under the name Mother Tucker’s. “Her peanut butter pie is the end-all and be-all of all things peanut butter,” Michaels said. He employed a little more humorous bragging when describing his signature sides, including a grilled okra dish and a mac-and-cheese that will make people “fistfight for the last bite.”

Michaels cited another of his obsessions, hot rods and classic motorcycles, and said he plans to invoke that kind of vintage vibe in the restaurant. His Airstream, which he also calls “a giant polished Twinkie” is decorated with a fierce face like the nose of a World War II-era P-51 fighter plane.

The truck will not be confined to the streets of Nashville. Michaels said he’s volunteered for a while with the culinary charity Taste of the NFL, and he’s already gotten an invitation to cook at next year’s Super Bowl in New Orleans.

For updates, check out Hot Rod Grille on Facebook.


In last week’s City Paper, Walker Duncan looked at the renaissance of local distilleries in Tennessee, which was made possible when state liquor laws were simplified a few years back. (I wouldn’t exactly say “eased” because the legalities remain very convoluted, as he reported.)

It’s similar to the way city regulations have been modified to allow small craft breweries, called microbreweries, to operate in Nashville.

A new bill is working its way through Metro government that might clear the way for even smaller beer producers, called nanobreweries.

The ordinance would add another zoning category in which microbreweries would be permitted: IWD (Industrial Warehousing/Distribution). This would give small brewers access to a broader spectrum of real estate than they currently have.

Potentially, this could make launching a brewery more affordable and allow nanobrewing, or operations that produce as little as 10 gallons at a time. At least one small local brewer has said he might be able to start up under the ordinance. We’ll follow the progress of the bill and report back.


Back in January Nashville Post reported that the owners of the popular Melrose Pub in the Melrose neighborhood had announced they’d be spinning off a second location on Charlotte Avenue (something our real estate sleuth J.R. Lind had sussed out a year ago). But the team offered few details, not even the name.

Now we know what they were waiting for. Last week owner Austin Ray proclaimed a new name for the original pub and the whole concept: M.L. Rose Craft Beer & Burgers. The new name is less neighborhood-specific while emphasizing two key angles of the business: craft beer and burgers.

The former Lavender Motors site at 4408 Charlotte Ave. is being gutted to create a pub that will be similar to its Franklin Road progenitor, with “a laid-back neighborhood vibe, plenty of televisions, a large patio space and the same delicious menu,” according to the announcement.

The release also hinted that additional M.L. Rose pubs are being planned.