The Food Biz: Southern strategy

Tom Morales brings latest creation to Pinnacle

One of most ambitious restaurants to open downtown in quite a while, The Southern Steak & Oyster, is gearing up to launch later this month in the base of the Pinnacle tower at Demonbreun and Third Avenue South.

The Southern’s mastermind, restaurateur Tom Morales, sees it as the vanguard of a lively new era of dining in the area south of Broadway as the neighborhood is transformed by the upcoming Music City Center and the adjoining Omni hotel.

The space is still coming together two weeks before opening, but you can see the scope and sweep of the main dining room, a circular space orbiting dual bars that will serve up both oysters (collected in various sweet spots around the globe) and cocktails.

The décor will include a vast compass pointing due south to reinforce the restaurant’s inclination toward Southern food, though Morales said the cuisine is inspired by the many places around the world he and his team have traveled — hence the tagline, “south of somewhere.”

Morales also owns Saffire restaurant in Franklin and TomKats movie catering, which feeds actors and crew filming near and far, everything from 30 Rock in New York to The Help in small-town Mississippi.

And Morales is positioning The Southern almost as a commissary for everybody who lives, works or parties downtown — the restaurant will serve breakfast, lunch, dinner and drinks.

“It’s culinary meets comfort,” Morales said. “We want to be accessible to everyone.”

That might include young professionals having drinks after work, families gathering for Sunday brunch, symphony aficionados bound for the Schermerhorn across the street, the boisterous pre-hockey crowd, and tourists taking a break before or after soaking in the history at the nearby Country Music Hall of Fame.

And plenty of diners will get to inhabit the friendly confines of The Southern; the restaurant is expected to seat 220, including 30 or so on the patio along Third.

In addition to the main dining room there’s a quieter separate dining room that can be reserved for private parties and business gatherings (with audiovisual hookup for conferences).

The Southern aims to be eco-friendly, with an emphasis on local ingredients whenever possible, but it makes one concession to Nashvillians’ addiction to their personal gas-combustion vehicles: Diners get two hours’ free parking in the garage, and if they want to stay longer downtown, it’s a flat $5 fee.

I got a sneak peek at the menu, and it covers a wide swath, as promised. The breakfast dishes may actually be the most revolutionary. I don’t think anyplace else downtown serves smoked beef brisket or Cuban pork tenderloin with their breakfast egg platters.

For lunch, a menu of sandwiches name-checks various locales of inspiration, from New Orleans (oyster po’boy) to Key West (grouper sandwich) to hippie-happy Summertown, Tenn. (the Earthy Crunchy, a vegetarian nut loaf with gravy and roasted root veggies).

Dinner encompasses a broad price-point, from $15 for pan-fried cornmeal-crusted catfish, with savory pecan rice and an okra-tomato-and-corn ragout, to $48 for the blockbuster 24-ounce South of Somewhere T-Bone, wood-fired and served with compound butter, onion rings and sautéed green beans.

The executive chef is Matt Farley, a veteran of New York City restaurants who’s been with TomKats for a couple years. The Southern will tentatively open its doors for a very soft opening sometime around April 15, with a more official opening coming in May.


Opry Mills smorgasbord

The long-awaited reopening of Opry Mills mall on Thursday brought a panoply of restaurants and snack spots, some returning and others new.

Here’s a list of openings: Aquarium Restaurant, Auntie Anne’s, Burger King, Charley’s, Grilled Subs, Chuy’s, The Cookie Store, Dairy Queen, Dave and Buster’s, Great American Cookie Co., Green Leaf’s Beyond Great, Kelly’s Cajun Grill, Maki of Japan, Marble Slab Creamery, Panda Express, Pyramid Cafe, Rainforest Cafe, Subway and Which Wich.

Restaurants that are coming soon include Romano’s Macaroni Grill, Claim Jumper, Johnny Rockets, Sweet CeCe’s and TGI Friday’s.

Lumberjack dining

Twin Peaks, a Dallas-based chain known for its busty waitresses in low-cut lumberjack attire, is coming to Cool Springs. The concept is planting its flag at 1634 Service Merchandise Blvd., the former Smokey Bones location.

It’s Twin Peaks’ first outpost in Tennessee.

And guess what? They’re hiring. From the release: “The mountain-lodge-style sports restaurant known for its scenic views is looking for Nashville’s perkiest girls to become a part of the hottest new restaurant in Music City. …

No previous restaurant experience required.” Twin Peaks is supposed to open sometime later this month.