The Food Biz: Double Paquette

After helping Urban Grub open, the former Zola chef turns her attention to Encore's Etch

It’s a well-known fact in the food biz that restaurants almost always take longer to build than expected. Sometimes a lot longer.

In the fall I reported on a bumper crop of upcoming restaurants, and the anticipation has been exquisite — in some cases the wait has extended far beyond the projects’ original target dates. But construction delays and other complications seem to be yielding to this spring’s sultry onslaught.

Last week I got to tell you the good news on The Southern Steak and Oyster, restaurateur Tom Morales’ new flagship in the base of the Pinnacle tower — it’s expected to open as early as this weekend.

My treat this week was checking in with Deb Paquette, the revered chef whose erstwhile restaurant Zola was a West End favorite for many years. These days Paquette’s got her hand in two highly anticipated restaurants.

Paquette (pictured here) is playing more of a supporting role in 12South, where restaurateur Jay Pennington and his business partner William Inman are preparing to open Urban Grub.

Located on 12th Avenue in the heart of the 12South renaissance, Urban Grub has an eye-catching two-story contemporary exterior. Paquette is helping to develop the menu as the restaurant prepares to launch in a few weeks.

The top toque is Edgar Pendley, an energetic chef whose credits include Sperry’s among other local spots. As Pennington described it to me, the cuisine is inspired by all the regions surrounding the Gulf of Mexico, with lots of seafood, grilled and smoked meats, and fresh ingredients.

Right now, Paquette said, the interior is starting to come together, equipment-wise, allowing Urban Grub’s pastry chef, Megan Williams (a veteran of Capitol Grille), to test all kinds of recipes on the team as they scramble to finish up the space. She figures she’ll keep helping out at Urban Grub until May, when she’ll transition to working full time on her own new restaurant.

Located downtown, it’s catty-corner from The Southern at Demonbreun and Third Avenue, situated on the ground floor of the Encore condominium building.

Restaurateurs Doug Hogrefe and Paul Schramkowski of Amerigo are creating the new venture to showcase Paquette’s talent, as well as planting their flag in what many hope will be a vibrant dining scene south of Broadway once the nearby Music City Center opens. When I reported on it in the fall, the restaurant’s name was Echo at Encore, but it has recently been rechristened Etch at Encore. (There’s apparently another national claim on the name Echo.)

It’s hard to pin Paquette down on the cuisine, though it’s sure to be eclectic. Trained in the French style at the Culinary Institute of America, she reveled in Mediterranean tastes at Zola, then ventured into Mexican cuisine when she helped launch the second Local Taco location.

As a restaurant near a convention center, Etch needs to be approachable for all kinds of diners, Paquette said, from foodies to straightforward meat-and-potatoes enthusiasts. “We’re going to do fun things, new things — and a great steak,” she said. Interior construction at Etch starts this week, she said, with opening expected in late July.

Meanwhile, I heard about another interesting new restaurant project set for SoBro. Jan and Bernie Strawn, owners of the popular Mack & Kate’s in Franklin and Macke’s in Green Hills, are staking out space in Cummins Station.

The office and retail development at 10th Avenue and Demonbreun has been around for a while, but it seems to be a having a sudden renaissance — including the opening last month of Joe Natural’s, a sandwich and coffee spot focusing on fresh local ingredients.

Jan Strawn said she isn’t ready to say much about her new place — in fact, even the name of the restaurant hasn’t been revealed. A Twitter announcement promises “chic Southern cuisine — name and details TBA.”

Cynthia Kelley, who does publicity for the Strawns’ restaurants, said there a few things we can expect from the new joint: lunch, dinner and catering, plus delivery downtown.

The opening is planned for October.