The expression, pulling out all the stops refers to opening the air flow to all the pipes of a pipe organ. In other words, it reaches it fullest sound, its maximum potential.
When I first heard that the Tomkats Group, was pulling out the stops to build a new restaurant in the Pinnacle building, I got a little nervous and a little excited. Tom Morales is known for entertainment and movie catering and the Saffire.
Could they open a downtown Nashville worthy restaurant with southern charm and enough sophistication to be a music city go to without being cliche?
They found a way. For starters, you don’t just eat at the Southern. You experience it.
It’s not just food; it a sophisticated walk through a country culture with much whimsy and license to jump all the way out of the box of Southern and offer an upscale application and variety on food that feels homey, yet could be a Top Chef item, even if it’s grits or biscuits, but don’t be surprised when you bite into something Caribbean, which is still somewhere south.
How did they do it?
They don’t just feed you. They tell the story, and they join the dinner party. They let you know that the shrimp appetizer will have the heads on, proving they are fresh, not frozen. They will explain where the oysters come from and how they might taste differently. They will point out the salvaged barn wood that adds a bit of rustic to a fairly cool and urbanish decor, because the company cares about the materials used to build this beautiful eatery.
Wiley, our server, made sure we knew about the place, the art, the food and he was just laid back enough to make us feel relaxed and not rushed during a busy Saturday night. I have to say this. The service at the Southern is everything service should be. It’s clear that the management team wants you to feel at home and come back again.
We started our meal ordering a couple of bottles of Tikal Patriota, a malbec-bonarda blend from Argentina, especially nice with pork or beef, full of deep berry flavors and slightly smokey.
The chef sent us a round of complimentary appetizers. Each one had a different sauce, which was light enough to taste the food, but flavorful enough to make a difference.
We were grateful, especially me who grew up on blue crab. The crab cake appetizer is all lump crab topped with hominy and we finished off two orders. Sesame Breaded Shrimp (middle) served with peach and sour dipping sauce. Yes, they are fried, but light, crunchy and sauce is just the right amount of sweetness.
Barbecue Head on Shrimp, Orleans Parish Style, black pepper, butter and Toasted Baguette. I could have made a meal of these. These shrimp were so fresh tasting, but the sauce could have a little more zing.
We ordered additional appetizers we had our eye on from the beginning.
A half-dozen oysters that left me wanting more, especially the blue points.
Dominican pork appetizer, Caribbean spiced, braised pork and mango pico atop a crisp sweet potato grit cake. Can pork be sexy? Yes, when it’s fall apart good, and it spices awaken your mouth and end with a bit of sweetness.
The entrees were skillfully and artfully prepared.
Each had it’s own sauce and garnish that made the dish not only attractive but balanced and flavorful. They know how to get that crusty sear on a piece of fish without overcooking it.
Fish n’ Grits
Halibut with Falls Mill sweet potato grits, braised cabbage and spicy tasso vinaigrette. This is THE dish I want to make at home. The sweet potato grits capture everything southern and with each bite of cabbage, a perfectly balanced meal. Not your granny’s cooking, but a nod to the past.
Served over a carrot mashed potatoes, arugula, wasabi and orange glaze. So delicious, and considered the best entree of the night.
Chef Mat Farley is from New York. He has successfully turned comfort food into fine dining and he successfully runs a very busy kitchen. They have an expertise in defining the right sauce for the perfectly seared steak or piece of fish.
Blackened, mango pico, avocado aioli, jicama slaw and black beans with queso fresco. Fish tacos is to Mr. ST as a burger is to me. We’re always on the hunt for the best. He loved them, as the fish portion was generous, spiced just right and the tortillas were soft.
Ancho-rubbed brisket with sweet potato andouille hash, corn relish and cilantro pesto. The brisket was good; the sweet potato hash will convert anyone that thinks they don’t like sweet potatoes.
There was no dessert menu to drool over, and the server told us what they had. Perhaps they change their desserts nightly. I was hoping for a better selection, something with cobbler or pie with a little ice cream. The food is exciting and well thought out, and I was hoping the desserts would be just as good. They do have a signature dessert called Red Grits, which I’ve tasted at a food event and it was refreshing and different. I regret that we didn’t order it.
Hummingbird cake, was just okay for me, not a dessert I felt lived up to the quality of the rest of the food. However, the toffee-brittle type cookie on top was amazing!
On the other hand, the banana bread pudding should stay on the menu. It was moist with a light texture and not an overwhelming banana taste. The drizzle of chocolate and the sauce came together to make a the perfect bite.
As part of the experience, you will get to feast your eyes on a collection of Bill Thorup photographs, which tell the story of Nashville. They are placed in perfect Pinterest fashion, and from there you can spot a piece of art, a cowboy, made from Nashville street trash. I noticed the privacy in these booths, perfect for that music city business mingle.
Now, normally, I don’t get this excited with restaurant art and decor, but this place made it fun, a treat, something to talk about without a drop of camp or kitsch. Even the cowboy (made from Nashville trash) is a piece of art to be appreciated.
Pictured here are Chef Mat Farley and my good friend, Jennifer. She did a fantastic job giving me a tour, describing the eco friendly philosophy, the local food sourcing and the history of the fixtures and art work.
I’d heard through the grapevine that the restaurant was busy since opening in April, and that the food was really good. Still, I didn’t expect the level of cooking that we experienced.
We dined with another couple, the Restless Tech and his Mrs. He writes about technology and food, which is so Nashville. He is world traveled and like me wasn’t expecting the Southern to charm us as much as it did.
I recommend the Southern for anytime of day or night, and especially a wonderful place to take out of town guests to show off the energy of our city. They did indeed put out all the stops and have achieved harmony in decor, drinks and especially food. They serve breakfast, lunch, dinner, late night and brunch. Wow!
As part of the whimsy, this is who greets you at the restrooms. Scarlet O’Hara is projected onto the wall in the ladies room, while Gomer Pile plays in the men’s room.
Ten Reasons I want to go back to the Southern.
- I want to sit at the bar, watch the mixologist do his thing, and get adventurous, starting with a Blood Orange Margarita or a drink they call Tom’s Dirty Sock.
- The fried oysters and mash. Fried oysters take me back to a place I worked at during college.
- Take another look at the photography wall. It tells a story of an amazing city.
- The deviled eggs, which are smoked and doused in a Louisiana hot sauce, slathered with rooster pepper remoulade. We like our deviled eggs in the South, especially non-traditional.
- Sunday brunch, peach sangria fried green tomatoes benedict, live music.
- The red grits. This is a signature dessert of berries and large pearl tapioca. I had it once at a food event.
- Go for breakfast and have chicken and waffles, which I’ve heard is last meal good.
- Sit at the oyster bar, and make a meal out of a variety of oysters with a cocktail.
- People watching on the patio, which is located south of Broadway, where people from all over the world come to get a taste of Nashville night life.
- Do dinner and walk 175 feet across the street to the Schermerhorn symphony center.
This is the just the beginning of the New Nashville. The $585 million Music City Center opens in 2013 and I doubt the Southern will ever have a down moment.