By sheer good luck, I found myself driving past Husk one Saturday at noon, and on a whim popped in for lunch. We had no reservation, so we ate at the bar, but because we were there, we were able to persuade them to give us a much sought after dinner reservation for the following Friday evening.
As we sat at the bar eating oysters and killed lettuce, we were offered a nibble of cured ham from a pig’s leg that sits at the counter, and I remembered why I was so looking forward to Husk’s opening. I knew it could be a while (weeks) to get a reservation, so I felt quite blessed and all week anticipated coming back for dinner.
Husk is an ingredient driven, chef-driven restaurant that sources ingredients from local farms and its own edible landscape and then decides the menu. The food must be Southern to be served, committed more to the ingredients harvested in the South than merely modernized, reinterpreted recipes.
The kitchen is led by Chef Sean Brock and Chef Morgan McGlone, as they transform Southern food into earthy, fine dining using a wood burning oven and herbs and vegetables from the restaurant’s garden.
During my lunch visit, I was able to walk the restaurant, meet James Beard award winning, Chef Sean Brock, take interior pictures and, at his suggestion, spend time browsing the incredible garden. I spoke about Husk on this recent podcast of the Nashville Restaurant scene and the farm to table trend.
Husk takes farm to table a step further, as much of the food is garden to table, and the garden is right outside the door.
One ways it’s being redefined is that right in the heart of Nashville, nestled in an old gorgeous mansion, varietal heirlooms and seeds brought from Chef Brock’s grandmother’s garden are part of old seed being sown, harvested and appearing in beautiful garden dishes, Southern dishes, elevated yet comfortable enough to feel like you’re eating with your uncle. By the way, Chef Brock has a tattoo sleeve of vegetables, which is indicative of his passion.
The mansion, originally built by Dr. John Bunyan Stephens of Charleston in the late 1800’s is beautiful and it’s just a coincidence that the first Husk is located in Charleston.
Lovage (pronounced love-ache) is an herb that is found in the oysters and some of the other dishes is an herb often used in place of parsley or dill. The oysters were just as good to eat as to look at.
The Design at Husk
The inside of Husk is gorgeous, showcasing original hard wood floors with unique modern lighting, adding excitement to a very traditional Southern Mansion. At first, I was surprised by the zen-like design approach of the tablescapes, as they seem out of place. I always prefer white tablecloths in a fine dining restaurant and this might help with the sound and serve as great backdrop for the colorful food.
We sat in this purple painted room with the gorgeous drapes. It’s the quietest room in the restaurant, and feels almost like a private room. (Some of the dining areas area bit noisy because the ceilings are very high and there are a lot of hard surfaces. I’m hoping they can figure a way to make some adjustments to the acoustics.)
The grounds are so pretty and this windowed wall built into the side of the mansion is stunning.
The kitchen is open and all the guests have access to watching prep work and the cooking.
The Cocktails at Husk
Husk understands the artisan and vintage cocktail is all the rage, but they have fun with it. Instead of masterminding cocktails, they allow them to evolve from history, the talent of the staff and the ingredients available. The Rye Rocket is one of the BEST DRINKS I’ve had in a while. A modern yet rustic take on a gin gimlet, It’s made with cane syrup and gilka kummel and garnished with arugula (which is also known as rocket). It’s refreshing, not too sweet, not too sour, and absolutely a summer’s dream. The pink drink was again amazing but, sadly I can’t remember what it was called and the cocktail menu is not on line. There was some kind of berry in it (not strawberry) and it has a lemon twist.
There are few interesting non-alcoholic sodas on the menu, including bottled RC Cola, which Retro Rose fully enjoyed.
The Appetizers at Husk
We started with an assortment of appetizers. We ordered several, and the chef sent a few complimentary to the table.
Top Left: Pokeweed Johnny Cakes, Pimento Cheese Top
Top Right: Dave’s Clams with Green Garlic Butter, Bottarga and Lovage
Bottom Left: Fried Chicken Skins, Hot Sauce, Honey, Thyme
Bottom Right: Fried Pickled Green Tomatoes with Heirloom Cape Bean Hummus
My favorite was the Pokeweed Johnny Cakes, with the Pimento Cheese and we couldn’t stop eating it. Then again, the clams were simply superb, sporting the bottarga and the herb, lovage. Don’t leave Husk without trying either of these dishes, although each appetizer was great in its own right. We in the South like our fried pickles and fried green tomatoes, so it’s a bit genius to pickle the tomatoes and fry them to perfection.
The Salads at Husk
The “killed lettuce” is take on yesteryear’s hot bacon dressing. Instead of that sweet dressing, this is a heated olive oil dressing. It had a little spice and as I’m a fan of a warm salad and grilled salads, I loved it.
This heirloom tomato salad has entered the best bites of 2013 for me. It’s not just the way the tomato is cut and presented, it’s the dressing it’s sitting on. It tasted similar to a buttermilk dressing but so much more with a freshness and brightness that surprised me.
The food is served on pottery made by a local artisan. It’s earthy and indicative of the chef’s viewpoint, expressing craft, skill, art, simplicity in both the food, the decor and the plates. It doesn’t make the colorful look as good as white plates do, but I still appreciate them.
The rolls are served in a cloth bag, again with attention to a rustic detail that makes one feel so at home.
All the hot food is prepared in the wood burning oven, and the kitchen has to carefully plan each entree, which is why the chef asks that the entire order be given at once (appetizers and entrees). This kind of food preparation is marvelous and takes great culinary skill to perfect the timing.
We were invited to go back into the kitchen and get a good look at the wood burning stove where all the hot food is prepared.
The Entrees at Husk
I am not a vegetarian, but everyone knows by now my deep love of vegetables. The Vegetable Plate is stunning, served upon a plate made from a tree trunk. There was more than enough to eat and share with my three dinner partners, and truly hard to pick a favorite.
Farro with a 63 ° egg.
Brassicus: Purple Cauliflower, Broccoli, Repini, & Romanesco
Purple Cape Beans, Squash and Tomato Succotash
Roasted Carrots with Pickled Ramps
Side of Grits with Shitakes & Preserved Tomatoes
The chicken & dumplings is quite unique. The chicken is wood oven fired, and the dumplings are similar to a gnocchi. The star of this dish (amongst stars) is the serving of butter beans in the broth with the dumplings. Retro Rose is still trying to figure out how to make that bowl of home goodness and those beans might be another favorite bite of 2013.
The preparation of the cat fish was simple and living proof that catfish doesn’t need to be fried. It was flavorful, tender, tasty and unique.
The grouper was just slightly overcooked, but wonderful just the same.
The Desserts at Husk Prepared by Pastry Chef, Lisa Donovan
Dessert included a buttermilk pie with peaches. If you’ve followed me, you know this is one of my all time favorite desserts and one you must order. Buttermilk pie is similar to a custard pie, not as sweet as chess pie and takes you back to childhood. It’s topped with fresh peaches, and it’s all home goodness.
Berry cobbler with ice cream is always a favorite. I have these same cast iron casserole dishes; I’m finding myself very comfortable at Husk.
The Service at Husk
Our waiter was amazing. Often in fine dining, the wait staff can be a little stand offish. That wouldn’t fit Husk. Our waiter was friendly, and very in sync with the kitchen, as the food delivery flowed beautifully. When taking my mom, Retro Rose, out for dinner, I’m always hoping for a waiter who understands her 78-year old bigger than life personality. At one point, Retro Rose asked him for some tin foil so she could take some sugar cubes home. He was gracious and completely understood that I had nothing to do with it. Perhaps, this is a compliment to Husk, making people feel so at home.
On the way out, stop a moment and sit on the joggle seat. This was new for me. Have you ever heard of a joggle seat?
Come to Husk to get heart-felt, old fashioned food with a modern twist. Husk is an unusual experience, not so much in that you will find molecular gastronomy and futuristic dishes. It’s unusual because it’s as far away from chain restaurant as you can get, taking us back to a time when food tasted pure and delicious at our mother’s and grandmother’s farm table, while showcasing style and commitment for ingredient-focused dishes.
Chef Sean Brock is probably one of the of the most approachable, humble, hands on chef’s I’ve met, making sure he has brought to Nashville the slow kitchen approach that Husk Charleston has been blessed with. It’s not easy to get a reservation at Husk, and I was fortunate to be able to reserve a Friday night table. However, the drinks and appetizers are so wonderful, I might just be found popping into the downstairs bar for a cocktail and a nibble.
Husk Nashville Location
Husk is located at 37 Rutledge, in Rutledge Hill neighborhood, only a few blocks from downtown Nashville.
37 Rutledge Street
Nashville, TN 37210
Note: While I initially didn’t tell Husk I’m a food blogger, at one point my camera made it impossible to be discreet. A few of the appetizers were complimentary and much appreciated.