Nashville’s Printers Alley has a rich and storied past. At the turn the 20th century, this downtown destination was approaching its heyday. It was a time when clandestine drinkers entered through clubs’ back doors, and the alley was alive with burlesque acts, live music and gambling. The Black Poodle Lounge, The Carousel Club and The Rainbow Room were a few of the reasons Printers Alley was dubbed Nashville’s Nightclub District, and today, Black Rabbit continues that legacy and keeps that same spirit alive. Printers Alley’s newest eatery and cocktail club is located on the first floor of a historic building on Third Avenue that dates back to the late 1800s. That era is celebrated inside the 3,800-square-foot restaurant and bar through cocktails and canapés, as well as its aesthetic.
“The concept is forwarded by cocktails, and we didn’t know we would be selling food on the level we have,” Chef Trey Cioccia says. Trey, who also is the owner and chef of The Farm House, has a strong team with his partners, Chef de Cuisine Chad Kelly and General Manager Robert Compton, as well as Wine and Beverage Director Troy Smith. “We are hoping to have a product that is different, but acceptable — great food and service and quality match. We are here every day to make sure that happens,” Chef Trey tells us. “I want to create a place where people can have a good, quality cocktail for a reasonable price and socialize.” And they are also crafting small plates that are designed to educate.
Kathy Anderson of Anderson Design Studio was behind the design of the space. Jazz melodies contribute to the atmosphere thanks to the musicians who take a seat at the restaurant’s piano, which greets you upon entry. Exposed brick, 16-foot ceilings, original pine floors and décor details (including a Brass Stables sign on the wall) showcase the building’s history, while the dimly lit corners and velvet booths showcase the luxury and glam associated with speakeasies during the Prohibition Era. From high-top tables to a cozy corner booth, there are plenty of seating options. We kicked back in the restaurant’s lounge, which is centered around a fireplace.
“A dish tells you about the chef who is cooking it. If you try one dish, you learn one thing. With multiple dishes, you can learn if the chef has a diverse flavor profile, if he is consistent — there are so many things to learn,” Chef Trey tells us. After trying six of the 14 small plates, and one of the two platters, we learned a lot about Trey and Chad. We learned they have diverse flavor profiles, are consistent, can roast meats as well as they can vegetables, make a mouth-watering bread, have done their research into Depression- and Prohibition-era culinary culture and so much more.
The team did research into how people were eating and drinking during cocktail parties in the 1900s, and their hard work is evident. “Our menu is polished and rustic. It ranges from croutons to caviar,” Chef Chad says. “We are having a lot of fun and are enjoying being chefs again.” The menu features 14 “pinches” and small plates, plus a sandwich platter and caviar service, with three or four dishes changing each week. You can order the entire menu for about $150, with the exception of the caviar, which rings in at $100 by itself.
During our visit, boiled peanuts, cauliflower with ham, charred mushrooms and mushroom ganache, quark, roasted squash with sorghum, beef cheeks with an egg mouse, rabbit sliders, bone-in pork belly and foie gras with cinnamon toast were made in the open kitchen before being delivered to our table. Each dish was as delicious as the next and had a host of interesting ingredients that were all distinguishable, yet complementary. The umami-rich foods have a complexity that leaves you wanting more of the decadent dishes.
We learned a lesson in curdled cheese, thanks to the quark. In this dish, sour milk is curdled and baked and, in this case, topped with honey and pumpkin seed. The cheese was served with homemade Hawaiian rolls and farm bread. Charred with shallots and paired with a mushroom ganache, mushrooms were thoughtfully used to create a dish any mushroom lover would appreciate. The kitchen’s talents with proteins were most clearly displayed in the foie gras, rabbit sliders and pork belly. Paired with cinnamon toast, the foie gras is an obvious depiction of “rustic meets polished,” as Chef Chad described. The rabbit rolls will have you overcome with nostalgia for your family’s ham rolls. In place of ham, rabbit is sandwiched between freshly made rolls and spread with mustard. “This is a top seller and will never come off the menu,” Chef Trey says. “It is the perfect approachable drunk food.”
The full-flavored food and bright, often acidic cocktails offer a balance of flavors only achieved when combining the two.
The cocktails that drive the concept are Wine and Beverage Director Troy Smith’s work. With 36 cocktails on the menu, we expected to meet one we didn’t like. Color us surprised when after trying eight different cocktails, we bowed our heads in defeat. The two-page cocktail menu is split into four different sections: Classics, Revisions, Shrubs and Punch. Old Fashioned, Manhattan and Sidecar cocktails are examples of Classics, and each is reimagined and dubbed “Revisions.” In an Old Fashioned, you will find bourbon, but in a New School you will find mezcal; in a Manhattan you will find bourbon, but in a Lost In Hell’s Kitchen you will find rum; in a Sidecar you will find cognac, but in a Oaxacan Skip you will find mezcal. You get the picture.
We tried the Bijou (Classic) and Southern Jewel (Revision) side by side. With gin, chartreuse, vermouth and bitters, the Bijou is an alcohol-forward cocktail with herbal notes. With bourbon, vermouth, botanical and bitters, the Southern Jewel has a distinguishable sweetness.
The most surprising cocktails were the Shrubs. Made with drinking vinegars, these cocktails are unlike any others we have tried. The Josephine and East Meets West were two crowd favorites. “Josephine, Bijou and Monkey Gland are menu staples,” Troy says. “We will be changing the cocktail menu as soon as the new year, but those will stay.” And cocktails aren’t all you will find. “We have 24 wines by the glass and 110 by the bottle. I wanted to create a place where people can come to have a good drink, and their date can have a good glass of wine. And if you are a beer drinker, we have something for you, too. We have a selection of esoteric beers, including a smoked beer. The response has been phenomenal.”
“I love my city,” Nashville-native Chef Trey says. “We have created a place where people can snack, socialize and drink. I welcome tourists but want locals to find a home here, too.”
Stop in for a drink before dinner, a meal with friends or a nightcap.
Black Rabbit is located at 218 Third Ave. N., Nashville, TN 37201. Hours are Monday through Thursday, 3 p.m. to midnight; Friday, 3 p.m. to 1 a.m.; Saturday, 5 p.m. to 1 a.m. Snag deals on food and cocktails during Docket Hour, Monday through Friday from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m.
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