Just like every other urban area of Nashville, Germantown is one under constant construction. The 18-square-block footprint with streets named for 19th century U.S. presidents was Nashville’s first residential subdivision, one that deteriorated as outlying suburbs spread like kudzu in the ’50s and ’60s. A movement begun in the 1970s by remaining residents and city historians saved it in place, with the last decade experiencing remarkable growth and transformation. Unlike some other gentrifying neighborhoods, Germantown has either retained, restored and rejuvenated its buildings that date back to the 1830s or embarked on new construction that has mostly been complementary to the existing character, material and architecture that have earned the area historical awards and accolades.
Butchertown Hall masters both. The tallest part of the restaurant—reminiscent of the red brick churches that endure as landmarks of the community—is new construction. The one-story section visible in the left corner was a cinder block commercial building, part of the Formosa Foods operation, that has been restructured into the entrance, small seating area and large, open kitchen flanked by stacks of wood that makes clear there is some serious fire in the hole.
Credit the vision to the man shown below, Terrell Raley, who prefers to be called Terry, and whose handsome face and warm smile I first saw in 2008 behind the bar at Ombi, the short-lived restaurant on Elliston Place. Terry always had a drive about him that portended bigger and better things, and sure enough, in 2010, he transformed a former grocery store into Holland House Bar & Refuge. Two years later, he and Cees Brinkman flipped the building behind Holland House into Pharmacy Burger Parlor & Beer Garden.
Butchertown Hall is his most ambitious project to date, one which pays homage to the ethnic history and commercial timeline of a neighborhood once abundant with German butchers, breweries and beer gardens.
For the menu, he mined his own roots in the Texas Hill Country—rich in German, Mexican and smoked meat culture—where you can recognize a native by how they pronounce towns like Boerne (Bernie) and Gruene (Green).
For the aesthetics, he stayed close to home, working with Powell Architecture & Building Studio, particularly lead architect Manley Seale and interior designer Katie Vance. “I started with the agreement that there would be no barn wood or Edison bulbs,” Terry says with a laugh.
There is plenty of wood. In addition to the stacks of split logs that feed the Grillworks Inferno 96 kitchen beast and smoker in the rear of the building overseen by pitmaster and executive chef Hrant Arakalien, wood lays the groundwork in the main dining room and forms sturdy tabletops and arches to the peak of the soaring, 40-foot-high cathedral ceiling. Bare trees cast dramatic shadows on the pristine canvas of white tile walls.
Artisans and craftspeople on the credits roll include new-to-Nashville Susan and Danny Bailey of Metal Fred, artist Rick Wheaton, painter Mark Harriman, floors by Good Wood Nashville, woodwork by Mike Noloin, concrete vanities by Adam Steva, pit builder Alan Pinkerton and grill builder Ben Iseisendrath.
I enjoyed one of the best margaritas I’ve ever had, thanks to GM Benjamin Pritt jumping in to assist the very busy bar on Memorial Day night, but beer is king here, and Dan William King is the King of Beer, aka Beer Program Curator.
Terry has coined the phrase “Texo-German” to describe the food, which is primarily meaty, smoky and charred—but vegetarians should not be frightened off, as they can enjoy the smoke and the char without compromising their personal discipline. Starters especially provide substantial options.
I’m an oyster purist—I want them raw and chilled with a couple of drops of hot sauce. But these hearth-roasted beauties painted with pureed chimichurri and chili rojo had me at hello. Notice the use of brown butcher paper on the tables rather than linens.
No one will miss french fries when you can have papas bravas, which tops sliced potatoes with spicy housemade ketchup and garlic aioli. I got hooked on elote at a Tex-Mex festival in Red Hook, Brooklyn, where grills and smoke encircled the perimeter of the park and everyone had an ear of charred corn—grilled in the husk, rolled in butter, mayonnaise, then cojita cheese and squirted with lime—attached to their face. Butchertown’s version is less messy and leaves out the mayo, but captures the essence of this popular Mexican street food.
Not everyone loves chicken livers, and I hope those people are with me when I order this slap-yer-mama heaping mess of fried chicken liver goodness with white barbecue sauce and onion sticks. I made the tactical error of convincing my chicken-liver-scorning companions to “just try one!” and ended up with the converts eating half my livers. Never again.
Butchertown’s pit smoker—fed with white American post oak—goes 24/7 for the menu’s Meat Market. Brisket—the state meat of Texas—is arguably the biggest seller, and Terry says they load in about 20 a day. Duels have been fought in the Lone Star State over which side-of-the-road BBQ joint has the best brisket. My family lives in Texas, and every trip there includes a road trip to one of those places, usually miles and miles away. I’m thrilled to have some mighty fine Texas brisket—moist, brick red in the center, charred bark and just enough fat—so close to home. A peek into the smoker also reveals pork shoulder, ribs, chicken and turkey breast. Order the Texas Trinity—brisket, ribs and a link of one of the four housemade, super-sized sausage links, or create your own threesome for $36. All meat and sausage plates come with tortillas, pickles, raw onion and BBQ sauce.
Pescatarians and vegetarians can skip past the Meat Market and go to The Hearth for fish. We had a delicious pan-seared catfish, but on another visit grilled trout was featured—or Chef Hrant’s spin on paella with big florets of cauliflower, peppers and other roasted seasonal vegetables on a bed of quinoa soaked in tomatillo broth.
Memorial Day night at the bar with my son seemed the perfect time to try the outstanding house-ground brisket double burger done old-school style with American cheese, pickles and onion on a fat bun. Tacos Ta Bueno are served a la carte, and at just $5, each of you can sample several of the five, but I’ve struck out twice on the lamb guisada I’m craving. Surely there’s room for a little more lamb in that smoker? And maybe a goat?
Terry Raley and the entire team that created and runs Butchertown Hall have given Germantown a place that fits seamlessly into the fabric and personality of this vibrant neighborhood, which celebrates the old and the new. The guests that pack the place inside and out for dinner, drinks, lunch and brunch are the well-earned reward for their vision and dedication. But this is the accolade that Terry proudly displays beside the entrance—a medallion from Nashville Historical Commission’s 40th Annual Preservation Awards honoring Butchertown Hall for “revitalizing nonhistoric buildings and enhancing them so as to contribute visually and economically to the community.” He didn’t have to do it, but he did. And that’s a win-win.
Butchertown Hall is located at 1416 Fourth Ave. N., Nashville. Learn more at (615) 454-3634 or their website, butchertownhall.com.
All of the photos, unless otherwise noted, are by Ashley Hylbert.
Kay West has written for local, regional and national publications, as well as for the music industry. She continues to write locally, including covering restaurants for StyleBlueprint, and is the Nashville correspondent for People Weekly/People Country/People.com.
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