Located on the fourth floor of the Fairlane Hotel, Ellington’s Mid Way Bar & Grill is a restaurant designed to complement the hotel’s 1970s decor with timeless, all-American fare. The hotel’s building was built in 1972, and today, hotel visitors are reminded of the age in which the building was constructed, thanks to thoughtful architectural elements that emulate mid-century and retro-modern style. The 81-room boutique hotel is home to three eateries: Union Teller Coffee Counter, Mile End Delicatessen and Ellington’s Mid Way Bar & Grill. The latter is where we direct our focus today.
Intentional design found in the hotel’s lobby and rooms is carried into the restaurant, which is notable for its use of brass, mirrors, carpets, wood and stone. A private entrance bypasses the lobby (although if you haven’t been, it’s worth seeing), and elevator doors open to reveal the restaurant. Upon entry, you’ll notice the space is split into thirds: the bar, the booths and the main dining area. Plus, you’ll find private dining areas as well as a wraparound terrace, which provides an unparalleled vantage point for peering over the streets of downtown. The terrace, which is bright, open and made up of lounge and dining areas, is separated from the interior by glass doors allowing guests to easily move from inside to out.
The food, which is conceived by Chef Edgar Pendley, is something worth exploring. “For this menu, I reached pretty far into the past — and added Southern influence and our own twist,” Edgar explains. Most widely known as the owner of Urban Grub, Edgar crafted the menus for brunch, lunch and dinner and is running Ellington’s kitchen during its first weeks in business. The chef showcases his familiarity with comfort food and his ability to reimagine classic recipes. Take, for example, the pickled deviled eggs. Inspired by his grandmother’s pickled egg salad, Edgar pickled Willow Farm eggs (with yolk intact), mixed the yolk with Duke’s mayo and topped with an apple bacon jam.
With selections from the “Bites,” “Firsts” and “Scales n’ Shells” section of the menu, our exploration began. Warm olives topped with orange zest and roasted garlic were served with brioche, while marinated cucumbers offered a refreshing bite with an unexpected twist — chile, cider vinegar and citrus — and roasted Gulf shrimp were dipped in a black-eyed pea aioli. The deviled eggs were a crowd favorite, but the winner of the night was the cheese curds, served with a green goddess dipping sauce that packs a bit of a punch thanks to the use of curry paste.
“A lot of my dishes draw a rustic feel,” Edgar explains. The simple combinations of ingredients have a familiarity that is comforting. But that is not to say the food is unimaginative. Rather, it’s good food with modest, timeless flavor profiles.
Next up came an iceberg wedge and roasted carrots with yogurt, field peas, toasted barley, sorghum and dried apricot — sweet and savory. The iceberg wedge is large enough to feed a family but tempting to keep to yourself. With caramelized shallots, pork belly and green goddess dressing, this is not your traditional wedge. You’ll recognize the green goddess from the cheese curds, but in this format, it shines brighter — the spiciness is more noticeable without the fried cheese curds to temper it.
On to the entrées, as two of the menu’s four pasta dishes were served. Bucatini with blue crab, lemon, dill and parsley and cavatelli with smoked lamb shank were equally impressive. The cavatelli is a hearty dish, designed to resemble a carbonara. The remainder of the menu is sectioned into “Fish and Field” and sides. Edgar doesn’t steer too far from his comfort zone with these dishes. “I have been making shrimp and grits for 20 years,” he tells us. The shrimp and grits feature Jennings Mill grits with Gulf shrimp, tasso cream, roasted tomato, scallion and caramelized onion. Another dish he has mastered, the double cut pork chop, mirrors the dish served at Urban Grub. Other entrées, including diver scallops, roast chicken and a dry-aged NY strip, were tried and enjoyed. As far as the sides go, the roasted mushrooms with kale, garlic and orange zest stole the show.
The cocktail program is on par with the food. A selection of craft and classic cocktails feature a range of spirits. For us, the most memorable was aromatic gin with yellow chartreuse, lemon juice, mint syrup, lavender bitters, mint leaves, cherry Heering, lime juice and sparkling mineral water — a refreshing combination for a warm summer night. Our next visit to Ellington’s will likely be a visit spent on the terrace, sipping cocktails (the Von Trappe for me), snacking and soaking in the views of Music City.
Stop by Ellington’s Mid Way Bar & Grill for lunch, brunch, dinner or drinks. Ellington’s is located at 401 Union St., Nashville, Tennessee 37219 (on the fourth floor). The restaurant is open Monday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.; Friday, 11 a.m. to midnight; Saturday, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 5 p.m. to midnight; Sunday, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 5 p.m. to 10 p.m.
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