At Henrietta Red, Germantown’s newest restaurant, the focus is bright, clean flavors of the ocean and the earth. Oysters are shucked and wood roasted; field peas, sunflower tahini, sprouts and sunchoke chips top toast; carrots are roasted and laid atop yogurt; cauliflower is treated as a steak and topped with pistachio aillade; and mushrooms make for a mouthwatering risotto. The combinations are far from banal, and the options anything but boring.
We’ll come back to the menu later, but first let us tell you the tale of the gals behind the concept. Julia Sullivan isn’t the first Nashvillian to find her way back home after years away, but she may be the first to bring with her a degree from New York’s Culinary Institute of America, experience at acclaimed restaurants like Blue Hill at Stone Barns and Per Se, and the desire to bring a vegetable-driven and oyster-focused restaurant to Music City. “We wanted to do something not high-end, something more approachable, a place where we would want to eat,” Julia tells us.
Allie Poindexter, the restaurant’s general manager, sommelier and Julia’s business partner, helped formulate plans for the restaurant while the pair lived and worked side-by-side in New York City’s food and hospitality industry.
Julia and Allie paired up with Strategic Hospitality to turn their four-years-in-the-making dream into a reality of opening a restaurant in Nashville. “We created a restaurant we wanted to create, but felt intuitively there was room for it,” Julia says. “We have an outstanding sense of community in Nashville; people want to support each other. It is a challenging city to open a restaurant, and Max and Ben [Goldberg] have been good partners in that.” Henrietta Red opened in February of 2017.
As we settled into the bar’s long farm table, the duo delved into their history and the future of the restaurant. The bar area, which seats 35 patrons in leather-backed bar stools, at the farm table and on comfortable bench seating, is lively at all hours of the night, but it is brimming at happy hour, filled with patrons who are eager to take advantage of the $2 oysters and drink specials. Every day from 5 p.m. to 6 p.m., and also on Fridays and Saturdays from 10 p.m. to 11 p.m., one select oyster is discounted, as is a drink of the bar’s choice. On Thursdays, the choice is Jell-O shots, which are a far cry from those you may have consumed in your college days. “We want to have a high-quality selection, but we don’t take ourselves too seriously,” Allie says of the beverage program.
Allie developed a wine list that is both affordable and approachable. “The list has fantastic wines with nice values,” Allie shares. “We don’t want people to feel intimidated by it. We have higher end celebratory selections, but most bottles range from $50-$75. Mostly, we have been a pretty wine-centric restaurant in terms of what’s selling.” In addition to Jell-O shots, creative cocktails and wine, the bar serves a selection of beers that range from Miller High Life ponies to Blackberry Farm’s Brett Fruit beer. Bar manager Patrick Halloran crafts the cocktails, which are named after rides at Nashville’s beloved Opryland from days’ past (Flume Zoom, Tin Lizzy and Little Deuce Coupe, to name a few).
Where the barroom meets the dining room, the tile floors turn to wood, and diners are welcomed by a 70-seat space framed by large windows, an open kitchen and oyster bar. While the bright, almost-coastal décor continues from the bar and into the dining room, the spaces are distinctly different. Los Angeles-based Kathryn Lager of Kathryn Lager Design Studio is Allie’s sister, and she also handled the interior design. Although light and airy, the space is warm and welcoming. “This translates into the food and drink,” Julia believes.
Oysters are at the heart of Henrietta Red’s concept. The oyster menu features 15-20 varieties a week that hail from the East, West and Gulf Coasts. We have seen interesting selections from Washington State, including a crowd favorite, Kumamotos. Irish point is a crisp New England-style oyster. Other notables are Bay Water Sweets from the Pacific, Anderson’s Neck from Virginia, and Bama Beauties and Murder Points from the Gulf Coast. Going to Henrietta Red and foregoing oysters is like dining at Grand Central Oyster Bar and not ordering, well, oysters — doable, but not recommended.
Henrietta Red’s selection of seafood does not end with oysters, though. The raw bar menu also features clams, bottarga, red snapper crudo and mussels, and the main menu offers caviar and cooked items from the sea. “Seafood is selling really well,” Julia tells us. “Poppy’s caviar and Julia’s chicken liver are our favorite things in the world,” Allie chimes in. Indeed, the caviar is one of the restaurant’s most popular dishes.
There is no shortage of terrific restaurants in Nashville, let alone in Germantown, yet Henrietta Red stands out thanks to Julia’s thoughtful approach to vegetables, an approach that shines in everything from the cauliflower steak to the yellowtail snapper with wheat berries, fennel and root vegetables. In fact, when ordering veggies, it would be a mistake not to try the cauliflower steak. At new spots with so much to offer, I make an effort to try different dishes with every visit. However, Henrietta Red’s cauliflower steak is so outstanding that I have ordered it on each subsequent visit. Between this surprisingly hearty dish and the decadent wood-roasted oysters in anchovy butter, I quickly found my favorites, but trust me when I tell you, you can’t go wrong.
Hopefully, we have piqued your curiosity and tempted your appetite. Head to Henrietta Red’s happy hour and follow it up with dinner. We promise a visit will leave you wondering when you can return. Congratulations to Henrietta Red on their early success!
Henrietta Red is located at 1200 Fourth Ave. N., Nashville, TN 37208. The dining room is open Tuesday through Sunday from 5:30 p.m. to 10 p.m. The bar is open Tuesday and Wednesday, 5 p.m. to midnight; Thursday through Saturday, 5 p.m. to 1 a.m.; Sunday, 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. Click here for more information and stay tuned on the launch of Saturday and Sunday brunch.
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