Can we talk? And by talk, I mean talk. Not shout. Not bellow. Not yell. Just sit together at a table, break bread, share a bottle of wine and converse without having to RAISE OUR VOICES AS IF WE ARE READING ALOUD EMAILS THAT USE ALL UPPERCASE LETTERS.
I love a fun, lively room as much as the next person, and Nashville is bursting with them. But what makes a room aesthetically appealing frequently has a side effect of pumping up the volume: high, uncovered ceilings with exposed duct work, polished concrete floors, stone and brick walls, tables with no cloths and metal chairs. With square footage in every corner of the city at a premium price, restaurants naturally strive to maximize their seating capacity to get the most bang for their buck. Strict regulations from the state’s Alcoholic Beverage Commission on the number of seats required to obtain a license to serve wine and spirits means even the smallest bistros and cafes squeeze in as many tables as possible, making it feel sometimes as if you are sitting with your neighbors — or at least eavesdropping on them — whether you want to or not. The louder a room gets, well, the louder it gets as guests and staff are forced to holler across the host stand, bar and tables to be heard above the din.
2016 is still ringing in my ears, and so far, 2017 doesn’t look to be any more reserved. In response to the cacophony of these very amplified times, I find myself seeking the cushioned trail of a walk in the woods, the still of a home with the television off and a book open in my lap, and a place where I can gather with friends, enjoy a meal and a bottle of wine and talk, really talk. At these restaurants, expect exceptional food, stellar service and tables where conversation is part of the main course.
Nashville’s Quietest Restaurants
3790 Bedford Ave., Nashville, TN 37215 • (615) 988-0332
Hours: Monday through Friday, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 5 p.m. to 10 p.m.; Saturday, 5 p.m. to 10 p.m.; Sunday, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
The first time my grown-up friends and I had dinner at etc., before a single sip of a cocktail or bite of food, we were struck by how naturally and easily we were able to chat as we caught up on our lives and perused the menus. There’s much excitement that a new, independent restaurant has landed in chain-heavy Green Hills, and the happy buzz travels inside where the one-degree of separation formula is in play as diners briefly greet one another on the way to the bar or their designated table. Carpeting, well-padded seating, shades that can roll down over the tall windows and thick linen tablecloths impart serene elegance. We were at a high-visibility four-top to the left of the entrance; if I want to escape notice I might ask for one of the two booths to the right across from the banquette. GM Carol Johnson says when couples want a bit more intimacy, they request table 17.
37 Rutledge St., Nashville, TN 37210 • (615) 256-6565
Hours: Monday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 5 p.m. to 10 p.m.; Friday, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 5 p.m. to 11 p.m.; Saturday, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 5 p.m. to 11 p.m.; Sunday, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 5 p.m. to 11 p.m.
It will be four years in May since Husk Nashville opened, but when I dropped by noonish midweek, the cars idling in the valet line and people clustered in the foyer waiting to be seated signaled the fever for Sean Brock’s homage to local and regional products and culture, which still burns red hot. The two-story brick mansion, home to Nashville’s mayor in 1897 and other local notables through the years, is soaked through with Southern hospitality. You will enjoy the pleasant company of your party as much as the James Beard-award-winning chef’s food; the divine shrimp and grits, one of Husk’s signature items, is a mainstay on menus that otherwise change daily. The dining room to the left of the entrance has a capacity of 12, so is quite intimate. The main dining room can accommodate a bit over 30 at thoughtfully spaced tables; the one tucked into the bay window is quite popular. GM David Grossman says that when guests request a romantic table, he places them downstairs. “The tables by the window have a beautiful view of the garden by day and night.”
1017 Woodland St., Nashville, TN 37206 • (615) 277-4668
Hours: Tuesday through Saturday, 5:30 p.m. to 10 p.m. (bar opens at 5 p.m.); Sunday, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Dining at Margot Café & Bar is an intrinsically intimate experience. That is in part due to the cozy confines of this re-purposed and beautifully re-imagined brick building that began its commercial life in the 1930s as Fluty’s Service Station. Chef/owner Margot McCormack and her then-partner Jay Frein breathed new life into the past and pioneered the resurgence of East Nashville when they opened Margot Café & Bar 16 years ago this spring.
The rustic interior of exposed brick walls is softened by gleaming copper cookware, vintage china, mounted lamps, antique framed mirrors, heavy drapes, votive candles and fresh flowers. But it’s seeing McCormack in the open kitchen at the rear of the main floor dining room that makes guests feel as if they’re having dinner in her home. Which is just the way she wants it. “We are about dinner,” she says. “That is our crowd. Whether you’re on a date with one person or out with a group, it’s about enjoying your dinner and your companions, in that classic sense of having dinner. We’re not rushing anyone, we want people to relax and enjoy, and part of that is having an environment conducive to conversation.” Because the main room is small, with the entrance and bar a couple of steps away, the first floor is lively, but regulars who want a little distance from the hubbub ask for the tables closest to the front windows: #15 is a four-top on the banquette, and #25 seats a duo. Diners seeking more privacy opt for the mezzanine. To the right at the top of the stairs are three secluded tables with very flattering lighting, and to the left is what some consider the most romantic — a little table for two in the corner, snuggled up to the rail.
343 53rd Ave. N.; Nashville, TN 37209 • (615) 298-3663
Hours: Tuesday through Thursday, 5:30 p.m. to 9 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 5:30 p.m. to 10 p.m.; Sunday, 5:30 p.m. to 9 p.m.
Miel’s opening in September 2008 coincided with the stock market crash and the start of the lengthy and painful recession. Thanks to owner Seema Prasad’s steady, guiding hand, the cozy little restaurant with an easy elegance, genuine warmth and superb food not only weathered the storm but secured a place in the hearts of Nashville’s most discerning diners. The French-driven menu from chef Andrew Coins and worldly wine list curated by Seema imbue every visit — drinks and snacks at the small bar or dinner at one of 62 seats in the front and main dining rooms with cosmopolitan style. Empty egg cartons stapled to the bottom of chairs and banquettes — benches from the old Franklin courthouse — are noise-absorbing buffers. Seema keeps the peace by mindful seating of large parties, a subtle jazz soundtrack and polite but firm requests to keep cell phones off tables and in pockets or purses. “I am very protective of everyone’s dining experience,” she says. “One cell phone ringing can disrupt an entire room.” One of Miel’s most popular tables is the three-sided booth to the left of the open kitchen, which Seema says creates a “pocket of quiet for parties up to four.” Parties of two like to hold hands over Table #40, the two-top located snug against the window.
4403 Murphy Road, Nashville, TN 37209 • (615) 383-4409
Hours: Monday through Thursday, 4:30 p.m. to 10 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 4:30 p.m. to 11 p.m.
It’s not hard to hide away at Park Cafe. This former home in Sylvan Park that Yvette and Willy Thomas transformed almost two decades ago into a charming neighborhood bistro has six separate dining rooms; the smallest seats eight, the largest 30, and each is designed in its own unique style. GM Tamara Uhlhorn says that when groups of six to eight people are celebrating something personal or professional, if desired, they’ll have that small room to themselves. If a diner asks for their most romantic table, there’s a little alcove in one of the dining rooms where tables #42 and #43 are tucked. Table #45 next to the fireplace is another that is frequently requested by those in the know.
1929 Broadway, Nashville, tN 37203 • (615) 329-4565
Hours: Monday through Wednesday, 5 p.m. to 10 pm; Thursday through Saturday, 5 p.m. to 11 p.m.; Sunday, 5 p.m. to 10 p.m.
Sexy. Swanky. Sophisticated. Union Common is grown up in ambiance and vibrant in personality. The gorgeous oval bar is more conducive than many I’ve bellied up to for socializing with friends and fellow barflies. But should you want to get away from it all while simultaneously being in the thick of it, GM Steve Lapiska points to several options available to groups and duets. “Whether by design or happy accident, the noise level in the dining room at Union Common is very manageable, even when we’re full,” he says. Two round booths wrap up to six diners in a plush embrace, and the three rectangular ones easily accommodate seven. “Larger groups who want a sense of privacy love those,” Steve says. If it’s date night with your precious treasure, he suggests one of the two corners of the rear banquette, or tables 23, 33 or 43 beside the Division Street window. You may only have eyes for each other, but the Union Common concept encourages sharing.
734 Thompson Lane, Nashville, TN 37204 • (615) 386-0260
Hours: Monday through Saturday, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. and 5 p.m. to 10 p.m.
When a large garden is the first thing you see outside the front door of a restaurant, it announces a commitment to fresh, local and seasonal. The Yellow Porch was earth-to-table long before farm-to-table became a thing, and it is among one of our first — and enduring — independent restaurants. Set about 100 feet back from busy Thompson Lane, The Yellow Porch is easy to drive right past, but diners in the know have been beating a path to its door and warm, welcoming dining room since Katie and Gep Nelson opened this delightful neighborhood restaurant in 1998. With their devoted clientele, the Nelsons skillfully navigate keeping regulars content with tenured dishes like the Sweetwater Tennessee sharp cheddar fritters, port-poached sun-dried cherry salad, penne bettola and paella, and their chefs — currently Corey Griffith — just as happy with creative license. The menu is vegetarian-friendly, and the thoughtfully selected wine list is considerate of all wallets.
Posthumously, The Mad Platter
A few months ago, The Mad Platter would have been atop my list of Nashville restaurants where diners could count on delicious food, warm hospitality and a place for couples, friends and families to gather round a table and, as we like to say in the South, visit. In 1989, Marcia and Craig Jervis were simply looking for an affordable site to locate an expansion of their five-year catering business. Peering into the windows of an old, vacant brick building that anchored the corner of Sixth Avenue North and Monroe Street, they were spied by the owner, who made the young couple a deal. Built 100 years before the Jervis’s signed their lease, the address was part of a thriving area of streets named for U.S. presidents where German immigrants had settled and typically lived on the floor above the retail businesses they opened on the street-level. In the 1960s and ’70s, young families and businesses left for the suburbs and the area went into decline. In the early ’80s, the building was restored and sold to Ginger and Bill Parra, who operated a restaurant called Chefs on Command until Bill’s unexpected death. While Marcia and Craig had not intended to open a restaurant, encouragement from friends and the community inspired them to take a chance in a business notorious for failure. The Jervis’s were Nashville groundbreakers in countless ways: they created the first of the type of “neighborhood restaurant” that became a catalyst for renewal and a geographic landmark for Germantown as Margot became for East Nashville, Caffe Nonna and Park Café for Sylvan Park, and Mirror and Rumours for 12South.
For many years, the golden glow coming from the tall windows of the Mad Platter were the only lights on those cobblestone streets. Inside was quaint and homey with floors that creaked and old windows that rattled, mismatched tables, chairs and china, and Marcia’s whimsical collection of old toys and books on the shelves. It was one of our first independently owned, chef-driven restaurants, with a garden out back, an interesting and worldly wine list and a menu that changed daily, along with a prix fixe option. The bananas foster flamed tableside had its own fan club. Marcia ran the front and Craig ran the kitchen, and they were always there, night after night, year after year. Countless — and I mean countless — birthdays, anniversaries, holidays, promotions, graduations, engagements, rehearsal dinners, weddings and fundraisers have been celebrated inside the Mad Platter. It has been a binding thread in the fabric not just of the neighborhood, but Nashville’s hospitality industry. Every restaurant thriving in Germantown today owes a thank you to Marcia and Craig Jervis. This past November, they announced that after 27 years, they were taking a well-deserved break and selling their building. I’m just one of thousands of fans and friends who were sad to hear the news, but with so much respect and gratitude, happy to wish them the best, wherever their hearts, their talents and their appetites take them.