June 2018 update: Salt & Vine is now closed
Nashville native Mattie Jackson grew up in a beer and bourbon town but while studying abroad during college, she discovered wine and started a journey that, eventually — to her surprise — brought her home again. A post-college job at Sullivan’s Steak House in Austin, Texas, introduced her to Hannah Schneider, a co-worker who became her close friend and future partner. Hannah — originally from San Diego, California — moved on from Austin to Manhattan while Mattie went west, took an internship at Joseph Phelps Vineyard in Napa Valley, then trained under a sommelier and worked for a wine importer.
In 2014, Mattie came back to a vastly different Nashville than she had left six years before, one she felt would be receptive to her emerging plan for a wine bar/restaurant/market/gathering place. She reached out to Hannah and, together, they did some reconnaissance at places like Eataly, Dean & DeLuca and Chelsea Market; in Nashville she checked out possible locations. Mattie‘s new address in Sylvan Park delivered a bit of unexpected kismet. “I grew up in Franklin and could count on one hand how many times I had driven down Charlotte Pike,” she said. “But living in Sylvan Park, I was on Charlotte and I noticed there were lots of new things popping up — and there were lots of cars on Charlotte.”
One of the things that popped up — between an Auto Zone and the boarded-up Madison Mill — was the future home of Hill Center Sylvan Heights, a mixed-use development of residential in the rear and retail on the street.
There may have been tequila cocktails involved in persuading Hannah to leave NYC, move to Music City and join the party. “We were the first tenants to sign their lease, in October 2015,” Hannah says. “When I got here, the space was 2-by-4s and gravel.”
The partners were hands-on every step of the way; photos from the Salt & Vine Facebook page documenting the transformation gave periodic updates, complete with hard hats.
The big reveal came on July 1, 2016 — an open space that flows seamlessly from the beautifully stocked market immediately inside the front doors and the inviting community table in the center of the room, to the minimalist bar and lushly upholstered banquettes along two side walls.
The succinct wine list, composed by Mattie, is broken down into Crushed (white and bubbles) or Pressed (red and rose). With just 11 choices in each category — all available by the glass or the bottle — and Mattie’s enthusiastic personal attention, each visit can be a mini class. We love the sophisticated glassware and admire the attention to detail, like the pretty water carafes.
“Go Big or Go Home” is how Salt & Vine touts their cocktail punches, a specialty Hannah insisted upon. “They’re fun with a group. Two of the three have bubbles. I think we bought up every vintage punch bowl in town!” No straws or communal slurping are required; your server will genteelly ladle the drink into glasses for you at the bar or your table.
When a friend asked Mattie a year or so ago if she would pair wines with a multi-course private dinner that chef/caterer Molly Martin was preparing for a client, the two clicked personally and professionally. “Molly did the menu then sent it to me for the wines. We started working together on other private dinners. When it came time to create the menu here, it was just the natural thing.”
The lunch crowd begins to trickle in around 11 a.m., ordering sandwiches, salads and sides from the front counter. If you have a breezy afternoon ahead of you, order a daily market board — a changing selection of cheeses, meats, bread and accoutrements — and throw caution to the wind with a glass or bottle of crushed or pressed. Nothing would please Mattie more. “In Europe, wine is treated like tea in the South. It’s always on the table, available to drink any time.”
Mattie’s mission to “take the pretension out of wine” pairs well with Molly’s culinary profile: no fussiness, thoughtful creativity, simple presentations and distinct flavors.
Salt & Vine doesn’t take reservations, so we made the most of our short wait at the bar with cocktails and a bowl of salty fried chickpeas, which I would immediately like to lobby the Belcourt Theatre to add to their smart new concession stand.
The radish toast is a sublime assembly of lightly toasted bread with a smear of rich double crème cheese, topped with thinly sliced watermelon radish sprinkled with diced chives, lemon zest and smoked sea salt.
The “Share” section of the menu has just eight choices — a relief for diners more inclined to spend time together chatting than studying a long menu. If you are craving fall as much as I am, the charred carrots offer an autumnal preview in orange, yellow and purple.
Molly’s Thai take on the classic mussel dish subs lemongrass, coconut milk and green curry paste for shallots, garlic and white wine; slices of grilled bread are key for sopping up the broth.
Chicken thighs are the funky soul to soft-rock chicken breasts. Molly — a musician in addition to chef — presents pan-crisped thighs on a bed of farro with salsa verde, blistered red and yellow cherry tomatoes and crumbled cotija.
Molly classes up the low-brow slider with caramelized shallots, melted gruyere and thyme aioli on buttery brioche buns.
Many years ago a local food writer criticized a young chef’s lamb cassoulet as being “too lamb-y,” a descriptor we laugh about to this day. If you love lamb like I do, though not so much a pricey rack, I strongly recommend this trio of meatballs — all the lamb-y goodness minus the sticker shock.
As if market, restaurant and wine bar weren’t enough, Mattie and Hannah opened the adjacent Salt & Vine Bottle Store this week — 130 wines and 25 beers to take home with your bag of pasta, jar of sauce, loaf of bread and block of cheese.
Areas all over Nashville are changing as fast as the population. But wherever they’re from and however long they’ve lived here, people seek places to come together in community. Salt & Vine — in an old neighborhood making itself new — is just such a place, welcoming one and all.
Salt & Vine is located at 4001 Charlotte Ave., Nashville, TN 37209. Hours are Monday through Thursday, 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 10 a.m. to 11 p.m. Learn more here.
Thanks to Ashley Hylbert for today’s beautiful photographs.
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