Today, we welcome SB guest food writer Emily Arno. Emily is the chief online editor of Franklin, TN-based Relish.com, a food and entertaining website, where she writes about all kinds of eats, as well as fabulous food destinations, trends and how-tos. Here, she brings it back home with a visit to Soy Teriyaki Bistro in Brentwood and shares what Soy Bistro first-timers need to know. Welcome, Emily!
Soy Teriyaki Bistro serves the kind of fresh Korean-fusion cuisine you’d expect from food trucks trolling West Coast boardwalks and trendy New York City boroughs—and fittingly so. When owners and longtime Nashvillians Hanna and Chris Lee purchased the space in 2010, a small, nondescript building shared with Brentwood Cleaners, their goal was to offer quick and accessible fusion food, now commonplace in larger cities, to the Nashville population.
And fusion is proudly the name of the game at Soy. The Lees aren’t looking to transport you to the streets of Seoul via their Korean-inspired tacos, spicy fried rice and colorful bowls of bibimbap (a mixed rice dish); rather, they are showcasing their roots of growing up as Korean immigrants here in Middle Tennessee.
Hanna, the culinary guru behind the operation, got her training in her mother’s kitchen, whipping together kimbap (Korean sushi) and japchae (traditional sweet potato noodles). But outside her home, she indulged in—and adored—a variety of American and Tex-Mex fare.
Her non-Asian friends had a bit of a harder time embracing new cuisines, and particularly her family’s Korean meals. The few Korean restaurants in town were extremely traditional and only attractive to other Koreans already familiar with the characteristically strong flavors—there was no middle ground. That’s when she saw the need for a place where locals could go and be introduced to flavors with zero intimidation.
Thus, the idea for Soy Teriyaki Bistro was born.
At Soy, the menu is streamlined and focused with just the right amount of familiarity and adventure. It’s a casual order-before-taking-a-seat atmosphere with dishes arriving on primarily disposable dinnerware. That is, unless you indulge in sizzling bibimbap, which is delivered in a personal cast-iron skillet upon request. Nothing on the menu creeps past the $12 mark, making Soy a major draw for the 9-to-5 lunch crowd. The line has been known to reach the door during peak lunchtime hours.
Their most popular dishes are the chicken and beef teriyakis. The delicately hand-cut meat, presented on a bed of fresh cabbage, is brined the day before in a fruit-vegetable wine containing the likes of pineapple, onion and garlic. The end result is ridiculously tender, covered in a crunchy sear and tossed in a house-made teriyaki sauce. Even the thinly sliced carrots are made in-house and pickled for up to 48 hours.
Another standout is the Korean Taco dish, available in your choice of tofu, shrimp or the brined chicken or beef. The spicy slaw is Hanna’s own creation, inspired by its more pungent sister, kimchi, and tossed in Korean red pepper spices.
If you’re looking to capitalize on all of the fresh, bright ingredients Soy uses, try their loaded salads or bibimbap. The bibimbap, in particular, is a much-needed addition to the local food scene. In the center of the bowl or skillet, you’ll find packed rice topped with a medium fried egg and a dollop of gochuujang (a fermented red pepper paste made with Korean spices). The surrounding color wheel is made up of sautéed zucchini, carrots and onions, crisp lettuce, pickled radish and classic beef bulgogi (Korean marinated beef).
When eating bibimbap, we recommend mixing all of these elements together. But if you’d prefer to dine on each of the ingredients separately, go for it—no judgment here. In fact, if you want Soy to leave out ingredients, add others or tone down spices in any menu item, just ask. Since everything is made to order, adjustments are no problem.
Also, when you visit, make sure to chat with Chris, Hanna and their kids, Samuel (16) and Isabella (6). This is a true family-run operation. Soy has a svelte eight-person staff, including son Samuel, and they make a noticeable effort to get to know their customers.
Hanna even joked, “Chris knows everyone’s names … I would say 90 percent of our customers. We want Soy to be like ‘Cheers,’ where everyone knows your name.”
And this year, everyone will know their names, too, because the duo has some pretty exciting things in store! In the spring, they will introduce themed supper clubs focused on elevated Korean cuisine. Stay tuned …
Soy Teriyaki Bistro is located at 5008 Maryland Way in Brentwood. Hours are 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Saturday for lunch; 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Saturday (excluding Wednesday) for dinner. View the full menu at Soybistro.com and reach them at (615) 371-1933.
Emily Arno is the chief online editor over at Relish.com. The Relish brand offers specialized food content, recipes and cooking how-tos via its website and nationally circulated magazine. Emily has called Nashville home for the last eight years, and fills her non-food-focused hours writing, painting and traveling wherever she can.