If you, like me, have poo-pooed the oft-repeated statistic that 75 to 100 people a day are moving to Nashville as overly exaggerated, hyped-up rah-rah, I invite you to try to make a reservation at one of our town’s hot new restaurants for a prime-time hour on a weekend night with less than a week’s notice.

Barcelona, for example, opened with relatively little fanfare the first week of November in the rapidly morphing Edgehill Village compound, but in just a few months, it ratcheted up from simmering to sizzling.

On a Tuesday afternoon, a couple hours before the Monday through Friday 4 p.m. opening (Saturday and Sunday service begins at 11:30 a.m. with brunch until 3 p.m., before segueing to the dinner menu), I overheard affable GM Steve Weaver’s side of a call looking for a Saturday reservation. “Great. I’d love to help. Saturday? … 7:30? … This Saturday? … ” I admire how Steve kept his composure, replying politely, “I’m sorry. The only openings we have closest to your time this Saturday are at 4 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. Would you like one of those? … 9:30? We look forward to seeing you then.”

That was before the patio re-opened, adding 40 additional seats to the 240 that are distributed among tables in the casual front dining room, quieter back dining room and 12 booths in the bar between the two rooms.

Wine + Tapas Comes Together at Barcelona Nashville

Spring has definitely sprung on the bustling Barcelona patio, sidled up to the Villa Place sidewalk. Image: Barcelona Wine Bar

You are officially Old Nashville if you remember when this rambling brick structure that is now home to Old Glory, Legato Gelato, Bella Napoli, Taco Mamacita and now Barcelona, was part of the White Way Laundry compound. Thanks to its dazzling design exalting the old brick building’s existing structural elements of steel, concrete, wood and glass, seamlessly blending modern with vintage, industrial with rustic, layering multiple textures, pouring in natural light, and showcasing big, bold art, all in a relaxed, breezy, sophisticated-yet-unpretentious style, Barcelona will have you at hello, love at first sight before a single bite.

You will find this bold art on the bar wall.

The Nashville restaurant is one of 12 locations birthed from the original in Norwalk, Connecticut, by co-founders Sasa Mahr-Batuz and Andy Pforzheimer, but each is unique, the décor driven by Chief Creative Officer Mahr-Batuz.

(Here is a charming video of the partners talking about Barcelona, set to a bouncy soundtrack reminiscent of the ear worm “Zou Bisou Bisou” Megan Draper serenaded Dreamy Don with in a memorable “Mad Men” scene.)

Wine + Tapas Comes Together at Barcelona Nashville

The front dining room is casual, with bare wood tables and these groovy modernist chairs with curved backs and cushioned seats. The bar is on the other side of the rustic, wooden half-wall. Lots of greenery adds natural vibrancy throughout the restaurant.

Wine + Tapas Comes Together at Barcelona Nashville

Steel-framed heavy glass doors open from the front dining room to the patio.

Wine + Tapas Comes Together at Barcelona Nashville

Gorgeous booths line three of the walls in the bar. The tobacco-hued leather covered benches comfortably seat two per side, though three could maybe squeeze in a pinch.

Wine + Tapas Comes Together at Barcelona Nashville

Suspended shelves display an eclectic collection of old books, green glass, vintage typewriters, cameras, cobbler forms, scales and globes.

Wine + Tapas Comes Together at Barcelona Nashville

Barcelona has incorporated many of the original constructs and structural supports, like these yellow girders, into the décor.

Wine + Tapas Comes Together at Barcelona Nashville

The metal rods below the booth benches are the perfect height to prevent the annoying dangling foot problem women often face.

The U-shaped bar is topped with marble; stools have no backs, but also are fitted with foot rests at a comfortable height. The white subway-tiled open kitchen can be observed from any seat at the bar. Much better than television — which thankfully is not part of the Barcelona experience — and more real than Food Network!

Keeping it real is Chef Andy Hayes, whose path to Barcelona began in White House, TN, where he was born and raised.

Wine + Tapas Comes Together at Barcelona Nashville

Executive Chef Andy Hayes says “I didn’t choose to be a chef. It chose me.”

He has fond memories of summers working on his grandmother’s blueberry farm in West Tennessee, where he received early lessons in real cooking. “She used to cook huge spreads of food every day, everything from scratch,” he says. His first industry job was in high school at the Rivergate Cooker. “To me, as a teenager, it was the best restaurant in the world.”

Cooking wasn’t Andy’s first passion; he dreamed of being a professional soccer player, and he played college ball at Carson-Newman in East Tennessee. He continued working part-time in restaurants, where he met a chef who recognized his raw talent and encouraged him to think about culinary school. A position in Charleston fell through, along with plans of going to Johnson & Wales, and he came back to Middle Tennessee and took some classes at Nashville Tech’s culinary school. When the pastry instructor there introduced him to the new, young executive chef at Capitol Grille, Sean Brock, it turned out to be a life-changing turning point. The time he spent at the esteemed hotel restaurant was as intense and hands-on an education as any culinary school. When Sean left for McCrady’s restaurant in Charleston, Andy flew north, landing in New York, first at Gramercy Tavern and then Union Square, both part of Danny Meyer’s restaurant group.

The birth of he and his wife’s second child and a job offer from Chef Tyler Brown brought a change of address from Brooklyn back to Nashville and a return to the Capitol Grille. He went on to positions at Moto, 404 Kitchen and 5th & Taylor before being contacted by the Barcelona group and offered the position of Executive Chef.

Barcelona chefs are given lots of creative autonomy in their own kitchen. They are also given a trip to Spain to explore, at the company’s expense, the culture, cuisine and products of the Iberian Peninsula. Among other things, Andy ate a lot of ham, and he was struck by Spain and the American South’s shared porcine reverence. At Barcelona, jamón has star billing on the menu and a place of honor on the ledge just outside the kitchen.

Wine + Tapas Comes Together at Barcelona Nashville

Tennessee country ham lovers, meet your Hungarian cousin, Jamon Mangalica. The fattiest of all the fatties, the Mangalica pig became nearly extinct in the late ’80s. It is given a place of honor in the charcuterie line-up.

Wine + Tapas Comes Together at Barcelona Nashville

A Spanish-heavy repertoire of cured meats and artisan cheeses lead off every Barcelona menu. Create a flight of three, and it will come with a tin of warm country bread and a saucer of intoxicatingly fragrant and fruity La Boella Arbequina olive oil.

While it has been attempted in Nashville before — notably by Colleen and Michael DeGregory at their groundbreaking Mirror restaurant on 12th Avenue South in pre-12South days — the Spanish custom of building a meal from a menu of small-plate tapas has not always translated well to the large-portioned, meat n’ three South. I expect that a combination of right time, right place, all the people not-from-here now here, the restaurant’s sexy aesthetic, prime location, Andy’s mad skills and changes in local eating habits have punched Barcelona’s ticket for success. (For his sous chef, Andy snagged talented former Chauhan sous Vasisht Ramasubramanian, who, for obvious reasons, goes by “Chef V.”)

Not surprisingly, Barcelona’s core demographic is women. One night, there wasn’t a man to be found in the front dining room, though the bar had several, and the booths were more co-ed. The back dining room — which I peeked into on my way to the also-beautiful restroom — had family groups and couples.

Even the bathrooms are stylish!

Even the bathrooms are stylish!

Years of personal anthropologic observation of women’s groups and book clubs reveal that when asked to bring a dish for at-home meetings, women bring appetizers. Show me a spread of prosciutto wrapped melon, old-school rumaki, sriracha deviled eggs, spring rolls, gluten-free flatbread, marinated olives, crostini, stuffed grape leaves, bruschetta, bowls of chilled shrimp, spicy hummus and a basket of warm bread, and I’ll show you a room full of happy women with plates on their knees and glasses of wine at their feet.

Barcelona offers that experience with the multipliers of finely tuned professional skills, excellent product, multiple choices and on-point service. So much to love!

Company wine and spirits director Gretchen Thomas stocks each location with over 400 bottles of wine, 40 by the glass, with an inclination to Spanish and South American wines. Currently, I am wholly devoted to rosé — it’s the perfect transitional wine between the seasons, though I drink it all year.

Barcelona has several to choose from by the glass, including bubbles.

Barcelona has several options to choose from by the glass, including bubbles. Image: Barcelona Wine Bar

Probably 75% of the Barcelona menu is composed of tapas, with 30 tantalizing options to tempt you into over-ordering. All are culled from the Mediterranean — whether that be Spain, Greece, North Africa, Italy or Portugal, as well as some South American influences. Here’s my advice: each member of your group choose two things. If you’re a party of two to four, that’s four to eight different things. If you’re a party of six or more, you might consider ordering two servings of dishes you really think you’ll love. In either case, the kitchen and your server will stagger the delivery of plates so you and your table space are not overwhelmed.

There are three columns of tapas on the menu — according to Chef Andy, the column on the right is known as the Barcelona Core, and these dishes will always be on the menu.

Wine + Tapas Comes Together at Barcelona Nashville

I knew I was among my people when not a single person at the table turned up their nose at the suggestion we order the boquerones — fresh anchovies, marinated in olive oil and vinegar, which turns the dark meat white, sprinkled with parsley to freshen the intense punch these itty-bitty fish pack. They are especially good paired with beer.

Wine + Tapas Comes Together at Barcelona Nashville

One of the most classic tapas in Spain are croquetas, and what is more fundamental to Spanish cuisine than jamon and Manchego? These crusted balls of hammy-cheesy goodness are plopped atop individual dollops of garlic aioli.

Wine + Tapas Comes Together at Barcelona Nashville

If you need an excuse to order another tin of the crusty bread, look no further than the earthy spinach-chickpea cazuela, dip-like in consistency.

Wine + Tapas Comes Together at Barcelona Nashville

Fried calamari has become so mainstream that it’s no wonder it’s one of Barcelona’s core tapas, and their version is light and crispy. But I recommend leaving the known zone and trying the potato tortilla instead, Barcelona’s version of tortilla Espanola, an item ubiquitous to tapas menus in Spain. A hybrid of omelet and frittata, made of eggs and potatoes in a skillet, then sliced into wedges and served at Barcelona with sour cream and chives.

Wine + Tapas Comes Together at Barcelona Nashville

The grilled okra with a spicy tomato sofrito and fresh mint will appeal even to those who turn their nose up at this humble Southern staple with roots in West Africa.

Wine + Tapas Comes Together at Barcelona Nashville

Chorizo is a Spanish pork sausage with a smoky kick that partners perfectly with sticky figs in a sweet and sour syrup. Stack a fig and medallion of chorizo before passing the bowl. This dish is another Barcelona mainstay.

Wine + Tapas Comes Together at Barcelona Nashville

Should Andy’s divine Georgia shrimp carpaccio be on the menu when you visit, by all means jump on it because its presence is not guaranteed. Fresh-caught (within 24 hours) coastal shrimp are pounded flat, then immersed in a pool of that fruity olive oil and lemon juice, strewn with the finest dicing of chives. The shrimp literally melt in your mouth.

If it’s meat and potatoes you want, here are two to try:

Wine + Tapas Comes Together at Barcelona Nashville

Chef Andy channels a state fair serving custom with pork belly on-a-stick, which is so rich, one is all I can manage.

Wine + Tapas Comes Together at Barcelona Nashville

On the other hand, I could consume these tiny taters like popcorn. Sometimes referred to as papas arrugadas, sometimes Canary Island potatoes, and sometimes just “wrinkled” potatoes, this is a traditional dish of the Canary Islands and is simply little potatoes boiled in heavily salted water, dried, then topped with mojo verde (the green) and mojo rojo (the red).

Below the tapas section are three featured items in what is called the “Chef’s Box,” and below that, seven large plates for two or more. I confess I have never gotten that deep in the menu as I’m so happy with the tapas, but once — peer-pressured by a friend with a sweet tooth — I succumbed to dessert.

Wine + Tapas Comes Together at Barcelona Nashville

Flan is a traditional Spanish/South American dessert, and this is a classic execution of the creamy custard sheathed in caramel. I bet you can find room for a spoonful of this.

Wine + Tapas Comes Together at Barcelona Nashville

The chocolate mousse in a jar topped with pistachios also got high marks and is easily passed and shared.

Though I’ve not yet been, my fantasy of Barcelona the city is that it’s lively, exuberant, passionate, generous, bold, vivacious, sexy, warm, sophisticated and, most of all, fun! Add bountiful choices of wine and an extraordinarily eclectic culinary palette, and you have Barcelona the restaurant, equally welcoming of old and new Nashville.

Barcelona Nashville is located at 1200 Villa Place, Nashville, TN 37212. Hours are Monday through Friday, 4 p.m. to late; Saturday and Sunday, brunch — 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m., dinner — 3 p.m. to late
To learn more, call (615) 327-0600.

A special thanks to Ashley Hylbert for today’s gorgeous photos! 

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