Brown’s Diner: Where I swing

 

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at the bar at Brown’s

It’s an acquired taste. Brown’s is a Nashville institution. A bar and music joint that used to be a trolley car. Then, fairly new, but still decades ago, they added a large dining room.

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Brown’s Diner’s best beer: Budweiser

It’s a bit dusty. And might be scary if the lights ever came on bright. The bar chairs list to the right and left. Some of them require hanging on.

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Brown’s bar stool

But lived-in and wonder-full is how I see it. The regulars have been coming here for dozens of years. The musicians who play here span Nashville icons and famous favorites, top-notch session players, and everything in between. What kind of music? All and anything.

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David Olney at Brown’s

My partner, Duane Spencer, and I play every first Sunday. We’re Duette.

Us Browns

Duette at Brown’s

Ron Kimbro is behind the bar. He’s been serving up beers and cheeseburgers for many a year. But the best things he serves are bits of wisdom, snide remarks, jokes, and poker-faced jabs at stupid questions from the other side of the bar.

The small “stage” area, with its ancient PA system, is strewn with old mic stands, half-useful guitar stands, speakers looming & hung lopsided by chains, music stands, and a variety of well-used stools.

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Duette‘s set-up at Brown’s

The window shelf alongside the stage area is a collection of old batteries, ashtrays (altho smoking is not allowed inside), left behind set lists, and indescribably doodads.

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stage window at Brown’s

Christmas lights light the stage.¬†The walls are covered with album covers (Johnny Cash, Bob Dylan, and Frank Sinatra are among them), and the yearly “Brown’s Diner group photo,” where all the regulars squeeze into the frame to make their presence known.

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Brown’s stage

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Duette‘s set-up at Brown’s

Yes. Music. And then there’s the food. Brown’s is known best for its cheeseburgers, rated among the best in town year after year. We love them. Order them with “everything:” onion, lettuce, tomato, mayo, ketchup, and pickle.

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Brown’s cheeseburger

 

My other fave order is their grilled cheese sandwich. They have chili. Soup in the winter. Fries. And beer. Those are the highlights and kinda about it. Beer. No wine. No cocktails. And the beer selection is extremely modest. But it suits the patrons JUST FINE. (Get a pitcher and sit outside, you can still hear the music.)

It’s easy to just drive by the place (@21st & Blair). It looks so unassuming. But step inside and you’ll never be the same. Get bit by the Brown’s bug (not a real insect) and you won’t be able to resist coming back and back.

See you there? Right!

*****

Duette doing our “Four Tops Medley” at Brown’s. Ever hear of a video selfie? ūüôā

 

Nashville Favs: A Short Current Roundup

Broadway Nashville

Broadway, Nashville

I’m always running around town. Usually for food. (Will run for food.) Here’s some of my usual stops these days. This list, of course, changes. Six months from now, the frequent-stop list may be different, but today’s favorites will still be favorites. This is a mix of shops and restaurants. Enjoy the tastes found at all. YUM!

Little Gourmand in Green Hills

photo compliments of Little Gourmand

photo courtesy of Little Gourmand

Just entering this charming, entrancing store is reason for a visit. The shelves are full of imports from France: mustards, pates, salts, cookies, beautiful kitchen towels, cheese plates & knives. The freezer is full of imported baguettes, croissants, pane au chocolat. You can float through the aisles and be instantly transported. Guenievre Milliner is the delightful French proprietor, who bakes fresh croissants & pan au chocolate every Saturday morning. Get there early. They fly into the mouths of knowing pastry lovers. (I even hesitate to tell you about it. I want mine!) You can sit at one of the lovely cafe tables and sip an espresso, too. For lunch, yum-full baguette sandwiches!

Jim ‘n Nick’s in West Nashville & Cool Springs

photo courtesy of Jim 'n Nick's

photo courtesy of Jim ‘n Nick’s

I’m lucky to have Jim n’ Nick’s BBQ right in the neighborhood. To be honest, we used to go there a lot. But then Martin’s opened and we ran cross town to Martin’s when the BBQ taste bud was screaming for satisfaction. A few months ago we said, “let’s just go here. it’s in the nab.” Well. We think we have a new favorite. At Jim n’ Nick’s you sit at a table, the server serves you, they bring a basket of those amazing corn biscuits, and the BBQ? Well, as I said, I think have a new favorite. I love the baby backs. My mom the spare ribs. My sister likes both equally. Duane goes for the hot links. And the sides are stellar. Now those BBQ taste buds scream more often.

El Amigo Tacos on Nolensville Road near Elysian Fields

El Amigo on Nolensville Road

El Amigo on Nolensville Road

About 5 years ago, I ran a Nashville tours business with Annakate Tefft Ross. We rented a van and brought Nashvillians on all kinds of food adventures. On our very first tour we tooled up and down Nolensville Road tasting cuisines of the world. Our favorite stop for authentic Mexican tacos was always El Amigo. Duane and I still go there for, usually, a Sunday lunch. The tacos are SUPERB (and only cost $1.50, so get many). The sunny dining room, and the busy kitchen, fills what used to be a gas station. Do not let that deter you. Enjoy!

El Amigo chorizo tacos

El Amigo chorizo tacos

Lazzaroli Pasta Shop in Germantown

photo compliments of Lazzaroli Pasta Shop

photo compliments of Lazzaroli Pasta Shop

It’s the bee’s knees of an Italian food grocery store. But the real star of the show is Tom Lazzaro’s fresh made ravioli and pasta. Ravioli filled with such a variety you’ll stand at the freezer pondering and deciding for a good hour. And then pull several boxes to take home. We last tried the sausage & asiago.¬†Yowsa.¬†Wolfed down to the tune of Mmmmmm & Whoaaaaa. But the gorgonzola still rings in my taste memory. He makes several sauces to bring home, too. He makes fresh mozzarella every Saturday morning. Plus the shelves are full of Italian import wonders. And the refrigerator is stocked with Benton’s bacon and Italian specialty salumi.

Aldi supermarkets, several locations

Photo compliments of Aldi

Photo compliments of Aldi

Yes. A supermarket. I’ve heard so many things about Aldi, but hadn’t been. I also heard it has ties to Trader Joe’s (see my Trader Joe’s posts). Which gives it some pretty high marks. It’s supposedly a German-owned chain. When you walk in you feel shades of a European supermarket. How it’s laid out. How you get a cart (put in a quarter to release the cart, bring it back and pop out your quarter at the end. just like in Italy, only there you use a euro). You need to bring your own bags or they will sell you plastic bags (just like in Italy. cheap bags, but still better to bring your own). Lots of German imported candies, chocolate, etc. Great deals on produce. And meat (my mom says the meat looks exactly like the cuts and quality from Trader Joe’s). And then: sometimes shoes. pots & pans. grilling utensils. I bought a 2-burner cooktop for demonstrations. It’s worth the trip. You’ll exit with bagfuls. And feel ike you’re on a food exploration expedition.

I’m always on the prowl for the new (or new to me). Letting that “gatherer” ancient gene kick in. Stay tuned for more finds!

Murray’s Cheese at Kroger!

Murray's Cheese at Kroger's

Murray’s Cheese at Kroger

Murray’s Cheese Shop is on Bleecker Street in the NYC’s West Village. It’s a NY institution where you can find ANY cheese you may be looking for at great prices. New Yorkers LOVE Murray’s Cheese Shop.

BUT Murray’s is also (inexplicably and astonishingly wonderfully) in most Kroger stores in the Nashville area.

Murray's at Kroger

Murray’s at Kroger

A nice-sized Murray’s kiosk just off the produce section is packed with exotic & familiar, domestic & international cheeses. Go look. It will knock your socks off. They have cheese section titles like: “grate & crumble,” “melting,” “blue & bloomy rind,” “washed rind,” and more.

Murray's Cheese at Kroger

Murray’s Cheese at Kroger

Murray's Cheese at Kroger

Murray’s Cheese at Kroger

You can taste any of them (the people behind the counter are helpful and know their cheese). So when it’s hard to decide what to get, get a taste.

Murray's Cheese at Kroger

Murray’s Cheese at Kroger

I love the manchego cheese (young & aged). I love the blue cheeses. They have true parmigiano reggiano. They have several pecorino cheeses. Cool Scandinavian cheeses. Lots of goat cheeses. Lots of good gouda cheese. Soft & fatty cheeses. Aged deep orange cheeses.

There are also small bins nestled in the cases filled with smaller chunks under $5.

Murray's Cheese at Kroger

Murray’s Cheese at Kroger

You can’t go wrong. You want to buy everything.

Just next to the cheese kiosk is a refrigerated stack of shelves with more goodies you can’t find everywhere, like: wild boar salami and parmigiano butter.

Not every Kroger has a Murray’s Cheese, but you’ll know when they do because they post a Murray’s sign outside.

Murray's Cheese at Kroger

Murray’s Cheese at Kroger

The yes places I know about: Kroger on HWY 70S in Bellevue, Kroger at HWY 96 in Franklin, Kroger Green Hills.

Get thee to the cheesery!

Fav Nashville Eats: Mangia Nashville

porchetta sandwich on black carbon bread

porchetta sandwich on black carbon bread

I’ve got a new favorite sandwich. Porchetta (I’ll explain), broccoli rabe, caramelized onions, on black bread. Yes, black. Not pumpernickel. Black. As in carbon charcoal black bread. Good? YES! It’s only at Mangia Nashville.

Nick Pellegrino started Mangia Nashville while hitching a ride at the Cool Cafe in Franklin. On Friday and Saturday nights he’d take over that meat n’ 3 restaurant to stage an elaborate Italian multi-course feast complete with feet-tapping music (and indeed, everyone gets up to dance) while Coppola’s The Godfather played on the screens. Each course was served family style with 2 or 3 offerings of appetizer, main course, and dessert.

Wonderful success. So wonderful, he’s moved his happiness-generator to Melrose. Now, the place is all his. Mangia Nashville on Craighead just off of 8th Avenue still jumps every Friday and Saturday night with a seasonal fixed course menu of spectacular, authentic Italian dishes.

BUT! During the week, for lunch or for dinner, you can wander in and enjoy his special menu of panini, focaccia, and spuntini. Huh? Panini (sandwiches); Focaccia (thick, individual pizzas); Spuntini (favorite appetizers from across Italy).

One ingredient really stands out…it’s the killer (as in: “how do you make it taste so good?”) porchetta. Prochetta is a pork roast filled with herbs and garlic. Traditionally it is the young suckling pig, skin and all, but Nick’s is pork-belly-wrapped shoulder (including crispy skin). It is so moist and yummy.

My first run-in with porchetta was in Rome in the 1970’s. There’s a huge flea market there on Sundays at Porta Portese. I was making my way through the crowded market, buying scarves & shoes at great prices, hanging with my family…

1974 trip with family at the Porta Portese Sunday flea market

1974 trip with family at the Porta Portese Sunday flea market

…and there in the middle of the market was a man with a simple cart and a huge roast porchetta. He was selling sandwiches. Carving porchetta onto Roman rosetta rolls. The sandwich remained my Dad’s favorite food of Rome. Juice dripping down our arms while vendors shout “Saldi! Sadli!” (Sale! Sale!).

At Mangia I had porchetta on a roll of black bread. That bread was way too intriguing to pass up. And it’s delicious– it doesn’t taste like the carbon that makes it black…it just tastes good! And this carbon ingredient is supposed to be healthy for you, too. So why not?

Nick told me he was inspired by black carbon bread he had in Rome. He asked the Roman who served it how to make it and got an incomplete answer. So he came home and figured it out himself. Success! (And Yay for us.)

Mangia Nashville’s focaccias are about 8 inches — white or black bread. And the choice of toppings read like an encyclopedia of all luscious Italian tastes: arugula, mozzarella, prosciutto, artichoke hearts, sausage, swiss chard, pesto, roasted tomato, pancetta, ricotta salata, roasted garlic, and on and on….(drooling).

verdure focaccia

verdure focaccia

I also tried the pannelle. This from the list of “spuntini” appetizers. Panelle are Sicilian chickpea flour fritters. I make them in class sometimes. The version at Mangia is soft and decadent served with a chili sauce.

panelle

panelle

So, yes, come to enjoy the big weekend parties (reservations please). Or go during the week. There’s a full bar with great selections (and, of course, Italian beer, too) (AND–NY throwback–Manhattan Special espresso soda). Lunch, dinner, drinks and a hang. There aren’t too many sincere & authentic Italian joints in town.¬†I highly recommend this one!

Fav Nashville Eats: Skyking Pizza (Kingston Springs)

Sky King pizza

Skyking pizza

It’s a well-known fact (probably just in my head) that I’m pizza-fussy. I will not eat any ole pizza. Maybe it’s my NY-Italian-American upbringing. Maybe my 30 years in NYC. Maybe my life in Roma and my many trips to Italy. Maybe my finicky tastebuds. Maybe all of this created a pizza-snob monster: me.

But when I bite into a good pizza I fall in love immediately. And a cozy spot in a small town, about a half-hour from Nashville, makes a pizza I love: Kingston Springs’ Skyking Pizza. They¬†know how to ring that elusive ¬†yummy pizza bell.

When I first heard they were opening a pizza place in Kingston Springs (and they were importing a heavy wood-burning oven) I was skeptical. Because I’m always skeptical about pizza. But the first time I walked into Skyking Pizza I was encouraged by the open and warm environment. The impressive huge pizza oven. The appetizing menu. And the super friendly wait staff.

At first bite I knew I hit the jackpot. The crust has a crunch AND a chew. The crust reminded me of Naples-style pizza. A beautiful chew, but the blackened spots licked by the fiery oven hit you with a crunch.

Sky King pizza crust

Skyking pizza crust

Skyking offers about a dozen different pizzas… from Margherita to Very Veggie to “Go Forth” (which loads on the meats) and more (my fav: white pizza with ricotta, garlic, artichoke hearts, spinach, basil, and mozzarella).

Sky King white pizza

Skyking white pizza

They have house-made sausage, meatball & salad side dishes. They serve beer and you can bring your own wine. They make it easy to have a good time. And to want to return as often as possible.

I’ve always been a fan of Roman-style pizza. In Rome (if you go to the right pizzeria) the crust is so thin it’s almost cracker crisp. In Rome, I almost always get pizza con funghi (mushrooms). This is me and my pizza at my fav Roman pizzeria “Dal Paino”…

me with mushroom pizza in Roma

me with mushroom pizza in Roma

But in recent years I’ve discovered the wonders of Naples-style pizza. Crust thicker at the edges and chewy. When done right. It’s great. Skyking delivers that taste and texture.

Skying Pizza Kingston Springs

Skying Pizza Kingston Springs

Wondering where they got that name? Skyking? Maybe it puts you in mind of the 50’s TV show. Do you know the show?

Sky King TV show

Sky King TV show

It’s about a pilot in Arizona who, in every episode, flies around and helps people or solves mysteries with his little 2-seater plane. I used to watch it and I used to love it. I was probably a fan because I always wanted to fly. As an adult I was after getting my pilot’s license. I took a few lessons out at Teterboro Airport in NJ, but then lack of time and enough money spirited me away. The flying bug was inspired by my father, who also wanted to get his pilot’s license. We used to go to JFK airport just to watch planes take off and land.

Sky King had a niece, too…Penny. She was also a flier. I don’t really remember her as much as Sky King himself, taking to the skies in his plane named Songbird.

Sky King TV show

Sky King TV show

I asked them at Skyking pizza. My now favorite pizzeria has no connection to the TV show. Just as well. I don’t think that massive pizza oven would fit into the plane.

Skyking's wood-burning pizza oven

Skyking’s wood-burning pizza oven

Fav Nashville Eats: Beacon Light Tea Room (Bon Aqua)

On the Road

Beacon Light Tea Room w Duane

Last Sunday, when the first spring air breezed on by, we decided to drive miles away. In the opposite direction of downtown. We wanted to be in the middle of lots of new spring greenery, feel the warm open air, trace the avenues of not-our-usual Sunday. And have breakfast.

So we went to the Beacon Light Tea Room in Hickman County.

Beacon Light Teahouse

Beacon Light Tea Room

We’d been there once before a few years ago. On a Sunday. For breakfast. It’s a drive but the ride is smooth on Highway 100 and there’s enough to entertain out the windows along the way.

For us Sunday breakfast is around noon or 1 o’ clock. And we usually want eggs.

The Beacon Light Tearoom is the place for eggs. They serve them all day long with their full menu of serious eats. The Beacon is also the place for biscuits. And for the trimmings that go with eggs. Like bacon. Ham. Sausage patties. Hash browns. And homemade jam for biscuits.

Beacon Biscuits

Beacon Biscuits

What I love about the biscuits is their saltiness. Yep. They got a saltiness. Which makes the jam you put on them *POP* with yum-ful taste.

Beacon Biscuits w Jam

Beacon Biscuits w Jam

Scrambled eggs are rich. Almost creamy. My plate of breakfast arrived from Central Casting. A movie star.

Beacon Scrambled Eggs

Beacon Scrambled Eggs

Duane’s eggs over easy with sawmill gravy and sausage patties beamed happily… congratulating him for requesting this perfect combo.

w sawmill gravy

w sawmill gravy

The Beacon Light Tea Room started out in 1936 across the street from where a lighthouse stood to guide prop planes around the area. The Beacon thanks the Loveless for following in their footsteps and keeping up the country cooking tradition.

The Beacon Story

The Beacon Story

The Beacon Light Tea Room is the smaller, less Disney version of the Loveless. It’s sincerely un-fancy; authentically homegrown.

sign at the door

sign at the door

road sign

road sign

And, for us, a perfect destination when the wheels of the car need to roll around new territory. And when our brains need to be swept of cobwebs. And when our palates are longing for straightforward delicious.

on the road

on the road

along the road

along the road

Fav Nashville Eats: Noshville

Noshville, Nashville

Noshville, Nashville

I can’t remember ever eating matzoh ball soup in my 30 years of living in NYC. But it’s my standard order at Noshville here in Nashville. And it’s delicious.

matzoh ball soup w tuna sandwich

matzoh ball soup w tuna sandwich

Here’s the sad part. Noshville on Broadway in Midtown is closing by the end of the year. A high-rise is going to push over the popular, busy, comfort destination– grabbing its footprint, and the rest of the buildings on the block, including Manuel’s former design headquarters, and JJ’s Market (a cafe full of relaxed people gazing at their computers while sipping coffee or beer amidst the eclectic collection of tables and chairs).

bye bye Noshville's block

bye-bye Noshville’s block

Do I need to mention that Midtown is already overly-jammed with businesses and cars (without parking spaces)? And now more opportunistic landscape transformation will wave bye-bye to history and old friends. They do say that Noshville will return in the new grand 17-story tower– but it will take about 3 years. I’ll believe it when I see it. Noshville in Green Hills will still thrive– 1/3 the size of its more bustling sibling. Here’s what I’ll miss: I’ll miss sitting at the counter hearing the latest from one of our favorite servers, Linda. At that counter we’re usually elbow to elbow with Vandy students and professors on a Sunday afternoon sipping mimosa’s or bloody mary’s with eggs over easy, toasted bagels, and reuben sandwiches.

Noshville counter

Noshville counter

I’ll miss that standard order of mine: Noshville’s “soup & sandwich”…matzoh ball soup (small bowl comes with 1 large matzoh ball) and a half tuna sandwich on rye toast. It’s a perfect meal.

tuna on rye toast

tuna on rye toast

I’ll miss the mini potato pancakes that accompany eggs (mine, scrambled soft with Canadian bacon). And Duane and I have a new favorite: the “salad sampler” with scoops of coleslaw, tuna salad, chicken salad, or egg salad.

salad sampler at Noshville

salad sampler at Noshville

Another of Duane’s regular orders is the chili dog. My mom goes for the hot pastrami sandwich. My sister, the open turkey sandwich with gravy on the side (French fries for her, instead of mashed potatoes). I’ll miss the “amuse bouche” pickles that we always feel funny troubling our server to bring us, until we discovered a couple of months ago that we can go get them ourselves from the huge bin of pickles with stacks of bowls and tongs nearby. We crunch and slurp up a bowl of these once-barreled-on-Delancy-Street favorites.

pickles

pickles

I’ll miss the wall photos of the Statue of Liberty, Grand Central Station, Sinatra and Sammy and Dean, and NYC-centric movie posters.

breakfast at Noshville

breakfast at Noshville

I’ll miss the slabs of lox and the carousel of cakes. I’ll miss our usual hang. Our comfy place. Our old reliable. When Noshville is reborn in a new modern building in some year in the future I wonder if (and hope) it can bring back all the spirit and personality it has naturally originated over the years.

Noshville booths

Noshville booths

Yes, we like the food. But it’s the atmosphere, too, that makes us want to be there.

Noshville tables

Noshville tables