It was 93 degrees when Mari Hulman George spoke the eternal phrase that sparked the beginning of the Indianapolis 500, “Ladies and Gentlemen, start your engines.” 93 degrees, one degree off the hottest 500 ever recorded. As you might imagine, it was a scorcher of a weekend. Nearing triple digits every day I was in Indiana, I was in no mood to return to the even hotter and stickier weather of the deep south, but after a parting lunch in the LaBuz kitchen, I was on my way to Tennessee.
Being Memorial Day, I had imagined that I would have a hard time finding an open restaurant, but a few days prior, I had erased those fears with a simple phone call to the Capitol Grille at The Hermitage Hotel. Recommended by John Currence of City Grocery & Snack Bar fame, I was happy and a bit surprised to hear the hostess say that The Capitol Grille is open every day of the year, regardless of holiday. As a result, after arriving in Nashville, it was simply a matter of making a reservation on Open Table, and making the short drive from the West End to The Hermitage Hotel.
It’s always a bit eerie to see a downtown area on a holiday. No one on the sidewalk, few cars on the road, but, on the plus side, it made correcting any navigational errors a snap. Pulling up The Hermitage Hotel, it felt equally empty. Even the Capitol Grille had six full tables, at best. Little matter, I was there to enjoy the food not dwell on the occupancy.
Ever thankful for the trend of house cured and pickled foods, I was eager to start with the hunter’s plate.
Well described as a collection of house cured, smoked, and pickled foods, it was a taste of what the Capitol Grille and Tennessee had to offer.
Some might say that Allen Benton’s products have oversaturated the market; while there may be some truth to that, there’s no denying that Benton’s country ham is a sublime slice of meat. As salty, smoky, and porky as ever, Benton’s ham is a southern treasure.
Over the years, I’ve had more than my fair share of Genoa salami, but the Capitol Grille’s version was a different animal. Thickly sliced and densely flavored, this hearty slice of salami had a distinct peppery tail.
Completing the trio of the hunter’s plate, the chicken liver terrine was exemplary. Creamy, not the least bit overdone, this terrine was little more than a smooth slice of liver goodness.
Call it poor resolve or call it enjoying the holiday but there were two appetizers that night. The second was the braised pork belly with corn bread puree, fava bean succotash, and ginger glaze.
Before delving into the excesses of pork belly, I was perplexed by the idea of cornbread puree. Amazingly, the texture was simultaneously smooth but grainy while the flavor provided a subtle foundation for the richness of the pork belly. The fava beans were a different story. Large and a bit chalky, they were the least impressive component of the dish.
Returning to the belly, this slice of pork toed the line between well braised and exceedingly fork tender.
While I couldn’t quite cut it with a fork, this belly was toothsome at first but quickly became melt in your mouth tender.
A highlight of the dish was the ginger glaze on top. A sticky sweetness with just a hint of chili flake, the ginger glaze only served to highlight the bold richness of the pork belly. Much like maple syrup and bacon, this dish just proves that sugar and pork belly will always be the best of friends.
When I first saw that day’s menu for The Capitol Grille, I had high hopes for a slab of dry-aged beef with all the trimmings. Sadly, the kitchen was out of dry-aged beef for steaks. I decided to take advantage of an underappreciated menu item, the lamb, but not just any lamb. That night, a duo of Border Springs lamb was the second entrée on the menu.
Frankly this could have been called a trio of lamb as the first lamb piece was a lamb bacon wrapped lamb loin.
It’s hard not to sound hyperbolic when describing excellent food, but this loin very well may have reset the bar for lamb. A perfect medium rare, wrapped in lamb bacon and accented with bacon jus, this loin was tender and brimming with the very essence of slightly gamy, lamb flavor.
The lamb belly while not conception shattering was equally well prepared and flavored.
With a hearty smoked flavor that only served to compliment the lamb, this belly formed the second half of a superb duo.
Although I could have ended the evening by reveling in the glory of lamb, there was still a farm side to consider.
Picked just that morning, this side of collard greens erased so many memories of overcooked and frankly noxious southern meat and three vegetable sides.
Complimented by sorghum, honey, and even more Benton’s ham, these large collard green leaves were swimming in a sweet and porky sauce. With little bitterness to slow me down, I only wished that I had room for more.
Before you walk down the stairs to The Capitol Grille, it’s hard to miss the wall of newspaper and magazine articles on the restaurant and Chefs W. Tyler Brown and Cole Ellis. While glowing pieces that celebrate farm to table practices and revitalized southern cuisine read quite well, it’s refreshing to see a restaurant execute the premise so well. After this meal, I had little doubt that chef Currence made an excellent recommendation with The Capitol Grille. With expertly crafted cuisine, inherently southern flavors, and fresh from the farm produce and proteins, what else could I ask for?
The Capitol Grille at the Hermitage Hotel Address & Information
231 6th Ave N. Nashville, TN 37219 // 615.345.7116 // TheCapitol Grille Website // The Capitol Grille Menu // The Capitol GrilleReservations