When I posted about 5 US Culinary hot spots and The Catbird Seat chef Josh Habiger suggested City House as a worthy restaurant destination in Nashville, I figured I should check it out for myself when I was in town. Since Habiger suggested it, I expected it to be good, but I had no inkling how good, until I actually ate there with some friends.
City House is located in the historic Germantown district of Nashville in a large, shaded old building. The entrance leads into the bar on one side and a screened-in porch dining room on the other. Further in to the left behind the screened-in porch, is the main dining room and the open kitchen with its wood burning oven. Deeper in still is yet another dining room. The place is larger than it looks, but it still affords a sense of intimacy and the feel of dining in a small restaurant.
We were there for their Sunday Supper, which is different than their typical menu and which changes every week. The menu is divided into several sections. The first one has pork snacks, then other snacks, salads and finally meat and fish. Much of the menu is written with a shorthand specific to this restaurant. Fortunately, the servers are all very friendly and more than happy to decipher the hidden messages.
We started by ordering a cocktail and then one of each of the selections from the pork snacks. These are ideal for sharing as the plates are generously portioned. The cracklins’ are light and porky and have an orange yellow Wisconsin cheese powder shaken in abundance on top giving the pork rinds an appearance reminiscent of one of my favorite food vices, cheese doodles. Texturally they were somewhat similar too, but these were practically greaseless and full of pork tastiness along with a hot rub.
My cocktail was an outstanding refresher for a hot Tennessee day. Called a “Samson” it consisted of Sloe Berry Gin, Cocchi Vermouth di Torino, Lemon Soda, Bitters, and a hunk of ruby red Grapefruit.
Their house made summer sausage came with house made Wheat Thin crackers and pickled Brussel sprouts. These were quite tasty.
Crunchy Ciccioli (pork) filled hush puppies were aided and abetted by a nicely pickled chow chow. We were in hog heaven.
As good as these pork snacks were though, the star of the evening came as a bit of a surprise. The Buffalo style pig’s ear was so good, we ordered a second serving! I’ve had some pretty good Buffalo chicken wings, but none so good as this totally and delightfully edible pig’s ear preparation. The texture of the ear was crisp and slightly gelatinous and blended perfectly with the the Buffalo style fixings (celery, blue cheese, sorghum and orange) piled on top. This immediately became my new benchmark not just for pig’s ears, but for any kind of Buffalo style preparation in the future.
Happily for us, the pleasant surprises continued beyond the pork. October beans with GMRS (shorthand for goat’s milk ricotta salata) came served as a bowl of warm refried beans with the cheese sprinkled in abundance on top along with a few other flavor enhancers. Spread on some incredible, crispy thin crackers, this bean dip was full of sheer satisfying deliciousness. Both the dip and the house made crackers were superb individually, but together achieved true synergy.
The pleasant surprises kept coming. Smoked trout salad received textural support from thinly sliced radishes, fresh limas and celery, but the dish was shoved over the top by the inclusion of crunchy corn nuts. When I first bit down on one of the corn nuts, I didn’t quite expect it and was initially taken aback, but then the flavor kicked in and I continued chewing. The combination was a revelation. The corn nuts proved to be the perfect addition for this dynamite salad.
Like Woodberry Kitchen, the restaurant that City House most reminds me of, the wood fired oven was put to a multitude of uses including deliciously creative pizzas. With an ingredient like fresh boiled peanut pesto, we couldn’t resist ordering the pizza with that combined with turnip greens, strutto and grana padano cheese. With an egg baked on top, this pizza was flavor packed, and stunning.
Our last savory course was labeled with another City House bit of shorthand. The BMQ (back mid quarter) Arrabiata had also utilized the wood-fired oven to achieve fall off the bone tenderness. Smothered in a tomato/pancetta/chile sauce atop not grits, but a Cream-of-wheat like semolina, this was pure comfort food.
We were too full to consider dessert, but one came anyway and we wound up happy that it did. Panna cotta with fresh, local strawberries and house made granola was outstanding and a testament to quality product. The strawberries were perfectly sweet specimens and the granola was top notch – flavorful without being too sweet. The panna cotta brought everything together.
Chef Tandy Wilson was coming up with wonderful flavor combinations and unexpected elements in each of his dishes. This is a restaurant that combines great product with a Southern base, an Italian influence and a keen imagination and sense of flavor. City House should not be missed on any visit to Nashville.