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The Fontanel Farmhouse Restaurant: Country Breakfast Fresh From the Farm

15 Apr The Fontanel Farmhouse

A few months ago, I was invited to enjoy breakfast at The Fontanel Farmhouse Restaurant. This isn’t somewhere I would typically venture to on my own, mainly because its address is Whites Creek, Tennessee, and that sounded really far away. Wrong. From the east side, I just cruised north (west?) on Briley, exited at Whites Creek and almost zoomed right past it. Definitely closer than Franklin or even Brentwood, and probably about as quick of a drive as going to Hillsboro Village with about 75% less traffic and none of the parking issues.

Now that I know the Fontanel isn’t out of the way, I’ve been wanting to go back there, and I will, once I use up some of my other Groupons and Living Social deals. Not that it’s expensive at all – you can get brunch and a drink for less than $15. In fact, two restaurant comparisons immediately come to mind: the Loveless Café and Cracker Barrel. And the Fontanel is better than both. (Note that I have deep-seated opinions about both: I think Loveless is overrated but will save that for another day, and I wrote a magazine-length feature on Cracker Barrel in college, during which a visit to the Lebanon store made me break out in hives.)

The Fontanel Farmhouse

The Fontanel Farmhouse is the restaurant segment of the Fontanel Mansion and Farm, which recently opened to the public. I also toured of the mansion, which Country Music Hall of Famer Barbara Mandrell designed in the 1980s, and for a while was the largest log home in America. Or something. Anyway, her closets put Carrie Bradshaw to shame, there’s an indoor pool and a helicopter pad on the front lawn, but my favorite part of the house (if you can call it a house … mansion is a much better moniker) was the shooting range.

But back to brunch. So the reason the Loveless comes to mind might have to do with the fact that they’re somehow linked by the same entity, TomKats. I don’t exactly know the specifics, but when I went I left with a Christmas tin of the Loveless Café’s bacon pecans. Cracker Barrel, my allergic reaction notwithstanding, is the gold standard of country breakfasts, at least for folks who aren’t from the South. But after you’ve tried the Sweet Potato Pancakes with pecan praline syrup and your choice of sausage or bacon ($7.50), you won’t want to go back to Momma’s Pancake Breakfast. At least, I don’t. And their biscuits and gravy, though I didn’t try them myself, has to be better than the gray slop served up by CB. And my big grievance with the Barrel is that they don’t have anything on their breakfast menu with fruit or vegetables, unless you count fried apples (which, albeit, are tasty, though not as good as my granny’s fried apples with red hots). The Fontanel’s breakfast menu includes a garden omelette with sweet corn succotash, tomatoes and goat cheese, as well as a breakfast bruschetta, featuring scrambled eggs topped with roasted tomatoes, pesto and more goat cheese – each just $9 apiece. Of course, their menu is seasonal, so don’t expect sweet corn in December. But that’s an even better reason to try this place – their produce and even their eggs come from local farmers.

In addition to enhancing Nashville’s country cuisine, the Fontanel also has brought an outdoor amphitheater back to Music City (RIP, Starwood). Steve Martin, Willie Nelson, ZZ Top and Steely Dan are among this summer’s eclectic lineup.

Overall, the Fontanel Farmhouse Restaurant is well worth the shorter-than-expected drive to the country. Think of it as Cracker Barrel with a liquor license, or the Loveless Café for folks who live in East Nashville, downtown, Madison, Bordeaux or anywhere other than Belle Meade.

Location: 4225 Whites Creek Pike, Whites Creek, TN 37189

Grilled Cheeserie Melts Your Face Off

13 Mar The Grilled Cheeserie, Nashville food truck

In the past year or so, Nashville’s food truck population has increased significantly. There’s Mas Tacos Por Favor, Pizza Buds, the plethora of taco trucks on Gallatin and Nolensville roads and, as of late last year, we can add The Grilled Cheeserie to the mix.

Every Saturday, the grilled cheese truck parks next to the Green Wagon near Five Points in East Nashville. During the week, you’ll find them in Berry Hill, 12South and other highly trafficked spots around Nashville. Unfortunately, they haven’t ventured as far south as Cool Springs yet, though I bet they could make a killing in our office park. But I digress.

Grilled Cheeserie food truck in East Nashville

Now, as much as I love grilled cheese sandwiches, they don’t exactly fall into the category of “brunch.” However, I was happy to discover that they do have a breakfast sandwich among their offerings of specialty melts, and since we walked over there around noon yesterday, I decided to give it a try.

Breakfast Sandwich at Grilled Cheeserie

The Breakfast, as it’s called on the menu, features a fried “farm egg,” smoked cheddar, Tabasco aioli and “local bacon” on Silke’s country white bread. The egg was a little runny in the middle, which is how I like it (though a napkin would have been nice). The bacon was thick-cut so the sandwich was rather hearty – as it should be if I’m paying $7 for a grilled cheese. The tabasco aioli took the sandwich from good to great, worthy of comparison to the Big Don.

Breakfast Sandwich at Grilled Cheeserie

I was focusing more on stuffing my face than taking photos.

Ty opted for the make-your-own sandwich, and he ordered Colby Jack with tomatoes and pickles on sourdough. Other add-ons range from avocado to salami to gruyere. His grilled cheese was merely okay, so I definitely recommend going with one of their pre-determined specialties, which also include the Caliente (queso fresco, chorizo, avocado, pickled jalapenos) and the unusual-sounding Tuna Casserole (cheddar, tuna salad, macaroni pasta). They also have melts of the moment – yesterday it was the Pizza Melt (pepperoni, mozzarella on Italian herb bread), but from stalking them on Twitter I’ve seen mention of nutella-banana and other delicious-sounding concoctions.

It’s definitely not your normal brunch spot, but it’s a tasty first meal of the day on a springtime early afternoon stroll. They also offer tomato soup and homemade pudding cups (vanilla-banana, salted caramel) in addition to chips, water and specialty sodas. Highly recommend waiting in line (and there will be a line) to support this local venture.

The Grilled Cheeserie, Nashville food truck

Location: Stalk them on Twitter @grlldcheeserie

Pancake Pantry: Worth the Wait?

16 Jan Uncle Buck Pancakes

I can’t write a Nashville brunch blog without mentioning our city’s most iconic breakfast spot: The Pancake Pantry.

Pancake Pantry, Nashville

Most people know one thing about Pancake Pantry: There’s always a line. This is almost true. If you go there on the weekend between the hours of 9:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m., there will be a long line snaking down Hillsboro, filled primarily with tourists and hungover Vandy/Belmont students.

Is it worth the wait? Some say yes, I say… be deliberate about your timing. If you are willing to sacrifice normal brunching hours, you can enjoy the best pancakes in Music City without having to wait in line. Either go at 7 or 8 a.m., or get there at 2:30 or 3 in the afternoon (my personal preference – hey, that’s what Sundays are for). The problem with going early is that by the time you leave, there is guaranteed to be a line, thus it feels like you’re rushed. If you go late (more like 3:30 when they close at 4), then you feel guilty about keeping the waitstaff there. But I still think it’s worth it not to wait in line. In fact, I refuse to wait in line, and even with a pancake-obsessed boyfriend, if we see a line, it’s not like there’s only one spot serving breakfast food in Hillsboro Village – we’ll just go to Jackson’s or Bosco’s, both have delicious brunches themselves.

Now, brunch usually requires mimosas or bloody marys to be decadent enough to be considered “brunch” and not “breakfast” – but I’m giving Pancake Pantry a pass on this one. Their menu of light, fluffy, delicious pancakes goes to such great heights that I consider it an indulgence even without the booze. Sure, their coffee is diner-quality, but in an age of local/pricy Bongo Java and Drew’s Brews, it’s kind of welcome that they haven’t changed with the times. (I’m pretty sure some of their servers have been working there since it opened 50 years ago.) Plus, this place is all about the pancakes. And the giant slab of butter on every plate rivals that of the pancake scene in Uncle Buck (click to view the clip).

Uncle Buck Pancakes

The first rule of Pancake Pantry is to make sure someone at your table orders one of the pancake varieties that comes with cinnamon cream syrup. This is the sugary equivalent of crack, or so I imagine, and I could eat it with a spoon. Usually I order the sugar and spice pancakes, which are cinnamon pancakes sprinkled with powdered sugar, but the crack syrup also comes with sweet potato pancakes (my alternate) or the French toast (but who orders French toast at the Pancake Pantry?).

If you’re allergic to cinnamon or want something a little different, they have a number of fruity options (not to be confused with IHOP’s Rooty Tooty Fresh ‘n Fruity), including Caribbean, peach, blueberry, raspberry, orange/walnut and even Swedish pancakes with lingonberry. The buckwheat or cornmeal pancakes are good for the illusion of being more nutritious, but I rarely ever stray from one of the options that comes with the real thing.

caribbean pancakes at Pancake Pantry

Not to say that their other menu items aren’t worth trying. Ty has ordered pigs in a blanket before, which is, yes, sausage links wrapped with pancakes. I always get the hashbrowns, which are the cubed-and-crispy variety – one $3 order is enough to feed two or three people. They also have bacon, country ham, eggs, etc., and a lot of the egg dishes come with a side of their classic pancakes, so you can’t go wrong there.

The last thing to note about Pancake Pantry is that you almost always see a local celebrity gorging on pancakes at the table next to you. I’m horrible at recognizing country stars, but we’ve seen a Wooten brother or two several times, along with a few Titans players with their families. It’s always good to know that no matter who you are, there’s nothing like a $7 butter-laden, syrup-smothered pancake meal from the Pancake Pantry.

Location: 1796 21st. Ave. S. in Hillsboro Village (look for the line)

Sign photo courtesy of Flickr user afagen
Caribbean pancakes photo courtesy of Flickr user toastforbrekkie

Ode to Mad Donna’s

18 Dec

I was really bummed to hear Mad Donna’s filed for bankruptcy yesterday. I hope this restaurant is able to stay open, because it’s hands down my go-to place for brunch with friends. The 2-for-1 mimosas, the crab cakes bennie, the patio in the summer… it’s just my favorite little neighborhood eatery.

Love letter to Mad Donna's serverHoused in the old Radio Cafe building (which predates me), Mad Donna’s is located at the corner of 14th and Woodland. I cannot tell you the number of brunches I’ve had there since it opened three years ago, back when my friend Chris lived on Holly Street and I hadn’t yet moved to the ‘hood. Memories have been made at Mad Donna’s. We have started many a Sunday Funday with a big brunch here before walking up Woodland to continue the day at Five Points. We order our first coffee of the morning to rehash the previous night. We share Big Dons (grilled brioche stacked with a fried egg, ham, bacon, pepperjack cheese, tomato and Dijon-mayonnaise) and beignets. We (okay, Chris) pass love letters to the server via napkin.

However, it’s not perfect, by any means. We mourned when they took down all the photos of Donnas (Donna Summer, the Donnas, Tori Spelling’s 90210 days  – see above). They run out of Hollandaise sauce. Don’t sue me, but as a bloody mary connoisseur, their make-your-own bloody mary bar leaves much to be desired (and their house mix has horseradish overkill). One friend claims he’s never had good service unless he’s with us in a big group. I know, I’m not really selling this place very well.

I overlook their bloody mary faults because Saturdays and Sundays they have 2-for-1 mimosas, which you can get in a variety of flavors, from regular old orange juice to pineapple, peach or pomegranate (though that last one is too sweet for me). I can’t believe how few photos I have of Mad Donna’s with how many times we’ve been there, but I did find one of the time we trapped a fly in a mimosa glass (science experiment?).

Anyway, the brunch menu [PDF warning] is great. Creative yet classic, not necessarily amazing but consistently above-par. If you’re a meat-eater, there is nothing better than the aforementioned Big Don. According to my friend Elizabeth, anything else on the menu will disappoint. Ty is a big fan of the Breakfast Pizza (though it recently changed names to be a Breakfast Flatbread – same concept, just different crust), which uses sausage gravy as the sauce and is smothered with eggs and cheese. I almost always go for the Crab Cakes Benedict, which really is almost too much for one person. Two English muffins, two crab cakes, two eggs, two ladle-fuls of Hollandaise. (Don’t eat for the rest of the day.) Cap'n Crunch French Toast at Mad Donna'sThe Cap’n Crunch French Toast is the best rainbow-colored breakfast imaginable if that’s your bag (I personally haven’t tried that because 1. I hate fruity cereals and 2. It cuts the roof of your mouth). The omelets and frittatas are rich with chunky veggies and delicious, and Mad Donna’s gets bonus points for having a menu item called the Nelly Frittata. Most entrees come with a side of either cheese grits or potatoes – I prefer potatoes any day (they’re cubed and seasoned, but not crispy like home fries), but most people rave about the cheese grits.

Jenna Longmire Band at Mad Donna's

If breakfast isn’t your thing, they have a long list of lunch items, including fancy ham sandwiches, BLTs, patty melts, burgers (veggie too), this turkey-cranberry thing and amazing sweet potato fries. Dinner is, well, I don’t really know, because they just launched a new dinner menu and I pretty much focus on brunch. But they do have fun specials and events such as Taco Tuesdays ($2 tacos and $2 Dos Equis), Trivia Wednesdays and live music in their upstairs loft. Ty played there last year with Jenna Longmire.

So whether you want music, mimosas, mac and cheese, a good burger, eggs, a giant meat sandwich or fruity cereal on your French toast, I urge you to check out Mad Donna’s while they’re still open. Here’s hoping they can make it.

Location: 1313 Woodland St., Nashville, TN 37206

Cap’n Crunch French Toast photo courtesy Flickr user kthread

Pied Piper Eatery: Breakfast + Lunch, But Not Brunch

11 Jul

Pied Piper Eatery

Pros: Serves breakfast all day, makes amazing veggie burgers, New Kids on the Block posters cover the ladies’ room walls.

Cons: Biscuits (with or without gravy) are only available before 11 a.m. on weekends, no booze, New Kids on the Block posters cover the ladies’ room walls.

Pied Piper Eatery is a funky little neighborhood diner with music-themed tables, nice servers, no wait. They’re flexitarian-friendly: You can get a decent veggie burger with someone who wants a real burger. The French toast is good, the pancakes are easier than making them yourself, the omelet menu gives you three add-ons for free and the gravy – on biscuits or real mashed potatoes with the skins – is delicious, the sort of Southern gravy with lots of milk and flour. I haven’t had a bad experience – it just doesn’t have the WOW! factor.

It’s the perfect place to go when you have family visiting who are used to what Ty calls “the ferns” – restaurants such as O’Charley’s, Chili’s, etc. – and you want to introduce them to something a little different, but not too out of the ordinary. There’s a large enough menu items that it pleases everyone, and like their creamery, the menu is laden with pop culture references (Jerry Garcia frito pie, the grilled cheese is called the Clay Aiken: nothing but cheese, you get the drift), which is always a fun topic of conversation.

I don’t go very often, and it’s definitely more a “breakfast” place as opposed to “brunch” – no fancy eggs bennie or artisan bacon, and I’m sure the lack of a liquor license eliminates it from most true brunch outings. But for a quick, tasty breakfast any time of the day – or a hearty lunch – I really can’t complain.

Photo courtesy of

Location: 1601 Riverside Dr., Nashville, TN 37216
(615) 228-2795

Allium: Beignets, Benedicts and Beyond

18 Apr

Disclaimer: I imported this entry from my old blog, and it was written back when Groupon was new and Lost hadn’t yet disappointed America with its series finale.

Thanks to the enterprising minds behind the Groupon concept, I’ve been able to try out some new restaurants that I might not have otherwise. I bought the Allium Groupon – $25 for $50 worth of food and drinks – a few months ago, and we tried it out a week or two ago.

Allium is located in the bottom of the “embattled” 5th and Main condo complex on the East Nashville side of the river, though not as far east as Five Points, so I don’t know if that’s still considered part of our ‘hood, but it’s so tasty that I’ll claim it.

I was surprised by the prices, in a good way: The food was nowhere near as expensive as I would have imagined. Entrees were around $11 with hearty portions, and even with cocktails, coffee and sides, it was hard for us to reach $50 (I think we got close, though, maybe $48). So this is an incentive to go back, because most of the time I will not be trying to gorge myself in order to get our money’s worth.

Since we were trying to spend a certain amount of money, we did get bloody marys, which were amazing. I’m also a bloody mary connoisseur (goes hand-in-hand with brunch-loving), and this one was the perfect mixture of tomato juice and alcohol – not too strong – and garnishes (celery and lime). Though I think Ty was disappointed at the lack of olives.

Our server was pretty attentive, but he looked eerily like a younger version of Jacob from Lost (with a pompadour). When he came to take our order and gave us some sort of option, we were like, “Do we have a choice?” At the end of the meal I did ask him if he had ever seen the show, which of course he hadn’t. Oh well.

One more note about the atmosphere: The soundtrack included “Cruel, Cruel Summer” by Ace of Base, which Ty had never heard. I’ll leave it at that.

Now, onto the good stuff:

The entrees, as I said, were hearty portions. Ty ordered the Allium Benedict, which is sliced black forest ham, poached eggs and hollandaise in a popover, with pepper jack grits and a side of Benton’s bacon. The popover was a bit much… too much bread to egg/meat ratio. But still good, plus you don’t feel as overindulgent if you don’t clean your plate. The eggs were poached to perfection, and the grits were surprisingly edible… I am not a fan of a grits that don’t have some sweet aspect (either white grits with butter and sugar like my grandma made them, or yellow corn grits with maple syrup like my mom made them), but these were not bland, and the pepper gravy gave them a rich flavor. So, yum.

Meanwhile, speaking of overindulgency, I had the Wild Mushroom Scramble, which is scrambled eggs and mushrooms over a puff pastry with asparagus covered with mornay sauce, along with a side of roasted potatoes. (Sidenote: I recently read My Life in France by Julia Child and became obsessed with the various incarnations of béchamel sauce, so I know all about mornay.)

This dish was so decadent that I couldn’t finish it. I was thankful for the asparagus making me feel like I’m getting something healthy in this butter-laden meal, but oh, it was amazing. The puff pastry was light and airy, like the inside of a croissant, and the mornay was so rich that I wished they hadn’t used quite so much of it. But it was so delicious that I’m sure Julia would have been proud.

Update: I returned to Allium in December 2010 with my family. Since my visit last April, they have instituted a new policy of free beignets (boy, that word is difficult to spell). As many restaurants serve artisan bread with honey butter before you order, our server surprised us with a basket of cinnamon-sugar coated French (or New Orleans?) pastries and raspberry butter while we waited on my aunt and uncle. Warm, almost crispy on the outside, gooey in the middle – amazing. I was sick and my throat was killing me, but I still ate two. Pretty sure my uncle ate about six.

Everyone’s food was amazing, though I didn’t take photos. My uncle started out the meal with the French onion soup, one of their claims to fame, and my mom and I split the butternut squash soup. Tasty for my sore throat, but my mom says hers is better. They ran out of the menu’s lemon-poppyseed French toast but had a backup of lemon-poppyseed French toast croissants, which Ty enjoyed. Everyone else ordered benedicts and potatoes – florentine (spinach) for my mom and aunt, shrimp for my uncle and myself. No one left disappointed – or hungry.

Location: 501 Main Street, Nashville, TN 37206
(615) 242-3522