blvd..World-Class Wonderful at a Belmont Bistro

Today Fred and I had a Labor Day lunch at blvd, Arnold Myint’s neighborhood restaurant on Belmont Boulevard. The meal I had was an explosion of perfection–some of my very favorite things all in one meal–pimento cheese, watermelon, street corn, and yes, a Mexican Coke! How could I ask for more? Easy…I took a piece of apple pie home for dessert later. (That pie is the best apple pie ever, and I consider myself an expert on apple pie.)

Arnold has been quite busy lately. He did extremely well on the recent series of Food Network Star and always has several projects in the works. When he came back from Los Angeles a few days ago he literally hit the ground running. He has been working on the menu and in the kitchen at blvd and the results are pretty swell. In fact, the food there has never been better. I am really enjoying the changes. There are plenty of options for a vegan/vegetarian and the carnivores will also be very well-fed. There are choices for happy hour snacks (2 for $8), Sunday brunch, lunch, and dinner. Each occasion has its own menu. I can’t possibly mention everything, but I will tell you about some the things I have tried. There is a green bean and pine nut salad that I have had twice. It is very generous, and very delicious balanced meal. There is an entree that is pure poetry; he calls it a “charred cabbage steak.” Even if you aren’t a vegetarian, you should give this one a try. And the other entrees go all the way from shrimp and grits to a New York strip steak. With many (well portioned) small plates—do not, I repeat, do not, miss the okra fries, decadence worth every fat gram—to choose from along with salads, and sides, you can put together a table top feast. All the prices are reasonable, and the servings are not stingy. This is not one of those places where you drop a small fortune and leave hungry.

There are some wonderful Sunday brunch options, too. I really wouldn’t miss anything that has to do with biscuits. Fred and I had a brief visit with Arnold yesterday (probably one of the few times he has sat down since being back in Nashville) and he talked about making biscuits. It was a very sensuous conversation. I woke up this morning and started thinking about those biscuits. He is perhaps the only person I have ever known who could describe making biscuits in such a way that makes you just want to roll up your sleeves, get your hands in the dough and the biscuits in your mouth. But, I think I’ll just skip the rolling up the sleeves, hands in the dough part and let Arnold do the cooking.

If you are in the mood for a drink, blvd is your bar. The cocktail menu is remarkable. I am partial to the Pinky Lee, a pink grapefruit nectar that can be done with vodka, gin, or tequila. (Of course, I have only tried it with tequila.) There is a rim on the glass with kaffir salt and sugar. It is a perfect balance of sweet and salty. The wine list is mostly French, and pretty extensive for an unpretentious neighborhood bistro. There is also a wide variety of beers, and some interesting non-alcoholic drinks as well. I could forgo my afternoon cocktail easily for one of those Sprecher’s sodas–I haven’t tried them all because I can’t get past the ginger ale. And speaking of French—the fries here are simply the best in town. There is a variety, and they will all make you happy. One more thought; while you’re there you just might want to do some shopping. There are some fun food products for sale, especially Arnold’s Smoked Salt, Smoked Vinegar, and Herbs de Provence.

The restaurant at 2013 Belmont Blvd is becoming my go-to place. If it’s been a while since you’ve been there, or if you’ve never tried it, you really need to check it out. Open every day from 11 am until 11 pm, with Sunday brunch served 11-5. And, note, there are half-priced bottles of wine on Sundays. Reservations are first come, first served. You might decide you’d like to sit outdoors and watch the world go by on Belmont Blvd. And don’t worry about parking because there is a valet.

Margot, the Queen of Cuisine

I suspect when Margot McCormack sees the title to this review she will shake her head and chuckle to herself. She is hardly the kind of person who aspires to be queen of anything. Fred and I had a little visit with her last night when we showed up at her cafe eagerly anticipating a wonderful meal in a magical atmosphere. Because that’s how it is at Margot’s. I have been happy to see Margot in the front of the house lately. I don’t know if she realizes it or not, but by many of us who dine there, she is absolutely adored. She has a nice, easy way about her. To watch her at work is to see a woman who has fully realized what she was meant to do.

Since she first opened she has constantly changed the menu in order to use the freshest ingredients, and to keep herself and her diners more stimulated. When you plan to go you can’t plan in advance what you’ll have. That is good for me because I tend to be a creature of habit. Margot always has vegetarian choices, and I have always found her serving staff to be very helpful when any dietary restrictions.

The food is beautiful. Margot’s cooking is not pretentious, it is simply well-thought out, and lovingly prepared. I was there recently to celebrate my birthday, and I’m sure we’ll be there for our upcoming anniversary. Margot’s is a great place to celebrate an event, or have a quiet, romantic evening. Lately, we’ve been showing up for big evenings and a few small ones, too. Last night we just dropped in and ate early at the bar. We saw people we know, and it turned into a lovely little situation. We had drinks and a light dinner. Fred had Fried Quail, which he was most happy with and I had a salad. Then we shared a cheese plate. Perfect. Brian, the bartender was spot on when he handed me a Paloma, and then steered us to a delicious Spanish white wine. Recently when I was there I had a marvelous hand-made pasta. Heaven. The vegetable plates are always a pleasure as well. Oh, yes…and pizzas. There is usually one on the menu. Don’t miss the olives, if you’re into that sort of thing. And, at least share a dessert. They are served on old-fashion china and are rumored to have belonged to Margot’s grandmother.

Margot McCormack has paid her dues, by elevating dining out in Nashville. When she decided to open a restaurant in 5 Points, it had to feel risky enough, and then 9-11 happened. She did a very risky thing, but it worked. East Nashville is now considered cool, and trendy places are all over the place. But, Margot’s is pretty much the same as it was when it first opened and caused quite a few people to get pretty excited. The cafe is located in East Nashville at 1017 Woodland St. Even though in the Nashville of 2015, parts of East are considered hip and chic, not so much in 2001, when Margot opened. Margot was the reason many of us Westerners were crossing the river, again and again. As happens so often in the world of restaurants a place will open, be great, and then for one reason or another, start to disappoint. This is certainly not the case with Margot. It seems to just get better and better.

Margot’s can be casual, or it can be dressy. No matter what you’re wearing, you’ll feel special when you walk in the door. You probably should get a reservation, but if you drop by you might catch a table on the patio. I forgot to mention how pleasant the outdoor dining is. And, there’s Sunday Brunch. Margot’s is a spot in Nashville you don’t want to miss.

Cafe Margot  1017 Woodland Street Nashville, 37206  615-277-4668

Stewed Tomatoes

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Stewed Tomatoes

I really couldn’t figure out what to call this. It was a favorite dish of mine as a child. But, since I grew up in the Deep South, it was a Paula Deen-type concoction with loads of butter, lots of white sugar, and tons of white loaf bread. And a few tomatoes. In Nashville it was standard fare at the Elliston Place Soda Shop and Sylvan Park Cafe. It was usually called “stewed tomatoes.” Fred and I started reminiscing about this tomatoey, bready, buttery, actually puddiny, concoction this morning and I felt called to come up with a vegan, wheat-free version. So tonight I did just that and it was absolutely divine. I decided to make it into a main dish, mainly because I was too lazy to cook more than one thing. So, I would say, add the soysage if you want a main dish, leave it out if you are going for a side dish. This recipe should feed four, but Fred went back for seconds, so you might want to double it, cook it in a bigger skillet, and plan on leftovers. I just kept life simple and served it with a green salad, and a Petit Chablis. This recipe will provide a total pig-out feast for two. We did have left-overs as I am a model of restraint.
(True Confession: Right after I wrote this I, too, went down to the kitchen for a second helping.) This dish is dangerously delicious. We may have the two remaining small portions for breakfast. While I served this for a simple dinner, it would be great for brunch, served with eggs. You could definitely prepare this one a bit ahead of time,

Preheat oven to 450 degrees on bake, or convection bake if you have it.
The Tomatoes
In a skillet that can go from stove-top to oven, brown in 2 T olive oil
4 slices of your favorite soysage. (Whole hog soysage–the hog stays whole). Drain on paper towel and set aside.
In same skillet add 1 more T olive oil and
1 medium Vidalia onion, chopped. When this has cooked for about 5 minutes over medium heat add
4 cloves garlic, finely chopped. ( You may have noticed that almost everything I cook starts with olive oil, onion, and garlic.)
Cook together until onion starts to brown and caramelize. Then add
4 very ripe, chopped, large, tomatoes. There should be lots of juice. Add
1/4 tea salt and a little black pepper to taste.
1T turbinado sugar ( light brown sugar) While I try to seriously limit my consumption of sugar, I sometimes use a small amount of it as a seasoning. One tablespoon is all you need.
Let this cook together while you make the biscuits.
Stir in the cooked soysage, crumbled up, at the end, right before you put the biscuits on top and pop it in the oven.

The Biscuit Topping
Position rack in center of oven.
Whisk together in large bowl:
1/2 cup gluten-free flour. I like King Arthur all purpose. It comes n a blue and white box.
1/2 cup Masa. If you want regular biscuits, use all flour. We love the texture of Masa.
1 1/4 tea baking powder
1/4 tea salt
Add
4 T Earth Balance, cut into pieces. Because I am a Southern girl I musch it in with my finger. Mix it around until the mixture is like coarse breadcrumbs. Earth Balance needs to be cold when you start.
Add
1/3 cup soy milk
Mix this around until the dough is all stuck together.
Make the dough into a ball and knead about 10 times in the bowl.
Put the dough on a board lightly dusted with flour or Masa. Roll or pat out the dough until it is about 1/2 inch thick. Cut into rounds. This should make about 8 biscuits.
Before putting the biscuits on top of the tomatoes, brush them with melts Earth Balance on the tops and bottoms.
Cook in oven until biscuits are golden brown on top. About 12 to 15 minutes.