Sunday, May 27, 2012

Underappreciated Gem: Eastland Cafe

Tomorrow (Monday) is the birthday of my sister, Kellie. She and her husband Leroy are visiting from our hometown of metro Atlanta for a combination holiday / birthday celebration & mini vacation. They've visited several times before and I've shown them some of my favorite restaurants -- Yellow Porch, Porta Via, City House, eastland cafe. For last night's festivities, they requested a return visit to eastland cafe, and the revelers included friends of Leroy's (Mark & Barbara) and my friend The Lovely Melissa, as well.

eastland has been one of my favorite restaurants for several years. The quality of the food is on par with some of the more hyped restaurants in town, and the atmosphere is pleasant. It's a relatively small space, in an old double storefront tucked into a residential East Nashville neighborhood. It's a bistro-style spot -- casual enough to be a neighborhood restaurant, but the food and atmosphere are nice enough for a special occasion. They also have one of the best happy hours in town, with some small plate offerings that aren't available later in the evening.

Like many of the best independent restaurants in Nashville, they make use of local food products in many dishes. The menu varies from time to time -- certain dishes are standards and are always available, but others rotate in and out based on the season and for the sake of variety. There are always daily specials, as well. Recently favorite chef Hal Holden-Bache left eastland to start up his own venture, Lockeland Table. While I'm excited about Chef Hal's new place, I hoped that eastland would continue serving up the same delicious food as in the past. In the two previous visits since Chef Hal's departure, I have not been disappointed, and last night's visit was no exception.

We all started the evening with a cocktail, most picking various choices from their specialty drink menu. I enjoyed a ginger lime vodka beverage, moving to a Vouvray to accompany the food. Some of my dining companions had an appetizer. I wasn't terribly hungry, and I wanted to save room for dessert, so I skipped a starter. I began my meal with the next course, choosing the salad of the day. Normally I make a beeline for the signature cafe salad with crispy goat cheese; the little balls of goat cheese are coated in fine bread crumbs and fried. The crisp crust gives way to the remarkably warm and creamy cheese -- a little culinary miracle that never fails to delight me. I was tempted enough by the description of the special salad, though, to make an exception. I was quite pleased with my decision -- the lightly dressed salad greens, toasted pistachios, slices of local strawberries, and crumbled goat cheese were an excellent combination.

I opted to have a small plate and a side dish instead of an entree. I picked a couple of favorites, the potato & thyme gnocchi and the fried green tomatoes. The gnocchi are garnished with tasty bits of Benton's bacon, apples, and pecans, and drizzled with a cider reduction that is as tasty and nearly as thick as honey. The fried green tomatoes are some of the best I've had anywhere -- four large slices of green tomato, not cut too thick, breaded and fried, then fanned on a pool of pepper jelly. The only thing that would take this dish to the next level would be the addition of something cool and creamy, like a remoulade or goat cheese.

When we had decided that eastland cafe was our destination for dinner, I immediately thought of the wonderful ricotta and blueberry beignets that are always on their dessert menu. Rolled in a generous coating of cinnamon sugar, served with a warm white chocolate sauce, the three large rounds of fried dough are heaven on a fork. The night's offerings on the printed menu also included a strawberry shortcake and chocolate pecan pie, both of which sounded delicious. The daily special, though, was a blackberry cobbler with vanilla ice cream, and I am always a sucker for fruit cobbler and ice cream. Knowing I could enjoy the beignets any time, I decided on the cobbler. While the fruit filling had a thinner consistency than I prefer, the flavor was excellent. I happily spooned up every bite.

I'm pleased that I branched out a bit and didn't stick to tried-and-true -- wonderful though they are -- for every course. My dining companions were pleased with their selections too, and we passed another relaxed and tasty evening at eastland cafe.


Lesley Eats said...

I have still (after living here this time around for 8 years) never been to Eastland Cafe. And I've always heard wonderful things! Thanks for your post; I'm going to put it back at the top of our to-try queue.

TL said...

Hope you enjoy it as much as I do!