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From a distance, the clean, white subway tiles that decorate the walls of the bustling kitchen at the new Barcelona Wine Bar in Edgehill Village look smooth and perfectly aligned. However, the grout lines between each tile are imperfect, and the surface of every shingle is uniquely cracked and distressed. This turns out to be an excellent metaphor for the menu, where the simplest of dishes are actually complex expressions of flavor and texture.
Spanish tapas are small plates intended to be combined and shared as a meal or to be simple accompaniments to a glass of wine or sherry. Menu descriptions are basic and spare, which chef Andy Hayes learned on a recent trip to Spain while preparing to open the restaurant. He says he was most excited by a simple shrimp dish.
“It’s the essence of Spain and the epitome of what we’re trying to do here,” he says. “We want to find the best ingredients, keep it simple, and focus on flavor.”
The dish, which he’s interpreted into a Georgia shrimp “carpaccio,” with lemon, olive oil, and chives, includes shrimp that are flown in from the coast within 24 hours of being caught and pounded flat to form a dense, but tender, strip of seafood. Because Barcelona is part of a group of restaurants that source their imported products in sufficient volume, the olive oil flows straight from the cask at the factory to the bottle to your plate, without stopping by distributors and storage warehouses along the way. The result is a remarkable oil that actually tastes like olives and is a solid addition to a basket of the restaurant’s crunchy and pillowy bread.
The tapas portion of the menu changes constantly, based on the whim of the chef and the availability of fresh ingredients. Hayes, who previously cooked at restaurants like Capitol Grille, Moto, 5th and Taylor, and 404 Kitchen, appreciates that he has the freedom to change up the menu. “[The restaurant group] hires executive chefs and empowers us,” he explains.
“We can feature local ingredients and buy from local farms. We often will get something in the back door from a farmer and just come up with a plate to feature the ingredient. They don’t hinder us creatively.”
The general flavor profiles of the food at Barcelona are Mediterranean, but that ranges from Greek and Italian to French, North African, and, of course, Iberian. Spain and Portugal are the primary inspirations for the menu, with an emphasis on the same spicy, sweet, and funky flavors that dominate food in the American South. “Eating in Spain reminded me of my grandma’s cooking,” Hayes notes. “They have a culture of jamón and tapas the same way that we have country ham and vegetables.”
Indeed, some of the dishes wouldn’t look too out of place on a steam table at a Nashville meat and three. Fried Brussels sprouts with sherry glaze and speckled butterbean fabada seem familiar, and the numerous preparations of potatoes get exotic spellings, as well as a bold chimichurri or salsa brava to top them. A more traditional selection of charcuterie and cheeses leads off the menu; they’re a great start with a glass of wine from Barcelona’s extensive list, which Hayes likes to highlight.
“This is a wine bar with great food, not a restaurant with a bar. Our job is to create a fun environment, with an emphasis on hospitality, and offer you so many excellent food options that you’ll want to order everything. Or you’ll have to come back again soon to try the rest of the menu.”
The ambiance at Barcelona is festive, with the the din of happy diners bouncing off the exposed metal framework of the industrial-style building. A patio, two large dining rooms, and a convivial bar offer flexible seating options, but no place is too far from the action. Later in the evening, the atmosphere gets even rowdier, as bartenders offer pours of wine from glass porrons, which are basically a cross between a pitcher and a watering can to facilitate no-hands consumption.
Beside the bustling bar scene and small plates, Barcelona also offers opportunities for larger format dishes. Each iteration of the menu has what is called “the chef’s box,” a special section of dishes that revolve around a common theme, such as sherry or the recent “Let’s Get Weird” box of sweetbreads, pork jowl, and lamb-kidney toast. More traditional are large plates of grilled meats, or parrillada, priced per person. Seafood or vegetable paellas are also on offer and are available in sizes that feed one to four.
Most of all, a meal at Barcelona should be an experience, Hayes explains. “We don’t really concentrate on composed dishes. We focus on just one protein and a sauce or maybe a single vegetable. Once you eat this way, you don’t want to eat any other way,” he adds.
1200 Villa Pl.; 615-327-0600; barcelonawinebar.com