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Chef Andy Little Takes On Prima

At Prima, chef Andy Little is setting the scene by bringing a new character to life.

Written By:  Erin Byers Murray

Photographers:  Emily Dorio

Step inside Prima in the Gulch these days, and you won’t notice anything different straight away. The room is still grand, and that Bruce Munro chandelier still sparkles from above.

No, the changes you’ll encounter now that chef Andy Little is at the helm will start to reveal themselves when you chitchat with the server, who’s wearing jeans and a comfortable smile. Around the room, the jackets and ties have come off, except for that table of businessmen beside you. It’s not immediate, but eventually you get the sense that things are a little more relaxed these days—maybe even a bit more approachable. 

Beneath the restaurant’s remarkable, glassed-in wine vault (still there, too), the open kitchen shows off a new guard of cooks. Chef Little can usually be seen at the pass or hiding out somewhere behind his team. When he’s not hunched over a plate looking at the food that’s about to go out, you might even catch him with a smile on his face.

What to Order

What to order:

Nightly tasting menu, $90 per person
Cornmeal fried oyster, $11
Smoked carrots, $12
Duck breast, $29
Rocky road fondant, $9

As the chef at Josephine, Little is known for his riffs on seasonal, Pennsylvania Dutch-inspired dishes, like the addictive pretzel rolls, served with brown-butter mustard, and a Nashville play on scrapple, which he serves hot, like our iconic chicken. That food is a little rustic compared to what he’s doing at Prima, but, as he puts it, “the DNA is the same. The running joke is that Prima is basically Josephine, but with tweezers.”

Before even getting in to Prima, Little launched a social media campaign with the hashtag #thisisprima.

“I got a lot of questions leading up to this change: ‘What’s it going to be?’ This campaign is a way to show people what they can expect,” he says. Without changing the name or the room itself, he says he wants people to understand that it’s a different restaurant—one where “the food now suits the space,” he says.

There’s still an a la carte menu, which Little breaks down into snacks, first courses, second courses, and desserts. You can create your own adventure with items, like the cornmeal-fried oyster over a cream sauce, touched with smoked onions, and then move on to foie gras over brioche. Smoked carrots might be a nice version of a salad before launching into larger plates, like the duck breast with sweet corn and farro or, for two to share, a grilled ribeye, served with a potato gratin (he calls it “Meat the Flinstones”).

But where Little is attempting to have some serious fun is on the nightly tasting menu, which, these days, isn’t so much pulling from the a la carte options as it is a standalone event. This fall, the tasting was actually a tribute to Arnold’s, the iconic meat and three that lives just a few blocks away.

“The idea wasn’t to recreate what they’re doing in three bites but, rather, be inspired by what they’re doing and, then, create something fully different,” Little says. For the holidays, he’s looking forward to playing around with goose—and all the word play that might come with it.  

Much like the weekly 10X10 tasting menu Little launched at Josephine (it’s not happening there at the moment), the nightly tasting at Prima is about ten courses long, with dishes that build from small tastings and nibbles to snacks or heftier portions that resemble entrees, and on in to dessert. Like most tasting menus, you’re in the chef’s hands. Little moves guests from light to heavy, pulling in various flavors and palate-bombs throughout.

On our visit, nasturtium leaves acted as tiny little tacos; an eggcup was filled with a quickly deflating foam; and a feather-light batter coated an oyster for an addictive bar snack. We then veered back to the lighter side with an artistic slice of cantaloupe, followed by a tuna plate that gave the palate a wake-up call with overtly peppery greens. Braised rabbit was tangled up with a creole lobster sauce, and, soon, seared duck breast came sidled with smoked carrots. Not every bite sang—but the twists and detours kept us wondering what might be next. It all led up to a grand finale with the desserts, put together by pastry chef Kayla May, who is still working at Josephine, too. Her raspberry jelly doughnut was surrounded by a shower of neon pink raspberry dust—a sweet, yet savory, delight.

Little credits May, along with the sous chefs at both Josephine and Prima, and his own wife, Karen, for being his anchors at each of the restaurants. He needs the tether, too. One thing he’s learned, he says, is that he can’t plan menus for both places on the same day—otherwise, it’s like he’s fathering twins.

With work, and support from his team, he hopes that each restaurant can keep its own character—and that the fun at Prima will continue to unfold.

700 12th Ave S, 615-873-4232; primanashville.com

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