Epice in 12South
Epice re-creates a Middle Eastern aesthetic with a relaxed, modern vibe in the 12 South neighborhood. (May 2014)
Written By: Nashville Lifestyles
Photographers: Ron Manville
Muhamara soup; Epice sfeeha flatbread; labneh or shawarma sandwiches (lunch); sayadeya; batinjan; fassoulya lamb shank with white bean cassoulet
Epice currently only serves wine by the bottle or glass—the selection is entirely Mediterranean.
Maher Fawaz, owner of the newly opened Epice on 12th Avenue South, can be found most days overseeing the Lebanese restaurant’s light-filled dining room. Whether greeting guests or perched at the marble-wrapped bar, his joyful attitude is contagious. It’s usually a good sign to see an owner-proprietor hanging around a restaurant: The staff tends to be in top form, the pacing will stay on target, and your overall experience will likely be dictated by whatever standards that owner has founded his or her concept on. At Epice, that experience is consistent, attentive, and full of unexpected flavor.
The owner of all three locations of the fast-casual Mediterranean concept Kalamata’s, Fawaz says he’d been dreaming of opening a more elegant, sit-down eatery like Epice for years. Conceptualized by Fawaz with architect Patrick Avice du Buisson, Epice re-creates a modern Middle Eastern aesthetic with a stacked-stone wall, stucco throughout, skylights, and that marble-wrapped bar, behind which sit decorative piles of fresh spices. Outside, a stone and gravel patio will soon be landscaped with a tented shade cover and shoulder-height shrubs, offering that European scene Fawaz hopes to emulate.
On the menu, escapism is easy, starting with the wine—it’s a small selection of Mediterranean bottles from Italy, France, and yes, even Lebanon (a Fawaz favorite, the Chateau Musar Jeune blends Syrah, Cinsaut, and cabernet sauvignon). Dive headfirst into the Lebanese-focused menu starting with muhamara soup, a puree of roasted red peppers. The mezza, or appetizers, are hefty enough to share—we enjoyed the flatbread-like Epice sfeeha topped with cured beef and a salty, melted cheese.
There is a traditional kibbeh (seasoned ground sirloin) and labneh, a creamy, spreadable cheese mixed with fresh cucumbers and mint that’s served with pillowy slices of pita bread. For dinner, there are skewers, or mashawi, straight off the grill, like pistachio-encrusted rack of lamb and a daily fish filet coated in a blend of spices. The entrées get fistfuls of spices—batinjan is a cumin-heavy eggplant dish topped with seasoned ground beef and served with vermicelli rice and a cool, minty-laced cream sauce on the side.
Already, the neighbors have embraced the restaurant and its relaxed, modern vibe, as have a few of the more famous faces that pepper Nashville’s social set. Fawaz laughs as he explains that a server had to point out a certain recognizable TV drama actress who has been spotted in the dining room several times. “Having those fans [is] great,” says Fawaz. But, he adds, “for me, this project is about having fun. It’s about giving something back to my family and creating a space that I love coming to."
2902 12th Ave. S.; 615-720-6765; epicenashville.com