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A sultry mermaid statue, lazing atop a waist-high wall, greets diners at the entrance of Fin & Pearl. It’s a cheeky welcome—but also one that signals a deeper allure. Just as mermaids indicate magic hidden beneath the depths of the sea, the newest gem in restaurateur Tom Morales’s growing empire offers more than what you see on the surface.
Smoked & Cured, $16
A self-titled sea-to-fork restaurant, set in the base of the Twelve Twelve building in the Gulch, Fin & Pearl is one of the first dedicated seafood houses in town—a void Morales is proud, and perfectly suited, to fill.
“I started out working on the harbor docks in Destin, Florida. I cleaned boatloads of fish. And, growing up as a kid, we would go to Dauphin Island in Alabama. It’s always been part of my life—my blood, really. So, when I looked around at what I wanted to do next, I saw no seafood house in Nashville or Middle Tennessee, even—so, that’s what we decided to do,” he says.
Beyond a simple fish fry, though, Fin & Pearl is pushing boundaries with out-of-the-box menu items, thoughtfully sourced seafood, and a space that caters to several types of diners. There’s the “boathouse,” which feels like a covered patio set indoors at the front of the restaurant; a casual dining room in the middle of the space; a marble bar with both a belly-up shucking station and seating for drinks; and banquettes at the quieter end of the space.
Kitschy décor, like a neon sign sourced by American Pickers star Mike Wolfe, teak tables, and white-washed wood are found throughout (local outfit Masaya & Company helped source much of the wood for the space), and a fat, mast-like centerpiece rises out of the center of the bar, complete with chicken wire sails on top. Architect Tuck Hinton, who Morales has worked with on other projects, planned the space, which also features a small patio out front.
Taking the floor of this fun, socially designed space is another TomKats Hospitality signature: a seemingly limitless staff, with servers, managers, bartenders, and table runners crowding the room but also ensuring that a diner can get someone’s attention at all times.
For the menu, Morales worked with executive chef Matt Farley (The Southern Steak and Oyster, Acme) and chef de cuisine Dale Levitski (most recently of Sinema and The Hook) to create an abundance of both safe and adventurous options, some of which take diners into refreshing new territory. Along with the “ocean bar” menu, featuring raw and cooked oysters, shrimp cocktails, and even caviar, the kitchen gets playful on dishes like smoked and cured, which changes regularly and might include smoked trout or salmon with sausages, and mussels that swim in a creamy Thai coconut-curry broth. There’s octopus, braised and then grilled to a smoky char and served over a tangy, vinegar-laced bean puree, and black fettuccini, stacked with chorizo and tail-on shrimp. For breakfast, served weekdays, there’s an omelet brimming with crab and crawfish. And for those who don’t eat seafood, the kitchen smartly includes a robust selection in the “high and dry” section, which includes a pork chop, brisket, and New York strip.
It’s true that you can find similar types of dishes at other spots around town, just as you can find similar renditions of the chowder and fish and chips. But few kitchens are putting out whole bronzini, served alongside a seaweed salad, or cobia, a dense, white fish that gets lacquered with a soy-barbecue sauce and served over soba noodles. The market board might offer moonfish, sable fish, or tuna flown in from Hawaii. Morales says that his team took months to research their sourcing methods so that they’re not only offering items you can’t find anywhere else nearby, but they’re also seeking out fishermen and farms that are taking a sustainable approach.
“We’re using the Monterey Bay Aquarium [Seafood Watch list] to advise us on what is sustainable, and we’re sourcing direct—looking for who caught it and when it was caught,” Morales says. Seafood is one of the most difficult industries to track, with regularly changing regulations and a lack of transparency in labeling. But, Morales says, “We’ve researched and dug into actual practices, so we’re not just relying on what they tell us—you have to look deeper.”
Morales is strutting a stamp of sustainability throughout the restaurant, in fact, and has invested in an ORCA machine (organic refuse conversion alternative) that turns food waste into an environmentally safe liquid. The drinking glasses are made from recycled wine bottles, and the teak from Masaya & Company, seen throughout, was culled from regions where the trees have fallen naturally.
All of that do-good lays the right foundation for what is already a popular spot for people who love seafood. So, whether a diner is educated to the point of knowing what species are on the Seafood Watch list or simply wants a plump and meaty piece of shrimp, no matter where it came from, Fin & Pearl provides. That the kitchen is working hard to source sustainably while also crafting a zero-waste system should prove to be even tastier bait to help reel in the crowds.
211 12th Ave S, 615-577-6688; finandpearl.com