Valentine's with KEM
Nashville native and Platinum-selling singer/songwriter KEM returns for a very special one-night-only Valentine’s engagement at the Schermerhorn on Monday, February
By now, we’re used to seeing chefs swoop in from other cities and stake their claim on our booming dining scene. And while some of them have made missteps (or remain downright absent), it’s mostly been a good thing for Nashville diners. After all, these new arrivals have brought us flavorful Indian fare, truly authentic Mexican food, and even a few swoon-worthy dining rooms.
Sausage-cheddar biscuits, $8
Bacon-wrapped quail, $13
Heirloom tomato salad, $18
Beer can chicken, $19
Elvis Moon Pie, $9
At 5th and Taylor, Chattanooga chef-owner Daniel Lindley is present and accounted for at least four nights of the week; you can usually spot him expediting dishes underneath one of the arches that frame the massive open kitchen. Lindley helped design the space himself—set in an historic Germantown warehouse, the dining room feels like being inside the hull of a capsized ship with massive beams supporting the aging wood. It’s a stunning effect; low, dark banquettes allow for sightlines across the space, and large-scale contemporary art can been seen throughout, including the centerpiece, an interpretive sculpture of General Francis Nash. Outside, a diamond-shaped patio features its own bar, and in the kitchen, Lindley designed an eight-foot-wide wood-burning grill where stacks of Southern hickory create the fuel for much of the menu.
Lindley, who currently splits his time between 5th and Taylor and Chattanooga restaurant Alleia, has also nailed down a well-pedigreed staff to man the kitchen. Chef de cuisine Daniel Gorman and pastry chef Rachel De Jong both came by way of The Inn at Little Washington, a lauded Relais & Châteaux property in Virginia. Together, the team is executing Lindley’s dream of creating a restaurant where the simplest of American dishes resides at the center of the table: mashed potatoes.
“[They] became a larger discussion for me because I get really discouraged that nobody can put a finger on what American food is,” says Lindley. “You hear that American food is a melting pot, but I don’t know that that’s true.”
So he looked at other cultural serving styles, such as Indian food, which puts basmati rice on every table, and Mexican cuisine, where mas is at every meal in the form of tortillas or in tamales. In Lindley’s world, mashed potatoes were a quintessential American staple, especially since he grew up in a family with five boys. “In many ways, the starch holds the cuisine accountable,” he adds.
Hence, every entrée arrives with mashed potatoes, which change depending on what kinds of potatoes are coming in. Throughout the summer, it might be new or purple potatoes, while red-skinned potatoes might show up later in the year. Lindley sources about 90 percent of the produce for both restaurants from Southland Farm, which sits between the two cities.
On a recent visit, those potatoes were a good fit with both the trout, which was perched above spring onions and a salsa verde, and the mixed grill, an ever-changing selection that, when we tried it, included barbecue chicken, salmon, and sausage. They’re also equally fitting with the popular beer can chicken. A few more casual dishes, such as the steamed mussels and fried chicken sandwich, get French fried potatoes instead.
Lindley’s grill and the smoker box that sits above it play a role in just about every section of the menu, including starter items like smoked oysters and bacon-wrapped quail that’s stuffed with dates and served over sorghum. But there are also bright notes to be found in dishes that don’t require so much heat. An heirloom tomato salad, made with a rainbow of cherry tomatoes, lumps of fresh crab meat, and a sweet corn relish, had us practically licking the plate.
And you can’t walk out the door without trying the sausage-cheddar biscuits. A play on sausage balls, the meat and cheese are actually baked into the biscuits from scratch.
“I think it’s important to cook where you are—whether it’s the product or the technique—and that’s obviously an item that will always be relevant here,” Lindley says.
It’s a philosophy that pastry chef De Jong has latched onto, too. Her Elvis Moon Pie, which arrives with the crooner’s mug shaped in chocolate on the plate, is as sweet a tribute to Tennessee as you can craft in a kitchen—and insanely tasty to boot.
1411 5th Ave. N.; 615-242-4747; 5thandtaylor.com