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Gray & Dudley in the 21C Hotel

Inside the 21c Museum Hotel, Gray & Dudley provides a colorful experience.

Written By:  Erin B. Murray

Photographers:  Emily Hall Dorio

The short stretch of 2nd Avenue that leads down the hill from Public Square Park toward Broadway has been given new life recently, thanks, in part, to the arrival of the 21c Museum Hotel. The small chain of Southern properties, which each contains a modern art museum and a full-scale boutique hotel, chose a nondescript former warehouse on this block and opened there earlier this spring. Boasting an eye-catching and thought-provoking collection of art that you encounter as soon as you enter the lobby, the hotel also comes with its own restaurant.

Gray & Dudley
, named for a business that once occupied the building, is tucked in to the side of the hotel, with an entrance off the alley. (Valet parking is available in front of the hotel.) The main dining room, which is anchored by a large, wraparound bar, is marked by massive windows that look out to the alley. During the day, sunlight brightens the otherwise dark red and wood color tones; nighttime finds the room cozy with mood lighting.

What to Order

What to OrderHouse bacon-and-onion tart, $11
Dry-aged steak tartare, $12
Lumpia, $11
Bayou La Batre shrimp, $26
GD burger, $16

As with the rest of the hotel, art is the centerpiece here. Called Menagerie, the exhibit that hangs throughout the space, and captivates diners from the get-go, is made up of several life-sized sculptures of animals, including goats and rabbits, hanging high up on the walls in contorted, emotional forms. Created by artist Beth Cavener Stichter specifically for this space, the pieces are meant to get you thinking.

“The emotions they evoke are so clear to me—greed, sorrow, energy,” executive chef Levon Wallace says. “But they are going to be different for every one who sees them,” he adds.

This is a bit of a family reunion for Wallace, who has come back into the 21c fold—he was the executive chef at their Louisville hotel restaurant, Proof on Main, for three years but left in 2015 to come to Nashville as the chef of Cochon Butcher.

“Louisville was this whirlwind of creativity,” he says, but he adds, “my time at Cochon was also great because I was able to learn a completely different side of restaurant operations and a new culture.” At the New Orleans-originated sandwich-and-butcher shop, he practiced and perfected recipes for Cajun-inflected fare, like the pork-liver sausage boudin. Now, he’s applying some of that knowledge, along with a host of other influences, to the menu at Gray & Dudley. There are Ethiopian spices and elements woven into on the dry-aged steak tartare; Viet-herb broth rounds out a dish of Bayou La Batre shrimp with rice grits; and there’s lumpia, a bite-sized eggroll filled with boudin that’s served with pepper jelly—a decadent bar snack.

Because Gray & Dudley services an entire hotel for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and room-service, the menu is meant to offer something for everyone. There’s a fine and easy-to-turn-to GD burger, which is mounded with a tuft of greens and slathered in special sauce; a hearty selection of bar fare, including a savory and snack-y bacon-and-onion tart; and, for those who want to sit in their rooms with a bucket of fried chicken, Wallace came up with a not-hot version that’s also available by request in the dining room.

“I remember having this fiery love for hot chicken maybe six or seven years ago, and I still love it—but man cannot live off of hot chicken alone. I started playing with the spices, adding [Ethiopian] berbere and a little honey. I thought, How cool would it be if you were sitting in your room, in a judgment-free zone, and you could just get your own bucket of chicken? he laughs.

That playfulness comes out in other places, too, like his appropriately named Phat Beets dish, or the snack of Hot Nuts.

“I wanted Gray & Dudley’s menu to be recognizable and also not afraid to color outside the lines,” Wallace adds, nodding to the hotel’s artistic themes.

But, when it comes to desserts, he likes to keep things simple. “I don't usually want my mind blown with desserts—I just want something that is absolutely delicious,” he says. To that end, there’s a cream puff the size of a grapefruit filled with, he says, “the best chocolate you can get, whipped cream, and hazelnuts. Because there just aren’t enough of those in the world.”

221 2nd Ave. N., 615-610-6460; grayanddudley.com

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