Germantown’s new darling, Henrietta Red, offers oysters, wood-fired breads, and a feminine point of view.
Written By: Erin B. Murray
Photographers: Emily Hall Dorio
Nashville has long seen women at the center of its food scene. Restaurant chefs such as Margot McCormack and Deb Paquette have nurtured countless up-and-comers, while entrepreneurs such as Laura Wilson, owner of communal cooking space Citizen Kitchen, are helping seed new business dreams. Patti Myint, who brought International Market to life, is just as influential as Andre Prince Jeffries, who has been frying hot chicken for insatiable fans for decades. The table of women is long in this town, and it’s full of talent as well as strong points of view.
The latest to pull up a seat are chef Julia Sullivan and her business partner Allie Poindexter, with their Germantown restaurant Henrietta Red. Sullivan, who grew up in Nashville (she worked for Wilson at Wild Iris early in her career), attended the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York, and went on to work in fine-dining meccas, Blue Hill at Stone Barns and Per Se. Those temples of haute cuisine gave her impeccable training—but it wasn’t until she cooked the food at a restaurant called Franny’s, doing pizzas topped with ricotta and making fresh pasta, that she understood what kind of food she really wanted to cook.
What to Order
Oysters, prices vary
Wood fired bread, $5
Field pea toast, $8
Chicken liver, $12
Braised lamb, $16
She met Poindexter, a food writer and restaurant server, while working at a cooking school and event space in New York. At the time, Sullivan was quietly crafting her business plan.
“I could have kept cooking and learning forever, but I think you just have to pause and say, ‘If not now, when?’” Sullivan says.
By 2014, both were back in Nashville, readying their plan, which is when they connected with Benjamin Goldberg of Strategic Hospitality, whose partner and brother, Max, attended University School with Sullivan. Named Henrietta Red after Sullivan’s grandparents, the concept was originally a simple, compact oyster bar—but the Goldbergs were looking to fill an expansive space in Germantown. The partners regrouped to expand the concept (there’s still an oyster bar in the dining room) and opened a 100-seat space this winter.
There’s a spacious bar area with communal tables up front; a long, intimate dining room; the oyster bar, which is set for diners; and a window peering into the kitchen and wood-roasting oven. The space feels feminine, with its star-patterned tiling and mermaid motif done in the women’s room. Gold metal bar racks, white marble, and blonde wood tables and chairs lighten up the room’s even-toned blues and grays—all of it adding up to a warm and welcoming space.
Inspired by coastal Carolina cuisine, Sullivan’s menu is a list of share-able, well-portioned plates. Her food demonstrates something not many young chefs can accomplish: a point of view. Seafood and Carolina influence are the theme here—but not a restraint. Yes, there are oyster fritters and oyster stew. But dishes like a silky chicken-liver mousse speak to Sullivan’s greater talent, which is elevating rustic food into something divine.
To start, there’s the oyster list, which Sullivan has worked hard to source, pulling as many as 15 varieties from all over the country for the nightly menu—an unheard of selection in Nashville until now. There are also crudos, mussels, and clams.
Snack-ier dishes include toasts, with a base of wood-fire-oven-baked bread (it also comes on its own, so grab an order of that, too). On one version, field peas and sunflower tahini transform a thick slice of bread into a flavor bomb, exploding with bits of crunch from sunchoke chips. Another, topped with smoked mussels, gets the vinegar-y kick of mustard butter. The chicken liver is a nice follow up, smooth and rimmed with a thorny crown of mustard greens.
The second column of the menu provides more entrée-style dishes, with a braised lamb over polenta and chicken, served over farro pasta. Sullivan leans toward lighter and some vegetarian fare, so you’ll find a cauliflower steak, clams pistou, and a mushroom risotto laced with leeks and fennel. All dishes are hearty and filling, meant to be shared.
Poindexter runs the dining room and puts her touch on the wine list, with a range of whites and sparkling wines to match the food. But you’ll also discover her love of rich reds and easy-drinking beers, making this a good stop on the way to a baseball game. (If you happen to be there during happy hour, try one of their elevated Jell-O shots.)
“Our goal is to make this a neighborhood bar,” Sullivan says, adding that they want it to be a place where you can either grab a drink and a snack or sit down for a nice meal.
“We want all of what we do—the shared plates, even the Jell-O shots—to add to that communal feeling,” Poindexter adds.
It’s an atmosphere that many of Nashville’s female restaurateurs have excelled at, Sullivan acknowledges, adding that they’re happy to have found their place in the city’s lineage—and are hopefully lighting the way for more to come.
1200 4th Ave N; 615-490-8042; henriettared.com