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Little Octopus in the Gulch

Now in a new location in the Gulch, chef Daniel Herget brings the bright, clean flavors and Caribbean soul of Little Octopus to a broader audience.

Written By:  Erin B. Murray

Photographers:  Brita Britnell

For more than a year, Little Octopus has been drawing fans from all over town—especially from East Nashville—for its clean, refreshing, Caribbean-inspired fare. Until this month, its home has been inside the Gallatin Road space, POP. Now, it makes the move to a permanent location, formerly Ru San’s, in the Gulch, giving the concept stronger legs and a more robust set of offerings—as well as more elbow room for chef Daniel Herget to play.

Sister restaurant to Otaku Ramen, opened by Sarah and Brad Gavigan, Little Octopus is the brainchild of Herget, who the Gavigans originally hired to run Otaku. A couple of late-night brainstorming sessions between Sarah and Herget led to the conceptualization of the Little Octopus menu, Herget says.

“With her coming from Southern California and me coming from Miami, [we talked] about how we needed something other than heavy food every day,” he says. “Eventually, after a couple glasses of wine, we said, ‘Let’s do it.’ We did not expect it to take off like it has, and I’m super thankful for the community’s support, because it has been fast and furious.”

From its seafood and fresh fruit-driven dishes to its reasonable pricing, Little Octopus fills several voids. But, in the new space, Herget says the restaurant will feel complete. They'll resume lunch service and add a full bar that will be heavy on rum and rum-based cocktails to match the Caribbean-inflected menu.

“If you look at the history of the Caribbean, you can see how much of a melting pot it is,” Herget says. “Everybody, at some point, got a piece of it. The French, British, India by way of Britain, Norway, Denmark, and obviously the Spanish, all had a heavy influence there. And all of these cultural, and particularly food, influences are still relevant today.”

Herget was exposed to Caribbean cuisine as a child growing up in North Florida; his family traveled around the area extensively. He later attended culinary school at Johnson & Wales University in North Miami and, then, worked in restaurants throughout the city, which shaped him as both an eater and a cook.

“[Miami] is a really important food city. There is so much going on down there, like the most incredible Thai food I’ve ever had,” Herget says. “There’s Chinese food, Russian food; there’s this incredible expat New York-Jewish community down there, so there are these incredible delis. And, of course, a lot of Jamaican and Haitian food, as well as Puerto Rican and Cuban food,” he adds—and all of it influences his cooking

So, too, does the chef’s own health history. At age 23, Herget wound up in a hospital bed for a little over a week, suffering from the effects of Crohn’s Disease. He says a gastroenterologist told him he had never seen someone with that many ulcers in their large intestine, and he said the prognosis wasn’t “exactly great.” At first, he battled the issue with medication and a strict diet, but, eventually, a friend’s mother, who was into holistic healing, told him he wasn’t sick. “She said, ‘You're fine. You just weren’t treating your body well.’ That really resonated with me.” Since then, he’s cleaned up his diet (but admits he still enjoys a good burger) and has not been on medication for six years.

“In the Caribbean, because of the prolonged growing seasons, there’s this necessary focus on using fresh fruits and vegetables, because they’re prolific,” Herget says. “That ties into my personal beliefs on food, as well.”

You can now taste some of those beliefs at the new space, in dishes like the lunchtime jalea, a Peruvian salad made with snapper, tomato, herb, and onion, or moqueca, which is a rice bowl topped with shrimp and hints of coconut and palm oil. The dinner menu won’t change—and Herget reveals that you’ll still be able to get the grass-fed, manchego-topped burger. They’re also adding an eight-seat chef’s table, where Herget will serve large-format, family-style meals.

Finally, they’ll be expanding their dessert selection, offering all of the items in a to-go format. Think handheld pastelitos and key lime cream puffs. “It makes sense for the way we eat nowadays,” he says. “We want guests to be able to enjoy their sweets here or take them home and have them on the porch with a glass of wine.”

Perhaps, that will be yet another draw, especially for the loyal East Nashvillians who helped give Little Octopus its start.

505 12th Ave. S., 615-454-3946; littleoctopusnashville.com

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