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Saltine brings the dishes and flavors of the Gulf to Midtown.

Written By:  Erin Byers Murray

Photographers:  Jen McDonald

It wasn’t too long ago that finding a decent seafood menu or an oyster bar in this town left diners high and dry (pun mostly intended). But a wave (sorry) of recently opened restaurants, like Henrietta Red, Fin & Pearl, and Sunda, are proving that high-quality seafood-focused menus can, and should, be a part of this city’s dining scene. Saltine wades in to the mix (okay, I’ll stop now) with a Mississippi-bred concept that puts a focus on fresh seafood and dishes inspired by the coastal Gulf region.

From the team behind Etch, etc., and Amerigo, Saltine opened this spring with chef Steven Robilio running the kitchen. The original location lives in Jackson, Mississippi—this version draws from that same concept, with a few Nashville-focused additions. 

“The space here is physically much larger,” Robilio says about the 9,000-square-foot former Blackstone Brewery building. And the Nashville location “is a little more sophisticated,” both in its food and drink offerings, he adds. 

Although it fills a big footprint, the restaurant is divided into separate, but open, “rooms,” which offer a few different styles of dining. The bar, which is the central heart of Saltine, is large, convivial, and open, offering a prime perch and views of the entire space. The street-facing side of the building includes a patio and a windowed café-like space; toward the back, a carpeted room can feel cozier and quieter. There’s a lounge with couches and low tables for more casual gatherings. And it’s all tied neatly together by oceanic shades of navy and lighter blues, with a giant illustrated octopus snaking around the walls. Oyster-shell art and other nautical touches pepper the space, too.

Like the seafood-friendly cracker that it’s named for, Saltine provides a sturdy, familiar base of fish-focused dishes. In the vein of all good Gulf-inspired restaurants, there are oysters front and center. Mostly hailing from the Southern coast, they’re offered raw on the half shell, as well as fried and roasted. Try the Rockefeller, which is a meaty bite of oyster, spinach, cheese, and pepper. There’s an okra-based, Creole-style gumbo to start and proper po’boys, stuffed with fried oysters (my pick), shrimp, roast beef, or even hot chicken. A robust order of Delta tamales gets a kick of heat and flavor when dipped in jalapeño salsa.

What to order:

Rockefeller roasted oysters, $15
House andouille sausage, $10
Fried oyster po’boy, $15
Cornbread dusted redfish, $28
Cioppino, $29

Robilio also puts fish at the center of the entrée plates, with options like cornbread-dusted redfish, which sits atop a mound of Old Spencer Mill grits that have been blended with goat cheese—you’ll be sopping them up with the crab and Abita beer-pan sauce long after the fish is gone. Scallops sit over a risotto laced with pepper bacon, while fish and chips wrap Icelandic cod in a spicy beer batter and come with hushpuppies and fries.

Recognizing that the South itself is a hodgepodge of cultures, the menu veers into other directions, too. There’s ramen, swimming in a corn misho dashi (a solid option for vegetarians). A clam roll is inspired by the New England-style sandwich. There’s hot chicken, of course, and the team is making its own andouille sausage, which shows up in the popular Bayou shrimp boil. And you’ll find a solid version of cioppino, an Italian-American fish stew, which brims with salty clams, scallops, and a decent portion of crusty, grilled bread on the side. (Dish sizes overall veer toward filling, in fact.)

For those who stick closer to land-based proteins, there are three different types of burgers, like the double-pattied Cajun burger, which gets a hit of the house andouille, plus caramelized onion, habanero-jack cheese, and Calabrian chili aioli.

Saltine is open for lunch, as well as brunch on Saturdays and Sundays, where you can indulge in the crab-and-lobster benedict or, for non-seafood eaters, a massive plate of stuffed French toast.

But, if oysters are on your agenda, as they should be, you’ll want to show up for happy hour, weekdays from 4 to 6 p.m. Gulf oysters, served with smoked cocktail sauce and those signature saltine crackers, are $1.50 apiece, while the $5 oyster shooters, spiked with vodka and a bloody Mary mix, will surely put a little wind back in your sails.

1918 West End Ave, 615-327-4410; nashville.saltinerestaurant.com

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