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Sea Salt in Downtown Nashville

At Sea Salt, mussels, trout, and a fine selection of cocktails are bringing diners downtown.

Written By:  Nancy Vienneau

Photographers:  Danielle Atkins

Melding classic French cuisine with locally sourced ingredients served in an unfussy, yet high-end, setting, Sea Salt brings renewed vitality to a historic downtown building. Partners Keith Zust and Mike Haggerty, the chef, came via Chicago to introduce their concept, which opened this spring on the ground and second floors of a five-story Victorian brick near Printer’s Alley.

The structure is steeped in Nashville history. Partly a stretch of furniture showrooms in the early- to mid-20th century, it gained notoriety in 1978 as the supper club of renowned musician Boots Randolph (“Yakety Sax”), until it shuttered in the mid-’90s. Off and on in ensuing years, the building housed catering companies, dinner theaters, and a special events venue.

With exposed brick walls and hardwood floors, Sea Salt’s interior remains true to the era, in a fresh way. Backlit sections of Himalayan salt bricks behind the bar and along the curving base of the mezzanine cast an inviting glow in the dark, cozy environs.

James Beard nominee Jeret Peña oversees the bar program and has assembled a wide array of local and regional craft beers (four that inform the steamed mussel preparations), a modest roster of wines, and some kickass cocktails—like his signature Printer’s Alley, an icy swirl of Applejack, Aperol, sherry, grapefruit, and a pink peppercorn tincture. For smooth yet potent sipping, we’re fans of his Vieux Carré.

Mussels are a must, and you can’t go wrong with those steamed in red ale, chunked with Gifford’s bacon (a new local favorite) and finished with cream. Chef Haggerty sources rainbow trout from Bucksnort in McEwen, Tennessee, which he prepares in two ways: as an entrée, baked with crabmeat stuffing and napped in béarnaise sauce, and as an appetizer, smoked and folded into a rustic spread of rillettes.

From traditional bouillabaisse to Southern-inspired scallops in bacon grits, seafood rules. But a few “From the Farm” dishes merit your attention, too. Pan-seared flap steak, topped with a pat of garlicky butter and served with crisp frites, is time-honored bistro fare—always satisfying. Lemon veloute dresses up pan-cooked chicken breast in velvet comfort. Haggerty also makes his own tagliatelle—an homage to his Italian roots—a luscious tangle of pasta and summer vegetables in tomato cream. All of them are worth a visit—and all of them help revive a part of town worth revisiting.

209 3rd Ave N, 615-891-2221; seasaltnashville.com

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