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When Table 3 opened last year, it was the actualization of a five-year dream of partners Wendy Burch, Elise Loehr and Will Uhlhorn, not to mention the fulfillment of a wish long held by many Nashville diners for a simple French bistro. Burch and Loehr, co-owners of F. Scott’s, had been mulling over the idea with Uhlhorn as soon as he was hired on as executive chef at their first Green Hills restaurant in 2005. When the former Princeton’s/Bistro 215 location on the left bank of the Regal Cineplex became available in 2008, they grabbed it. No one anticipated then the financial downturn that caused every restaurant in Nashville to tighten their belts in the hopes of riding out the recession. It was hardly the time to open a new eatery, a fact reflected in the setbacks and delays they endured over the course of the two years until Table 3’s long-anticipated opening on September 7, 2010.
As with any new restaurant—even one backed by experienced veterans—there were some initial issues with both the front and back of the house. But by the time holiday shoppers descended on the Mall at Green Hills, Table 3 was on track, enjoying a brisk business for lunch and dinner and building a regular clientele. There was much to celebrate at the annual company holiday party for the staffs of F. Scott’s and Table 3 held on January 2.
Two days later, the partners each received a pre-dawn call from then general manager Shelly Quick. Their alarm system had detected a fire; 911 had been notified and was responding.
Loehr was already in her car taking a friend to the Nashville airport for a 6 a.m. flight. Uhlhorn was asleep at the home in West Nashville he shares with his wife and two young daughters. Burch, who lives just south of the mall, woke up her husband and the two raced towards the restaurant.
All were hoping that by the time they got there, everything would be under control. But as Burch got closer, she could hear more sirens approaching from the other direction. “I could see fire trucks on the way, and I had such a sinking feeling.”
Loehr dropped her friend off, then—still in her pajamas—drove to Green Hills and turned into the parking lot. “It was still dark, but that whole end of the parking lot was full of fire trucks and emergency vehicles. I didn’t see any flames, but everything was glowing red from their flashing light.”
The same sight awaited Uhlhorn. “I was thinking on the way over that maybe it would be out by the time I got there. But as soon as I saw how many trucks there were, I knew it was going to be bad.”
How bad the trio didn’t know as they waited outside in the cold for hours. When they were finally able to go in, the sight was heartbreaking. The kitchen—which is where the “spontaneous combustion of linens” ignited—was a complete loss. Uhlhorn has photos of his melted toolbox and his personal knives, blackened, twisted and destroyed. And even though the fire was primarily confined to the kitchen, everything else in the restaurant was either “smoked, sooty or soaked.”
Their insurance agent came that afternoon, the first step in what would be an arduous road to recovery. “We knew we would re-open,” says Uhlhorn. “I just don’t think we could have anticipated what it would take to get there. There were many months of nothing happening as we dealt with insurance and lots of things you couldn’t see. It didn’t seem like any progress was being made. It was frustrating.”
Through the end of winter, then spring, then summer, Loehr and Burch turned their full attention back to F. Scott’s, and Uhlhorn and his sous chef Genevieve Ingham perfected recipes from the original menu and tested new dishes they planned to add.
Meanwhile, on the restaurant’s Facebook page, friends and fans posted notes of encouragement, as well as repeated inquiries on the re-opening. “People were so nice, really genuine in their concern, letting us know they missed us,” says Burch. “That really kept us going.”
On September 13, 2011 it was déjà vu all over again as Table 3 re-opened for business, just in time for the holiday shopping and party season. The restaurant has been faithfully re-created as it was, down to the zinc-topped bar (which survived the fire), the large painting of the cow hanging on the back wall of one of three dining rooms, a mix of banquettes and stand-alone tables, large mirrors and black-and-white subway-tiled entry floor centered with the bright red Table 3 logo.
Fans of French bistro fare—and remarkably affordable prices—will be thrilled to know that the menu is much the same as its previous incarnation: Goat cheese tart, duck confit, Niçoise tuna salad, herb-and-Dijon roasted chicken and steak frites are among the staples on the daily menu. With the temperatures dropping, French onion soup (in new crockery bowls), beef Bourguignon, herb-and Dijon roasted chicken put a Francophile flair on cold weather comfort food.
I had eaten my way through much of the menu in Table 3’s first round (along with a carafe or two of the excellent house wines) and counted the mussels marinière, frisée salad with Benton’s bacon and poached farm egg, grilled hanger steak with crispy fries and the grilled trout among my favorites. This time around, I’ve fallen hard for the charcuterie board (cured meats and a pâte served with house-made pickles and mustard), the duck burger topped with boursin cheese, pork-and-white bean cassoulet with duck confit and garlic sausage, and pan seared duck breast sliced and fanned across a sweet potato mash. Daily Blue Plate specials provide even more variety for regular diners; I especially look forward to rabbit Thursdays and bouillabaisse Fridays. Ratatouille with goat cheese and gnocchi gratin with aged Gouda are new side dishes available every day.
Newest of all is the Table 3 Market & Bakery in the windowed shotgun space running along the right side of the building. Though one can amble over from the restaurant’s bar, there is a separate entrance that will accommodate early risers and morning people wanting a cup of the locally-roasted Humphreys Street coffee. Open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., (9 a.m. on Sundays) café service kicks off with a concise breakfast repertoire (muffins, scones, bagels, breakfast paninis, steel cut oatmeal and white cheddar grits), then segues into a luncheon menu of salads and sandwiches. The daily Blue Plate sandwiches (leg of lamb on Monday, meatloaf on Fridays) are substantial enough for dinner, though the café also stocks grab-and-go entrees in a refrigerated case. Home cooks missing the Le Creuset shop in Hill Place can stock up on the French cookware here, as well as ingredients like duck and veal stock.
I waited 30 years—not always patiently, often quite vocally—for a French bistro in Nashville such as the ones I knew in Paris and New York. When it first opened a year ago, Table 3 went above and beyond all I had longed for. As is often the case when you come close to losing something you love, the second time around is even better.
3821 Green Hills Village Dr
(The Mall at Green Hills)
(615) 739-6900, table3nashville.com
The Dish: Mussels Marinière ($11); Charcuterie Board ($13); Frisèe Aux Lardons ($7.50); Duck Burger ($15); Cassoulet ($16.50); Salted Chocolate Mousse ($8).
The Bar: Full selection of spirits; Draft beer including Yazoo Sue and SchlFLY Bière de Garde; bottled domestic and imported beers; classic apertifs, specialty cocktails, an extensive but select list of primarily French wines by the glass and bottle. La Petite Frog Picpoul de Pinet, Côteaux du Languedoc is the house white, Jenny & François “From the Tank” Côtes-du-Rhône is the house red, but available by the glass or 22-ounce carafe.
The Noise: Conversational
The Hours: 11 a.m.–11 p.m. daily; lunch menu served 11 a.m.–5:30 p.m.; dinner menu served 5:30-10 p.m.; late night menu in the bar 10-11 p.m.; Sunday brunch 11 a.m.-3 p.m.; Table 3 Market open daily 7 a.m.-7p.m.
Parking: Valet, surface lots and garage
Reservations: Accepted by phone or from website
Credit Cards: All major