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VOL. 39 | NO. 18 | Friday, May 1, 2015

Condo dwellers loving restaurant choices

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Nama Sushi Bar, on the ground floor of the year-old Elliston 23 mixed-use development on Elliston Place, is drawing diners from on-site, as well as nearby Vanderbilt and West End neighborhoods.

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It’s Saturday afternoon, and the Bakersfield taco bar, located at the bottom of the Encore condominium building downtown, has drawn a lively crowd.

With the country music cranked and servers delivering platters of four-inch tacos displayed on trays like pizzas, guests of all types look to be on vacation.

Then a group of four friends arrives to stand at a tall table near the bar. Dressed in shorts and T-shirts, they order tequila and tacos – no menu necessary. Locals have been spotted in the downtown wild.

Indeed, Andrea Perkins, 33, a resident of Encore since 2008, has seen the dining options in the SoBro area flourish over the years, including Etch and The Farmhouse in her building. But the neighborhood restaurants that works for Perkins on a regular basis fall into a specific category of casual and affordable.

While she loves Etch for more special occasions, it’s Bakersfield she visits most often for margaritas and $4 tacos – a place to stop by after a day at the Encore pool or on Saturday night before hitting the town.

“I think it is becoming Encore’s place to go to, for sure,” she says.

Mixed-use developments that combine residential and commercial real estate – and in particular restaurants – have been increasingly popular in recent years in Nashville.

Ashley Dugger, owner of Ashley Claire Real Estate, Benchmark Realty LLC, says the trend is here to stay. And while SINKs or DINKs (single income no kids and double income no kids) have been the trendsetters, she says the neighborhoods with mixed-use properties are becoming more family friendly as well.

“Buyers in today’s market are interested in areas where they can spend less time commuting and more time walking to neighborhood restaurants and shops,” she adds.

Residents at restaurants in these mixed-use properties also tend to dine in a different way. Lily Hansen, a server at Bakersfield from January to April, says she is noticing more residents coming in during the week at off-peak times.

“They come in during the afternoon for a glass of wine and an appetizer. I think they like a more affordable place to hang out and relax,” she says, adding they tend to know what they want and tip better, too. “Those are the kind of people you want to be waiting on.”

Hansen, who lives in the Ryman Lofts downtown, can relate. While the building doesn’t have a restaurant, it’s near Pinewood Social, a space she frequents for the casual vibe and affordable options.

Her only complaint? She would like to see more options at a lower price point for residents who want to walk to where they eat out and can go out more often.

“I wish there was another place like Pinewood Social,” she says.

Lee Beth Kilgore, who moved into the ICON building in The Gulch at the end of 2008, says she remembers when ordering a pizza to the high-rise proved to be difficult.

After a stint in New York City, she moved back to the ICON last year, and says she chooses the restaurants in the building three to four times per month, preferring simpler, more everyday dishes.

“I do frequent the coffee shop when I need something quick like a bagel or when I don’t feel like cooking breakfast,” she says.

At Cantina Laredo restaurant downstairs, she is more apt to order a dish to-go, choosing something less exotic, such as fajitas. She might walk to Ru San’s for sushi or to The 404 Kitchen for just a bowl of soup and a drink.

Some restaurants with residents above them also have been catering more to their neighbors with special menus and deals.

At Nama in the Elliston 23 building near Vanderbilt, for example, the restaurant offers a monthly weekday special just for residents. Happy hour deals happen throughout the week and all day on Sunday as well as half-price menus on Mondays and Thursdays.

Meanwhile, Le Sel, the restaurant planned for the bottom floor of the Adelicia condominium building in Midtown, will include a special room service menu just for residents that will be different from both the bar menu and dining room menu.

The Le Sel space is one that food lovers and Midtown residents have been eyeing of late. Various concepts have struggled in the space over the years even while stalwarts like The Bound’ry and South Street have remained open across the street.

Miro District, for example, closed followed by Fish and Co., both of which were more in the category of fine dining. Most recently the New York-based, Music City Tippler, which had a specific menu focusing more on cocktails, closed the doors.

But Le Sel will be led by Strategic Hospitality, the company owned by restaurateur brothers Benjamin and Max Goldberg and the brains behind spaces like Pinewood Social, Paradise Park, Aerial, Merchants Restaurant, The Patterson House and The Catbird Seat.

The main floor of Le Sel, which is slated to open in early summer, will serve casual French lunch and dinner, with brunch on the weekends.

Dishes by Chef Rene De Leon of Chicago’s Next will include simple, French-inspired plates as well as a raw bar with oysters, caviar service and seafood platters. “The Bar at Le Sel,” which is located downstairs, will offer its own menu, wine list and cocktails separate from the main dining room menu and room service for residents.

“For me personally, I think it needs to be something that’s affordable, and people can come back [and] not just for a special occasion,” Dugger says of Le Sel.

But knowing the Goldberg’s track record of tapping into what customers want, she adds: “I have a lot of faith in the success of the restaurant.”

*In the food business, being “in the weeds” means being super busy. And that’s also how we would describe Nashville’s booming restaurant scene. In this column, Jennifer Justus, journalist, author and food culture writer, keeps us up to date on food, dining out and trends with bi-weekly reports from the table.

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