Saturday, January 14, 2012

Fish and Grits 24/7

Friday January 6th 2012

Fish and Grits 24/7, 8th and Division, Nashville, TN

My apologies, it has been quite some time since my last entry. Mediocrity has infected the Nashville restaurant scene in a way I wouldn’t wish upon the worst of them. With the exception of El Tapatio the city is completely devoid of exciting places to eat. Even the really bad restaurants lack any aspect of humor. You’re not like “Oh my god that was so ridiculously shitty!”, its more like, “Yeah that wasn’t too good.” There just isn’t any passion on either end of the spectrum. Over time this ground down my motivation to write the blog, basically there just wasn’t anything to say. A few places popped up in my travels that would have been nice to write about (Best Sandwiches in Brussels, Grimaldi’s Pizza in Brooklyn, Time Out in Chapel Hill), but it didn’t occur to me to document the moment because I was so out of the routine. Luckily this absence of inspiration was recently broken by the somewhat new restaurant Fish and Grits 24/7.

After 9PM, Taco Bell is basically your only option in Nashville, which is why the 24/7 under the Fish and Grits really caught my eye. There were a few occasions, where without luck, I attempted to persuade people to drive over there and get something to eat. But why, in Nashville, would you want to drive across town to go to a restaurant? Statistically it would be a complete waste of time and money. So it took a few months before I was able to get inside. I was at Frugal MacDoogal, the discount liquor warehouse across the street, buying a six pack of German beer, eyeing the restaurant through the window.

“You ever checked out the Fish and Grits place across the street?”, I asked the cashier.

“You know I never have,” He responded, “but I’ve actually heard good things.”… Did you catch that? It’s a direct quote and he said ‘actually’, as in it was surprising to him that someone would say good things about a restaurant in town. I picked up on it instantly and decided now was the time, I was right there, I had the means, and for the first time in a while, the motivation.

It was more of a sit down place than I had thought it would be, I was expecting something more along the lines of the Fry Corner in Wilmington, Delaware (sadly visited in the pre-blog days), a grease soaked, standing space only, sharpie on notebook paper menu type of restaurant, ready to be robbed at gunpoint at any moment. Instead they boasted a rather large dining room in which the waitress flailed about manically despite having only one table occupied.

“Can I order something to go?”, I asked. She scurried up to the counter and began explaining the menu to me, pointing out their specialties, making recommendations. Having come to a decision I placed my order for the fried tilapia with cheese grits.

“Ok honey,” She said “You want that with the eggs and home fries?” Woah! Hold up! This took me back quite a bit, it was 8pm, I came in wanting what it said on the sign outside; fish and grits, I wasn’t trying to get involved in breakfast, not at that time.

“That’s what it comes with?” I asked.

“Yeah, but you could substitute another two sides if you’d like.” Although it’s regrettable, I ended up going with the fries and cole slaw. I hadn’t been expecting the offer of eggs and home fries and was too caught off guard to realize that it would have been the proper way to go. I took a seat by the door and waited while my order was put in.

“Oh Girls! Girls, this is Camile!”, the waitress shouted to the lone table of college girls in the other room when the restaurants unnecessary second waitress, Camile, came in the door. Apparently they had discussed Camile earlier in the visit, as when Camile went over to the table for a round of handshakes and introductions, the girls told her, ‘we’ve heard a lot about you.’ Camile seemed unphased by this greeting and exhaustedly shuffled off into the buildings nether regions.

This was about the time they decided to play the juke box. “What should I play? What should play?” the one girl repeated. “Meatloaf!”, one of her friends yelled, to which she shrugged, seeming unconvinced. “Take Me Home Tonight. Eddie Money.”, another one yelled in a tone so assertive it left the song no option but to be played. Our waitresses mouth dropped open over the table she was wiping off at the first note in the song and hung there agape over the table for longer than expected. At first I thought she was shocked at the ladies choice of song, then I considered that judging by the current attendance, she could have been amazed that the juke box was simply being played at all, it could have been the first time. Then I realized that the homeless guy who snuck in the door next to me had grabbed a handful of mints off the counter and disappeared back into the night. She ran defensively towards the door swatting her hands at the air and the idea of the theft, scowling through the window in the direction of the getaway.

Eventually my food was done and she called me to the counter where she began to whisper in my ear the money saving strategy she had taken with my meal, “Here’s what I did, we went ahead and made it into a sandwich for you, just because it’s a little cheaper that way. Go ahead, take a look ok?”. She quickly swung the Styrofoam box open, just long enough for me to catch a glimpse of the fried tilapia and bed of fries.

“Looks awesome.” I told her

“And since you’re a paying customer,” She said with an added aggravated laugh and a glance out the window, “I can give you some of these.” She put a generous portion of mints into my bag. “You gotta come back and see us again sometime now you hear?” I agreed, because even though I hadn’t tasted the food yet, quite a bit had happened in the 8 or so minutes I’d been inside the place. This is bleak, but it was sincerely one of the more eventful experiences I’ve had in Nashville. “Oh, it gets crazy in here around 3am.” She confessed to me.

“It’s crazy in here right now.” I told her.

“I had some customers once who told me they read about the place on Yelp and whoever had reviewed it was talking about the crazy woman who was running all over the restaurant pretending to be the waitress, and I was like, ‘Hey! That’s me!’”. I left pleased. Even without a single taste of the food I knew it had to be one of the best restaurants in Nashville. No other place has even come close to achieving this type of character, at least in a positive manner.

Back at home I eagerly cracked open the box and peered over the contents excitedly. This is when the confusion began to set in. I remembered back to what I had originally ordered; fried tilapia with cheese grits, and then I recalled what she told me I was getting; ‘we made it into a sandwich for you.’. Equations collided in my brain, none of this added up. First of all, the grits could not be located. I suspected them to be hiding under the fish, but there were only fries down there. After it was determined that no grits were included in the meal, I began to realize that there was nothing resembling a sandwich anywhere in this box either. There were the fixings for a sandwich; lettuce, tomato, onion, and fish, but not only were they not arranged together as a sandwich, there was no bread in which they could be encased. Although I was sad I wouldn’t be eating grits, because I had really been looking forward to them, and although I was wishing I had just accepted the eggs and home fries, the incompleteness of my meal and the mental energy that I, and also the waitress presumably, put into deciphering it made me like the place even more. The food I did get was decent, which means it was above average for Nashville, but the environment was truly special.