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Wednesday, May 20, 2015
Merchants (Nashville, TN)
Today I wandered downtown to meet my mom and aunt, who were visiting for a few days. They're into touristy stuff, so I thought that Merchant's on Broadway would be a great spot to take them for lunch. I suppose I could have taken them to Robert's Western World or Wildhorse Saloon if we wanted to get super touristy, but those places are a bit more than I can handle.
The original Merchant's Hotel was established way back in 1892, taking root in a building which once housed a pharmacy, a hardware manufacturer, and a wholesale drug company. Merchants, the restaurant we know and love today, opened in 1988. There are still a few obvious remnants of the pharmacy business in their first-floor bistro area, including the layout, marble counters, and abundant natural lighting. Even the attitudes at Merchants seem reminiscent of the past, exemplified by the hostesses and waitstaff who gave my family some great Nashville hospitality.
I didn't really have barbecue on my mind when we walked into Merchants, but when I saw a Smoked Brisket entree on the menu, I couldn't resist the temptation. Theirs comes with cornbread, coleslaw, and a chipotle-sorghum barbecue sauce. I asked for sauce on the side and also requested a side dish other than slaw. My options for substitutes were limited, but luckily the house-made potato chips sounded pretty tasty.
As expected, the potato chips were terrific. They were thick-cut chips with a ton of crunch. It was also patently obvious that they were homemade. The cornbread was beautifully sweet and very buttery. It tasted like there might have been some molasses mixed right in (or at least maybe some brown sugar).
Merchants' brisket is prepared with something they call a "Music City Rub," although I'm not sure exactly what that is. The meat was much smokier than I envisioned, so much so that it was immediately noticeable when I took my first bite. Their rub seasoning was decent enough, but the brisket didn't have much of a crust to speak of, so I feel like I missed out on a potential flavor source there. The meat was lean, with a strip of fat along the edge of each slice. Despite its leanness, the brisket was still tender and juicy. What little fat there was had certainly soaked up plenty of flavor from the smoking process. It was rendered well, though there was a little too much of it packed together (as opposed to smaller strips of fat marbled throughout). I know that's an odd thing for me to complain about, so maybe my backyard vegetable garden has been messing with my brain chemistry. The chipotle-sorghum barbecue sauce was good, too. It was only somewhat spicy, but paired nicely with the brisket.
Toward the end of our meal, we noticed that the MusiCorps Wounded Warrior Band who had performed at the previous night's Grand Ole Opry was sitting at the table next to us. MusiCorps is a fantastic rehabilitation program at Walter Reed Army Medical Center which helps wounded soldiers recover their lives through music. It was really nice to be able to thank them in person, not just for a phenomenal show, but for their sacrifice and their service to our country.
If you would like to help support MusiCorps, please go to http://www.musicorps.net/Support.html.
Nashville, TN 37203