We’re just a few days away from the full-on opening of Germantown Cafe East, the upscale eatery that’s taken over the Main St. space that formerly housed Allium. But while the staff is winding down preparation mode for Monday, September 12′s unveiling, they’ve also been firing up service, inviting a collection of diners in for a two-day test run. They hosted the first preview Wednesday, the second runs tonight.
You won’t notice a massive visual difference between Allium and Germantown Cafe East — it’s still contemporary, clean, well-appointed. And if you’ve sampled the Germantown-side Germantown Cafe, the menu won’t come as a great surprise either — fans of that place’s coconut curry salmon and pan-seared trout, among other dishes, can get their fix over on the Eastside. Judging by the test run, you will notice an attentive staff, well-prepared food, a comfortable vibe and the warm fuzzies that come with another thoroughly enjoyable restaurant setting its feet in East Nashville.
At Wednesday’s tasting, dishes were doled out by way of lottery: Diners picked paper slips with appetizers, entrees and desserts out of three stainless buckets. The accompanying childlike, Christmas-morning excitement was so overwhelming that we kinda now wish that more restaurants just did this every day. Only with a Let’s Make a Deal twist: “Oh, looks like you get a muffin pan filled with hair. Wah wahhhh.” Or not. Moving on.
Our table snagged steamed mussels with a shallot and white wine sauce, oven-roasted Ashley Farms chicken, farfalle with shrimp and a creamy tomato sauce and a big ol’ hunk of cheesecake. The mussels were big, meaty and well prepared, with a few hunks of grill-marked sesame semolina toast to soak up the subtle sauce. The chicken’s skin was crispy and rich, the meat juicy and perfectly seasoned, the accompanying green beans fresh and bright.
Seafood lovers in our fine landlocked state can have withering experiences when ordering shrimp-led dishes at restaurants — too often, we’re either met with a family of desiccated pygmy shrimp, the resultingly sad plate unworthy of their laid-down lives, or a dish that bears a single proud shrimp, twinkling in the candlelight, mocking your misguided crustacean optimism. So respect is due to Germantown Cafe East, whose pasta cowered under the weight of five fat, juicy shrimp, cooked perfectly. (Can you tell we like seafood?)
The cheesecake — a little coffee and chocolate in there — was over-the-top decadent (in a good way), as were the baskets of bread, stuffed with what we’d best describe as zeppoles without the sugar. (Oh, this spicy creamy tomato sauce is rich, might as well dunk a donut in it.) The latter was a tasty touch, even if it did take comfortably satiated well into embarrassingly overfed territory.
The wine list features a run of low-key options available in glasses, carafes and bottles, and now that the idea of dining al fresco doesn’t bring to mind that roasting-on-the-hot-face-of-Mars scene in Total Recall, the patio, with full skyline view, holds high appeal. All told, our little piece of Germantown feels like a welcome new (well, newish, since it remains the work of Allium’s Chris Lowry and Jay Luther) neighbor.
Click the image up at the top to see a few photos from the new space. Germantown Cafe East opens for regular business at 501 Main St. on Monday, September 12 at 11 a.m.