It’s not easy to bridge the gap between funk and fusion, but The Southern Steak and Oyster Bar in Nashville manages to do just that.
Located on the first floor of the Pinnacle at Symphony Place, the city’s first LEED certified high-rise, The Southern carries the sustainable philosophy through to its locally grown produce, direct-sourced seafood and beef, and a wood-fired grill powered by salvaged hickory. Under the direction of Chef Matt Farley, the menu incorporates influences from the Gulf Coast, Caribbean, Nova Scotia and North Carolina—the motto is “south of somewhere.”
The large dining room is warm and comfortable, with a tiled floor and wooden tables in the classic oyster house style. The long bar holds several dozen stools and presents customers with a stunning array of spirits that spans the entire length of one wall. For those who want to brave the ongoing downtown construction, an outdoor terrace offers seating in fine weather.
The Southern is serious about oysters, with a rotating selection shucked to order. Those bivalves aren’t cheap—on a recent visit, a half-dozen varieties were priced from $30-50 per dozen—but they are outstanding. Six Maryland Blue Points ($17) were plump, briny and perfectly fresh.
In addition to the lunch and dinner menus, there’s an Anytime Menu with a roll call of Southern classics: Cajun gumbo, BBQ shrimp, steak biscuits, deviled eggs and hot chicken salad. The Bayou Crab cakes are a combination of claw and backfin, lightly held together with breadcrumbs, with the sweet crab meat offset by a bit of heat from a corn-poblano sauce. Other lunch highlights include Dominican braised pork, tacos (fish or spicy beef), creative sandwiches and a classic Meat ‘N 3.
The menu gets a bit more formal in the evenings, with dishes such as rack of lamb and seared sea scallops, but innovation remains at the core. Fish and Grits consists of a sea-to-fork catch over stone ground sweet potato grits, served with cabbage and a tasso vinaigrette. The Bahn Mi Tacos stir memories of Momofuku with slow-braised pork belly, pickled daikon and spicy hoisin. No matter where you sit or what you order, the service is sincere, friendly and warm.
The Southern’s wine list is short but well-chosen, with roughly 30 pours available by the glass and a Captain’s list for connoisseurs. The cocktail list is creative, backed up by a selection of barrel-aged cocktails. Six local craft brews are on tap.
Like most high-quality restaurants in downtown Nashville, The Southern is a busy place, and reservations are advised for either lunch or dinner. The clientele is a mix of tourists, locals and businessmen in suits, and everybody gets along.
The Southern Steak and Oyster Bar, 150 3rd Ave. South; 615-724-1762; thesouthernnashville.com.
Mark Spivak is the author of Iconic Spirits: An Intoxicating History (Lyons Press, 2012) and Moonshine Nation (Lyons Press, 2014); his first novel, Friend of the Devil, is now available from Black Opal Books. For more information, go to amazon.com.