The new menu at nostalgic downtown restaurant Ellington’s was a highlight for Tennessean critic Nancy Vienneau this week.
The beloved ‘70s restaurant, located on the fourth floor of the Fairlane Hotel, changed leadership changed last fall. And with a new chef (‘Chopped’ winner Kristin Beringson) came an inventive new menu.
Vienneau stopped by Ellington’s to taste Beringson’s newest dishes, and came away with a few glowing words.
“Nostalgia of one era becomes more appealing when infused with current ideas; Beringson has been clever in bringing that sensibility to this new menu. She’s enlivened classic dishes from 40+ years ago while retaining their classic feel.”
Among Vienneau’s favorites were the smoked trout rillettes (served with grilled endive, pickled fennel-apple slaw, charred citrus oil and dill aioli); the panko-fried blue crab cakes (served atop malt vinegar remoulade); and the baked Oysters Rockefeller (topped with spinach and parsley-pink peppercorn butter — “utterly delicious,” Vienneau said.)
Vienneau also relished the battered and fried brie wedge, topped with vinegared berries, candied pecans and aged balsamic. A posh take on a Southern comfort (fried food, that is), the dish surprised the Tennessean critic with its decadence.
In recreating all-American fare from the ‘70s, Beringson did a better job than what was actually on trend in the ‘70s, Vienneau declared.
“Indeed, Ellington’s is savvy downtown destination for drinks, bites and a nice meal that takes you a step back in time, in a fun way,” Vienneau said.
The restaurant, owned by French father-son do Melvil Arnt and Laurent Champonnois, opened in December in the former Steak & Pizza space at 1102 Gallatin Avenue. Franklin stopped by to size up the place, and was pleasantly surprised by its decor right off the bat.
“In a spectacular visual achievement, the family took an extremely humble space ... and transformed it into a gorgeous evocation of a 1920s bistro in France. The dining room now features a black-and-white checkerboard floor and warm-hued stained-glass light fixtures; a small marble-topped bar takes center stage. Various mementos adorn the walls, suggesting items turned up at a particularly charming thrift market in France. A tiny side room where patrons sip drinks and wait to be seated is full-blown art deco, with gilt-patterned wallpaper and brass lamps. All the rooms are united by tin ceiling tiles pressed in a deco design. The whole effect is flat-out adorable.
The menu of “French-style comfort food” was nothing to scoff at either, Franklin writes. She started with a French onion soup, crafted using the owner’s family recipe, which incorporates port wine and an egg yolk.
Franklin also enjoyed the Steak Frites, which, unlike at other French restaurants in Nashville, comes with a choice of sauces, like anchovy butter, roquefort sauce and sauce au poivre vert (green peppercorn sauce).
Once Upon a Time’s wine list is “not surprisingly ... great,” comprised of varieties from all over France and the rest of Europe, Franklin says. But the best part of the menu is its prices, she says.
“It’s a splendid menu, and here’s the kicker: The most expensive item is the steak, at a mere 20 bucks,” Franklin writes. “That’s not exactly a giveaway, but it’s far less than what Nashvillians are used to paying for a good steak.”
Once Upon a Time in France is a marvelous place to hang out and recharge, and if there’s any caveat, it’s that the joint is always jumping — meaning it can be hard to get in. The restaurant doesn’t take reservations, and there’s only a small waiting room available. But don’t give up.
- Ellington’s Mid Way Bar & Grill [All Coverage]
- New menu at Ellington’s offers lively take on nostalgic dishes from ‘70s [Tennessean]
- Once Upon a Time in France Delivers Great Food and Cozy Ambience [Nashville Scene]
- New French Bistro Brings Escargot and Steak Frites to East Nashville [Eater Nashville]