Terrell Raley and Cees Brinkman became business partners after meeting on Craigslist. Brinkman was trying to liquidate some surplus restaurant equipment that he was housing in a vacant rental property. Raley was looking for a space to open a restaurant. Their eyes met across a crowded online bulletin board, and it was entrepreneurship at first sight.
That's a fitting beginning to their relationship, given that Craigslist is essentially the modernization of old-timey want ads, and Raley and Brinkman's Pharmacy Burger Parlor is essentially a modernization of an old-timey malt shop.
Or is it a modernization of an old-timey beer garden? After all, the tightly edited menu is almost equal parts burgers-soda-malt and wurst-bier-kraut, as the expanded name — Pharmacy Burger Parlor & Beer Garden — suggests.
Whether you approach from the all-American angle of burgers and shakes or look through a beery lens of sausage and suds, Pharmacy Burger Parlor & Beer Garden is the latest success in a thoroughly modern trend of hyper-focused menus offering very short rosters of extremely good items.
In the case of Pharmacy Burger, the sister restaurant to Raley and Brinkman's Holland House, the short list includes burgers, sodas, shakes and sausages crafted in house, largely from locally sourced products.
Brinkman and Raley transformed a former day care center into a tiered indoor-outdoor eatery with garage doors leading to plush, grassy terraces in a fenced garden with child-friendly relics of play sets and kiddie cars. Imagine, if you will, the beloved chrome detailing of an Elliston Place Soda Shop, overlaid with the manly wood-paneled patina of a Ted's Montana Grill, finished out with the family-friendliness of a Gerst Haus.
True to its name, Pharmacy Burger concentrates on burgers, made with locally sourced beef or turkey on soft cushions of bread from Provence Breads and Café.
On our visit, culinary queen bees Laura Wilson and Kim Totzke were taking lunch breaks from their respective hives at the Nashville Farmers' Market and Provence. The dynamic duo from the beloved and bygone Ombi restaurant were presumably checking in on former colleague Raley. (Before he started Holland House with Brinkman, Raley manned the bar at Ombi and ultimately bought the restaurant in a valiant last-ditch effort to save it from closing.) Or possibly they were looking over the shoulder of Totzke's teenage son, who now works for Raley.
As the name implies, burgers anchor the menu. A naked burger starts at $6.50 and can be upgraded with toppings from a list that includes wasabi aioli, guacamole, salsa, pesto, maple or beer mustards, horchata crema fresca, curry ketchup, black beans, gravy, chili, sour cream and more.
It doesn't matter what you put on a burger if the burger itself isn't up to snuff, but a Pharmacy burger is a worthy base for such elaborate accoutrements. Unlike the prevailing fist-shaped beef bombs that require a jaw that unhinges, Pharmacy's ragged-edged hand-smashed patties are flat enough to allow for convenient cutting — if, for example, you wanted to share. And the lightly grilled buns, with the low profile of an English muffin, are fluffy and soft enough to absorb the decadent and often messy pile-ons of sauces and salsa that put the burgers over the top.
If the decisions of the so-called Choose Your Own Cure burger are too much to handle, the chef — Terrell's brother Trent — prescribes a half-dozen specialty burgers and two vegetarian versions. Based on the overwhelming recommendations, we ordered the Stroganoff burger, blanketed with Swiss cheese, mushroom-studded béchamel, cool sour cream and sweet strands of caramelized onions. Such efforts to shoot the moon with layers of excess can be simply too much of a good thing, but in the case of the Stroganoff burger, the indulgence worked.
Our runaway favorite was the elegantly rustic farm burger, which topped the salty-sweet pairing of ham and bacon with maple mustard and a fried Willow Farm egg, whose sunny, runny yolk bound the beef and bread together with a velvety finish.
While meats prevail in this house of hearty eating, there are two vegetarian options among the burgers. Both the falafel burger (a golden-fried disk of ground chickpeas, with raita and Noble Springs goat cheese) and the black bean burger (a nutty textured patty of beans and panko crumbs, with three toppings) cut attractive profiles, but in our experience, both meatless offerings were overly dry. When it came to passing and sharing burgers around our table, our carnivorous team licked our platters clean with the exception of these items.
Sandwiches come with a side from a list of thin-cut fries, sweet potato fries, potato salad, pasta salad and tater tots, which were outstanding when dipped in curry ketchup.
Pharmacy Burger offers an admirable roster of house-made kielbasa, bratwurst, ginger-tinged jagerwurst, garlic-infused bauernwurst and dark beer-stained bockwurst. Sausages are available on a roll, or in a sampler of three varieties, with sauerkraut and red-skin potato salad.
With a dozen beers on tap and dozens more by the bottle, including high-gravity, craft, imports and domestics, Pharmacy's beer garden and its long tables and benches imported from Germany are bound to evolve into an imbibing institution when the weather turns.
But the Pharmacy's got more than beer to cure what ails you. It should come as no surprise that Terrell, who stirred early interest in artisan cocktails while at Ombi, has masterminded a list of infused syrups — including mint, ginger, maraschino, vanilla and lemon — to flavor old-style phosphate sodas.
The vibrant syrups also make their way into sodas blended with ice creams from nearby Pied Piper Creamery, when it's available. The only thing that would have improved our lunch was such a specialty soda or an old-timey milkshake, float or malt, but on our visit, the ice cream had run out. That was just about the only bitter pill the Pharmacy had to offer.
Pharmacy Burger Parlor & Beer Garden serves Tuesday through Sunday, 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and 4:30 to close.