In this column and on the Scene food blog, Bites, we often talk about the emergence of dining districts — places such as Five Points, Hillsboro Village or 12South — where the concentration of quality eats means you can stroll the sidewalks, sans reservation, and feel confident you'll find an open table and a pleasant meal. Generally speaking, dining districts emerge glacially, resulting from the slow-and-steady convergence of entrepreneurs and retail and residential traffic. Even the restaurant-rich blocks around the Schermerhorn took their time to populate with Past Perfect, Etch, The Farm House, The Southern and Cherry Street Eatery.
Not so at the Omni Nashville Hotel. The first time I dined at Etch, in fall 2012, there was not a calorie to contemplate on the colossal construction site across the street. A year later ... boom! Steakhouse, sports-bar-cum-music-venue and breakfast-lunch-dinner-brunch spot. There's even an outpost of the beloved Bongo Java coffeehouse. All under one roof. Also under that extended roof: the relocated Hatch Show Print workshop, artist Jim Sherraden's gallery, the stunning new CMA theater and a convenient valet option for the parking opportunist. Welcome to the Omni dining district.
I don't know what it says about me, but when I arrived at the Omni at noon and asked the greeter where I should grab a bite, she sent me straight to Barlines. I guess she thought I was the kind of girl who lunches on deviled eggs, hot fish, chili, nachos, meatloaf, potato skins loaded with pulled pork, and burgers topped with fried egg and pimento cheese, then washes it down with beer and brown liquor and chases it with Olive and Sinclair brownies.
Clad in equal parts barnwood and flatscreen TVs, the clubby, pubby restaurant balances the vibes of honky-tonk and sports bar, with the sleek polish — not to mention airy openness — you'd expect from a $250 million hotel. Tennessee whiskeys abound at the two large bars flanking the dining room, a fireplace flickers on the open patio, and Nashville musicians and songwriters perform onstage daily. The goal of the establishment is to create an authentic Nashville experience, and sure enough, we spotted real-live Nashvillians hanging out watching the Titans on a Sunday. Despite the name, we never encountered any actual bar queues. With gracious table service at spacious booths and tall wooden tables, Barlines offers a more refined experience than your run-of-the mill sports bar-honky tonk.
Open daily 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. or later. Phone: 782-5300.
The commonplace title Breakfast Bar is an understatement for the indulgent array of blueberry-spotted sausage patties, deep-dish breakfast cake, made-to-order waffles and omelets, gluten-free muffins and granola that ring in the day in this sunny dining room facing Korean Veterans Boulevard. At $17 a head ($7 for children under 12, free for 5 and under), the spread is both abundant and creative, with preserves, honeys and other local ingredients such as Benton's ham.
Even if you arrive after breakfast, the Biscuit Bar is open, as a bready prelude to the main menu of deviled eggs with candied bacon, kale salad, shrimp po'boy, shrimp and grits, grilled pimento cheese. On our lunch visit, the $11 burger scored high marks for both quality and price, and the gently seared crab cake ranked among the best we've found in terms of seafood-to-filler ratio. With so much farm-to-table and Southern-infused lingo on the menu, we expected a big bready plank of catfish from the "Fish Fry," but contrary to expectations, the daily catch of trout emerged from the pan with tender flaky flesh and skin like a crisp leaf. Served with potato salad and steamed green beans, the down-home staple had considerable contemporary flair. The same could be said of the decor, which pivots from the splintery rustication of the farm-to-table aesthetic toward a lighter, more polished farmhouse look. Less John Deere, more Martha Stewart. Worth noting: Extra-wide booths can seat large groups — for dinner and drinks on the way to a show at the adjoining Country Music Hall of Fame, for example.
Open daily. Breakfast 6 to 10 a.m.; lunch 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.; dinner 4 to 10 p.m. Phone: 761-3700.
Bob's Steak & Chop House
We left our car with the valet and popped in to see if Bob's could seat us without a reservation. No problem. What if we walk around and come back at 8 p.m., we asked. "No problem," the hostess said, "Nashville likes to go to bed early." While we're generalizing about geography, we could add that Texas like to eat and drink in mass quantities. Seldom have we seen portions and pours like the chops and cocktails coming out of the kitchen and bar of this low-lit, wood-paneled and white-table-clothed Texas-born steakhouse. So large were the servings that the couple dining next to us insisted we take half their dessert. The four of us couldn't finish their chocolate layer cake and banana bread pudding, but we had fun trying. Turns out, they were locals, too, coming downtown to see what all the excitement was about.
To be sure, the reinvention of SoBro — from the Gateway Bridge to the Eighth Avenue roundabout — is exciting. At the epicenter of this redevelopment — with three restaurants, a coffee shop, an art gallery, a theater and a museum under its extensive roof — the Omni is not just for out-of-towners. Here's a little confession: When we left our car with the Omni valet, we actually took a walk around downtown and checked out some new sights before returning to dinner. Both Bob's and Kitchen Notes — but not Barlines — will validate diners' $14 parking tickets. That's worth remembering next time you have an appetite to explore Nashville's dazzling new district — both in and around the Omni.
Open for dinner Monday through Saturday. Phone: 761-3707.