Rats may have followed the Pied Piper of Hamelin, but for the Pipers of East Nashville, it's cuteness that trails behind them. From Pied Piper Creamery at Five Points to Pied Piper Eatery near the emerging Riverside Village, the brace of homespun dining enterprises started by siblings Becky, Andy and Jenny Piper are just so freakin' adorable.
It all started a couple of years ago when Jenny flung open the doors to her ice cream emporium, with a list of kitsch-titled confections such as Minty Python, Are You There God It's Me Margarita and Oatmeal Raisin in the Sun. Then came the rumor that Jenny's younger sibs Andy and Becky—both restaurant-industry veterans—were taking over the former Veggie Café at the intersection of Porter and Riverside. A neighborhood hungry for family-friendly dining options waited with bated breath as Becky and Andy recast the sunlit room with vinyl records, movie posters and other souvenirs of pop culture from The Beatles to The Godfather.
When the Pied Piper Eatery opened this fall, it became abundantly clear that cuteness—and wordplay—were in the genes. The menu teems with music-themed meals such as the Reuben Studdard, the Hannah Montana ham and cheese and the Clay Aiken (nothing but cheese). Creativity spills over onto the tables themselves, which the ever-crafty Pipers decked with album covers and other memorabilia, giving the room the air of a latter-day Happy Days high school hangout.
But the appeal of Pied Piper Eatery reaches far beyond teenyboppers. In our visits, the only generalization we could make about the crowd of workmen, new moms, toddlers—even a few ladies who lunch—was that the diners were hungry, because the plates overflowed with voluminous meals of diner-style comfort food unabashedly flavored with cheese, butter and bacon.
The highlight of our meals at Pied Piper was the Monte Cristo, a deep-fried pile of ham, cheese and bread that looked like the inflated offspring of a ham sandwich and a funnel cake. Swaddled in a fluffy cocoon of batter, the huge bundle was the perfect balance of crisp, gooey, sweet and salty. That said, a confection as shamelessly caloric and decadently greasy should come with a ramekin of Pepto-Bismol or, at the very least, a complimentary ThighMaster, because it knocked us into a post-prandial torpor of overindulgence. At the risk of giving nutritional advice—which this column avoids like a plague of antioxidant-laced superfoods—diners would be well advised to share this sandwich and perhaps flirt with the roster of salads rather than ingest a whole one.
We also enjoyed the 6-ounce rib eye steak on a soft Kaiser roll, the juicy Angus burger laden with fresh tomato and lettuce, and the veggie burger, which admirably compiled rice, edamame and portobello mushrooms into a moist, flavorful—and, dare we say, meaty—substitute for the real thing.
The Reuben Studdard—a hearty medley of corned beef and sauerkraut between slices of buttery grilled rye—performed admirably and, some might argue, was just a little bit better than the Clay Aiken, which oozed with three cheeses on butter-crisped grilled white bread.
Sandwiches come with a choice of side item, including vegetables, chips and salad, but there's little reason to venture beyond the piping-hot and perfectly crisp fries, with the possible exception of the tyrannosaurus-sized onion rings. Our under-5 chicken finger aficionados approved of the hand-breaded David Cassidy tenders, but unfortunately, when we tried the mac-and-cheese—a giant platter of penne in a sauce of cheddar, white American and provolone—it had a cloying texture and a familiar hint of plastic, which appealed to neither age group at our table.
More satisfying than the mac-and-cheese—but equally generous—was the Jerry Garcia Frito pie. Served on a playfully curvy dish, the entrée brimmed with meaty homemade chili, Fritos, melted cheddar, hunks of fresh tomato, diced onion, jalapeños and shredded lettuce.
Not being as whimsically creative as the Pipers, we got a little tripped up on the "pile-ons" feature. In short, there are 30 or so ingredients, including cheeses, olives, spinach, corn, mushrooms, sour cream and various meats, that can be added to anything on the menu. For color-by-numbers diners, this can be confusing. (What do you mean I can add kidney beans to my mac-and-cheese?) The Pipers just want you to be able to get your food the way you want it—with spinach on your omelets, cheese on your hash browns or Fritos on your burger.
In our experiences, the attitude at the eatery was that the staff could do just about anything we asked: split the meal, bring extra plates, have it ready when we arrived or pack it up to take it home when our kids got restless. While the friendly atmosphere outweighed some of the food, one dessert blew us away—a peanut butter pie supplied by Elizabeth Fitch of local Locke & London bakery. Unfortunately, the individual creamy pies on graham cracker crusts were sold out more often than not.
While Andy calls the Pied Piper Eatery-Creamery nexus "a family affair," in which everyone helps everyone out, we were surprised to find a scant sampling of Jenny's decadent ice creams at the Eatery. That's no coincidence, Andy says. The last thing he and Becky want to do is cannibalize their sister's business by serving her ice creams and drawing traffic away from Five Points. Likewise, he says he's mindful of his neighbors up the road at Sip Café, where Mike's Ice Cream is made. So, in a cobbler's-child-goes-barefoot sort of twist, while Pied Piper Eatery has some of the city's best ice cream at its fingertips, it does not serve a milk shake and often has little more than vanilla on the menu.
While a separation of sweet and savory Piper businesses may forfeit a little dinner-and-dessert potential at the Eatery, there's still plenty of family-friendly field-trip allure at the intersection of Riverside and Porter. The adjacent storefront is home to Fairytales children's book store, which offers daily activities for kids, including story hours, art classes and music. The marriage of toy store and kid-proof restaurant makes for an irresistibly cute combination.
Pied Piper Eatery serves breakfast, lunch and dinner 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. seven days a week.
Pied Piper Creamery, located at 114 S. 11th St., is open 1 to 8 p.m. Monday through Saturday.
Fairytales, located at 1603 Riverside Dr., is open 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday and noon to 6 p.m. Sunday.
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