Nashville Hits Broadway at Opry City Stage
I’m not sure I really need to be here tonight, eating fried green tomatoes and pimento cheese dip on Saltines at Opry City Stage. I’ve certainly had better fried green tomatoes and they’re not something I crave, but I like to keep track of what’s new luring the tourists in Times Square.
I know my foodie followers wondered why a fussy uptown gourmand like me was rushing to check out Guy’s American Kitchen & Bar in 2012. Cronies I dragged with me certainly gave me heartburn about it. And then Guy’s Dragon Breath Chili arrived and everyone agreed it was not only properly hot out of the cauldron but complex and delicious.
Now that I think back, I remember liking Planet Hollywood and the Hard Rock Café, too, (click here to read Junk Food Heaven), and the Harley-Davidson Café gave me fantasies of lust on the open road. Have you been around long enough to remember?
I’m also a fan of Nashville’s torrid fried chicken. Witness me and a serious-eating kith relishing the Hootie Hoot fried chicken and pimento cheese on Ritz crackers at Carla Hall’s Southern Kitchen, her too-short-lived love letter to Nashville in Brooklyn.
My pal Diane met her husband in Nashville, where both were working in the music business. So she’s the perfect companion tonight at Opry. Since hubby is home tending to business, she’s invited a friend born in Nashville and his mate to meet us there. Diane and I enter from Broadway into the boutique. “Is there a restaurant here somewhere?” I ask.
“Do you have a reservation?” the young woman inquires, only moving the velvet rope barrier when I confirm we’re here for dinner. Is she guarding against feverish fans who might tackle Blake Shelton or Dolly Parton if they were here which they definitely are not? I see a steep stairway. Is there an elevator? She sends us, straight ahead. The elevator door opens but where are we supposed to go? We try two. And then four. Turns out we want three.
“I can’t seat you until your entire party has arrived,” the young woman guarding the entrance greets us.
I explain about my knees and my age and our thirst and how her greeting is my least favorite way of being welcomed. I suggest that the world would not implode if she seated us at our designated table.
“I’ll ask my manager,” she agrees reluctantly. She returns and leads us into the nearly empty room. The manager ignores us. A quartet is plucking and twanging live on the stage. I think we should try to find a protected corner, a booth in the back maybe, but the booths are elevated. Maybe the knees won’t like that. We settle at a table for four bathed in the fuchsia and carmine lights of the stage.
It’s a gorgeous space with 260 seats, Grand Ole Opry photographs and memorabilia, soaring to a dramatic dome, with a balcony for major concerts. I’ve read it’s meant to be the first outpost in a chain that doesn’t exist yet. When the live band takes a break, star performances from the ninety-year-old Nashville institution stream live on large screens above.
“Of course it’s for the tourists,” I say, studying the brochure on the table that instructs us to ask the band for their autographs and provides the space for signatures.
“But it does have that Nashville feeling,” Diane says. “It would look just like this on north Broadway in Nashville, and the tourists would come there, too.”
Her friends are running late. I study the menu. Edgehill poutine. West End Quesadilla. Catfish. Gumbo. Burgers. “We should have biscuits, the shrimp and grits, the hot chicken and waffles,” I suggest, “and the Two Step: brisket, ribs, cheddar cheese sausage with pulled pork and smothered green beans. And maybe Memphis meatloaf in memory of Elvis.”
I order a hibiscus Margarita on the rocks. And Diane will have Yazoo Hopry beer on draft. Her friends arrive and settle in, but they’re not drinking. And one announces he is a vegetarian. I abandon my plan to share the major meat platter. “We’ll skip the bacon on the macaroni,” I tell our server.
The Bromberg Brothers, Eric and Bruce from Blue Ribbon, are consultants here. I loved their food at Brooklyn Bowl. So I have great expectations here. The biscuits with cinnamon butter and honey, like the fried green tomatoes, taste a bit homesick. But the pimento cheese dip with Saltines and celery is on the mark. Also, good for vegetarians.
We meat eaters share barbecue smoked ribs and brisket burnt ends that aren’t burnt, but are pretty good anyway. That leaves enough mac‘n’cheese in a rich melt of American, cheddar, mozzarella and Parmesan for the charming vegetarian. He turns out to be a brilliant academic, great to talk to (I have his total attention as conversation across the table is impossible). He appears to survive on esoteric concepts, a spoonful of macaroni and a tiny cup of coleslaw. That’s all he eats. The server forgets to bring the collard greens he ordered, but he seems to have forgotten too.
A hostess with a mic discovers a couple on a first date and asks embarrassing questions. Somehow she knows to steer clear of our foursome. Below our table a lone blonde sits waiting – a girlfriend of someone in the band, Diane observes. We know the plot even though there’s not much of it.
“I’ll definitely come back with my husband,” Diane says, “for the music. We’ll sit at the bar and have a drink and maybe we’ll order the unburned ‘Burnt Ends.’ It’s a place for tourists just like it is in Nashville. But there the servers would be Southern and you’d have that Southern hospitality.”
Not to insult Estrella, our Mexican server, who’s running all over the place tonight but suddenly gets very busy just when we’re ready to order.
“A Little Bit of Nashville in the Heart of NYC” is the slogan. It needs hype, some private parties, Willy Nelson maybe. Guy Fieri could tell them how. Food snobs sneered, but he made millions with Salted Whiskey Caramel Fool and grease. If Opry City Stage can’t lure the tourists away from the naked cowboy and Mickey Mouse outside in Times Square, it may not survive to be a new chain.
1604 Broadway between 48th and 49th streets. 212 388 5565. Open daily for breakfast 9 am to 11:30, Menu till midnight. Happy Hour 4 pm to 7 pm.