Bites: A Nashville Spot Serving Bar Food That Is Anything but StandardOn April 14, 2018 by Margot
Wood-roasted rabbit sliders. Chesapeake Bay oysters. Osetra caviar. This is not your typical bar food.
Black Rabbit, which opened in November in downtown Nashville, is the latest brainchild of the local chef Trey Cioccia. He and his business partner Robert Compton fell in love with an 1890s brick building near Printers Alley, the hub that buzzed with night life many decades ago. They wanted to recreate that early-20th-century ambience by featuring handcrafted cocktails, small plates to share and live music. While a visit may feel like stepping back in time, the food and drinks are some of the most innovative in Music City today.
“Back then, Printer’s Alley was the place,” said Mr. Cioccia of the one-block-long street. He wanted the bar “to be a cool little social place for adults where you can have a conversation, do business, maybe play a game in front of the fire.”
What’s notable — other than the fantastic cocktails, original brick walls and wood floors — is the quality of the food. Mr. Cioccia made a name for himself nearby at the Farm House restaurant, where he specializes in Southern fare, working closely with local farmers and ranchers to procure the best ingredients.
At Black Rabbit, the food menu complements the creative cocktail list and encourages sharing. With expertise from the Farm House and Capitol Grille in the landmark Hermitage Hotel — the oldest Southern restaurant in Tennessee — Mr. Cioccia and his chef de cuisine, Chad Kelly, run the Black Rabbit kitchen much like a fine restaurant: all breads are made in-house, meats are cured downstairs and many ingredients are “kissed” with hickory on a grill in the open kitchen.
The attention to detail is paying off. “We are selling a lot more food that we thought we would,” Mr. Cioccia said.
Late one afternoon, before the music had started, my husband and I sat down and perused the cocktail menu. On the left side are Classics and on the right are Revisions, riffs on classics. We started with a couple of bright, citrusy classics — a Bee’s Knees and a Southside — and began to discover one culinary surprise after another: Marcona almonds grated on top of pork sausage; chow chow, a spicy relish, made with cabbage, peppers, onions, turmeric and celery seeds the way Mr. Cioccia’s grandfather prepared it; sous vide cauliflower, charred, then draped with six-month aged ham; succulent smoked trout with white beans and dill on a gorgeous vintage-style plate.
Just two blocks away, the original Printer’s Alley was named after Nashville’s printing and publishing industry that started at the turn of the last century. The area became known for lively speakeasies and, later, nightclubs that showcased performers such as Chet Atkins, Dottie West and Hank Williams. In a nod to that era, Black Rabbit features live music nightly, mostly jazz — often played on the 100-year-old piano.
Black Rabbit, 218 3rd Avenue North; 615-891-2380; blackrabbittn.com. An average meal for two, without tip or drinks, is about $45. Cocktails are $10 to $16.