It was a beautiful sunset, so pink and full of autumn promise that I drove north with my head turned to the left, glancing ahead in swivels to the sidestreets of 12th to make sure I didn’t miss someone pulling out. I was full from dinner.
As I crossed the interstate and headed into the Gulch, it fuzzed a mild filter onto the windows of the downtown skyline. It was the kind of sky that, if Photoshopped onto a NASA photo or digitized into a James Cameron movie, could be described as “otherworldy.” A few minutes later, as I descended Capitol Hill toward the northside, I admired the BRUTON SNUFF neon in red relief against the dusk. It is such an unremarked-on landmark, much more Nashville to me than say, Cheekwood, where you cannot ride a bike into the gardens; or the Parthenon, with LeQuire’s hideous sculpture of Athena.
I was returning from my first meal at a place that I would call, in a lesser mood, a new hipster joint called “Burger Up.” It’s been there a while; my natural hypocrisy toward trendiness had kept me out of there until now. I decided it had been there long enough to give it a whirl. I am tired of J Alexander’s.
It’s the kind of place that does indeed, scream, “But see? Nashville is cool, too,” in a very, “but we’re not trying to be!” sort of way. The waiters were almost elfin-looking in their deep, v-neck, heather grey t-shirts, tousled hair and skinny jeans – including the little fellow who breathlessly wanted to know about my iPad cover, saying, “it’s so cool that it props it up, does it charge it, too? I’ve never SEEN that!”
Fair disclosure: a mildly rigorous self-assessment made me feel sheepish. Perhaps a 53 year-old should not be critical of such an atmosphere as he perches on one of the incredibly high – and uncomfortable – metal stools at the marble bar in a t-shirt reading “Antique Funk” and spotlessly clean, Carolina blue Chuck Taylors, complaining to the barkeep about the weak AT&T wireless 3G signal in 12 South. “I should just shut the hell up and see if the food’s any good,” I thought. “I am not nice.” My catty impulses felt impaired, guilty, like a Catholic adolescent who has touched himself before sunrise service.
The crowd was brisk but not overcrowded, mostly 20-and-early-30-somethings, who seemed to be enjoying themselves at the low, rustic bench-tables. There were a few Vespa types; some wholesome, as-yet-unjaded Belmont students; new, perky moms in lycra gymwear and running shoes with double-tied laces. There was one woman near my age, who looked as out of place as I was trying not to feel, with a hemp purse, narrow eyeglasses and heavily teased-out hair. I think she was waiting for someone.
The fried house-made pickles (what does that mean, “house-made?”) were very, very good. The barkeep was nice enough, and the service just slow enough to let you know you are at a place where the food is supposed to be worth waiting for. Never one for a sandwich made of quinoa or anything that reminds me of the vegan I once dated, I ordered the regular burger. It wasn’t called that; it was named the “Triple-L” or some such. I had to ask for mustard. The fries came in a metal cup, which somehow gave them a feeling of being more greasy, if degrees of such can be measured in deep-fried food, or made worse by their containers. Fries in a box at least bleed some oil into the paperboard.
The burger was not particularly bad, nor good. I am of the school who believes it possible for well-cooked hamburger to still be juicy; I used to do it all the time for my ex-wife and stepkids with a $75 Weber and a bag of charcoal, flying drunk. Evidently, to get an undried-out burger now requires one to forego full cooking in favor of “pink.” I still can’t do it. My burger was well-seasoned, but burned-out. I ate all of it, and the pickles. I may have to go back for those. They are, after all, house-made.
I paid my $20 tab and walked past the fixed-gear bikes back to the car. There was a line at Las Paletas next door; I decided to pass.
It was worth the drive out just to see the sunset.