The Restaurant Sampler

The Sampler at
Artists Colony Inn

The coming of the holiday season changes the way we see everything. The weather turns brisk and winter wraps appear. The town is filled with eager and expectant visitors. And one’s appetites turn toward the savory and hearty.

Tradition seems somehow more important; weighty and long established things take precedence in one’s outlook. Not far ahead are the quiet repose and deep reflection of winter.

A long stroll around town increased my appetite and brought me by stages down to the heart of Nashville to the Artists Colony Inn at the corner of Van Buren and Franklin streets.

We were quickly ushered into in the spacious yet cozy dining room with its well-worn wooden floors, heavy-beamed ceilings, and a large stone fireplace and seated in those charming little Windsor chairs, a nice touch; delicate, somehow, but still substantial enough even for the professional diner.

At a long table down the center of the room, a large extended family shared a holiday feast with much merriment; in all, as warming as the fire on the hearth. Here and there, couples or small families shared a meal with laughs, murmurs, gazes, and small talk.

We perused the menu for appetizers in a relaxed reverie, soaking up the scene.

I resolved to overlook the signature Sun Fries—thinly sliced sweet potatoes served with brown sugar sauce—because that is what I always get, and sometimes it’s good to break the routine.

We opted instead for the Spinach artichoke dip, a creamy cheesy concoction loaded with spinach and big hunks of artichoke flesh and served with tortilla chips.

There was also a pretty tempting bacon, mushroom, chive, and cheese quesadilla on the menu, along with the usual suspects: chicken strips, potato skins, and mozzarella sticks.

Like the entrees, the salads are named after the founding artists: Graf’s Chicken Salad, Vawter’s Spinach salad (with strawberries or cranberries), and Ada Schulz salad.

My bride and boon companion hesitated over L.O’s Spinach salad (with red onions, mushrooms, sliced egg, and hot bacon dressing) and orders the Glen’s Tuna and Spinach salad.

With the steely resolve of a professional gambler, I ordered the House Salad and Soup.

“What dressing would you like?” asks our efficient and charming waiter.

“House vinaigrette.”

My playmate is amused.

“Just the regular house salad, house dressing?” she asks.

I explain that a restaurant should be judged by what they call their “house” salad, dressing, soup. That’s what they are putting their reputation on.

Ordinarily, I would order the “Soup of the Day,” but I cannot resist the Baked Four-Onion Soup, a delcicious blend of four types of onion in rich beef stock and topped with croutons, two cheeses, and baked to a golden brown.

There’s also hearty chili, and a soup and grilled cheese combo.

The sandwich menu offers a wide selection including a Rueben, barbeque pulled pork, tenderloin grilled or breaded, even a vegetarian sandwich with cucumbers and cashews.

There are Country Fare Dinners: grilled chicken breast, deep fried catfish, and golden brown shrimp.

Or you can choose from “Artists Fare:” Lucy’s chicken pot pie, Cariani’s Vegetarian Lasagna, or Curry’s Chicken Parmesan.

But for hearty and homey, it’s hard to beat Adolph’s Country Style Meatloaf Dinner with real mashed potatoes and gravy.

My kitchen companion likes the grilled salmon from the Char Grill, which also offers Tuna, smoked grilled pork chops, or a full-out Angus Porterhouse or filet.

Everything is hot, hearty, and satisfying.

As per my usual methods I ask my dining companion for a comment, what we in the business would call the “money quote.”

“Everything is really very good,” she says.

“That’s it? That’s your quote?” I offer encouragingly.

She has long since tired of this game.

“It’s delicious,” she says with a smile.

And, what can one say? She was technically correct.

I don’t suppose anyone ever really desperately needs dessert, but I did feel somewhat obligated, in my professional capacity, to at least strike a glancing blow upon the dessert menu.

There is apple crisp, hot from the oven, and assorted cobblers with scoops of ice cream, and cheesecake of course (my undying devotion to that happy addiction is a sordid tale blurted out by my waistline, I’m afraid).

But while at the Artists Colony, one really should sample June’s Chocolate Sheet Cake with at least one scoop of vanilla ice cream.

Throw in a glass of milk, a nice hot cup of coffee. Surround that with a brace of fine Brown County paintings on every wall, the sounds of families dining together, a sprinkle of music from the street and the overall effect is profoundly satisfying.