The Sampler at
Hobnob Corner Restaurant
Sometimes when something is a constant and abiding presence in our lives, even if it is very good and important, we tend to forget about it and, eventually, to take it for granted.
That’s why, on a somehow starkly beautiful winter evening, I arranged a rendezvous with my wife down at The Hobnob Corner, right in the center of Nashville, at the corner of Main and Van Buren streets.
We agreed that it is a wonderful restaurant, an old favorite of ours, and a place we often send people to if they ask about a good place to eat around town.
The big white frame structure opposite the Nashville House, the Professional Building, and the courthouse, depending on how you look at it, is the oldest commercial building in the county.Constructed in 1873 by Franklin P. Taggart for a dry-goods store, it was repurposed as a pharmacy by Charles Genolin, a pharmacist from Indianapolis, around 1919.
In 1925, The Miller family bought it and operated it as a pharmacy and soda fountain until 1973.
It bears the marks of its previous incarnations—the long counter and mirrored antique back bar from its heyday as a soda fountain; the shotgun dining room, with high ceilings and a bank of tall windows running along one side, looking out on Van Buren Street. The ancient rolling wooden floors, creaking with every step and the walls lined with large Frank Hohenberger prints of Brown County in an earlier time.
And the food is great!
The Hobnob Corner offers a delectable selection of soups, salads and sandwiches and is especially beloved locally for its outstanding breads, pastries, and Danish baked at the store daily.
The Hobnob is open every day for breakfast, lunch, and dinner with a diverse selection of entrees including Ravioli Pesto, Chicken Mandarin, and Liver and Onions (for those who “never get it at home”, according to the menu).
The offerings also include an old-fashioned Pot Roast sandwich that is widely admired, steak, spaghetti with Italian sausage sauce, a chicken picante, and many other delightful choices.
There are several sandwiches on the menu, including another favorite of my wife—an open-faced vegetable sandwich with avocado, tomato, alfalfa sprouts, and mushrooms on whole wheat with melted cheddar cheese; also turkey and steak sandwiches served open-faced; a tuna melt; and a good one-third pound cheeseburger.
While the everyday lunch menu is perfectly good, and we find it hard to resist ordering our regular favorites (the “Rube Martin” for Mrs. Sampler, the quiche for me), we’ve come to try the new “Specials After Five” menu.
The evening menu offers something a little above and beyond typical Nashville cuisine—such as pan-roasted duck breast with cranberries, accompanied by braised kale and the chef’s biscuit pudding in a pool of house-made pan sauce made with veal stock, white wine and dried cranberries. Or shrimp in a sauce of garlic, capers and feta cheese, turned out on fettucine garnished with fresh basil. Or trottole with pancetta in roasted tomato sauce—house made pancetta in roasted roma tomato sauce over curly pasta noodles garnished with ricotta salata.
The evening menu changes from time to time, so if you haven’t visited in a while you might want to treat yourself and see what is on Chef Eric Cole’s mind these days.
After much deep study and cogitation over the seven proposed entrée’s on the After Five menu, any one of which I would be happy to entertain, I decide on the “braised rabbit with pappardelle.”
My kitchen companion opted for the Mahi-Mahi with a cumin-caper mayonnaise sauce.
While our friendly and efficient waitron took our order back to the kitchen, we dipped into the Hobnob’s impressive wine list, I with a glass of pinot noir; she with a nice shiraz.
The atmosphere is warm and friendly.
The rabbit arrived, savory and rustic and hearty. The braised meat has been reserved, and the braising liquid reduced to a tasty sauce with mushrooms, peas and carrots. The sauce and the meat are then tossed in the pappardelle, long flat, broad noodles, and garnished with Parmesan cheese.
The Mahi-Mahi is seasoned with the chef’s secret spice rub, brushed with butter and broiled. It arrived with roasted butternut squash glazed with chutney and broccoli, but the star of the plate is the cumin-caper-mayo sauce, which gets raves from the wife.
The generous portions and friendly, relaxing surroundings make for a pleasant dining experience. A range of delectable desserts are offered, and, although I was technically sated, for purely professional reasons, I felt I must try the bread pudding, about which I have heard good things.
Sometimes we forget life’s simple pleasures—they fade into the background of the everyday hustle and bustle of life—a good glass of wine, dinner out with your truest love, a well-prepared, thoughtful meal, a building that has stood the test of time in the heart of a community that has stood the test of time.
To associate familiarly, over a scoop of hot sweet pudding floating in a bowl of cream.
I was profoundly satisfied.
To “hobnob” is “to associate familiarly”, according to my dictionary, and the aptly-named Hobnob corner has become an iconic meeting place for locals and vistiors alike.