It’s straightforward for a restaurant to final 10 years. All it’s a must to do is discover a location close to a shopping mall, provide you with a menu of carbo-laden crowd-pleasers and colourful drinks, hold up some ferns and watch the income roll in for a decade. What’s laborious to do is create a very distinctive restaurant positioned at a worth level heretofore unparalleled in Nashville, deliberately restrict the variety of diners per night, design a menu of dramatically plated gadgets made with unique substances, change up mentioned menu continually and reinvent the entire operation each two years with a wholly new cooking crew.
However that’s precisely what The Catbird Seat has completed since opening in 2011.
When brothers Max and Benjamin Goldberg opened their intimate chef’s desk restaurant in a former salon house above their cocktail bar The Patterson Home, they weren’t sure it might work.
“Selfishly, Ben and I have been attempting to create locations the place we’d wish to go,” says Max. “We noticed the necessity for a chef’s tasting from eating places in different cities. On the time, our solely different restaurant served cheeseburgers on Decrease Broad, however we figured, ‘Let’s open and see how this factor goes!’ I by no means thought we’d be right here 10 years later.”
The Goldbergs have been emboldened by the altering culinary environment in Nashville. “There was a lot cool stuff taking place on the time,” says Max. “Metropolis Home was, and nonetheless is, one among my favourite locations on the earth. A tidal wave was constructing, and we discovered the fitting board to experience it.”
Josh Habiger — one among Catbird’s two opening cooks, together with Erik Anderson — really got here to Nashville as head bartender at The Patterson Home and was impressed by the eating scene he discovered. “Metropolis Home got here earlier than The Catbird Seat, and Margot earlier than that,” Habiger says. “Rolf and Daughters opened after us. To try this in Nashville, it was fairly loopy.”
Habiger didn’t intend to return to the kitchen after stints at a number of high-pressure eating places. (“I didn’t even know Josh may cook dinner,” Max remembers. “That’s how humble of a man he’s.”) Habiger appreciated how the clientele at The Patterson Home was within the craft of blending up a correct cocktail, and he pitched a brand new sort of restaurant to the Goldbergs. “I needed to cook dinner like a bartender bartends,” he says. “The final word satisfaction for a cook dinner is making a stupendous plate of meals, however as soon as it goes by means of the kitchen door, you by no means see the visitor. Did they get pleasure from it? I needed to expertise it with them.”
Whereas to some diners the 36-seat restaurant might need at first felt otherworldly — with its trendy design, U-shaped seating across the efficiency kitchen and pumping soundtrack — Habiger needed it to really feel like residence. “These folks have been coming into our home for a shared expertise,” he explains. “We needed them to really feel like we have been glad they have been there.”
Anderson has household in Nashville and was accustomed to the town, however he was a little bit shocked when his buddy Habiger referred to as him concerning the alternative to affix him at The Catbird Seat. “I didn’t suppose a restaurant like that will open right here,” he says. However when Habiger defined the idea, Anderson was in. “I’ve at all times been concerned with bridging a connection from cooks to diners. No person can describe a dish higher than the one that created it.”
By eradicating the server position between kitchen and diner, The Catbird Seat turned an enchanting restaurant that was on the similar time chef-driven and guest-driven. Actually, the menu mirrored the genius and creativity of the cooks, however the employees additionally stored monitor of diners’ reactions and confabbed after service to find out friends’ likes and dislikes, typically utilizing that info to make modifications to a menu merchandise.
An early polarizing dish was a full pigeon leg served with the claw nonetheless connected. Anderson created that individual plate, and never everybody agreed with the presentation. The hay-infused yogurt accompaniment was astounding, however some folks couldn’t get previous the dramatic plating. “That was one of many first dishes I used to be actually was into,” Anderson remembers. “I preferred to depart the foot on to remind you that this was as soon as an animal that you just’re consuming and as a nod to the previous French classics like Robuchon and Ducasse. It was sort of my homage to that sort of eating and a little bit bit edgy as nicely.”
Habiger remembers it a little bit otherwise. “Yeah, that was a little bit aggressive, however I simply informed people who the claw made an excellent deal with to gnaw on that scrumptious chook!”
For each high-brow presentation, Habiger and Anderson additionally provided playful dishes to thrill friends. Anderson calls them “foolish one-liners,” however early friends couldn’t cease speaking concerning the spicy, crisp hen pores and skin served with a puree of Surprise Bread, a reference to Nashville’s iconic sizzling hen. An amuse-bouche that gave the impression to be a tackle Oreo cookies really turned out to be remarkably savory porcini wafers full of salty Parmesan cream.
Preliminary response was overwhelmingly constructive, attracting nationwide press and ecstatic reward from locals. “Town couldn’t have been extra supportive,” says Max. Habiger credit group help for an enormous a part of their success. “Mayor Karl Dean and [Nashville Convention & Visitors Corp CEO] Butch Spyridon realized that a part of a metropolis’s identification is its culinary identification,” says Habiger. “They helped to draw guests who wouldn’t have come to city in any other case and individuals who wouldn’t usually spend $200 on a culinary expertise.”
Some friends have been nonetheless studying learn how to deal with a three-hour eating marathon of difficult shows, together with one patron who spent just a few hours having fun with robust cocktails downstairs earlier than his reservation. “If you do one thing like that, tragedy awaits,” remembers Habiger with a chuckle. “About two pairings in, the man received up off his stool and put the chair leg by means of the drywall. He stood up and mentioned, ‘It’s OK! I’m a foodie!’ ” That phrase later ended up emblazoned on a employees T-shirt.
After two years, Habiger and Anderson exited the kitchen on the peak of their success. “We at all times meant to be an incubator,” explains Max. “It’s a reasonably intense restaurant by way of the quantity of prep and thoughtfulness that goes into the menu. Two years is the proper period of time for a chef to do it.”
Habiger concurs. “We didn’t set a time period originally, however two years can be run for a chef. It retains issues recent and transferring.”
Max relishes the possibility to close down for a month each couple of years to reset. “Every crew brings a unique fashion, “ he explains. “They dictate all the things, from the plates and glassware to the music, the paintings and the fashion of service.”
Habiger and Anderson have been adopted by Trevor Moran, an Irish wunderkind who introduced a playfulness and dedication to foraged substances honed by his expertise working within the world-famous Noma in Copenhagen. Chef Ryan Poli took The Catbird Seat in a extra classically European route. Will Aghajanian and Liz Johnson succeeded Poli at The Catbird, however didn’t succeed as resoundingly within the kitchen, exiting after a little bit greater than a 12 months.
The present prime toque at Catbird is worn by Brian Baxter, one of many opening cooks at Husk Nashville. Baxter additionally labored alongside Habiger at Bastion, the place the duo created considerate small plates and bigger composed meal choices.
“You’ve received two years to make it your individual,” says Baxter. “You possibly can’t take into consideration what others have performed earlier than you. It’s a stability between what you need to do as a chef and whether or not the friends can relate to it. Are they coming again? You must stability what’s accustomed to issues that want explaining to attach the flavors with the expertise.”
That concentrate on hospitality is an enormous a part of the legacy of The Catbird Seat — as is the roster of gifted meals and beverage professionals who’ve labored with the pinnacle cooks earlier than happening to success at different eating places regionally and nationally. Dedication to the visitor expertise modified Anderson as a chef. “It actually helped me with my demeanor and speaking with folks,” he says. “It’s straightforward to cover behind the kitchen door.”
“We’re so hyperfocused on what we do, however we don’t take it without any consideration that we’re nonetheless full, particularly in an business that has been wrecked over the previous two years,” says Max. “To see these cooks come by means of on their culinary journey, we’re humbled by it, and it’s superior to see the town’s restaurant scene develop.
“Josh and Erik put their signature on the town that also resonates right this moment,” he continues, “and hopefully we are able to nonetheless proceed to innovate. Hospitality has at all times been in my blood, and I at all times bear in mind the Maya Angelou quote: ‘I’ve discovered that individuals will neglect what you mentioned, folks will neglect what you probably did, however folks will always remember the way you made them really feel.’ I’ve at all times loved making folks joyful. And in case you can, you need to.”