by Focus staff | photos submitted
From local hangouts and road trips to fine dining and catering, this issue explores some of the best places, chefs, food and drinks that Middle Tennessee has to offer.
Christa Suppan – The Lipstick Lounge
With a purple exterior that is hard to miss, The Lipstick Lounge opened its doors in 2002 in East Nashville. It was originally billed as a lesbian bar, however, it was a welcoming place for all. It is now advertised as “A bar for humans”.
It’s that welcoming spirit that has kept it alive for nearly two decades. People know they will be accepted as they are without exception.
The Lipstick Lounge hosts many events throughout the year including fundraisers, community meetings, karaoke, singer-songwriters, and musicians. One notable fundraiser they participate in is the annual Dining Out For Life hosted by Nashville CARES. They donate a portion of their brunch sales on a predetermined Saturday in the month of April. Last year they donated 50% of brunch sales and they have already committed to the 2020 Dining Out For Life campaign!
Co-owners Christa Suppan (left) and Jonda Valentine (right) have been there since the beginning. Suppan says it was getting to know people that drew her into the industry. She stated, “I began waiting tables at fifteen in a small mom and pop pizza shop. It was the meeting of all the new people on a nightly basis that drew me into the industry.”
In the past couple of years, The Lipstick re-added brunch to its list of offerings. Suppan said, “We knew it was time to change things up again. Previously we had tried brunch and the Nashville scene wasn’t quite ready for it then. These days everyone brunches.” She credits a friend with creating the menu and recipes.
If you haven’t yet experienced brunch at the Lipstick, Suppan recommends checking out the Triple S burrito if you like spicy. She also says, “Our cheeseburgers and fries will cure what ails you, especially if it was a late night at Lipstick the evening before!”
When asked about nearing 20 years in business, Suppan said, “It’s unreal. I honestly never planned on owning a bar and really even in staying in Nashville this long. But the universe has a beautiful way of telling you where you belong if you listen. I’m so glad I listened. This is an amazing community and I am blessed on a daily basis.”
ONLINE: To see upcoming events and to check out the brunch offerings, visit thelipsticklounge.com
Jennifer Starks – Homegrown Taproom and Marketplace
Homegrown Taproom & Marketplace opened in Donaldson in August of 2015 and has since been a community staple. A self-described restaurant and craft beer mecca, Homegrown came to fruition when owners Robin Davis and Jennifer Starks recognized the need for a neighborhood dive that offered a variety of quality craft beers and food that is not just typical bar food.
Starks is charged with curating Homegrown’s beer selection and, being a Certified Beer Server through the Cicerone program, she is perfect for this task. She also manages the day-to-day operations and if she meets you once she will never forget you.
She credits a night out after seeing a show at TPAC with the moment they decided to jump into the industry full time. She explains, “We wanted to go somewhere for a nightcap where we could have a conversation and just hang out for a little while. We had long lamented the fact that there was nowhere like that in our neighborhood. So, we decided to make Homegrown happen.”
Starks says she sees herself more in the business of hospitality than food & beverage. “We created a place where we’d like to hang out then we threw the doors open and welcomed the neighborhood. We’re just really grateful that our neighbors, most of whom are now friends, see it the same way,” she says.
The menu is full of dishes that will make you feel at home. And if you ask Starks what her favorite is, you won’t get just one. “I think we have the best Cobb salad in town and I really love our portobello sandwich. I have to say,” she continues, “above all of those, when I’ve been here all day and am starving…shrimp and grits is my salvation.”
Homegrown is also big on collaborating with local artisans, farmers, and brewers for the offerings they promote. When asked why local sourcing is important Starks said, “Well….I mean, the name of the place is Homegrown, after all.” Not only do they use locally sourced products, but they also created the Marketplace side of the business to sell locally-made products like meat, cheese, and honey. She elaborated on the mission of using local by saying, “I used to work for a local cheesemaker and during that time, I met a lot of local producers from cheesemakers, to farmers, to brewers. A lot of those people became my friends and we are happy to give them another outlet to showcase their talents.”
And of course, they are a taproom so we had to talk beer. “The main focus of our tap wall is local, homegrown beers. From there we look to regional breweries and then we look nationally,” Starks explains. You can get your favorite brew to go as well. “We’re fond of Marzens around here and, since fall is finally here, this is the perfect time of year for them,” says Starks when asked what beer she would take home. She continued, “We’re also happy to see the re-emergence of the classic Pilsner. We’ve had well over 1400 distinct beers on our tap wall since opening about 4 years ago so, we’ve learned to not get too attached to a specific beer from a specific brewery. Taste the rainbow!”
Starks does acknowledge the community it takes to fulfill a dream by saying, “We wouldn’t be where we are without our staff who share this vision with us, the majority of them live right here in the neighborhood. We’ve been #blessed to attract a group of people who see things the same way we do and work to bring our vision to life.”
Homegrown Taproom & Marketplace also gives back to the community and has committed to participating in the 2020 Dining Out for Life Campaign hosted by Nashville CARES. Last year they donated 30% of Lunch and Dinner sales INCLUDING alcohol!
ONLINE: To check out their beer menu and learn more about Homegrown visit homegrownnashville.com.
Billy Kauffman – Short Mountain Distillery
Moonshine was once thought to be something illegal that only mountain men made with secret distilleries. Fast forward to 2001 when Billy Kauffman moved to Cannon County and started with a farm seeking USDA organic certification. Less than a decade later, he approached his brothers about starting a distillery. With support from the community and legal hoops cleared, Short Mountain Distillery was born.
We spoke with Kauffman and he gave a brief history of distilling in Middle Tennessee.
“Cannon County has a rich history making liquor that goes back to before Prohibition. Motley and Sons distillers were a legal distillers that sold whiskey here and when Prohibition came to Cannon the distillery equipment was moved to this farm by his assistant Cooper Melton. Cooper later became one of the lead moonshiners for Al Capone when the country went dry.”
Kauffman went on to say, “I didn’t know any of this when I bought this 500-acre farm. All I knew was that it had three of the best springs around and beautiful land. When the laws changed in Tennessee allowing legal distilling again, it only seemed fitting to become part of the lineage of distilling in this area.”
In addition to being sustainable and organic, the moonshine produced by Short Mountain is certified as kosher and they recertify every 6-12 months.
Kauffman names their Cherry Smoked, Chocolate Malt Rye Whiskey and their Bottled in Bond Bourbon as his top picks off the menu. When he is at home he says he simply prefers bourbon on the rocks.
Being a business owner has challenges and Kauffman says he isn’t immune. “[People] think I’m a fat cat drinking whiskey all day and raking in cash. Well let me tell you, nothing could be further from the truth. I bust my butt making this business run. And when the fire is about to go out, it’s my job to get it burning bright again.”
Even with its challenges, Kauffman says it wasn’t a dream he was going to give up on. He explains, “If I have ever considered giving up, it was short-lived. I have a lot of good people counting on there being a place to work and good folks looking for an amazing place to visit deep in the countryside of Cannon County.”
Looking ahead there are great things to come from Kauffman and the crew at Short Mountain. He says, “I am currently working on the release of our Organic Tennessee Whiskey and every week we put away more bourbon and rye whiskey. Long term we are looking at building cabins on the property as well as a larger venue space for private events.”
ONLINE: Read more about Kauffman and Short Mountain Distillery at shortmountaindistillery.com.
Greg Cason – Inspired Concepts and Events
Greg Cason has always had a passion for event planning, design and execution. After several years of planning events and parties for his family and friends, Cason started his own business and expanded his service offerings. Inspired Concepts and Events has now become a second full-time career for Cason while he still works as a purchasing manager at Nissan. In addition to the planning, design and execution of your event, Inspired Concepts and Events can provide linens, dishes, flatware, etc. They also offer bartending services and recently added catering.
We spoke with Cason about some of the aspects of bartending for an event and he says planning is key. He explained, “Detailed consultation with the organizer as it pertains to the number of guests, drink menu, will it be an open or cash bar, dress attire, hours of service, compensation and making sure each server has a valid ABC license [is needed to properly tend bar].” Cason also emphasized a knowledgeable, professionally trained/licensed bartender is something you must have to host a successful event.
When asked about his personal beverage choice, he keeps it simple with Hennessy and Coke, Long Island Ice Tea or Ciroc with orange and pineapple juices. When bartending though, Cason adds a little showmanship. He says, “[For the drink], ‘Blue Cloud’, It’s a simple cocktail that consists of vodka, lemonade and blue curaçao [but] adding dry ice creates a fun and engaging drink!”
Cason credits his first week of attending the Professional Bartending School of Nashville for solidifying his passion for becoming a bartender and mixologist. He said “The knowledge and skillsets I gained from the experience helped me train others on my team. When my daughter attended the school, one of the instructors remembered who I was and talked about what a great attitude and smile I had!”
While bartending can be a fun career, it does come with its own unique set of responsibilities. Cason explains, “Ensuring that the drinks are prepared properly and guests not over-served while maintaining a fun and exciting atmosphere for the guests is critical to the success of the business and bartender!”
To learn more about Cason, Inspired Concepts and Events, and what they offer, visit inspiredconceptsandevents.com.
Margot McCormack -Margot Café & Bar
Margot Café & Bar is a French-inspired restaurant with southern influences located in East Nashville. It’s owned and operated by Chef McCormack who has received several James Beard Award nods over the years.
She notes there are two moments in time that led her to pursue working in the industry. “When I was little,” she said, “I would love when we had parties at the house and when we would have special feasts with lots of food. I always enjoyed watching meals be prepared and helping my mother in the kitchen.” She continued saying, “After college when I was working at Faisons, I was standing in the dining room before service and all of a sudden I had this feeling just hit me: ‘This is what I want to do’.”
She graduated from UT-Knoxville with a BA in English and moved back to Nashville to forge a career in creative writing. During this time back in Nashville she started at Faisons under local restaurateur Jody Faison. It was this experience that caused her to change career course.
She applied to the Culinary Institute of America and in her application essay, she used her desire to return and “make Nashville a dining destination” her subject.
After graduating and completing a stint in New York’s dining scene, she was a part of making Middle Tennessee a hot-spot for dining.
Chef McCormack said, “When we opened Margot Café & Bar, the dining scene was dominated by chain restaurants. There were very few independent places out there doing what we were doing. Flash forward 30 years and Nashville has a thriving culinary scene. It gives me a real sense of accomplishment to be a part of that.”
Chef McCormack is inspired by her travel, books, movies, music, collaborating with other chefs, seasonality of ingredients and local products. In fact, both Margot Café & Bar and its sister location, Marche Artisan Foods, use locally sourced products and seasonal ingredients.
The use of local and seasonal products shows in her choices for favorite cocktail and menu choices: “My favorite cocktail on the list right now is our ‘Summer’s End’ made with Calvados, Absinthe, apple syrup and local Brightwood Cider. I love the earthiness of it and how it combines French and local ingredients. The dinner menu changes daily but I always enjoy our seasonal vegetable dishes.”
While she might not cook for herself at home, when inspiration hits, she must listen. Chef McCormack recalls, “I recently returned from a culinary trip to Israel and had a 4 am idea to have an impromptu brunch the same morning for some of my friends, so I got up and at it preparing a spread for us to enjoy.”
You can find more about Chef McCormack and Margot Café & Bar at margotcafe.com.
Chef Jay Kill -Jay Kill Events
Chef Jay Kill has done it all. He is a certified executive chef by the American Culinary Federation, bartends and caters, and is the former assistant culinary director at the Art Institute of Tennessee, where he taught future chef’s the art of food preparation and event planning. Most recently he has stepped out and started his own event planning/catering service, Jay Kill Events. Jay Kill Events offers bar management, event consulting, ServSafe training, and concierge catering.
Having such an extensive background in the food and service industry, we had to know when he knew he was meant to be in the industry. “When I finished college in 1989,” he said, “I wanted to work in an industry that accepts gays. I started as a banquet server and prep cook in a steak house. I fell in love with the hospitality industry and met many other people just like me. They became my new family.”
It’s quite clear Chef Kill is fulfilling his calling. When asked about his favorite part of what he does, it is all about the client. Chef Kill says, “Hospitality means that all involved enjoyed the event. When the client, guests and event staff come to me afterward and share their highlights of the event, [it] makes me very happy.”
His inspirations are also client-based. “I love to listen to them and then I run with their ideas,” says Chef Kill.
His experience has paid off and allowed him to perfect his art. He explains, “Working as many years and events as I have, planning and being organized is very important. Working for myself allows me and my team to focus on the details. Working an event where all you are doing is ‘putting out fires’ is not fun nor productive.”
Chef Kill’s experience also gives him unique insight into Middle Tennessee being a dining destination. He explains, “We have a lot of great talent in the area. I am concerned that many of the concepts are not meeting expectations due to a lack of dedicated staff. We have a large gap of qualified staff to execute quality. Concepts are being forced to take short cuts or limit menus.”
If you ask him about his favorite cocktail, he is quick to answer, ”Anything free!”. Chef Kill does like his tequila though saying, “My husband is from Mexico and I have toured many Tequila distilleries. I love an aged Tequila in a wooden barrel. My favorite drink is Tequila over ice with drizzled honey.” If you are drinking on a budget he says, “Take any Tequila and mix with Squirt Soda. I call it the budget margarita.”
You can get more details on his services at jaykillevents.com.