Nashville has a lot of eccentricities and The Arcade is one of them. It was built in 1902 and modeled after an arcade in Italy.
As the city’s first enclosed shopping center, it’s smack in the middle of downtown, surrounded by high-end trendy eateries and clubs. And, yet, The Arcade is decidedly of the people. And all the people.
You can go mainstream meat n’ three, but you can also go Chinese, Korean, Greek, Ethiopian and Mongolian. And I probably don’t know what authentic New York pizza really tastes like but Manny is from New York, he has a House of Pizza and that’s good enough for me.
A few recent lunches from my new Hit Parade:
The woman behind the counter does not have a great command of the English language but that, to me, is a sign that you’re in the right place.
Ethiopian food is based on vegetable and often very spicy meat dishes. This is usually in the form of wat, a thick stew, served atop injera, a large spongy sourdough flatbread, which is made with teff flour. If that sentence baffles you, just know that it’s super tasty and you don’t have to know all the proper words to describe it.
Not the most diverse food color-wise but this is a take-out container of lentil stew and chicken tibs, bits of chicken in a SPICY sauce. If you eat this the way its supposed to be eaten, you grab a piece of the bread and use the bread to scoop up the lentils and chicken.
“Jimbo” does not seem to go with sushi and Korean food, but this place is the real deal. Customers line up early for bargain-rate first-class sushi rolls and authentic Korean dishes such as bibimbap (a bowl of rice topped with succulent meat, vegetables and a spicy sauce) and bulgogi, literally “fire meat” comprised of thin, marinated slices of beef or pork grilled on a barbecue or on a stove-top griddle.
I am a cheapskate of the first order but the $8 bulgogi lunch comes with rice, lettuce leaves, kimchi and a deep-fried dumpling called a mandu. I’ve never made it through the heavy styrofoam container in one sitting. So I consider this two $4 lunches. Well within my stingy price range.
I have been advised by a native New Yorker friend that I do not know what New York-style pizza is and that no one within the city limits of Nashville can make it because we do not have the proper water. Whatever.
Manny Macca grew up making pizza in a Brooklyn pie shop. He’s been in the Arcade for as long as anyone can remember and there’s always a line out the door. I am not sure if everyone who works there is also from New York, but there is precious little small talk and certainly no Southern niceties.
But the pizza is righteous, with a slightly crispy bottom crust that gives way to a very pleasant chew. The sauce is solidly uncomplicated tomato and the cheese is, well, cheese.
One of the best things about the Arcade is that it exists during the day to attract a lunch-time crowd and virtually every restaurant is local and offers a special to bring in customers. So it’s a bargain that puts money in the pockets of small business people. I’m all in.