Just before Nashville got hit with its worst winter weather in years, we were lucky enough to spend the better part of a Wednesday afternoon at one of the city's favorite restaurants. The Tin Angel is the kind of place that many Nashvillians have a story about: it was your favorite hang when you were going to Vanderbilt; it was the place where you ordered the same irresistible dish for three years in a row because you were absolutely addicted to a certain combination of ingredients; it's the place you had brunch with that girl you went crazy for. In a world full of no-place-specials, Tin Angel is the neighborhood bistro that Nashvillians make their own.
If you ask Rick Bolsom how he came to Nashville, he'll give you the same answer you're likely to get from nearly any stranger in town: "I came here for the music business," he laughs. Before Bolsom brought his chilled-out eatery to Nashville, he was a music journalist, working with record labels that had him traveling to Nashville, checking out the flavor-of-the-month, and keeping up with the goings-on down south. "I wound up staying...and eventually, I opened up a restau- rant," he explains. "My other love–besides music–is food."
When Bolsom says "love," it's clear he is speaking about the passionate variety. Between quick bites of leftover meatloaf and funny, friendly asides to his staff, he waxes energetically about music, food, restaurants, farmers, ingredients, neighborhoods, cooper- ation, competition, and any number of other subjects. However, the freewheeling conver- sation screeches to a halt when the subject of the menu comes up. When the talk turns to his food, Bolsom wants to make an important point. "We make everything from scratch," he states emphatically. "We cook for people who want good food that hasn't been manufac- tured in some farm in Kansas...irradiated and ammoniated...and who-knows-what-else-ated."
Bolsom says that the quality of their menu selections translates directly from the availability of the local ingredients they use at Tin Angel. Unlike many restaurants, Tin Angel is a seven-day-a-week endeavor, with a food preparation schedule that relentlessly anticipates the next rush of diners. With little time for shopping, Bolsom relies on local farmers who come to him directly with the ingredients that determine the Angel’s daily specials and seasonal menus. "We love having fun with the specials," he says enthusiastically. "A lot of our farmers grow heirloom varieties that we could never keep on the regular menu."
A recent event has made connect- ing to local goodies even easier: the opening of the new West Nashville Farmers’ Market. On Saturdays, the Angel isn't open until din- ner. This gives Bolsom time to swing past the new venue on his way in to work. "I love the new farmers’ market in Sylvan Park," says Bolsom. "It's great!" The convenience of the new spot has clearly made an impression, and it might behoove Nashville food lovers to plan their visits to Tin Angel for Saturday evenings when they can take advantage of the possibilities that Bolsom's next market stop might inspire.
Despite the restaurant's exhausting schedule and extensive menu, Bolsom's vision of the place and its role in the community is admirably humble. "This is a neighborhood restaurant," he states flatly. "We take classic recipes and we change them and transform them. We make what the French would call bourgeois cuisine. You know–people food!"