Photos by Marty Cherry
T he Germantown neighborhood in North Nashville has established itself as one of the hottest restaurant destinations in the city, but the place’s foodie-friendly trendiness is actually just the latest iteration of a longstanding tradition that’s found the Germantown name to be synonymous with good eating since the 19th century.
The Neuhoff family established their meat-packing business in a two-story retail space in the heart of Germantown in 1889. The building’s brick and terracotta exterior and hardwood floors would go on to host a grocery store in years to come before being transformed into the critically acclaimed Chefs on Command restaurant in the 1980s.
In 1989—100 years after the building was erected—Craig and Marcia Jervis opened their restaurant and catering service, the Mad Platter.
“We opened our doors on August 22, 1989,” says Marcia. “The neighborhood was nothing like it is now. There was the fishmonger (Little’s Fish Company on 6th Avenue North) across that street and an empty lot across that street. None of the houses on this road had been redone. Between here and downtown there was nothing but warehouses. When someone said there was a restaurant available in Germantown, I already knew the neighborhood. It’s the best real estate investment I’ve ever made.”
The Jervises kept their building’s tradition as a food-centric location alive, and as word-of-mouth spread, the Mad Platter gave hungry Nashvillians from all over the city a reason to venture into North Nashville.
“When we opened, we brought people into the neighborhood that had never been here before,” says Marcia. “At that time people weren’t in tune with Nashville as a restaurant city at all—it took a lot for people to come here.” The Jervises became ambassadors for Germantown, as well as pioneers of what has come to be known as “slow food.”
“We were cooking with fresh produce and herbs—that’s just how we cooked, but it was something new to Nashville.” In addition to their dedication to fresh ingredients, the Jervises began to compost the kitchen’s scraps and made a point of recycling their plastic, cardboard, and glass long before such practices were more convenient in Nashville—they grow the restaurant’s flowers in their backyard and their herbs across the street.
“Local sourcing is always important to me because I don’t want a big carbon footprint, and I like to use stuff while it’s fresh and available,” says Co-Owner and Mad Platter Executive Chef Craig Jervis. “I definitely like to offer a seasonal menu, but even that changes depending on availability. The menu is determined by what is fresh in this area at this time.”
Talk of seasonal eating leads to enthusiastic asides about strawberries, blackberries, and peaches. The Mad Platter even has a fig tree in their backyard that will bloom in time for Craig’s autumn menu.
“We always do an autumn bisque with butternut squash. It’s slightly curry-flavored and it’s always very popular,” says Craig. “Fall is one of my favorite times of year because that’s when all these different beans come in. I look forward to making that first batch of succotash when the lima beans arrive. I love the kale and the mustard greens that come in at that time.
The restaurant’s shrimp and grits is a longtime customer favorite that features Falls Mill grits, local onions and peppers, Andouille sausage, and plump, fresh shrimp. The sauce is creamy, but not cheesy—it livens up the grits while still allowing the natural sweetness of the shrimp to take the spotlight.
“When we first put that on the menu, nobody else in town was making that, and as far as I know, I’m the only guy in town who still uses Gulf shrimp in that dish,” says Craig. “I pay a few dollars more, but they don’t shrink like the Thai stuff does. Since 2001 I’ve noticed that money is more precious to our customers, and when they come here, they’re looking for something familiar, and that’s one of our go-to comfort food dishes that’s always popular.”
The Mad Platter fits the definition of a classic “mom-and-pop-style” restaurant—a recent, busy short-staffed Saturday night dinner service found Marcia bussing tables and washing dishes while Craig slashed through the weeds in the space’s small kitchen.
“There’s a lot of new creative talent in Nashville right now, but we have a great product and we just want to keep doing what we do and [keep] doing it well,” says Marcia. And with the restaurant celebrating its 25th anniversary this year, it seems like she might be onto something. “Twenty-five years is pretty cool. I never dreamed we’d be here this long.”
Here’s to another quarter century of being “mad” for local food.