On a humid August night in Nashville’s fashionable Gulch neighborhood, an area buzzing with hipster bars, shops, and eateries, I’m greeted in the entryway of The Mockingbird (121 12th Ave. N., Tel: 615-741-9900. www.mockingbirdnashville.com) by adorable host Austin who is draped in a mint-green sweater like he’s a young tennis pro. A muzak version of Daft Punk’s One More Time is playing on the loudspeakers as I say, “Table for one.”
While being lead through the restaurant, an updated version of an American diner adorned with large pieces of artwork and art deco flourishes, the energy in the room is crackling. A bachelorette party is boozing it up at one table; a trio of thirtysomethings are tearing apart the crust of their coq au vin pot pie at another. There is also a group of thirtysomething with Southern belles on their arms downing boozy shakes. I get the feeling they’re regulars—even though the restaurant has only been open five days.
“He loves pickling,” I hear General Manager Mikey Corona say as he moves about the dining room at a hurried pace. “He gets most recipes from his 97-yearold grandmother, Toots, who was here last weekend!” Corona is referring to his chef husband Brian Riggenbach who he met in the early 2000s in Houston. The couple bonded over a shared passion for food and migrated to Chicago shortly thereafter where they started an insanely popular underground supper club out of their house called Yo Soy. It garnered a cult following and heaps of local press and landed Riggenbach on the Food Network’s Chopped where he took home the top prize and attracted the attention of judge Maneet Chauhan. She offered the duo a restaurant deal—in Nashville.
Almost two years later, The Mockingbird was up and running. Inside these four walls it’s a multi-ethnic smorgasbord of hipster artisans, gay couples, groups of women, and industry insiders sizing up the competition. The crowd here epitomizes the new Nashville—dynamic, diverse, and hungry for good food.
Great food is what The Mockingbird is all about. There is the seasonal “punching bag” cocktail crafted of watermelon, lime, cilantro, and tequila, and served in a plastic bag; the Japancake, a meaty starter made of shredded savory cabbage aioli, tuna flakes, and bits of fatty bacon (my favorite dish); a hearty mac and cheese made of cheddar, Gruyère, and manchego; chicken fried thighs drenched in chorizo white gravy and served with salsa verde mashed potatoes; and so much more.
Initially met the couple in spring 2010 while Yo Soy was still being operated out of their Chicago apartment. Nearly eight years later they’re presiding over their own kitchen in one of the country’s most up-and-coming cities. I sat down with them to find out what it’s like to serve hungry foodies and a Republican governor in the buckle of the Bible Belt.