If there were ever a time for some optimism, surely this season of social distancing is it. And what better example of a glass half-full than emerging from quiet quarantine to find new restaurants on the scene, prepared for the idiosyncrasy of pandemic dining. Acclaimed restaurateur Ford Fry — the founder of a dozen eateries in Georgia, Texas and North Carolina, including Texas-style eatery Superica in the Gulch — expanded his Nashville presence this summer with the debut of The Optimist, a second location of the Atlanta nameplate. In a former warehouse in Germantown, Ford and executive chef Ryder Zetts deliver seven seas’ worth of briny delicacies to the evolving culinary district on the shore of the Cumberland River.
With patio dining and an upstairs bar, The Optimist launches with a deliberate system of socially distant dining, including floor markings, limited party sizes and six feet between tables.
Open nightly for cocktails and dinner across stylish leather banquettes and concrete countertops, The Optimist merges seafood sourced from far-flung waters with produce grown in the South. The resulting repertoire balances classic raw bar staples — including a roster of 10 oyster varieties on the half-shell — with innovative contemporary combinations, such as grilled octopus with eggplant, white beans and pomegranate molasses.
Talk about looking on the bright side of things — the landlocked locale offers the festivity of the beach (lawn games, shaved-ice cocktails and frozen drinks) without the meteorological hazards of an actual hurricane.
What to Expect
Don’t be surprised if an evening at The Optimist — appointed with modern industrial flair — somehow reminds you of that time you set sail from the docks of Gloucester or some other fishing village. Or maybe the time you lost yourself in the pages of Moby Dick. Or maybe just that time you caught yourself daydreaming of sea air and succulent scallop crudo, ceviche, peel-and-eat shrimp with comeback sauce, seafood gumbo with andouille sausage or lobster rolls studded with celery and plump claw meat. Either way, the décor breathes a subtle sea breeze into a dazzling and distinctly contemporary environment.
If you ever complained of a shortage of seafood in landlocked Nashville, an evening at The Optimist offers an opportunity to eat your words, along with a dozen sea hog, white stone or Hatteras salt oysters on the half-shell. Or if your trip to Maine or Florida got postponed this year, at least you can drown your sorrows in scampi butter. Sustainably sourced ingredients, primarily from surf with a few proteins from turf and showcased by thoughtful culinary technique in a refined setting, elevate The Optimist to a high-water mark for seafood-loving landlubbers.
What to Order
If you want to keep it simple, start with The Starving Man platter with 18 oysters, 18 shrimp, ceviche, smoked fish dip, tuna poke and whole lobster. But don’t miss the opportunity to sample the innovative flair that earned Chef Fry culinary accolades in media and awards across the country for dishes such as yellowfin tuna carpaccio with crispy sweetbreads, black trumpet mushrooms and fava beans; seared scallops with braised bacon, corn and charred okra; chicken and dumplings with potato gnocchi, Swiss chard and pearl onions; and corn milk hushpuppies served beignet-style with a side of cane syrup butter.
Photographs by Andrew Thomas Lee