Braly: Nashville trip spurs visit to Sperry's

Braly: Nashville trip spurs visit to Sperry's

March 2nd, 2011 by Anne Braly in Entertainmentfood

I don't get to Nashville often enough.

My sister, Nancy, and best childhood friend, Diane Moseley Crabtree, both live there, so I have no excuses.

I recently made my first visit to Nashville since 2008, and I was surprised by all the changes.

However, if you are planning a trip to Nashville, you should know about Sperry's. When I lived in Nashville in the 1980s, Sperry's, which opened in 1974, was on Harding Pike.

We didn't frequent the restaurant too often. My former husband was a student at Vanderbilt, and we had two babies; money and time were tight. Plus, baby sitters on Friday nights were hard to find.

But when we were craving a really good steak, Sperry's was our first choice. Its owners, Al Thomas and his partners, bought it from Thomas' dad, Houston, in 2000. They eventually opened a second location in the CoolSprings Galleria on Interstate 65.

Re-creating the Belle Meade Sperry's at CoolSprings was no simple feat. Thomas, an admitted "estate-sale junkie" searched all around for the accouterments he would need to match his famed Harding Pike eatery. He visited the Atlanta antiques market and searched for hard-to-find items on eBay.

When I walked into the CoolSprings location for the first time, I had that strange feeling that I'd been there before.

I was amazed at how Thomas took a brand new space in a new shopping center and gave it the same historic English pub feel with handsome dark woods; stained glass; a large copper cappuccino machine, made in part in Cleveland, Tenn.; a romantic, warm fireplace; and even the same tabletops made from the hatches of World War II ships. He found these in Virginia.

If you want a good steak, this is one of the best places in Nashville to find it. The filet that Diane had - and let me taste - was excellent. But it's the Halibut Oscar that I will be having every time I return. The thick filet of halibut was grilled to perfection, then topped with made-from-scratch Bernaise, flavorful crabmeat and crisp-tender asparagus.

But there's another standout that comes with every entree: the salad bar. I'm so glad to see that they still have one, after so many restaurants did away with them following the salad-bar craze of the 1970s and '80s.

Sperry's isn't one of those massive, 50-topping bars. It's rather small but complete - a social gathering spot, Thomas said. Dressings are made in-house and are different from dressings you'll find in most restaurants. I really liked the red Roquefort; the Green Goddess comes in a close second. I asked Thomas if he would share the recipe for one of his dressings. He said he gets so many requests from across the country that he's considering bottling it, so he declined to share the recipe. But he did offer a recipe for the restaurant's Brandy Alexander Pie, a standout on the menu for years that is now offered as a special from time to time.

Oh, and here's some more good news. Thomas said he likes the restaurant climate in Chattanooga and might possibly consider opening a third Sperry's here. That would be a wish come true so I wouldn't have to drive so far.

Here's the recipe for one of Sperry's most popular desserts, which, like most of the dishes served there, uses a recipe that has been on the menu since the start. Some things never change, and that can be a really good thing.

Sperry's Brandy Alexander Pie

This simple recipe makes four pies, enough to share. And they freeze well.

11 egg yolks

3 cups sugar

2 tablespoons plain gelatin

1/2 cup cold water

1 cup Korbel brandy

1 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1 tablespoon vanilla

1 quart heavy cream, whipped

4 Oreo-crumb crusts

Chocolate cookie- crumbs, for garnish

Lightly whip egg yolks in stainless-steel bowl, then beat in sugar. Dissolve gelatin in cold water, then heat in microwave until hot. Add gelatin mixture to egg yolks, along with brandy, nutmeg and vanilla. Whip cream until stiff, and fold into egg yolk mixture, being careful not to overmix. Divide mixture into four pie shells and sprinkle with additional chocolate cookie crumbs to garnish. Cover with plastic wrap, and store in the freezer. Label and date accordingly.