The MaD PLaTTer featured in Nashville's Local Table!
Pioneering Germantown Restaurant the Mad Platter Serves Up a 25th Anniversary
By Joe Nolan
The 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.
Wonderful new review about the restaurant!
Marcia in Wonderland: The story of the MaD PLaTTeR restaurant
By Jenny Cupero, For 12th & Broad
There is a distinct magic about the MaD PLaTTeR restaurant in historic Germantown. Appropriately named in homage to the fairy tale Alice in Wonderland, the MaD PLaTTeR has been enchanting Nashvillians since 1989 with its transporting atmosphere and delicious food.
Owner Marcia Jervis invited me for a lovely Sunday brunch to introduce the best of the menu and narrate the MaD PLaTTeR story — one of a passionate food connoisseur who met her Prince Charming, opened a restaurant in an otherworldly neighborhood and is now living her dream in her own culinary wonderland.
The tale begins down a rabbit hole called The Jacksons' Victory Tour. Craig and Marcia Jervis met in Knoxville in 1984 while Craig was traveling as a chef on Michael Jackson's reunion tour with his brothers. "I was helping with the local catering and my boss, Craig, liked me well enough to take me on the road and marry me a year later!" Marcia recalled with a laugh.
After the tour was over, Craig and Marcia moved to the northeast, where they worked in entertainment catering for a couple of years before moving to Nashville. "We had become established caterers and decided to find a permanent space from which to work. The minute we saw the building in historic Germantown, we knew, just knew, this was home."
Historic Germantown, once known as "Butchertown" because of its abundance of meat markets, was developed in 1840. Named for its strong German community that dwelled there until World War II, Germantown is the oldest residential neighborhood in Nashville today.
Staking a claim
In 1889, a two-story brick and terracotta retail structure was built at the corner of Sixth and Monroe. The building went through a series of owners, and at one time was even abandoned, until 100 years later, Craig and Marcia came across the space and staked a claim for their catering business. Germantown has since grown into a thriving Music City community, defined by pioneering shops and restaurants like the MaD PLaTTeR.
"We have been on this little corner for 25 years, witness to the revitalization of Germantown. Through our plate-glass windows, we have lived and worked in the snow globe that is our restaurant."
Enamored by the neighborhood, the couple moved into a house across the street from the restaurant, and to this day, consider the PLaTTeR dining room their own.
"I love that we have community history and that over the years we have been part of the memories. We've hosted neighborhood board meetings, baby showers, bridal luncheons, book clubs, costume parties and, every other year, our family Thanksgiving! Our dining room is our dining room!"
While enjoying a meal at the PLaTTeR, it is impossible not to feel the same — and yet the décor (inspired by Marcia's upbringing overseas) creates a charismatic, ethereal atmosphere.
"I spent my early years in a small village in France, where my father was stationed in the military. My mother and I experienced everything about the culture. I ate croissants, baguettes, saucisson, escargot, foie gras, brie, Perrier, Dijon and bouillabaisse before I ever had a hamburger!"
Marcia laced the European philosophy for food into the foundation of the MaD PLaTTeR's environment and spirit. "There is a unique belief in Europe that everyone is working just so they can get off work, gather around the table for hours, eating, drinking, talking and creating memories! The table is where life begins, and we definitely celebrate that mentality."
The restaurant's main dining room seats 85, similar to a café you would find in the Mediterranean, extending to a cozy open-air patio that seats an additional 25. Marcia's mother loved mixing fine linens and silver pieces with everyday china. This "everyday fine dining" style is illustrated throughout the space, starting with the café tables topped with white linen napkins, bordered by a minibar area with an animated chalkboard of specials and bookshelves adorned with knickknacks and pictures chronicling the history of the restaurant. The unexpected accent of the painted blue ceiling, inspired by the Adriatic Sea, is yet another quality that makes the space enthralling.
But the real heart of the MaD PLaTTeR beats in the kitchen.
When Marcia and Craig moved to Nashville in 1987, the food scene in the area was limited, which is hard to imagine given the city's vast selection today. At that time, the only "fine dining" options were Mario's, Julian's and Arthur's. There were also a lot of Southern-themed "meat and threes," as well as chain restaurants.
"When The MaD PLaTTeR opened, we were perceived as groundbreaking because we cooked the only way we knew how — using fresh, seasonal products with a devotion to chef creativity. The amusing thing is what was new and creative then seems more like comfort food today! Good seasonal food, prepared simply but perfectly…that's what I want my comfort food to be."
Executive Chef Craig Jervis grew up in Connecticut and brings a New England sensibility to Marcia's European fare. His roots inspire his passion for fresh, locally sourced, seasonal ingredients. "He is an incredible soup master," Marcia said. "Think clam chowder, vichyssoise, curried autumn bisque, seafood bisque and gumbo. His standards are incredibly high and his combinations are wonderful!"
On the changing daily menu you can expect to see a variety of options, from shrimp and grits to grilled rack of lamb and pan-seared duck. Craig's fresh and creative spin on classic entrees can now be experienced in an array of brunch menu options, which was my introduction to the PLaTTeR's offerings.
The biscuits and gravy are savory and addicting, uniquely flavored with a subtle hint of rosemary. The Caesar salad, with sun-dried tomatoes tossed in an ample serving of flavorful dressing, is mouth-watering. I was already impressed before the arrival of the main course — poached eggs Oscar topped with hollandaise and a side of hash browns. Each bite was better than the last. And if you like your brunch with a little bubbly, the Sunday morning drink menu takes welcome liberties on classics sure to tickle your fancy. I guarantee you, all the history and hype is unequivocally substantiated by quality cuisine that you will crave for years to come.
A place for memories
The MaD PLaTTeR continues to offer the catering services that propelled its inception, and even rents out the space for private events.
"I love the private events held in the dining room. Not having children, one of the things I missed the most was the opportunity to host a rehearsal dinner or wedding. But because of the PLaTTeR, Craig and I have the privilege of having many rehearsal dinners. In turn, we get to be a part of the lifelong memories of the families that come together in our dining room to celebrate."
Naturally, the couple's first love will always be the MaD PLaTTeR, but they are equally passionate about the evolving and growing food landscape in Music City.
"One of our favorite places around town is Koto Sushi restaurant, now on Union Street. I also just had a delicious meal at Etch and I still think Deb Paquette is the most talented chef in Nashville (besides my husband, of course!). But usually when Craig and I eat out, we head to little places like Miss Saigon, the taco truck on Charlotte, Awash for Ethiopian food and Thai Phooket. We also have a very special place in our hearts for our neighbors, Off the Bone, Rolf & Daughters, City House, Monells and Legato Gelato, among others."
Come the end of the day, the moral of the MaD PLaTTeR story is not that it should be your favorite place to eat, but rather that coming together with others and breaking bread — wherever that may be — is the true fairy tale of life.
"Did I fail to say I opened a restaurant because I wanted to eat?! Food is my ultimate passion and I think it has the power to change the world. Sharing food and wine breaks down barriers and allows for the free flow of uninhibited conversation. Commonalities are found between strangers and love is professed easily. I only wish we lived in a world where everyone could not only enjoy food, but be guaranteed food."
Now that would truly be Wonderland!
If you go
MaD PLaTTeR Restaurant & Catering
1239 Sixth Ave. N., Nashville, TN 37208
Lunch: Monday-Friday, 11 a.m.-2 p.m.
Dinner: Thursday & Sunday 5-9 p.m. Friday & Saturday, 5:30-10 p.m.
Sunday brunch, 10 a.m.-2 p.m.
Thirsty Thursday happy hour, 4-7 p.m