The Mad Platter to close after 27 years
Craig and Marcia Jervis were culinary pioneers, long before Nashville earned a national reputation for its dining scene
By Lizzy Alfs
Long before Germantown was a trendy neighborhood with pricey real estate and some of Nashville’s best dining, Craig and Marcia Jervis took a gamble and opened The Mad Platter on a shoestring budget.
After 27 successful years, the Jervises have decided to close their restaurant at 1239 6th Ave. N. on New Year’s Eve to move on to their next chapter. What’s next is unclear, but it likely means spending more quality time together and enjoying their home in Costa Rica.
“Our decision is that Craig turns 60 this year and we just would like to do something different,” Marcia Jervis said.
Craig Jervis added: “We don’t want this to be the only thing that we do.”
Sitting inside their Germantown restaurant this week, the Jervises traded memories back and forth of the restaurant and catering business they built from the ground up, years before Nashville reached “it city” status and earned a national reputation for its dining scene.
The Jervises scrapped together money to open The Mad Platter in August 1989 in a beautiful brick building at the corner of 6th Avenue North and Monroe Street. A few years later they purchased the building.
When they opened the restaurant they got a loan from their parents, they had no budget and they would stop and pick flowers on the side of the road to put on the tables. Their original goal was just to hit the five year mark — by all means a sign of success in the challenging restaurant industry.
At the time, Germantown was mostly warehouses with a very small group of urban residents.
“There was a core of people here in the neighborhood; they were the true urban pioneers,” Marcia Jervis said. “They were so happy to see us here. Then all of a sudden, we gave a reason to come here. Before us, if you didn’t live over here, if you weren’t coming to an industrial agency over here, there was no reason to come.”
Germantown today is bustling with activity, which is visible looking outside the windows at The Mad Platter. Real estate prices have skyrocketed, apartment and condo buildings have come online and restaurants have flocked to the neighborhood. Germantown is home to some of the best fine dining in Nashville, including City House, Rolf & Daughters, Germantown Café, 5th and Taylor and Silo.
“We didn’t expect it to erupt so quickly. I feel smart,” Craig Jervis joked, referring to their investment in the restaurant and their own home right across the street.
But The Mad Platter was ahead of its time. The restaurant’s ever-changing menu uses fresh and local ingredients and the environment is both casual and comfortable but still upscale. Over the years, farmers would deliver produce right to the restaurant and Craig Jervis said he would put pressure on food distributors to source more thoughtfully.
“We’ve always grown herbs behind the restaurant and behind our house, too. We’ve always grown flowers we use on the tables. We recycled from day one — glass, plastic, aluminum, cardboard. We composted from the very beginning,” Marcia Jervis said.
Popular menu items at the modern American eatery include shrimp and grits, duck, pork tenderloin, chicken salad with housemade banana bread, Nashville’s best reuben (if you ask Marcia Jervis), bananas foster and chocolate Elvis.
Craig Jervis also experimented in the kitchen and admits Nashville wasn’t always ready for cutting edge food. He recalled one time he made Tom Kha Kai, Thai lime coconut soup, and he couldn’t sell one cup.
“The dining scene was that resistant. But they ordered the hell out of steak,” Craig Jervis said.
Some of the Jervises' favorite memories are from the holidays and their many New Year’s Eve’s spent at The Mad Platter. The restaurant has served as a backdrop for customers’ own special moments, including engagements, rehearsal dinners and anniversaries.
“This is my dining room and it always is a strange paradox to me that this place that is so intimate to me, all these people that I know and some I don’t, come in here for dinner at these tables and create their own memories,” Marcia Jervis said.
The Jervises stressed their gratitude for their many employees and customers over the last 27 years. They also encouraged people to come in one more time before the restaurant closes on New Year’s Eve.
“I am going to miss the people I work with. It’s hard. You build relationships over the years and it’s kind of hard to think that you’re not going to see them. This is where I spent most of my life,” Craig Jervis said.
As for what’s next for them, Marcia Jervis said she’s looking forward to having her husband back. They plan to travel — hopefully to Cuba — and then they’ll decide their next move. It could include hosting culinary vacations in Costa Rica.
“The Mad Platter is not dying. We might pop up somewhere else in a different form. But The Mad Platter as a seven day a week restaurant is not happening,” Marcia Jervis said.
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, 5-7 p.m
Craig and Marcia Jervis were culinary pioneers, long before Nashville earned a national reputation for its dining scene