Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Radio Cafe vs. Mad Donna's

This weekend Judge and I found ourselves at Mad Donna's, the new restaurant in place of the old Radio Cafe (R.I.P.) and had brunch.

This picture was stolen from the Nashville Scene and it shows the place before they finished, but I imagine it to be the moment when they decided, "Hey, let's tear out all these cabinets that have been here for 100 years and make this place an echo chamber and square concrete room. Forget the integrity of the place or Mr. Hoosier, the ghost of the old pharmacist who inhabits the eaves of this vintage 14th & Woodland establishment known as the Radio. Let's tear them out and destroy them and throw them in the dumpster."

Bitter? A little. I use to work at the R.C. and know the bowels of 1313 Woodland, the size of the tiny one-person kitchen, the dampness of the back storage room and the stink of Mac's dogs on the patio. Gone are all those smells and residual feelings when I walk in Mad Donna's now. They've made it look lovely inside, if lovely means ruining the antiquity of the place and streamlining it modern, and their dinner is wonderful and they have a patio open out back.

Their brunch didn't impress, though. The biscuits and gravy are sweet with cardboard-tasting sausage. This is particularly an offense at the Radio because Mac cooks the best biscuits and gravy. Ever. And it isn't sweet. It isn't supposed to be. Just like cornbread. (People! Stop adding sugar to cornbread. It isn't cake!)

The rosemary potatoes were good - and actually the highlight of my meal. They offer three types of mimosas, orange juice, raspberry, and another, but it fails me right now. I ate a frittata, which was alright, but nothing special, but the cheese grits had no flavor and our side of sausage, like the gravy mention before, tasted like cardboard. Where was the grease?

I had a previous good experience with Judge there one night for dinner where we enjoyed the food and atmosphere and a nice waitress. But brunch was a different story. We were sat outside, first under the tent part of the patio but we asked to move to outside the tent because everyone's voices were bouncing off the tall concrete wall out there and resounding within it. It was better outside it, but it was the same inside the building. By stripping everything out of the dining room they have created a cacophonous monstrosity. They need something to cut the echo in there, bad.

I don't mean to sound so bitter and irritated that Mad Donna's is the new venue in my old haunt, but it pains me. I drive by and think about sitting on the bench with Eddie in my red apron, waiting on my friends to show up and eat $.10 wings, and cursing Mac for not buying enough lettuce for the night.

I miss you Radio. I miss the early, wonderfully homemade, southern breakfast on the weekends. I miss Mac being around all the time, even when he didn't want to be. I miss the good (and bad) bands that played while I made roast beef sandwiches. I miss being on the corner of 14th and Woodland and feeling like it was the omphalos of East Nashville. I miss Mr. Hoosier scaring me when I would go to the bathroom and and feel him there, sometimes seeing something in the mirror. I miss, I miss, I miss.

I recommend Mad Donna's and their dinner menu. I think it's pretty, too. But it's loud and I don't know that I'll be going back that often. It feels like I lost it in a divorce or something, and the memory is too painful to be faced with the reality of what it is.

Here's a look back at the good old days, complete with a sad, gray sky:

Photo by John Davidson. Check out his other East Nashville pictures.

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