In most cities, when you think of the best, most authentic, local dining in town, chances are you don’t think about heading to a hotel – any hotel. But that’s exactly the kind of thinking that Executive Chef Brandon Frohne is hoping to change with his new endeavor, Mason’s, a restaurant that just opened in the Loews Vanderbilt Hotel.
With starters like beef tartare, bone marrow, crispy sweetbreads and crab corn dogs, Chef Frohne’s menu looks more like a page out of James Beard’s playbook than the ho-hum hospitality fare we’ve been conditioned to expect.
“Growing up in the South, I understand how much people really love Southern food,” says Brandon, who spent most of his childhood in East Tennessee. “We’re trying to take those classic dishes and really elevate them. I also feel like it’s a symbol of the way Nashville and this city’s food scene is evolving. We want to put out a product that matches up with what’s going on now, while still staying true to our roots.”
That means using technical equipment like a smoking gun to infuse flavor into hot sauce or the Chef’s anti-griddle that freezes sauces and purees on contact. Chef Frohne learned his craft by apprenticing under great chefs, like Nashville’s renowned Martha Stamps, and jumping from one culinary experience to another – sometimes even working for free. Then, in 2012, he established his own pop-up restaurant in town, Forage South, which gathered a local cult following.
This January, a search began for an executive chef at Loews Vanderbilt’s newly renovated restaurant and bar. Johannes Diele, Loews director of food and beverage, explains that Brandon’s culinary creativity stood out from the stack of resumes he’d peeled through for months. Pointing to legendary hospitality greats like César Ritz, Johannes explains that for centuries, you’d go to a hotel for a great meal, but “sadly, most hotel dining has become really bland, and not anything to write home about. Here, we’re wanting to give travelers and foodies alike an incredible Southern dining experience.” In their first meeting, Chef Frohne conceptualized the beginnings of a barrel-aged hot sauce with fresno peppers. With that kind of innovation at the helm, Johannes says, hotel dining could easily make a comeback.
At the restaurant’s adjacent Mason Bar, guests can pull up a comfortable barstool to a stained concrete counter, lit by a large, square chandelier made entirely of mason jars. Barkeeps offer spiced nuts to accompany a long, leather-bound list of regional spirits, select wines and traditional Southern cocktails crafted with house-made tonics, juices and sodas. With hide-wrapped wingback chairs, Mason Bar is as romantic as it is comfortable. Step inside Mason’s or Mason Bar, and it’s clear that no expense was spared to create a refined, elegant dining experience in one of the most unexpected places.
Photo by Ron Manville