Mere Bulles looks to make food, atmosphere more accessible in Brentwood

Sun-dried tomato chicken ($23) This dish features Italian crusted chicken cooked in sun-dried tomato lemon butter and topped with Parmesan cheese, with mashed potatoes and asparagus on the side. (Photos by Alex Hosey/Community Impact Newspaper)
Sun-dried tomato chicken ($23) This dish features Italian crusted chicken cooked in sun-dried tomato lemon butter and topped with Parmesan cheese, with mashed potatoes and asparagus on the side. (Photos by Alex Hosey/Community Impact Newspaper)

Sun-dried tomato chicken ($23) This dish features Italian crusted chicken cooked in sun-dried tomato lemon butter and topped with Parmesan cheese, with mashed potatoes and asparagus on the side. (Photos by Alex Hosey/Community Impact Newspaper)

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Owner Steven Smithing (right) and General Manager Jason Elliott run operations.
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Fish tacos ($16) This dish features blackened Mahi Mahi on southwestern slaw, topped with diced onion, cilantro, queso fresco and aioli and served with cilantro-lime rice with black beans and pico de gallo.
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Mere Bulles means “Mother Bubbles,” a nickname for the founder’s wife.
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Charleston she-crab bisque ($8 cup, $12 bowl) This Mere Bulles signature bisque is made with cream and crab and topped with chives.
Mere Bulles, located in the historic Maryland Manor in Brentwood, began as a Southern restaurant in downtown Nashville in 1985—before Broadway was filled with the neon lights of honky tonks and bars that can be seen today.

“[When it opened,] it was a big-time jazz club. It was all that. It was where the current B.B. King’s is,” owner Steven Smithing said.

According to Smithing, who bought the restaurant in 2007 after it moved from Nashville to Brentwood in 2001, the French name, which translates to “Mother Bubbles,” came from the founder Rodney Wise’s wife, Shirley, who would watch grandchildren in exchange for a bottle of champagne.

What began as a Southern restaurant and club in Nashville changed over the years to a fine-dining experience in a historic Southern manor. Since Smithing bought it, he said he has been trying to make its food and atmosphere more accessible to the Brentwood community.

“The chef at the time was very talented, but he was trying to make it into an à la minute, fancy, French-inspired restaurant, but the problem with doing that is that it’s 258 seats, and there’s no possible way to do that,” Smithing said. “We’ve [now] tried to appeal to a base.”

The food has also changed over the years, from upper-class European continental cuisine to what Smithing describes as “wholehearted, eclectic American,” with dishes like crab cakes with lemon Dijon and red pepper aioli; filet mignon with mashed potatoes and asparagus; and fish tacos.

The restaurant also maintains a wine list of over a hundred vintages, along with happy hour events and specialty cocktails, including the Mother Bubbles, a sparkling white wine with lemon and strawberry puree.

“We cook all types of things. We have plum-salmon, which would certainly be an Asian-inspired dish; we’ve had curry as a special,” Smithing said. “We try to dabble in all kinds of things.”

Like many restaurants all over the country, Mere Bulles has experienced hardship during the coronavirus pandemic.

According to Smithing, the restaurant closed in March when it was down to $1,000 in sales a day, and he waited until June 1 to reopen with table spacing and safety precautions in place.

“I wouldn’t expect things [go back to normal] until the second quarter of next year unless everything dries up, but that doesn’t look like it’s going to happen,” Smithing said. “We’ll have an idea at the end of February.”


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