Eating Nashville: We discovered the wonders of Australian cafe culture at new Gulch spot

Brad Schmitt Mackensy Lunsford
Nashville Tennessean
The lunch crowd at Two Hands restaurant in Nashville Feb. 27, 2023

Eating Nashville is The Tennessean's new column in which food writer Mackensy Lunsford and food eater Brad Schmitt frequently butt heads about Nashville's new culinary hot spots.

Mack: I'm incredibly late to the concept of Australian cafe culture, but I'm here for it. That's what you find at Hearts in East Nashville, a place I have a crush on for its vibrant, healthy breakfast drinks and dishes and incredible coffee. Now that the Gulch has a location of Two Hands, a small New York-based chain, I'm crushing on a new spot.

In general, I'm a pretty healthy eater. I work out hard and live on lots of protein and vegetables. And that's what you'll find here, though it's not exclusively "health food," whatever that means. You can have your kale, but also a rich pain au chocolat.

But Brad, it seems, has some complaints about the parking situation.

Brad: Yes, Mack, as you recall, you were kind enough to call me and tell me to avoid the parking lot across the street because it was $40+. Sorry, but I'm not paying more for parking than I do for my meal, no matter how good it is! The restaurant reservation guides you to a lot up the street that is poorly marked and had few spaces left. But I scored one, and with tech support at the restaurant, I was able to get my parking validated. But sheesh! More hoops than I want to jump through for parking for lunch.

The pain au chocolat at Two Hands restaurant in Nashville Feb. 27, 2023

While I'm kvetching (complaining), the tables for two are crammed super-close together. Like, you're-basically-having-a-meal-with-the couples-on-either-side-of-you close. However, our delicious coffee drinks and that rich, flaky pain au chocolat quickly improved my mood.

Mack: I found the parking to be convenient if a bit hard to find at first. It's free! What more do you want? Valet? You want valet, don't you?

Latte art at Two Hands.

Sometimes I don't get the cramped quarters complaints, but this time you're so right. I was a little tired after three nights of seeing a certain bluegrass band blow the roof off Bridgestone and the Ryman. For that reason, I was not really feeling like cozying up to our admittedly kind and engaging neighbors, but boy were they hype to chat. That aside, my almond milk latte was outstanding, the green juice was restorative, and that's what I chose to focus on. Once the steak and eggs came out, all else faded away.

Steak and eggs with hash brown and mixed greens with French anchovy dressing at Two Hands restaurant in Nashville Feb. 27, 2023

Brad: Ooooooo, that steak! One of the best cuts of beef I've had in Nashville, tender and tasty. And the round hash-brown puck was perfect, browned on the outside, soft and potato-y on the inside. Way to go, Mack, cutting into the over-easy egg on top so the yolk ran down the hash brown, as God intended.

I also thought the ginormous chicken schnitzel roll was a kick in the pants. I love a pretzel roll, loved the mound of salad and parmesan cheese on top and thought the herb yogurt-mustard combo was interesting. But the chicken itself was dry, so I'd probably avoid ordering it again.

The chicken shnitzel roll with parmesan and frisee on a pretzel roll at Two Hands restaurant along Eighth Avenue South in Nashville Feb. 27, 2023

I also was just a bit disappointed in the salmon bowl, though I really can't say why. I think I was hoping for more flavor. Mack?

Mackensy: Oh, I loved the salmon bowl. It's exactly the way I like to eat. A ton of pickled vegetables, some quinoa, a jammy-yolked egg and plenty of flavorful hummus on the bottom. Just drag your spoon through that hummus and lift it through the rest of the ingredients to spread that garlicky, lemony flavor around. That's the move.

Brad Schmitt plays photographer.

But I have an idea as to why you weren't feeling it: It's hard to follow that steak plate. With the sous vide steak and bright flavors, it's in the running for one of my favorite breakfast dishes in the city. You didn't even mention the accompanying tangle of young kale and fresh herbs with that tangy-salty anchovy dressing on the side. So good.

Salmon at Two Hands.

Brad: I'm gonna give a big thumbs-up to your theory as to why I wasn't feeling it. Makes sense. And yes, the salad was far more than a side-dish afterthought. And that brings us to a dessert I didn't even know existed.

Or as the kids say, I was today years old when I found out what an Australian pavlova is. Apparently, "pavlova" is Australian for "delicious, fruit-forward dessert with a bunch of interesting textures and flavors that's topped with a soft whipped cream."

I'll take five of them, please.

Kiwi and passion fruit pavlova (an Australian treat) with soft whipped cream at Two Hands restaurant along Eighth Avenue South in Nashville Feb. 27, 2023

Mack: Listen, I'm not a dessert person, and this thing grabbed me. I loved how the tartness of the passionfruit cut through the rich cream. I could eat this every day.

As for Two Hands, I'll be back. It's nice to have another option for healthy-ish dining downtown. Maybe I'll be feeling awake enough to engage my neighbors this time. Maybe.

If you go

What: Two Hands is an Australian-style cafe. What's that mean? Australians know it takes more than caffeine to fuel your body, though caffeine does help quite a bit. It also takes healthy food.

Where: 606 Eighth Ave S.

How much: $9-17 for breakfast and lunch; $16-45 dinner entrees.

More info:twohandshospitality.com