Co-owners Matt Spicher and Corey Ladd and executive chef Todd Alan Martin launched East Nashville’s Treehouse restaurant about eight months ago, with the intent of filling a neighborhood need.
“(Martin) was at Lockeland Table for a long time, and when he would get off work, he would not have anywhere to go eat — at least on the East Side, anything of any quality,” Spicher says, as Martin busily chops and preps for the night’s service. “He could maybe get a sandwich if he was lucky, but it was pretty slim pickins for late-night eats. … His vision, his input was, ‘Man, we need a late-night place…' So that was one thing in our vision: to fill that niche (with) quality, good food, warm food that was prepared from scratch that day.”
The Treehouse accomplishes that quality late-night-eats goal nightly with a “10 after 10” menu, stocked with items like salmon tartare and open-face pork rillette sandwiches, all under 10 bucks.
But while the late-night thing was a goal realized, other parts of the Treehouse’s personality were less planned, more driven by creative inspiration. The fact that Treehouse’s menu has changed some 200-odd times — daily since the doors opened — wasn’t so intentional.
“It’s due to the brilliance of our chef,” Spicher says. “I liken him to a songwriter who never wants to play his hits — he always wants to play the new song he wrote today. He gets a thrill out of new.”
Martin’s also driven by a strict focus on using the freshest stuff he finds.
“Our cooler, by 3 a.m. Saturday, is empty. So everything’s always fresh, and dependent on what’s at market come Monday,” Spicher says. “If (Martin) goes to market and he sees some awesome salmon or halibut or shrimps, he might just grab a hundred of them and say, ‘That’s what we’re gonna do this week,’ and I just think that’s really exciting and seasonal. We didn’t buy bulk burgers and sit on them for two months. It’s just not our mantra.”
The fresh, by-hand mantra that does guide the kitchen follows through the whole space, too — at least the by-hand part. During the renovations of the space — previously the longtime home of Spicher's dad, fiddle great Buddy Spicher — they pulled hundred-year old wood from the walls and turned it into tables and chairs, then took hammers and nails outside to build the restaurant’s trademark “treehouse” spaces, to complement the cozy old treehouse that already anchored the yard.
“We had two questions that everyone asked at the beginning, which were, ‘What kind of food do you have?’ … and, ‘Can we go in the treehouse?’” Spicher says. “If you’ve ever been in a treehouse there’s usually a big tree in the middle so there’s just no room. The original treehouse, which my father built, is really more of a landmark. So what we set out to do was to build a treehouse you could go in. I built a simple treehouse structure that a party of eight or 10 can go in and have a private dinner, you have a completely cool view of 5 Points and privacy and you can sit up there and just chill out. We knew we needed that once people started asking the question, so it was a part of the original plan. What it was going to look like, I had no idea. I just grabbed some wood and started putting it together, the same way my dad did.”
The tough-to-miss burst of colors back there came from a desire to bring a folk-art feel to a place that served fine food. The Treehouse team, friends, even neighborhood kids all grabbed brushes and splashed on color, the only guide being to leave no two planks alike.
“It’s that personality that I think gives us that funky East Nashville feel,” he says. “Earthiness, and easy to connect to.”
Spicher followed his dad’s lead with the woodworking, but he’s quick to nod to another East Side forebear when it comes to the East Nashville-restaurateur path he, Ladd and Martin followed.
“When I first started buying property here (in the early ‘90s), 3 Crow was a place called Shirley’s Place, and it was the only bar. That was it,” Spicher says. “And you didn’t go in there unless you had some buddies with you and you were prepared for a very spirited evening. But (Margot’s Margot McCormack) came in and really changed the direction. I think she’s a pioneer for East Nashville that really deserves a lot of credit for the culinary shift that happened. If it weren’t for Margot, I would not be here.”
A SUMMER COCKTAIL RECIPE FROM THE TREEHOUSE
Since The Treehouse’s ever-evolving menu keeps a focus on freshness and seasonality — and that sensibility follows through to their top-notch cocktails — we asked those folks to share their pick for a perfect summer drink.
A recipe for The Treehouse Mai Tai:
1.5 oz Matusalem Rum
1 oz Lime
3/4 oz Orgeat
1/2 oz simple syrup
1/3 oz Pierre Ferrand Orange Curaçao
Gosling’s Black Rum, float on top
VISIT THE TREEHOUSE
The Treehouse is located at 1011 Clearview Ave. Hours are Monday to Thursday 6 p.m. to 1 a.m.; Friday and Saturday 6 p.m. to 3 a.m. For more, visit The Treehouse website or The Treehouse’s Facebook page.