Food & Wine’s 2022

The locusts are open three days a week, and for five and a half hours a day. Two hours are allotted for lunch. Time left to serve dinner. On average, there are about six dishes on the menu, plus the occasional specials (or three). The wine list is quite short. It’s hard to say exactly what a restaurant is, but as of now, the food is mostly Japanese in character. And on any night, there might be a heavy metal soundtrack blaring from the open kitchen, with a few chefs banging their heads away while you prepare your next dish. Locust is completely himself, relentless, and unapologetic – and that’s exactly what makes it fun and wonderful.

If Locust proves one thing, it’s that the era of restaurants bending over backwards for dinner, and doing everything to capture every possible customer, is officially over. There is no longer a need to endure long and grueling hours, providing giant menus that accommodate every possible delicate preference. For chef Trevor Moran (whose pedigree includes Catbird’s seat in Nashville and Noma in Copenhagen), Locust, which started as a dumpling and pop-up during the pandemic, was always meant to be a reimagining of industry expectations. Chefs are too proud to say out loud, ‘Oh, this work is so hard, and the only way to do it is to destroy yourself. ‘ And I was always thinking, ‘Well, that’s weird.’

Although playlists are high and opening hours are short at Locust, there is a wonderful sense of hospitality at the heart of the restaurant. There are no servers. Instead, every cook comes out of the restaurant’s open kitchen to serve you the dish they’ve prepared for you. Oftentimes, it may take a minute to kneel at your table to explain the dish, but also to have a quick conversation about anything and everything. There is noisy energy going from the kitchen to the rest of the restaurant.

Alex Lau

Then there’s the food: Don’t be fooled by the simplicity and simplicity of the rectangular menu card handed to you as you sit down. It might read “cow’s rice” (with the option to add “a lot of caviar”), but the translation of crawfish is a far cry from a humble dish of raw protein cubes with a side of toast. Moran and his team grind “really good meat” and season it vigorously with salt, mustard oil and horseradish oil so that it derives flavor from two different types of heat. He arrives at the table covered with a pile of shiny caviar and a bowl of soft white rice gently folded with cream of smoked pickled eggs, which Moran describes as mayonnaise “with more lactic acid” and sheets of crunchy nori. On the side is a small bowl of freeze-dried capers, something Moran once made on a whim, then put in the freeze-dryer overnight to dry. The result is a gorgeous, crunchy salty spot that makes you wonder why not all capers are served freeze-dried. The idea is to eat the tartar as a hand roll, layering protein, rice, and capers into the nori in whatever proportions make you happier.

Shrimp toast, listed simply as “royal red shrimp pocket,” is a thick, glazed concoction that will last in your dreams for weeks. Moran and his team whip a mousse of royal red shrimp with seasonings like white pepper and lemongrass on white bread (most importantly, with the peel off). Then the mousse covered bread is dipped in the sake-covered tempura mixture and fried until golden and crunchy. As an ode to Nashville’s most famous dish—hot chicken—shrimp toast straight from the skillet is drizzled with shrimp head oil and glazed with homemade sweet chili sauce.

The dumplings, with a crust so translucent and thin, cannot be skipped, that they must be stuffed, sealed, and cooked to order. They arrive full full, cuddled in their steaming basket, waiting to be plucked with a set of chopsticks. They are best followed by kakigori, a marvel of shaved ice candy that Moran and his team have literally flipped over to her side. Instead of serving the dessert as a giant pile of shaved ice covered in toppings, the ones at Locust are molded into a loaf pan (and more recently, in a custom ceramic bowl made by Sarah Sehat) to create a more compact dessert that makes it possible to experience every ingredient in texture and flavor in every spoonful. .

Everything on the menu is subject to change at Locust. Moran is now focused on replacing the dumpling filling with one that’s less pork-heavy and more lamb-heavy, a protein in keeping with his Irish upbringing. He also plays Irish brown soda bread with homemade butter and takes the team on a research trip to Ireland. A few months from now, Locust might be a good Irish restaurant, leaving dumplings and kakigori in the rearview mirror. It is the freedom to continue to develop that interests him most. “It still feels like a pop-up in our perpetual kitchen,” Moran says. “It’s nice.”

It’s all in the details

Alex Lau

Beef tartare at Locust riffs take on the classic dish, reinterpreting elements of the original (crisp toast, lean beef, rich egg yolk, and salty capers) in hand rolls. Nori sheets are an umami-laden beef medium; Capers are freeze-dried, offering a crunchy, satisfying texture as well as savory notes of flavor, while creamy rice mixed with smoked pickled eggs provides creamy flakes. The proportions of the items are what you make of it – each diner can choose their own adventure

delicate dumplings

Alex Lau

Each order of dumplings, with fillings wrapped in thin and fluffy wrappers, is steamed to order by Moran and his team. If they are on the list, this is a must.

luxury toast

Alex Lau

To roast the shrimp, dipped shrimp mousse bread in tempura mixture, fried and garnished with sweet chili sauce.

Don’t skip dessert

Alex Lau

This kakigori gets its unique shape by assembling it in a loaf pan. Then he flipped over the board, dramatically

Pork about

Alex Lau

If that sounds like thin slices of ham on a biscuit with a swipe of horseradish sauce, it’s because, with one twist: “pork” is made with salted smoked tuna.

Locusts, 2305 12th Ave S., Nashville, TN