Hrant Arakelian

Review: Middle Eastern Flavors Shine at Lyra in East Nashville


By Nancy Vienneau

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (Nashville Tennessean) — Lyra is small constellation known for its most brilliant star, Vega. While we don’t know what prompted chef Hrant Arakelian and his wife Elizabeth Endicott to choose this name for their modern Middle Eastern restaurant in East Nashville, we do find it fitting. Among the constellations of restaurants throughout our city, Lyra beams brightly.

This stellar place recently opened in the former Holland House Bar and Refuge, where Arakelian had served as executive chef since 2014. He’s cooked in a few Nashville restaurants over the past decade, such as Rumours East and Etch. Here, though, he is able to give the fullest expression to the foods that are part of his heritage.

Arakelian’s father was born in Lebanon and his mother in east Tennessee. As a young child, Arakelian lived in Beirut and Muscat, Oman. Even after the family returned to Tennessee, his parents continued to embrace the cooking traditions of the Middle East. At Lyra, we suspect, Arakelian has taken those recipes as inspiration, and made them his own.

In re-imagining the restaurant, a harmony of blues, greens and grays, Arakelian also installed a wood-fired oven, visible from the dining room. It plays an intrinsic role in his menu. Beautiful breads — puffed and lightly charred pitas, Kurdish loaves known as samoons, Lebanese flatbreads painted with za’atar-infused oil, and fatayers, savory stuffed pastry triangles — emerge fragrant and yeasty from the glowing oven.

Impressive, too, is Arakelian’s use of fresh herbs, freshly ground spices and dried peppers in vibrant combinations, which inform much of the cuisine. It makes dining at Lyra both an adventure and a pleasure.

Get the Mirror in your inbox:

Where to start? If it’s happy hour, get an order of fried chickpeas dusted in berbere spices (delightful pops of crunchy-salty-spice) and a cocktail while you study the menu. Having been Lockeland Table’s beverage director for six years, Endicott brings a wealth of expertise and creativity to the libations, both alcoholic and non. There are stunning concoctions made with hibiscus, like the gin and aperol imbued Hans Gruber, cinnamon fig bitters in the cava-based Bellatrix, and rosemary-date syrup in the Dark Phoenix, a potent meld of citrus-reposado tequila-Campari on the rocks.

Spooned with roasted turnips and onions and pooled with Aleppo-pepper spiked olive oil, the hummus is a revelation, its enjoyment further heightened by the soft, warm pitas that accompany it. Arakelian also brings new dimension to baba ganoush. Served “in its skin,” the whole roasted eggplant is split, crowned with tahini, fresh herbs and pickled red onion. Stir the mixture into the warm eggplant flesh and spread over pieces of the Kurdish samoon bread.

Ask, too, about the daily fatayer, a Middle Eastern version of a calzone. Ours, stuffed with broccolini (also wood-oven baked), soft feta and roasted red bell pepper puree, was finished with a scatter of parsley and chives — fresh, and flavorful.

While tomatoes are in season during the summer, Arakelian will offer his salt-baked heirloom tomato salad, the orbs strewn with puffed bulgur, Turkish cheese, pepper oil and oregano. It is delicious by itself or savored over one of the breads. Another summer offering, watermelon salad, is adorned with mint, shaved halloumi cheese, hot banana peppers, nigella and sesame seeds. It makes a refreshing palate cleanser when dining on small plates of fried beef kibbeh (remarkable beef meatballs filled with date butter, coated in shatta sauce and crushed urfa biber pepper) or seared za’atar spiced scallops (plated over skordalia, a potato puree that Arakelian folds with pencil asparagus cuts and finishes with pickled shallot).

Plates are listed in a progression of size. Larger entrée-sized dishes include the date-glazed half-rack of lamb, rosy frenched chops served over sour rice (a dish from Oman), stirred with carrot-top gremolata and pickled currants. Lamb lovers will relish this preparation. The market fish is a unique preparation, the fillet (in our case, wreckfish) dipped in chickpea batter, fried to a puff and planked over an herbed tahini sauce. A salad of shaved fennel and grapefruit, lime and orange segments in nigella seed vinaigrette makes a tangy counterpoint to the rich fish.

You’ll want to order dessert. Endicott is also pastry chef. She makes a wonderful pistachio ice cream sandwich, the housemade churn tucked between sesame-tahini cookies. On the weekends look for her chocolate cake. It’s actually a multi-layered (as in 10 thin-thin layers!) cream-filled cocoa-cardamom cake that is light, luscious and perfect with a cup of Turkish coffee.

Topics: Restaurants

Service is warm and informed. Both Arakelian and Endicott are attuned to the neighborhood and have created an ambiance that is sophisticated yet unpretentious, and welcoming to families. With the components of food, drink, service and vibe in place, Lyra should shine for a long time.

To find out more about the restaurant, visit


Get the Mirror-Spectator Weekly in your inbox: