The South's Best Food Towns
Nashville, Tennessee: Weekend Dining Guide
Where to eat and drink in Music City
photo: Bolton's Spicy Chicken & Fish | By Andrea Behrends
Nashville is one of The South’s Best Food Towns, selected by the editors of Garden & Gun. See all of the cities here. Do you agree with our picks? Disagree? Have your say on Facebook or Twitter. #SouthernFoodTowns
There was a time when visitors who wanted a taste of Nashville could get it in three stops: biscuits at the Loveless Cafe, a meat-and-three lunch at Arnold’s Country Kitchen, and a fiery drumstick at that pioneer of the now-nationwide trend, Prince’s Hot Chicken Shack—and maybe a Goo Goo Cluster for dessert. Then outsiders, from tech companies to restaurateurs, started discovering what musicians have long known: Nashville as the “third coast” to New York and Los Angeles was less expensive and offered more down-home soulfulness to boot. The town became the spot for figures like John Besh to expand their food empires, and talented chefs joined in from Brooklyn and Chicago, longing for their big break. All this growth doesn’t mean Music City has forgotten its roots, though. You can still go from symphony violins to honky-tonk fiddles in less than a block, and there will always be room at the bar for high culture to sidle up next to low for a PBR.
Begin with the namesake attraction at Biscuit Love’s location in Hillsboro Village, a historic neighborhood undergoing a renaissance with new restaurants and boutiques. The owners, Karl and Sarah Worley, had their first date in this very spot, and Hatch Show Print posters in the foyer spell L-O-V-E. That emotion saturates the biscuits, too—from buttery versions with country ham to the biscuit–doughnut
hole hybrid bonuts.
Burn off the dough by hopping between Lower Broadway honky-tonks before the late-night madness. You’ll hear a cacophony of kick drums as early as 11:00 a.m. through the open windows of favorites such as Robert’s Western World. Go on and order Robert’s famed fried-bologna sandwich, even if you only take a nibble. Then boot-scoot down Broadway to get a taste of the city’s growing diversity at Chauhan Ale & Masala House. Chef Maneet Chauhan stacks her translations of meat-and-threes (such as garam masala pork belly, with saag and rice) into tiffins, the Indian worker’s version of lunch pails.
You’ll be tempted to nap afterward—instead, consider a spin through the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum to catch the Dylan, Cash, and the Nashville Cats exhibit, an enlightening look at rock, folk, and country alliances. For other unlikely but inspired unions, sup at Bastion, in an old factory in the Wedgewood-Houston neighborhood. Make reservations—there are just twenty-four seats, tucked away speakeasy-style. The chefs, led by the Catbird Seat alum Josh Habiger, lean over the counter to chat while you pick out your dishes on a bingo-esque card, sensual bites such as grilled eggplant with shishito chimichurri and smoked yogurt.
Wind your way up to L.A. Jackson, John Besh’s rooftop bar at the Thompson hotel, for the best view of the city. The people-watching is superb—the Black Keys’ Patrick Carney might DJ as you nosh on a Lightnin’ Hopkins biscotti ice cream sandwich by executive pastry chef Lisa Marie White. End with a nightcap set to bluegrass at the venerable Station Inn next door. The paneled walls plastered with beer signs are a far cry from the sheen of the rest of the newly developed Gulch, but the nightly hootenanny will remind you of train songs of yore—apropos for the rail lines that come together outside in the topographical dip that gave the neighborhood its name.
After a big night in Music City, you’ll need a jolt of caffeine. Head to Barista Parlor for coffee brewed from small-batch seasonal beans and a Pop’s Tart, a perfectly flaky riff on the Pop-Tart named for the owner’s father, who preserves the fruit used for the jammy center. There are a few locations, but the Germantown outpost puts you within easy walking distance of the Nashville Farmers’ Market.
There, you can sample gourmet pizzas by Bella Nashville, topped with turnip greens or pumpkin from the nearby stalls. But don’t fill up—you’ll want not only to admire the artwork displayed at the recently opened 21c Museum Hotel but also to lunch at in-house Gray & Dudley. The best chefs who travel in from afar—such as G&D’s Levon Wallace, of East Los Angeles and, later, Louisville—pay homage to the town’s history. Wallace’s Not Hot Chicken, for instance, focuses less on heat and more on what Wallace calls the “gas station” crunch of its fried skin spiced with Ethiopian berbere and drizzled with Tennessee honey.
When you’re ready for dinner, make it a progressive affair. Pace yourself by starting early at Henrietta Red, in Germantown. Chef Julia Sullivan, a Nashville native who honed her chops at such esteemed restaurants as Per Se, created a space that feels like the first page of a Moleskine: fresh, clean lined, promising. Grab a seat at the bar and order an inventive snack—chicken liver with cantaloupe and mustard greens, perhaps, or wood-roasted oysters with green curry. Then walk down the block to the much-acclaimed City House. James Beard Award–winning chef Tandy Wilson blends rustic Italian proclivities with his love of what grows in Nashville—sour corn cake with yellow-eyed beans and broccoli, for instance. Consider also the nearby Rolf and Daughters for expertly crafted pastas gussied up with the likes of octopus or heritage pork ragu.
After taking in a live rock or Americana show at an East Nashville music venue such as the Basement East or the 5 Spot, end the night with a dose of heat at Bolton’s Spicy Chicken & Fish, open till midnight. The fish—coated in cayenne, and just as piquant as the famed hot chicken—comes stretched over white bread with stripes of mustard and a scatter of pickles and onion for a satisfying mouthful of tang, texture, and burn.
East Nashville also throws stellar Sunday Fundays, with its watering holes, vintage shops, and newer restaurants like the Charleston, South Carolina, import Butcher & Bee. But Margot McCormack still reigns as the area’s brunch queen. In 2001, she took a chance on a boarded-up service station in a then-gritty neighborhood to open Margot Café and Bar. With its tiny kitchen, no walk-in cooler, and a menu that changes daily, Margot makes the best of the local bounty while delivering all the trappings of a late-morning meal: the clinks of mismatched china, the sizzle of steak frites, the sweet smell of crepes. Before leaving town, swing over to Urban Cowboy Public House. The restaurant behind this Brooklyn-bred bed-and-breakfast feels like a backyard party, with guests cozying up by a bonfire. Toast your trip with the Tennessee whiskey hot toddy—fresh whipped cream on top.
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