Newcomer's Guide to Nashville
Nashville is a culinary treasure, known for meat-and-three diners, fiery fried chicken and fluffy biscuits as well as a strong farm-to-table community. Eat like a local with this guide to some of the best places to eat and drink in Music City.
Photo By: Andrea Behrends
Photo By: Andrea Behrends
Photo By: Anthony Matula
Photo By: Andrea Behrends
Photo By: Andrea Behrends
Welcome to Nashville
Nashville is in the midst of a culinary revolution. What started with just a handful of notable independent restaurants 10 years ago has exploded to include global cuisines, farm-to-table menus and cocktail dens, as well as new talent drawing on the city’s heritage of Southern food, hot-chicken shacks, whiskey bars and barbecue joints. A handful of celebrity chefs have made their way to town in the hopes of capitalizing on Nashville’s fun-loving crowds — and their spots are worth exploring. But you’ll find a truer taste of this growing Southern city (think: meat and threes, fruit tea and biscuits) within the locally owned, chef-driven dining rooms that first put Music City on the culinary map.
Brunch: Biscuit Love Brunch
Born of a beloved local food-truck concept, Biscuit Love Brunch is the brick-and-mortar extension of chef-owners Karl and Sarah Worley’s passion for biscuit-focused Southern fare. Order at the counter, choosing from a selection of breakfast and lunch items, like Blacklock hash topped with a sunny-side-up egg, or a BCBLT, which is the classic sandwich tucked into a biscuit with tomato jam. There’s a carryout counter as well as a “ham bar,” which features hams from across the region, sliced and served with a crackerlike beaten biscuit. Waits can get heavy on the weekends, but the place is open until 3 p.m. daily and will soon start late-night service (7 p.m. to 3 a.m.) on the weekends.
Hot Chicken: Hattie B’s Hot Chicken
If you’re coming to Nashville to eat, put hot chicken at the top of your list. Made legendary by Prince’s Hot Chicken Shack in North Nashville, the fiery fowl is fried, then basted in a nostril-burning spice mix. Hattie B’s brings the local dish to downtown Nashville in a fast-casual setting where you can order your bird in five different heat levels, from Southern (no spice) to Shut the Cluck Up (not for the faint of heart). They also offer comforting Southern sides, like black-eyed pea salad and pimento mac and cheese, plus a small selection of beers on draft or in the can, which you can enjoy on the spacious, year-round patios at both locations.
Tasting Menu: The Catbird Seat
Nashville’s first tasting-menu-only restaurant, the Catbird Seat is a jewel box of a dining room with bar seating around an open kitchen, with chefs serving diners directly. Since its 2011 start, the chef has changed (Trevor Moran, formally of Noma, now mans the stage) but the succession of dishes is better than ever. Moran’s style has Noma-like cleverness, artistic composure and appreciation for hyper-local ingredients, but the food remains approachable, as with ultralight potato soup or a plate of beef tartare that you eat without utensils, all set to a rock-focused soundtrack.
New Restaurant: Butchertown Hall
With its modern, minimalist aesthetic and deliciously smoky aroma, Butchertown Hall was met with rave reviews when it opened in Germantown in February 2015. Combining the “Texo-German” mash-up cuisine found in Texas Hill Country (which also includes Mexican and barbecue influences) and a solid, Belgian-heavy beer list, Butchertown is the ideal casual place to gather with friends. Menu stars include the beef brisket plate, served with pickles, onions and Texas toast or tortillas, as well as any of the housemade sausages, in German, Czech and Mexican styles. Beer curator Dan King collaborates closely with local brewers to put a steady rotation of custom brews at the top of his draft list, too.
Fine Dining Restaurant: Capitol Grille
Tucked into the lower level of the elegant and historical Hermitage Hotel, the Capitol Grille and its adjoining Oak Bar recall the gilded age of Southern dining. Under an arched ceiling and surrounded by images of other Nashville monuments, diners are treated to outstanding service, one of the region’s best whiskey lists and chef Tyler Brown’s refined play on Southern classics. The main theme here is the steaks, which are sourced from the hotel’s nearby cattle ranch, Double H Farms. They’re simply prepared and served with Southern-inflected sides like buttermilk potato puree. But Brown also leans heavily on other local farmers — as well as the produce he raises himself at Glen Leven Farm, which is part of The Land Trust for Tennessee — to produce beautiful dishes like a lamb shank with Sea Island red peas or duck with parsnips and mustard greens.
Worth the Drive: Loveless Cafe
From downtown Nashville, it’s only about 17 miles to the Loveless Cafe, but when you travel off highway and meander down the scenic side roads, it can be one of the prettiest, most leisurely drives. Serving continuously since 1951, the Loveless carries on the down-home tradition of a classic “meat and three” — a plate with a protein and three sides — with its crispy fried chicken, gooey mac and cheese, collard greens and unending supplies of sweet tea. The service is warm and friendly, and there’s never a shortage of fantastic biscuits. Next door, there’s also the Hams & Jams country market, where you can pick up pounds of barbecue as well as preserves, kitchen goods and Loveless gear to take home.
Cocktail Bar: The Patterson House
One of Nashville’s first serious cocktail bars, the Patterson House is still its best. The reservation-only policy means that there’s never a chaotic scene around the rectangular island bar at the center of the room. A library motif, antique chandeliers, and an army of well-dressed barmen are there to greet you, but don’t let the serious scene intimidate you — the staff is just as happy to pour a gin and housemade tonic as to mix a custom craft cocktail. The menu is organized by spirit, with drinks listed from least to most potent. There’s a small food menu, including mini burgers, truffled deviled eggs and roasted bar nuts.
Hangout: Pinewood Social
Nowhere else in Nashville (or most places, really) can you find a bowling alley, two outdoor pools, a bocce court, roomy booths and a dedicated Airstream trailer bar, not to mention excellent food and a full coffee shop. Pinewood Social is a cool, laid-back all-day-playhouse adults. The space serves New American fare at breakfast, lunch and dinner, with snacks available anytime, and pool-bar options like an excellent lobster roll. The cocktail program is also top-notch: Go for the To Infinity and Beyond, an exotic, tequila-based concoction that’s loaded with fruit juices like lime, grapefruit and guava.
Neighborhood Spot: City House
Though Tandy Wilson would never call himself a rock-star chef, his humble persona and passion for cooking very good food in all the right ways make him one of the most-likable, city-supporting chefs in town. Wilson helped put Nashville on the map when he opened his Italian-by-way-of-Tennessee restaurant in Germantown years before it became the hot-spot neighborhood it is today. From an open kitchen accented with pig paraphernalia, Wilson and his trucker-hat-sporting crew plate up a form of homey Italian nonna cooking, with dishes like yellow corn grits with clams and smoked sausage, and half of a chicken crusted with a red-onion Jezebel sauce. There are tender, puffy-crusted pizzas from a brick oven, a well-edited wine list and fresh-baked cookies for dessert.
Dinner + A Show: City Winery
Nashville may be packed with great music venues, but City Winery brings the added dynamic of great food, intimate seating and a strong selection of great wines. Thanks in part to its other locations, in New York, Chicago and Napa, the restaurant-venue-winery draws a steady list of hitmakers, meaning you might find blues artist Booker T. Jones one night and indie band Blitzen Trapper the next. On the menu, Chef Kristin Beringson prepares both show-friendly snack fare (beet-and-bacon flatbread; pork tacos) as well as a full dinner menu that includes items like grilled brook trout and smoked Gouda ravioli. And, of course, the wine list is packed with a mix of heavy-hitting labels, small independent producers, housemade draft wines and a number of bargains.
Power Lunch: The Farm House
Thanks to its convenient-to-everything downtown location, The Farm House can play the power-lunch locale for both locals who are stopping in for a midday meeting and visitors trying to tackle the many historical music sites nearby — it’s a stone’s throw from the Country Music Hall of Fame. Whatever the occasion, Chef Trey Cioccia is up for it, serving snacks like a pimento-cheese beignet or pork belly toaster pastry, along with inventive daily blue plates that might feature a catfish sandwich or wings with an Alabama white sauce. And don’t miss dessert: There’s always a solid lineup of housemade ice creams and sorbets.