Music City is quickly rising in the ranks as a town known not only for its music, but for its growing food scene. New neighborhoods like 12South and East Nashville, which were first populated by trailblazers and hipsters, are now becoming more mainstream, bringing with them new restaurants, bars, coffeehouses, and local arts, all the while adding to the traditional music scene found along Broadway.
On my first trip to Nashville, my sister and I only had a weekend to see the city, experience the music scene, and sample the culinary offerings. Given the time constraints, we planned strategically, eating and drinking in a variety of areas and establishments.
Fresh off the plane and meeting our Airbnb hosts, we took off to 5th & Taylor which came highly recommended. This beautiful restaurant with both indoor and outdoor bars was packed. Instead of being discouraged and looking for other dinner options, we decided to try our luck at the bar. Within five minutes, we had two seats and had already ordered a cucumber gimlet and the Manhattan project cocktail to boot. The menu is meat-heavy with an array of seasonal vegetable specials. We opted for fried potato skins and a squash appetizer followed by a mixed grill plate and a lamb duo with a side of mashed potatoes.
We stopped by local coffeehouse Eighth and Roast where drip coffee and Chemex-style pour overs are all the rage. It was filled with locals and families, and we got our caffeine fix while admiring the homey décor. Then, we hightailed it to the Ryman Auditorium for a self-guided tour. Travelers: if you must choose one sightseeing thing to do while in town, this has to be it. The tour kicks off with an elaborate film about the history of the auditorium that magically weaves music and images of the past with stories of the present. Following the tour, we went directly to brunch at Husk Nashville, where we devoured an extraordinary meal that began with two expertly-concocted Old Fashioned cocktails. We split a country ham plate with okra and mustard fixings, and I followed that up with eggs Benedict (sans English muffin) with fried bologna and a hearty potato hash.
As if we hadn’t eaten enough, next we headed to the burgeoning East Nashville neighborhood to try the newly-opened Little Octopus. The space, which was originally used for a pop up shop by owners Sarah and Brad Gavigan, has been transformed for the Gavigans’ latest venture. Sarah, a Nashville native, came back to her hometown after 20 years in Los Angeles looking to bring a new approach to food to her beloved hometown. She hired Chef Daniel Herget, who hails from Miami, to create a seasonal menu that caters to everyone: meat-lovers, vegetarians, vegans, and those who are gluten-free. My dining companions and I shared several small plates, including the grilled sardines with lemon, bottarga, and parsley; Hamachi with romesco, cerignola, and parsley; and the squash with lemon, honey, squid ink togarashi, and nori.
An after-dinner drive down Broadway proved quite hectic, so rather than getting trampled, we decided to skip tunes at Tootsie’s or Robert’s. Instead, we opted for another local haunt in 12South known as Embers Ski Lodge for a more sophisticated way to close out the evening. The cocktail menu is broken down into sections where an iconic cocktail genre, like the margarita, is offered several different ways, but each has a similar flavor profile. The knowledgeable bartenders that hail from Chicago and Brooklyn, New York, are also well-equipped to create something if you give them a base spirit and your likes and dislikes.
To begin our last day in town, we swung by popular coffeehouse Frothy Monkey, which felt like a scene out of the TV show Nashville. Young, good-looking men and women dressed in plaid and humming tunes to one another took our order of two honey rosemary lattes. After waiting longer than we should have for them, we strolled down the street for brunch at Edley’s Bar-B-Que, also in the 12South area. I chose the lunchtime special of brisket paired with a side of homemade potato salad and baked beans while my sister had the local spicy chicken with mac and cheese and coleslaw. Next, it was time for a bar crawl. We stopped by local 12 South Taproom & Grill for a gluten-free beer before visiting Robert’s, one of Nashville’s oldest and most well-known places for local music. We took in a traditional country music band while my sister was suckered into the Recession Special (a Pabst Blue Ribbon and a fried bologna sandwich, all for $5.) Next, we were off to Honky Tonk Central, where a six-person band was playing crowd-pleasing favorites to a raucous group of football fans. We rounded out our bar crawl with one last drink at iconic Tootsies Orchid Lounge before our final meal in town.
To say goodbye to Nashville, we dined at City House, where Chef Tandy Wilson was at the helm. The large space is known for its Sunday chef’s dinners. We sampled wings with fermented peppers, sorghum, butter, and Cider vinegar as well as sausage with kohlrabi, apple topped with horseradish crema, and other dishes, all before saying goodbye to Nashville. We hope to meet again soon.