Edible Tourism: Nashville

Tomiko Peirano

Tomiko Peirano › Tomiko has amassed decades of experience in the food industry, from her family's restaurant in Oregon's ...

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Nashville is Music City, there is no doubt about that, but the city’s food scene is quickly gaining much-deserved attention in its own right. I’m a big fan of edible tourism and getting the local custom and culture served up on one (hopefully) delicious plate. So when I recently visited Nashville with my husband, I made sure to sample plenty of the local flavors along with the musical sites.

I quizzed a friend who was born and raised in Nashville to get the lowdown on where to eat and, as luck would have it, The New York Times published a great overview of some new Nashville eateries. We hit the gastronomic ground running.

There was an interesting dynamic to food in Nashville. While there were plenty of old-school institutions serving up hearty southern classics, there was also a wave of new restaurants bringing a lighter, fresher touch to the region’s cuisine. Our modus operandi while dining was to order anything we wanted a taste of (which was usually an obscene amount of food for two people), and then pack up the leftovers for breakfast or a snack the next day.

The Old Guard

Arnold’s Country Kitchen: A laid-back “Meat & Three” serving up southern fare cafeteria-style. While the service and atmosphere were without frills (be prepared to wait in line), the food was nostalgic and delicious. We had: roast beef, fried chicken, corn pudding, roasted asparagus, mac ‘n cheese, fresh tomatoes and peach pie. I got a big kick out of the whole dining experience at Arnold’s, but I won’t need to repeat it anytime soon. I needed a nap almost immediately afterwards.

The Loveless Cafe: An immensly popular (and touristy) dining destination just outside of Nashville. The Loveless was more of a complex than a restaurant, with several shops, a smokehouse and a huge barn for private parties dotting the property. Go early or on a weekday, unless you feel like waiting 90 minutes for a table. However, their famous biscuits were almost worth the wait alone, as were the homemade preserves, grits, country ham and smoked pork chops. Again, a post-meal nap was required.

The New Guard

Eastland Cafe: The food at Eastland, featuring locally sourced ingredients, was simple and elegant. The atmosphere was equally approachable, and the service was very friendly. We spent a long, late night sampling several dishes from the menu, most notably: goat cheese brulee, shaved Brussels sprouts with a soft-boiled egg, homemade gnocchi, and fried green tomatoes. Delicious.

Marche Artisan Foods: Part airy, casual dining room and part marketplace (with a surprisingly wide selection of goods), Marche was boisterous and fun. We had a terrific brunch of tender crepes, a crisp green salad and a selection of homemade pastries – everything was light and perfectly in season. Marche is owned by Margot McCormack and Jay Frein, the business duo behind the nearby (and equally popular) Margot Cafe & Bar.

Margot Cafe & Bar: A nice bistro with a packed bar and terrific food, Margot’s has been a feature of East Nashville for a decade. We shared perfectly cooked fish cakes with radishes and hard-boiled egg, red snapper braised with fresh tomatoes, and crispy pork belly. French and Italian flavors ran throughout the menu and everything we ordered was very well executed

Holland House Bar & Refuge: The striking interior design was the first thing we noticed about The Holland House. An old warehouse furnished with reclaimed materials, antiques and brilliant chandeliers, it was almost like stepping into Miss Havisham’s house… provided she was a talented bespoke bartender (and not just a crazy Dickens character). We had a great meal (seared trout with fingerling potatoes, a classic hamburger, and fried yellow heirloom tomatoes), but the real stars of the show were the cocktails. My husband ordered Four Roses bourbon served with ginger ice cubes. It was basic in theory, but stellar in practice. I am determined to make ginger ice cubes at home.

City House: Love for City House is already well-documented here on HandPicked Nation, but it bears repeating. This was the best meal we had in Nashville. The service and setting were impeccable, and the food was incredible (Italian-inflected cuisine by way of southern ingredients). We enjoyed wood-fired pizza with Montasio cheese and local kale, chicken wings in Alabama white BBQ sauce,  and a sausage-stuffed summer squash topped with fresh breadcrumbs. Our favorite dish was a plate of ripe, thick-sliced tomatoes topped with homemade cottage cheese and peanut-basil pesto. It was an unusual and completely successful tribute to insalata caprese.

Jeni’s Splendid Ice Cream: More of an ice cream boutique than parlor, Jeni’s takes its frozen wares very seriously. A friendly employee walked us through the many flavors as if we were ordering a bottle of wine. I sampled and pondered until I settled on the “perfect” cone, a pairing of spicy peanut ice cream and dark, bittersweet chocolate ice cream… it was one of the best things ever.

Have you ever been to Nashville? Where is your favorite place to eat?

Photo Credit: Tomiko Peirano