Where to Eat in Nashville
Hungry in Music City?
I was--for 26 glorious years.
Recently, however, life has taken me a day's drive south, out of The South, away from the food I crave.
While a mecca of exotic cuisines welcomes me in my new locale, my mouth still waters at the memory of barbecue and burgers gone by.
Here's a taste of what's making my tummy rumble, 900 miles away.
The Best Barbecue this Side of You Name It
When you think of barbecue, you probably think Texas...Memphis...maybe a regional chain restaurant or two....
I think Martin's.
Nestled in Nolensville, TN (about 30 minutes from downtown Nashville, 15 from Brentwood), the home of the greatest pulled-pork I've ever tasted twinkles with Christmas lights and sits atop an auto-body shop.
If the Willie Nelson and Kenny Rogers records on the walls don't make you feel at home, the considerate roll of paper towels on every table sure ought to set you in the right frame of mind.
You are going to get your fingers dirty, and you are going to like it.
Get the Big Momma Sampler: pulled pork, ribs and brisket, plus two sides and your choice of four amazing barbecue sauces. The green beans are spicy and seductive; Bo's Cornbread tastes like pork fat and heaven; and if you don't try the fresh-cut fries, then you should seriously reconsider your priorities.
Still hungry? You must try the Brisket Tacos: melt-in-your-mouth-proof-of-God's-lovin, blanketed in flour tortillas.
Ketchup and Mustard and Pickles--Oh my!
Outside of Greer Stadium, LP Field, or the Center Formerly Known as Sommet (everybody knows hot-dogs taste better when eaten in the presence of athletes), The Dog of Nashville is my ultimate hotdog destination.
Located on what I like to think of as Nashville's New Food District (Belcourt Ave in Hillsboro Village), The Dog will fill your bun with Kosher or veggie or standard dog, wrap it in bacon, deep-fry it, top it with Tabasco-sauteed onions or fried eggs or guacamole, and serve it in a basket with homemade potato chips, tater tots, or dog bites (fried jalapeno slices).
Corn-dogs are hand-dipped and deep-fried for an extra-crunchy coating of deliciousness.
Polish sausages, various buns, and a topping for every tendency are available as well. I generally stick to one of the preconceived selections such as the Chi-Town Dog, the Diet Starts Tomorrow Dog, or the Oye Vey (but I'm not telling what's on 'em!)
Listen Up, Burger-Lovers!
I feel like there are always new reports on who has the best burger in town, one magazine or media-outlet outdoing another.
Maybe it's just Nashville--the city has a ton of great burger places, iconic burger places.
Brown's Diner is beloved, Rotier's a steadfast tradition. P.M. has been recent royalty with its incredible Asian infusion, and Bobbie's Dairy Dip has delighted for decades--guacamole burger + sweet potato fries + peanut-butter-banana-hot-fudge milkshake = bee-bop-de-doo-wap delight.
But the number one spot on my list goes to a place not known for its burgers, a place you may not have heard of--ironic, since it is called The Listening Room.
I stopped into the original location in downtown Franklin once for a bottled water or coffee or something, and I loved the concept: a very relaxed place to stop in for a sandwich and some live music. Sadly, I didn't try the food and never went back.
However, by way of fate and incredibly talented musician-friends, one night last year I found myself in the new, more grown-up location at Cummins Station in downtown Nashville. I was listening to amazing singers and songwriters pour out their hearts, but it was the Western Burger with onions that captured mine. Juicy, salty, savory, with a kick of barbecue sauce and pepperjack, one bite of this burger sent horses bucking, cowboys lassoing, and my taste-buds screaming, "More! More! More!"
A Meaty Honorable Mention
- Fat Mo's: Another Nashville legend, its locations are all over town, the original on 8th Ave S. The best way to experience Fat Mo's is to order the Super Deluxe Burger (everything but mayo for me). If you cannot eat all 27 ounces, find someone to split it with. For some reason, half a Super Deluxe Burger always satisfies more than an entire Deluxe.
- Gabby's: Whole-in-the-wall heaven located at 493 Humphreys St. behind Greer Stadium (where the Sounds play), Gabby's is the new girl in town, and boy, do all the guys want to get a date! Get your burger with the cheese of your choice and a fried egg on top. Drinks are fruit tea, ice water, and homemade lemonade ("No Country Time here!" the cashier happily reports); desserts are huge, fudgy brownies and other scrumptious after-school treats.
- Five Guys:The chain that is circling the nation now has several links in Nashville. Amazing burgers and fries--if you dine in. Do not count on time-release deliciousness; you have about an eleven-minute window to consume the burger and fries before the fairy dust wears off and they lose all their magic. The hot-dogs and grilled-cheese sandwiches are great here, too (and they make better take-out).
- Ruby Tuesday: Okay, I know you're rolling your eyes, but have you tried the Blue Ribbon Boston Burger? Plus, the chain did start in Tennessee....
- Burgers and Cream: A new chain has come to Cool Springs. More kid-and-family-oriented than the others, it tends to be busy and loud. I prefer the "cream" here to the burger. The burgers were acceptable but completely upstaged by the peanut-butter-fudge milkshake and incredible mound of onion straws.
The Rest of the Best: A Miscellaneous Collection of Deliciousness
- Fox's Donut Den: You haven't tasted Nashville if you've never tasted the apple fritter at the Donut Den. Enormous, pillowy and fried, this sweet treat is my favorite on the menu. That is not to say I can simply order one and be done. Add a kolache, some donut holes--two glazed and two blueberry cake--plus a cup of coffee, and then I'm good to go. The Donut Den, located next to Hillsboro High School in Green Hills, has been frying up the best donuts in Nashville for over 30 years.
- McDougal's: Oh, those chicken fingers and fries! I prefer the hole-in-the-wall atmosphere of the original location in Hillsboro Village, but with locations hatching all over Middle Tennessee, McDougal's plump, juicy, and perfectly crispy chicken fingers are always the best in town. Mmm...drooling on the keyboard just thinking about the goodness...must clean up.
- Savarino's Cucina: They may speak English inside, but as far as I'm concerned, the moment you walk through that front door you are in Italy. Espresso, pastries, come-and-get-me cannolis, all beckon from the display case. Savarino's is a family business, and the family is always there; you can ask them for advice on what to order, but if they're truthful, they'll say, "Everything." Definitely try the Eggplant Rollatini. Casual and slow-paced, Savarino's is located just down the street from the original McDougal's and The Dog of Nashville on Belcourt Ave (hence my affectionate declaration, Nashville's New Food District).
- Las Paletas: You may have heard of this Latin popcicle emporium (even Bobby Flay and the Food Network have thrown down there), but can you find the place? Located in the bottom corner of the Cypress Building on the cusp of the 12th South District, Las Paletas is all but hidden with tinted windows and no sign. I like it this way; it's teasingly secretive, as if I am the only one who knows about the creamy lime, chocolate with hot peppers, cucumber- melon, and guava-vanilla popcicles inside. The line wrapping around the corner, however, would suggest otherwise.
- Marche: Located on the other side of the river, at Five Points in East Nashville, Marche is the place to go to catch up with old friends over a glass of wine and rustic rabbit stew in the middle of the day. Marche is great for a quick lunch, but I prefer to go when I have the luxury of stretching it out for hours, slowly sipping a blood-orange mimosa and nibbling at an artisan cheese-plate, leading suggestively into braised yumminess and seasonal something-or-others, and climaxing with a hot latte and a slice of chocolaty goodness.
- F.Scott's: By far the classiest joint on my list, this upscale jazz-bar and restaurant is my favorite place to spend big. The best part is that whether you are from East Egg or West Egg, you can take advantage of the Dine at Nine special: weeknights after 9 p.m. everything on the menu (except for beverages) is half-price. If you are like me, you will need to dine at nine to savor the Parmesan-truffle-oil "frites" and the porcini-dusted chicken that drip with the flavors of old money and pure ecstasy.