Food explorations in the heart of Music City

Nashville is known as the music capitol of the world. Many famous artists started their career. A lot of people link Nashville with country music, but Nashville is not just country. It is rock ‘n roll, bluegrass, jazz, blues and a little bit of soul. Among the famous artists that started their careers in Nashville and that have their names in the Country Music Hall of fame are Johnny Cash, Dolly Parton, the Everly brothers and Taylor Swift. Broadway Street, the heart of downtown Nashville, is a long street with multilevel story bars. You can listen to life music all day long. But the surprise this weekend was Nashville’s hidden gems: Nashville is a place for foodies.

Cowboy boots and honky-tonk

We start our weekend by exploring downtown Nashville. After a great dinner at Etch. we take the short walk to Broadway Street (AKA Honky Tonk Highway). We pass the Jonny Cash Museum and are hit by a barrage of neon signs on Broadway. Honky Tonk Central, Betty Boots, Redneck Riviera to name a few. The streets are busy, the bars are full. There are musicians and bands playing everywhere, it is Friday night in Nashville.

Blake Shelton’s Ole Red

I am happy to spot Ole Red, the bar owned by The Voice coach and country superstar Blake Shelton. It was Blake who got me into country music when watching him on The Voice. Of course I have to go in. We order our drinks and wander around the place. We find a place near the stage and watch the band and the crowd. It’s good to see that the audience is broad variety of people. Old, young and in between; hard core country, bachelors and bachelorettes. Tourists and people like us: 2 friends just here to enjoy life music and a drink.

Nashville: the heart of country music

The next morning we take a self-guided walking tour through downtown. The Country Music Hall of fame is definitely worth a visit. It gives you a good overview of the deep history and roots of music in Nashville. From Elvis gold plated convertible, to old handwritten sheet music from the early Everly Brother’s songs, to an exhibit of Katie Musgrave road to stardom. The old town is small and walkable. So we follow the route and pop into Goo Goo. This is an old store that sells a candy only available in Nashville called a GooGoo cluster. (Tip if you are interested to learn how to make chocolate, they host chocolate making classes).

Redneck trucks and southern food

We continue our tour and learn a little bit of the history of Nashville. We hit Broadway again just around noon. There is music is already everywhere and the redneck trucks, party tractors and pedal bikes are transporting people around town. We are hungry so we find a place at the bar at Luke Bryan’s 32 Bridge . We enjoy some Southern food and cocktails, named after the country singer’s songs. My favorite is “That’s my kind of night”.

Hidden gems: Bourbon soaked donuts and Street art                                

On Sunday morning we do another walking tour in Nashville’s “Upper Eastside”. This area is far away from the tourists. This tour is an “Eats and Street Art tour” and we discover more of Nashville’s hidden gems. We see amazing murals and pop into the Donut Distillery. We  sample their famous mini donuts. My favorite is the Whiskey Glaze, a bourbon soaked one. That one is followed closely by the Sweet Swine, a donut with maple glaze, covered in bacon bits. Solid third is the Smores: graham cracker, chocolate frosting drizzled with marshmallow. After this sugar rush we desperately need a coffee so we are happy to find Barista Parlor, a local coffee shop.

Lunch with the locals

We leave East Nashville and all this walking, sugar and caffeine has made us hungry. Time for lunch. We don’t feel like going back to Broadway and decide to find a more local restaurant. We end up in Pinewood Social, an old warehouse, converted into a restaurant and bowling alley. The people are mainly locals and the food is great, the atmosphere laid back and the staff friendly.

A Culinary Night 

The absolute highlight of the trip is Saturday night’s dinner at Tailor Nashville. It is a relatively new restaurant but starting to get recognized in the food world and one of Nashville’s hidden gems. They are listed as one of 10 BonAppetit’s new interesting restaurants for 2019. There are two servings each night, one at 6 and one at 8.30. We have decided on the later one.The Uber drops us per email instructions next to Saint Stephen restaurant and we follow the directions to go to the alley next door. We find the entrance and are told that they are not ready for us so we go to Saint Stephen for a drink. We go and sit at the bar and see several groups of people pile in, all fellow diners for Tailor as well.

The best seats in the house

Around 8.45 we are told that they are ready for us. We are shown to our seats. Ours are at the bar, where there are only 4 seats. (Tip: when making reservations ask for the bar seats. They are the best seats in the house. Not only can you see the food prep before the dishes are served, you are also served first and the chef gives an explanation of the dishes just for the 4 people at the bar. It feels much more personal and intimate).

Set menu with personal stories

Tailor has a set menu of 8 to 10 dishes. While sipping a nice glass of white wine we try the boiled peanuts. The chef explains that as a kid, on a road trip to Georgia, he found to his surprise boiled peanuts. The same boiled peanuts his grandma used to give him in Mumbai as a kid. And this is the charm of Tailor. The chef, a first generation Indian American, uses his Indian influences on American dishes. He adds personal stories with each dish.

The fall squash with peanuts and raisins inspired by his mom is delicious. So is the chicken biryani with browned onions, saffron and pistachios, his dad favorite. The whole meal is a celebration of Indian and American food, flavors and spices. I would probably never order any of the dishes if I saw them on an a la carte menu, but each one of them is so delicious and well balanced, it’s a feast for the mouth.

Nashville’s hidden gems

Nashville has surprised me. I found what I expected but I found so much more. In conclusion, it has been two delicious days in a wonderful Honky Tonk, Country, music, art and food infused city. Apparently we are not the only ones who have discovered Nashville as a town fit for foodies. Right after we get back, the  Today show  is life from Pinewood restaurant for a special feature: “a taste of Nashville”. In addition to Pinewood Social, it includes Etch, our restaurant from Friday night, so I guess we found the right places.

All photo credits Mariel van Tatenhove

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