Any visitor to Nashville is guaranteed of two things… they are going to hear some great music and they are going to eat some great food!
Nashville is famous for its ‘Hot Chicken’, fried and covered in cayenne pepper, it has a cult-like following and really is a Must-Try when in town. The city of Nashville is very proud of its traditional Fried Chicken and it doesn’t plan to shy away from it; no doubt because it is delicious!
Food writer Jennifer Justus in her book ‘Nashville Eats’, says that Hot Chicken can make you ‘sweat, swear, cry in your beer and tremble with rock-and-roll salvation’. Hattie B’s Hot Chicken restaurants are a local favourite across the city and chefs can tailor their Hot Chicken with six levels of heat from mild to eye-wateringly hot ‘Shut the Cluck Up’!
However, as The Luxury Travel Bible discovered on a recent visit to the ‘Music City’, there is so much more than just Fried Chicken. Andrew Zimmern, the TV host of Bizarre Foods, has said that because of Nashville’s rich creative music history this has an influence on the city’s food scene as Nashvillians are ‘good at being experimented on’.
After eating our way round Nashville, from fast food joints to high-end European style Artisan restaurants, TLTB would add that the music scene adds to the ambiance of eating in Nashville. Each waiter and waitress (it is said they are all an undiscovered songwriter) can sell each dish, and tell a story, and ask with such interest about your day and then recommend something for you to do tomorrow. The great southern hospitality plus the background music (which is always so good, you would happily pay for it at a concert when you returned home), just adds to the atmosphere.
When visiting the Southern United States, it is hard to get away from the omnipresent BBQ. Each U.S. state and region have their own take on this style of cuisine and Nashville no different. Traditionally Nashville restaurants would serve ‘meat & three’; BBQ meat served with three vegetable sides (mac n’ cheese is considered a vegetable in this case).
BBQ joints are abundant in Nashville, but two of the best (and ones that numerous locals recommended) are Martin's Bar-B-Que and Edley’s Bar-B-Que.
Martin’s Bar-B-Que was named as one of America’s Best New Restaurants in 2017 by Bon Appetit and has a focus on fresh products and ingredients, nothing is frozen or microwaved. A large, whole-hog smoking pit is in the back of the restaurant and is clearly the popular spot for a Friday night dinner before heading out to listening to some great music. Large, social dining tables create a very social and buzzing atmosphere.
During my lunch at Edley’s Bar-B-Que I was lucky enough to spend some time chatting to the Pitmaster, UT. Luckily, I managed to convince him to allow me to ‘peek behind the curtain’ and see where the magic happens in his kitchen and the star of the restaurant, the smoker. The smoker is at the heart of any BBQ restaurant and this one, which UT affectionately refers to as ‘baby’, is fuelled by a blend of white oak and cherry wood to create the distinctive flavour of the succulent meat.
There was so much passion on display from the staff and chefs within the restaurant for BBQ, and as Pitmaster UT said; ‘there is nothing better’ than producing delicious food and that he never tires of creating delicious food for his guests. In fact, I could have talked to UT for hours about BBQ meat and sides (which isn’t a subject that would normally entertain and captivate me), but UT’s endless knowledge and passion for great food was distinctive in his food and his hospitality.
Oh, but watch out for the innocent looking Bushwacker milkshakes that accompanied the brisket on the menu… they are a lot more potent than they first appeared! They went well with the smoky, peppery meat though!
However, while large trays of brisket, pulled pork and hot chicken are of course delicious, how do I say this… Hot Chicken & BBQ aren't exactly the most refined of dishes for a luxury traveller.
Appropriately for such a diverse and vibrant city, there are many restaurants and restauranteurs to reflect this. Last year was a big year for the food scene in Nashville, with several restaurants being named as some of the best in the country by the renowned Bon Appetit magazine, and 2018 looks like it will only build on this solid reputation.
It is becoming evident that Nashville natives are choosing to return home to open their own artisan and contemporary American restaurants in Nashville now as they know it has the audience to welcome it.
Chef Julia Sullivan, who was trained at the Culinary Institute of America in New York, returned to her hometown and partnered with sommelier Allie Poindexter to open Henrietta Red. The restaurant has focus on simple, fresh ingredients of shareable plates with a full raw bar selection. There is also a wide menu of natural wines, cocktails and a daily happy hour.
Henrietta Red was named as one of 2017’s Best New Restaurants in America by Bon Appetit magazine.
For Sunday brunch TLTB was recommended to try Marché in East Nashville. The European-style restaurant, and its sister Margot’s Café, are the brainchild of Chef Margot McCormack who was inspired by a holiday with her family to Provence, and the cuisine they enjoyed.
The Marché menu has a focus on fresh, local ingredients and the dishes on offer evolve as the seasons change. It was clear to see by the number of people flocking to the restaurant this was the spot to have brunch in East Nashville, and the delicious Frittata I tried confirmed why.
Another great place in East Nashville is Butcher and Bee which has a focus on ‘Great Food Culture’ and producing dishes from fresh, local and sustainable ingredients from local farmers and producers.
Butcher and Bee’s Head Chef, Bryan Lee Weaver was unfortunately not at the restaurant when TLTB dined there. Instead, he was cooking at a charity event at golf’s The Masters. America is certainly realising the great culinary talents available in Nashville.
The new and emerging modern restaurants, and more importantly the people behind them, show that there is so much more to Nashville cuisine than just traditional fast food.
Dining is an event in Nashville, so it is no surprise that restaurants and bars have a big focus on gathering and socialising as well as great food. A prime example of this is Pinewood, described as being a ‘social gathering place … for morning, noon and night’. While TLTB was enjoying a spot of lunch there one afternoon we were surrounding by a fascinating array of diners from those having business meetings over coffee, to groups of friends drinking cocktails to work colleagues playing a game in the bowling alley which is located at the back of the restaurant.
One of my favourite stories our waitress told us (seriously, everyone in Nashville can tell a good story!), was that there was once a regular diner who was having to leave each day after a few hours when his laptop ran out of juice. The next day a new power outlet had been installed at his favourite table, enabling him to sit for many hours more. A shrewd business move, maybe… but I like to think that this is another great example of Nashville hospitality.
... ‘there is nothing better’ than producing delicious food for my guests
You can’t come to Nashville without sampling a little Whiskey and the most famous brand, Jack Daniels is certainly the most popular; there are numerous JD branded souvenirs across Nashville and the Jack Daniels’ distillery tour is located about 90 minutes from Nashville.
But perhaps more intriguing to a luxury gourmet traveller is the emergence of more high-end boutique distilleries.
The Luxury Travel Bible brushed up on our whiskey knowledge during a tour of the fascinating Nelson’s Green Brier Distillery which has been a family run business since the 1800’s.
The distillery’s founder Charles Nelson was one of the first to bottle whiskey for sale, as opposed to refilling jugs and barrels. He quickly became a household name. Despite his popularity in 1909 the distillery doors had to close due to prohibition. Over 100 years later, by sheer luck and chance, Charles’ three-times great grandsons discovered the story and dedicated themselves to re-establishing the small-batch distillery and putting their Tennessee whiskey on the map.Tours and tastings are available daily - great to see behind the scenes, learn about the fascinating history and also the process behind this new (well, old) brand of Tennessee Whiskey.
Any foodie who visits Nashville will no doubt love to take part in an, ‘Walk Eat Nash’ walking tour to learn more about this vibrant city’s gourmet scene. The brainchild of Karen-Lee Ryan, who describes herself as ‘a lifelong explorer and storyteller’ (which automatically makes her someone TLTB likes to hangout with), created the six individual tours across three different Nashville Neighbourhoods.
Each tour takes in five tasting stops over three hours and a 1.5 mile walk around the neighbourhood. Each tour also includes behind-the-scenes interactions with chefs, owners and managers at Nashville’s top restaurants and speciality food shops. (word of advice – don’t eat breakfast before you go, as these aren’t sample sizes on offer but good-sized portions. You certainly won’t go hungry!).
Of course, Nashville is famous for its music, and I think this is just as much reflected in its cuisine; from fast food to haute cuisine. Perhaps at the heart of the emerging Nashville food scene, and at the heart of its success, is the people behind it. Creativity, bringing people together, telling a story, reliving the past, healing heartache, making you smile… all great ingredients for a song, and a great meal! No wonder Nashvillians are so good at it!
The only downside to all amazingly delicious food is that while you go home with a song in your heart… your jeans will be feeling a little bit snugger. But then again, you can always dance off that fried chicken dancing the night away at a Honky Tonk bar on Broadway!
Luxury Links: www.visitmusiccity.com
British Airways now flies direct from London Heathrow to Nashville International Airport, the only direct flight between Europe and Nashville. Read more about the new service Here. For further information visit www.ba.com
Sarah Bryans 9/5/18