When I found out we were moving to Indiana from California last year, one of the things I was most excited about was the (relative) proximity to Southern cities, especially Nashville. I know Nashville is having A Moment right now, but I have wanted to visit the city since long before it became super trendy. It’s kind of an obvious destination for me, given my love for both Southern food and country music, but for some reason I had never made it there. I checked off other Southern foodie meccas like Charleston and New Orleans, while Nashville languished on my bucket list. I’m happy to say that oversight has now been remedied, and based on my culinary experiences last weekend, I will be absolutely be back, and soon, I hope!
Obviously there’s much more to the Nashville food scene than hot chicken, biscuits and fried green tomatoes, but since I love Southern food and can’t get it (or at least very authentic versions of it) at home, I had a singular mission for this trip: to eat as much Southern cuisine as I possibly could. We got into town on Thursday night and after dropping our stuff off at the hotel, headed just around the corner to Hattie B’s. Hot chicken is everywhere now – from KFC to chains like O’Charley’s – so it was definitely something I had to have in Nashville, which is its birthplace. Hattie B’s hasn’t been around that long, but has quickly become one of the most popular hot chicken places in Nashville.
You can order various sizes of chicken in mild, medium, hot, damn hot, or “shut the cluck up” levels of spiciness (or “Southern style” for those who just want regular fried chicken), and chicken platters come with your choice of two sides. I’m a spice wuss, so I had mild, and thought it had quite a kick to it. My husband, who has a higher spice tolerance than me, ordered medium and was glad he didn’t go hotter.
The chicken comes with pickles and on top of a couple of slices of white bread. The bread mystified me at first, but a helpful restaurant employee told me to eat the chicken first, and leave the bread to soak up the juices. Sure enough, after finishing the chicken, I had two slices of bread soaked in spicy, buttery chicken juice, and it was delicious and the perfect way to end the meal. Although I’m glad I tried hot chicken, the spice was more of a novelty than anything else for me. Spiciness aside, however, this was some really amazing fried chicken. I’d put it on my very short list of “best fried chicken I’ve ever had” (alongside Magnolia’s in Charleston, Ad Hoc in Napa Valley and Yardbird in Miami, in case you’re curious). The sides I had, pimento mac and cheese and french fries, were good but not nearly as remarkable as the chicken.
The next morning we headed over to Biscuit Love (home to the cute Nashville sign pictured at the top of this post).
Since it was Friday morning, I hoped we’d miss the weekend brunch lines, but alas, the line was looong and it took us almost an hour to get inside. Fortunately, once we were seated, our food came out almost immediately. True to its name, Biscuit Love serves all things biscuit, and there were about a million things on the menu that sounded good to me, including the “bonuts” (biscuit donuts), biscuit french toast with blueberry compote, and the Gertie, a dessert biscuit with chocolate and peanut butter. Ultimately I had to go with the East Nasty, a biscuit/fried chicken/cheddar combo that Bon Appetit named the best sandwich of 2015. (It normally comes with sausage gravy too, but I had it without since I don’t eat pork.) The fried chicken was good, but the biscuit was the star of the sandwich. It was perfectly golden, flaky and buttery. It was one of the best biscuits I’ve ever had.
My husband continued the hot chicken theme with the Princess, a biscuit sandwich with hot chicken and mustard.
I was surprised to learn from the menu about the storied history of the place with respect to country music, which was a fun bonus.
The food was also excellent. I had fried green tomatoes – one of my favorite dishes of all time and one that is so hard to find north of the Mason-Dixon line – and The Row’s version, with pimento cheese and chow-chow, did not disappoint.
My husband raved about his catfish tacos.
Saturday morning, we started our day with brunch at The Southern Steak & Oyster (which takes brunch reservations!). My husband had The Cuban, a pork tenderloin pan-fried with black beans and yellow rice and topped with two fried eggs. He loved it and it certainly looked delicious.
I had the chicken and waffles, which you can get regular or hot, and it was excellent.
The Southern’s portions are on the smaller side (with prices to match), and at the time I wished we had ordered an appetizer or third entree to split, since we both left the meal not feeling completely full. In turned out to be fortuitous, however, since our meal that evening ended up being the very best of the trip, and I was so glad I was really hungry for it. We ate dinner at The Farm House, which has an emphasis on locally sourced ingredients, and serves trendier Southern and New American food. Farm to table is everywhere now, but the dishes here are so creative, and also perfectly executed. I wanted to order every single item on the menu, and probably would have if I were dining solo. Even with someone else there to restrain me, we still ended up with way much food. We started with two appetizers: pimento cheese beignets and fried green tomatoes with arugula and buttermilk dressing. Both dishes were even better than they sound, and the FGTs in particular were absolutely the best ones I’ve ever had. I almost cried when the last bite was gone.
For our entrees, my husband had the hot chicken (yes, again, although this version was quite different than the previous ones), which came with wonderful biscuits.
I love brussels sprouts (if you thought “ew” when you read that, you’ve obviously never had them roasted or fried) and eat them all the time, both at home and in restaurants, but I’ve never had them prepared the way The Farm House cooked them. Their brussels sprouts salad has roasted brussels sprouts mixed with apple slices, roasted peanuts, and fennel, tossed with a mustard vinaigrette, and topped with shredded cheddar cheese. The combination worked absolutely perfectly and it was without a doubt the best brussels sprouts dish I’ve ever had (I know, I know, I sound like a broken record, but the food here really was that good).
We also shared a side of rice grits with a 62 degree egg. The runny egg was the perfect complement to the creamy, risotto-like rice.
Although I was stuffed after all this food, I have a second stomach for dessert and so we shared the cookie platter, which came with two each of a chocolate chunk cookie, a double chocolate cookie and a peanut butter cookie, plus creme fraiche and caramel sauce for dipping. The cookies were warm, melty, and unsurprisingly delicious.
Before bidding farewell to Nashville, we enjoyed one final brunch of classic Southern dishes at Monell’s Dining and Catering. This was definitely the most unique dining experience of the weekend. Monell’s is located in a beautiful Victorian home in the Germantown neighborhood.
The homey setting is perfect for the family style dining experience. You’re seated at a large table (with strangers, unless you come with a huge entourage), and the food comes out one dish at a time in baskets that are passed around the table. Every meal comes with their famous fried chicken; dinners also include a daily meat plus sides, and breakfasts have more traditional breakfast fare like eggs, bacon and pancakes. I didn’t think most of the breakfast food was particularly special (though it was by no means bad), but the skillet fried chicken, cheesy grits and corn pudding were all excellent.
The waitstaff refills the baskets when they get empty, so it’s essentially all-you-can-eat, although I suspect the fact that you have to ask your neighbor to pass the food to you means that most people eat less than they would on a buffet line. The value is really unbeatable at $15 per person for the weekend breakfast, and it was a great last meal in Nashville.
I’ve been on my fair share of food-centric trips, and I have to say that this was one of the very best. Based on this brief introduction to Nashville, I would definitely put it on my list of the best cities for food in the US, and I’m eager to return and check out the many restaurants I wanted to go to but couldn’t fit into the itinerary this time around!