When I was in college in St. Louis, we often found ourselves driving down to Nashville on weekend trips. It’s one of my favorite cities I’ve ever been to – a party hub, no doubt, packed with bachelorettes and cheap bud lights, but there’s a lot of culture beyond the honky tonks and country music, too.
The city’s a modern intersection of southern charm, young energy, and good old-fashioned American debauchery. Not surprisingly, the food scene can say the same. Nashville’s had a bit of a food renaissance in recent years. Plenty of southern natives are returning from training stints in big cities to reimagine the soul food and barbecue they grew up with.
Before a few weeks ago, I’d never properly explored the food scene. The first time I visited, in high school, I was still on a grilled-cheese-and-french-fries diet, while the next few times I was on the bud-light-and-anything-cheap meal plan. I’d tried hot chicken and a few southern staples, but never really gone out of my way to explore the Nashville food scene.
Hitting the city with my family, with their better eating standards and their weaker livers, allowed me to focus more on food during our weekend there. And what a weekend it was. Here are some of the best things I ate.
Friday night dinner: tapas. Scallops and Empanadas at Little Octopus – a meal that demanded a separate full length review.
There’s more to Nashville than the southern staples that come most readily to mind. I went into full detail on the perfectly flaky empanadas and wonderful scallops we had at our first meal at Little Octopus – check them out.
Saturday Brunch at Le Selle – French Toast with maple vanilla buttercream, and avocado toast.
Bougie brunch isn’t really my style. it’s expensive, unhealthy, and not filling. That having been said – this place was exceptional. Their killer French toast was super delicate and pull-apart, but not wet with syrup. Instead, it came with a maple vanilla buttercream I wanted to bathe in. The avocado toast eventually got bit soggy under the egg yolks and avocado but was fantastic at first bite. The plate came with some really juicy pineapple and some spicy, crunchy, A-plus breakfast potatoes. I was full all day.
Saturday dinner: Puckett’s BBQ
Puckett’s is a famous Nashville barbecue restaurant with long-lines and live music. I’m spoiled for life when it comes to Barbecue. St. Louis has some of the best in the country, and Puckett’s couldn’t possibly compete. Still, their pulled pork nachos were solid – the pork was crispy in places and gooey-fatty in others, and their dry rub wasn’t too sweet, like most barbecue joints. Everything else was pretty average. But hey, average barbecue has never been bad. I’m sure the people lining up for this place without my privileged bbq past would have a great time.
Sunday Brunch – Homemade Pop Tart, crab and burrata omelette, and biscuits – Marsh House
Holy shit. Every restaurant on earth should make their own pop tarts. This one wasn’t photogenic, but who gives a shit, it was one of the best pastries I’ve ever had, hands down. A crisp, shortbready exterior and the most amazing, gooey, sweet and rich cherry filling. Thick and moist icing that didn’t ever fully solidify when it got cold. Pure, sweet dough. I could marry this pop tart.
The omelette was whatever, but this was a top-notch biscuit. It was huge, towering and flaky but firm on the outside. Doughy and buttery on the inside. Big enough to rip into pieces and make an egg sandwich out of. I need more biscuits like this one. This country needs more biscuits. It would be a better place.
Sunday Lunch – Pulled Pork Tacos, hot chicken bites, and Sweet Potato Fries Acme Feed & Seed (No photos – sorry!)
Acme is one of all-time favorite bars. There’s several floors and a peaceful rooftop, each of which feature a different genre of live music. Some are upbeat and hectic, others are mellow enough to, say, bring your parents.
As far as food goes, nothing is special, but everything is good. Smoky pulled pork with a plethora of sauces. Crispy, perfectly salty sweet potato fries. And hot chicken nuggets, one of Nashville’s native dishes, and one of the biggest food trends in our country right now.
As the story goes – hot chicken started as a prank, fried chicken caked it in the most volatile spice mix possible. It’s since become a Nashville classic, popping up at new nationally relevant shops like Hattie B’s – where, one summer day a few years ago, a few beers deep, I waited in the 90-degree line for over an hour before feeling like I needed to faint – out of heat, dehydration, and culinary joy.
At Acme, we tried hot chicken in little nuggets, not the whole breasts or sandwiches you’d get at one of the famous places. Not nearly as hot or uniquely yummy as at the famous joints, but still great.
Sunday dinner at Moto: Roast chicken, balsamic and pancetta Brussel sprouts, and one of the best pastas I’ve ever had: a mushroom ricotta ravioli
Italian fine dining in Nashville? Yes, please. Moto, a trendy, chic restaurant, absolutely killed it. We started with really dope Brussel sprouts – balsamic and pancetta, nothing that hasn’t been done before, but no so richly prepared that you couldn’t enjoy the charred sprouts. I also enjoyed a very tender, crispy roast chicken, served with an oily, rich veggie puree.
The standout fried artichokes were something I’d never had before but absolutely loved. They were like giant, earthy steak fries, but fiber-y and vegetable-y on the inside, not mushy like a potato. It was damn good, a food I’ll need to explore in the future.
And finally, one of the best pastas I’ve ever had, a mushroom and ricotta ravioli. Cheesy ravioli never did it for me the way some of the meatier classics did. But this dish made me re-evaluate my core pasta beliefs. The mushrooms might have been the most flavorful I’ve ever had – sweet and umami / meaty all at once. The ricotta was thick and creamy. The thin, delicate ravioli came stuffed to the gills. Wow. Sweet and earthy and savory at once – the perfect adieu to the perfect weekend of eating.
TL;DR: Nashville’s known for hot chicken, bbq and other southern staples, but there’s wonderful fine-dining around, too.