Hot damn! Why food in Nashville ain’t all about chicken
A fail-safe food guide to the city
Sunday 6 February 2022 By Julia Sullivan
Nashville may have earnt the moniker of Music City, but these days it’s chasing status as a food lover’s hotspot as a crop of new eateries pop up around the capital. As the city bounces back, superstar chefs and celebrity restaurateurs (including Justin Timberlake and Sam Fox) are heading south and shaking things up on the local food scene. From haute cuisine to hot chicken and bao buns to brisket, take a trip to Nashville in 2022 and you’ll find more than just honky-tonk bars and burger joints on Broadway.
There are few people in Nashville who understand what makes great food better than Julia Sullivan, the chef and restaurateur behind Nashville’s premier seafood restaurant, Henrietta Red. Here, she tells us about her top food stops in the city. Read on for some priceless insider opinions (that you won’t see on Tripadvisor).
Dozen is the kind of place that every food-loving local knows about, but keeps a secret from their out-of-towner friends. It’s a stone’s throw from Soho House, and the best place for flaky pastries, stuffed baguettes and fresh side salads, all of which are handmade by owner and local resident, Claire Meneely.
What to order: the ginger molasses cookie.
This small restaurant is tucked away in the WeHo neighbourhood of Nashville and serves a multi-course tasting menu by chef Josh Habiger. It’s one of my favourite places to send locals and visitors alike. The ‘Big Bar’ is perfect for pre-dinner cocktails. Don’t miss the occasional appearance of Hip Hop Karaoke in the bar, either. It’s only seats 24, so make sure you book in advance.
What to order: the ‘I’ll Take Everything’ option featuring Navarro tapas.
From the same team that brought us Butcher & Bee comes this cosy homage to southwestern breakfast tacos that features various iterations of traditional morning meals tucked in tortilla. It’s a sizzling Tex-Mex addition to east Nashville. Plus, it’s got a dog-friendly patio, which is always a bonus.
What to order: the brisket tacos with Dr. Pepper Hot Sauce and a Green Chili Cheeseburger.
Julia Jaksic’s all-day cafe has all the makings of a long-term neighbourhood favourite. It oozes old-world charm and the menu is full of fresh, modern takes on Tennessean classics. For a quiet coffee, brunch with friends, or date night, this place is your best bet. Don’t miss Oyster & Martini Happy Hour (Monday to Friday, 4pm to 6pm) and live jazz music.
What to order: the prime rib sandwich with homemade mayonnaise.
Smith & Lentz
Handcrafted and wood-fired pizzas and pies are the hallmark of this east side pizzeria and brewery. What makes this place stand out from the crowd is the house dough – distinctly chewy and crunchy with plenty of char from the open oven. Rotating specials are on offer each week. Beyond these star-of-the-show bakes, you’ll find ricotta dip with fresh sourdough, shaved Brussels sprouts and banana bread, along with a wide selection of IPAs and lager.
What to order: any pizza, but don’t miss out on the small plates, either.
The Southern V
Chef Tiffany Hancock and her husband Cliff serve veganised Southern comfort foods and desserts like fried chicken, waffles, mac and cheese and hot chicken at this sweet standalone in north Nashville. Family-owned and operated by native Nashvillians? What’s not to love. While you’re there, check out another Black-owned eatery, Slim + Husky’s.
What to order: hot chicken; it’s what Nashville is famous for.
East Side Banh Mi
This husband and wife-run restaurant draws inspiration from Vietnamese street food and soup stalls. Watch for a rainbow of pho options, noodles and sandwiches using local ingredients. Don’t miss the sandwich collaborations with other local chefs, and their chicken liver spread, which is available to buy.
What to order: The impossible Vietnamese sandwich with Xiu Mai Impossible meatballs.
An ‘Old Nashville’ favourite in Belle Meade, this English-style steakhouse is a great spot to visit if you want a meal that revolves around meat and potatoes, or, what we call ‘meat and three’. Interesting fact: the owner opened the restaurant in 1974 and travelled to England to select the majority of the original decor. It’s a great place for special occasions.
What to order: Prince William Blue Cheese Stuffed Filet or jumbo lobster tails.
Drusie & Darr at The Hermitage Hotel
The food at Drusie & Darr by Jean-Georges reflects a passionate commitment to fresh, local ingredients. Its modern American menu changes with the seasons, focusing on artisanal and sustainable produce at its peak (most of it is grown at the hotel’s garden at Glen Leven). It’s a great spot for drinks and appetisers before a night out downtown. Don’t miss the opportunity for a selfie in the opulent restrooms.
What to order: crunchy soft-shell crab with sugar snap remoulade.