A road trip to Nashville is what a recent weekend in October held for us. We have this obsession with smaller cities. We always play the “could I live here?” game. The answer for Nashville was no, but it sure made for a great weekend. A friend who used to live there, recently moved to Chicago, so I had THE scoop on where to go and what to do. I also consulted slowfoodnashville.org for places to eat. We wanted to experience the whole “meat & three” Nashville, but we also knew that that would get old fast and we would want some modern, cleaner tasting food.
Nothing could top our experience the night we drove into Nashville. We were tired after driving eight hours, but hungry. We headed to City House, which was recommended in the June 2009 issue of Food & Wine for their pizza. It just so happens that it is also my friend, Lisa Bleed’s, favorite restaurant in the city. (Yes, that really is her name! Cool, huh?!) City House is hidden in Germantown. It is tucked amid new townhomes, industrial buildings, fall foliage and nonworking street lights. We had a GPS and still couldn’t find it. The lovely hostess, Heather, ended up coming out of the restaurant with the cordless phone in her hand, waving her hands wildly so we could see her! That gesture alone was such a warm welcome to Nashville. I couldn’t imagine anyone in Chicago doing that for you. Once inside, it only got better. We were seated in Jocelyn’s station, who was a complete doll. She was so passionate about the food. We had lamb tongue to start, melt in your mouth tender (pun intended). We also ordered an octopus salad. The mouth feel was such that it felt like there was fat around the slices of tentacles, sort of like the fat under the crispy crackling skin of a piece of pork. It made for a very tactile experience that I quite enjoyed. Onto the pizza, which is what we came for! House made belly ham, mozzarella, grana padano, oregano & chilies. This is some of the best pizza I have ever had, right up there with Pizza Bianco in Phoenix and Great Lake in Chicago. I am all about the texture of a pizza crust. It has to have “chew” and a perfectly blistered bottom. But I have never noticed the flavor of a pizza crust until that night at City House. Instead of the crust being tasteless, I tasted the flour. It added to the depth of the pizza, mingling with the saltiness of the belly ham, the richness of the cheeses and the spiciness of the chilies.
Our waitress, Jocelyn, was so excited that we were so excited about the food, that she started telling us about other places in Nashville we might enjoy. This is when I pulled out my “homework”, my excel spreadsheet of restaurants complete with address, phone and any notes on what to order. (I love to research and do this for every trip we take, plus trips my friends take.) I was happy to say that she approved of my list, but added a few musts, such as The Patterson House, which is a pre-prohibition style bar by Toby Maloney, who is a partner at The Violet Hour in Chicago.
The next morning we continued Lisa Bleed’s “Tour of Amazing Nashville Food Spots” by visiting her old neighborhood of East Nashville. East Nashville is THE place to be in Nashville; A little grungier, a little hipper and a little more real. She sent us to Sweet 16th, a tiny bakery within walking distance from her old house. If we could live here, being down the block from Sweet 16th would have been a must. One of the things I love to see in a bakery is abundance. This tiny shop packed in the pastries. The selection was overwhelming. There were four different kinds of coffee cakes, and three kinds of Danish (all gone, so sad), macaroons, brownies, blondies, chocolate chip cookies, bread pudding, quiches, cupcakes, tarts, scones, and muffins. Heaven.
How to decide? I get so overwhelmed by choice sometimes. So I did something somewhat unprecedented, I asked my husband to make one of the choices. He did well, although I don’t think you could go wrong here. We had the best coffee cake we have ever had. It was amazingly fresh, tender and full of fragrant cinnamon spice, not too sweet. I ordered the breakfast sandwich which was a cheesy eggy casserole served on a cheddar scone. Oh boy was I happy. This was right up my alley. I am a self proclaimed scone snob and these passed the test with flying colors, not many do.
After those amazing pastries, we indulged some more by going on a Yazoo Brewery Tour. (Later in the day, not right after breakfast!) Yazoo Brew is brewed right there in downtown Nashville in the historic Marathon Motor Works building. The tour was a bargain at $6 per person, which included a great beer glass with their cool logo to take home and sample beers from. After the tour, we settled into the cool tasting room where we sampled all the beers they are currently brewing. After this “research” we bought a growler of Dos Perros, which is an amber beer brewed with German Munich Malt that we got to taste straight from the fifty pound bag. It tasted like grape nuts! The growler is a 64 oz jug that is filled for $11. You can bring the growler back for $8 refills. There was a steady stream of locals doing just that.
This is where we depart from Lisa Bleed’s Nashville Tour. She heard that Loveless Café was on my list and was mortified. Loveless Cafe has been a Tennesse tradition since 1951. She called it “absolutely vile” and said “you couldn’t drag me back there tied to a church bus”. Landi, my friend and fellow foodie, said if we went to one place, it should be Loveless Cafe, and that it was “divine. So, we went. Both Landi and Lisa Bleed were right. Undercooked grits, meaty ham and tasteless eggs; vile. Not greasy at all, juicy, fried chicken (for breakfast), buttermilk biscuits, and homemade peach, blackberry and strawberry jam: divine.
Nashville was a trip worth taking. There was plenty of food worth eating. If you are interested in perusing the complete Nashville list, drop me a line and I’d be happy to email you my Nashville Eats Excel Sheet. We didn’t make it everywhere on the list, but all the info came from great sources like slowfoodnashville.org, Food & Wine, Lisa Bleed, Dan, the owner of Sweet 16th and Jocelyn, our lovely server at City House. Thanks y’all for all the great Southern hospitality.
Have you been on a great road trip recently? I’d love to hear about it.