Nashville’s culinary star is on the rise. Burnished by homegrown, highly trained chefs who have nurtured a network of new talent across Music City, you’ll find an increasingly broad interpretation of the term ‘Southern cuisine’. Classic elements like buttermilk, biscuits and collard greens are being reimagined and re-contextualised. Of course, traditional Southern-style food – Nashville’s famous ‘meat-and-three’, for example – is still very much available, as is an award-winning BBQ scene.
Arnold’s Country Kitchen
Open since 1982, Arnold’s Country Kitchen is totemic as Nashville’s pre-eminent purveyor of ‘meat & 3’ – a southern style of eating where you have one ‘hero’ meat (such as fried catfish) on your plate, alongside three vegetable sides (think baked squash, collard greens, or mac and cheese (which apparently counts as a vegetable in this city)). Today the restaurant is run by the epitome of Nashville hospitality Khalil Arnold and his mother, Rose, who both warmly welcome regulars and newbies and regale them with stories. Try to leave room for dessert, especially the bread pudding or the spicy chocolate pie. In 2009, Arnold’s was awarded a prestigious James Beard American Classics Award.
605 8th Avenue South
A recent opening that’s generating a lot of buzz, Tailor Nashville is a supper club-style concept housed in a dining space endowed with immaculately mellow ambiance. A lot of that ambiance is generated by Chef/Culinary Creator Vivek Surti, whose restaurant offers, for $60pp, eight courses of South Asian American cuisine representative of Surti’s heritage and his life as a first generation Asian American born in Nashville. Sound complicated? Surti suggests thinking of it as a dinner party (although your party has its own table) with a set menu and seasoned with anecdotes from the engaging Surti. There are only two servings at the time of going to press, and if you’re in Nashville you should definitely try to get in there before this place blows up. And the food’s incredible.
1300B 3rd Ave. N.
The 404 Kitchen
Behind a fairly innocuous brown brick façade in the trendy Gulch neighbourhood is the rather stand-out 404 Kitchen. You enter into horseshoe-shaped Gertie’s Bar – home to one of the largest whiskey selections (600) in the South – before walking upstairs to uncluttered, sophisticated restaurant. Here Chef Matt Bolus blends Italian and French influences with Tennessee flavours to create a surprising and wholly satisfying offering. Think whole fried smoked chicken with buttermilk garlic sauce, cassoulet and cornbread, and melt-in-your-mouth aged tri-tip. The Coca-Cola Cake for dessert is a must.
507 12th Avenue S
Prince’s Hot Chicken
Nashville Hot Chicken – fried chicken coated with a scorching, cayenne-based rub – is a style that’s having something of a moment. And it’s all thanks to Prince’s. Or, more accurately, to the girlfriend of founder James Thornton Prince who added cayenne to his chicken as revenge for suspected infidelity. Unfortunately for her, James loved it, as have generations of Nashvilleans since. Today the city has a hot chicken festival on 4 July and Prince’s has been recognised for services to cuisine with a James Beard award. According to current owner Andre Prince Jeffries, the heat of the chicken has caused women to spontaneously jump onto tables, while Jerry Seinfeld has dubbed it “suicide chicken”. Available in heat strength from mild to XXX Hot.
5814 Nolensville Pike
Butcher & Bee
Located in artsy East Nashville, the farm-to-table Butcher & Bee was an early starter in the small plates trend that has since blown up in the city. Chef Bryan Lee Weaver serves up a globally inspired menu that does fantastic things with local ingredients and heirloom products (such as grits) from the South. Stand out dishes include its whipped feta with fermented honey, a world-beating green chilli burrito, and rich bacon-wrapped dates with pomegranate molasses.
902 Main Street
Adjacent to Butcher & Bee – thereby forcing a vexingly difficult decision – Edley’s is one of the top three BBQ places in Nashville. Its pitmaster is an enthusiastic, burly character known as UT who is given to sayings such as “if you’re not smoking [while barbecuing], you’re just cooking outdoors” or “you’ve got to tame the charcoal – give me some whiskey, some blues and I’ll smoke all day!” Naturally, with this kind of fervor in the kitchen, awards are accrued, reputations tower, and meat is transformed into something melty and flavourful that all BBQ joints yearn to achieve. Somehow Edley’s even makes turkey delicious – try the cherrywood-smoked turkey with Alabama white sauce for proof.
908 Main Street
Located in the up-and-coming Wedgewood Houston neighbourhood (opposite the superb Jackelope brewery), Bastion somehow combines riotous weekend party bar with intimate fine dining restaurant without any real sense of incongruity. The gourmet nachos in the main bar are fast becoming legend, but it’s the restaurant’s ever-evolving, five-course, a la carte menu that’s garnering national attention. Order the tasting menu – with dishes like celery root tacos filled with barley and black garlic or beef tartar with mustard greens – and sit at the long counter to watch the chefs work their magic. With only 24 seats, be sure to make a reservation well in advance.
434 Houston St STE 110
Olive & Sinclair
Operated out of one of the most compact and stylish chocolate factories you’re ever likely to see, Olive & Sinclair is the state’s only bean-to-bar chocolate producer. The owner Scott Witherow (previously of The Fat Duck and Nobu) is a kind of hipster Willy Wonka, and possibly as equal a genius. Witherow applies his fine dining nous to mouth-watering treats like his duck fat caramels, Cherry Bombs (packaged in shotgun shell boxes and filled with punchy pickled cherry) as well as his slow-roasted and stone-ground chocolate bars (the chilli hit in the chocolate and chilli variety is a masterclass). Olive & Sinclair supplies to a number of Nashville’s restaurants, including that of acclaimed chef Sean Brock.
1628 Fatherland Street