Acknowledging that I’d be back in Las Vegas just twelve hours later, and therefore without a proper place for Barbeque within one hundred miles, it was at pitmaster Patrick Martin’s eponymous BBQ joint that my penultimate meal in Nashville would take place, and proudly pronouncing that no freezers or shortcuts are used in a space where everything is made fresh each day it was clearly evident that these folks were serious about their craft from the moment we walked in, as a man walked from the back with a whole hog over-shoulder before depositing it in a pit and preceding to break it down and add seasoning in plain view of anyone willing to watch.
At this point a bit of a chain, now with locations creeping out of the state, but still adhering to long-held traditions felt essential to the craft, the menu at Martin’s reads like many similar places in the State of Tennessee and although the ‘Redneck Tacos’ and tamales both intrigued me a little the best bet seemed a more simplistic approach, the Ribs and Pork combo with sides served up within moments along with a gifted Goo-Goo cluster from the server who ‘couldn’t believe’ I’d never tried one plus a slice of even gooier candied pecan pie.
Slightly more pricey than other ‘cue stops around Nashville, but undoubtedly using a higher grade of meat than most, it was perhaps no surprise that both the fall-from-the-bone ribs as well as the smoke imbued shoulder were a perfect pairing of protein admixed with melted fat and although many suggest the Alabama White sauce as Martin’s go-to sauce based on novelty alone everyone at the table agreed that the Southern Belle was a significant upgrade on that which is found at Peg Leg Porker or Jack’s, though the sides perhaps need a bit of work as both the hoe cake and hushpuppies were quite heavy and largely lacking in flavor while potato salad was merely towing the status quo.
Coffee Chocolate Bar / Salt and Pepper Buttermilk White Chocolate Bar
Having seen the words Olive and Sinclair, or O+S, on almost every menu in Nashville over the course of more desserts than most would dare to try in just a five day span, it was at the Chocolatiers factory that Saturday afternoon found us and with the admission fee easily reimbursed on items in the giftstore where samples of no less than five chocolates were offered in limitless quantity one would be hard pressed to name a better way to spend an hour, let alone five bucks.
Originally a bean-to-bar outfit, but recently making its name with brittles and caramels oft named amongst the nations ‘best-of,’ Olive and Sinclair is a far smaller operation than their Whole Foods reach would make one guess yet at the same time certainly larger than spots like Dandelion or Tcho, let alone the newly hatched HeXX back home in Nevada.
Utilizing old stone grinders, admittedly for show according the owner Scott Witherow, before proper milling, blending, tempering, and more the tour at O+S takes the visitor literally from bean to bar and allowing for tastes of dried cacao, black liquor, and the milkfat white chocolate in their purest forms a sense of passion is clearly perceived, the final station showing off Brittle made of smoked cocoa from nearby purveyors of cured meats.
Clearly playing on Southern themes with bars that include everything from buttermilk to bourbon it warrants mention that Olive and Sinclair’s chocolates are not the typical flavors one would associate with purity, region, or terroir, yet with flavors that pop and smoothness almost incomparable in the market the decision of which is ‘best’ largely becomes one of personal preference – the dark sea salt a bit too ‘fruity’ for my preferences while the cinnamon chili was admittedly a shocker in its subtleties, both brittles pleasant in their slowly evolving flavor profiles beneath bold topnotes while a duo of caramels rivaled the best on this side of the Atlantic, the acidic finish likely not to everyone’s taste but lightly reminiscent to that of a Chess Pie and all the better for it in my eyes.
Maple Fondue – cardamom-scented / fresh fruit / red velvet waffle / blueberry cornmeal waffle / grilled sausages / frosted flake pain perdu
Again exiting the conference for an extended break as the City of Nashville’s humidity finally gave way to rain, it was perhaps an oversight of Vanderbilt’s love of a boozy brunch that saw us arrive at Tavern to the tune of a 90-minute wait, the time largely spent wandering nearby Centennial Park beneath umbrellas until a text called us forth from the Pantheon to be seated amongst a mass of humanity with well lubricated co-eds screaming to be heard above the loud tunes echoing from high ceilings overhead.
Dining with a pair of ladies from the era which several of the restaurant’s 1960s tunes were sourced, and thus clearly not of a demographic common during the hour of our meal, suffice it to say that the ninety minute wait was further compromised by overstretched service that saw our table ignored until a manager was flagged down fifteen minutes later, the kitchen itself equally stressed but trying to make good by sending out four scoops of luke-warm “White Trash Hash” as the wait-time for plates was extended another twenty-five minutes after the order was eventually placed.
Already aware that my memory of the experience would be marred by the aforementioned events no matter how good the cuisine, it was unsurprising that when all items were brought out at once there was evidence of a good bit of heat-lamp treatment to found and although the Kaya Toast was actually quite impressive in its balance of textures as well as flavors despite the unnecessary decorative hot sauce, the biscuits were leaden and far too soggy, the supposed cheddar almost undetectable beneath gravy that tasted little of spice and closer to oversalted ham.
Unable to pass on sweets, but unaware that the “fondue” featured both Red Velvet and Blueberry waffles since the later was not amongst the menu items listed, it was with an unnecessary plate of the crispy cornmeal checkerboard that the meal progressed and faring far better than the doughy red velvet iteration which lacked any semblance of coco suffice it to say that any suggestion of ‘cardamom’ in the ‘maple’ syrup was so faint as to be imperceptible, the snappy spiced sausage and cornflake crusted French Toast saving the otherwise lackluster shared plate.
Informed that desserts are only offered at dinner, and as such going even sweeter than usual with mains, it was finally the restaurant’s thinly poured flapjacks that crossed our lips and although a better effort could have been made than a topping of pretzels straight from a bag it would be difficult to find any other fault in the buttermilk triplet, the sticky-sweet caramel finding an unexpectedly willing dancing partner in light chocolate mousse that produced a flavor not unlike that of tres leches as it soaked the pancakes straight down to the plate.
Lily – Biscuit French Toast, Lemon Mascarpone, Blueberry Compote, House Syrup
Hoping to literally “save the best for last” by visiting Biscuit Love Brunch as our last breakfast in Music City it was just after 7:30am that parking was allocated in front of the space on Saturday, and although the crowd would soon grow to near capacity it was to a line of only two persons that I stepped up after quickly perusing the menu – a trio of ‘biscuits,’ one side, and the restaurant’s signature item arriving hot from the kitchen after a mere ten minute wait.
Considered by some to trend a bit too hip to be taken seriously while fans suggest that Biscuit Love may serve the best buttermilk rounds in the Volunteer State suffice it to say that anything the risen golden circles may lack is more than made up for in creativity as a menu of cleverly named concoctions meet with well sourced and housemade accoutrements, any thoughts of items being overwrought proven mere myths as a surprising degree of dexterity is found amidst even the most decadently topped bites.
Able to sample a taste of plain biscuit by way of the open-faced presentation of East Nasty, the base of all that Biscuit Love has accomplished is certainly a bit different than the more hefty iterations offered at Loveless, Puckett’s, or even Barista Parlor yet taking into account the golden shell atop wispy crumb the batter makes sense when utilized as diversely as the kitchen opts, both the Chicken and Cheddar iteration with Sausage Gravy as well as the version topped more sweetly in chocolate and jam proving absolutely delicious without being the belly bomb that their descriptions may cause one to fear.
Moving next to more novel uses of the dough alongside a small bowl of grits rich with sticky, aged cheese, Lily was the sort of dish that played strongly to my predilections and with the aforementioned lightness of crumb more than happy to soak up custard the steamy French Toast was very well complimented with vibrant lemon and bursting blueberries cooked down in syrup, the same citrus mascarpone packing the cavity of fried biscuit bites entitled ‘bonuts’ that seemed omnipresent at tables throughout the dining room, the lightness of each almost defying logic and proving the sort of thing you may want more than one order of as sharing may induce a later sense of regret.
Frequently named amongst the best restaurants in Nashville, and yet another in the long list of places proudly promoting a seasonal menu focused on Italian accented Southern fare, it was at City House that the trip’s final dinner with family would be enjoyed and although some aspects of the night were marred by an exceedingly loud group of bachelorettes and service that seemed far more interested in tables to whom he could push expensive bottles of wine the food itself was mostly quite good, a few significant highs and the rest at least well enough prepared to let the quality of well sourced ingredients show.
Situated in an old home with seating spread amidst a large downstairs and two rooms comprising the space above, it was at first that our seating in a small former bedroom seemed a bit unfortunate but once the bridesmaids became well lubricated even the warm, stagnant air was preferable to the shrieks and shouts echoing off high ceilings – our server more than once pulled to assist another young man that appeared to be an overwhelmed trainee as thirty minutes passed between ordering and first courses that never once saw our party checked in on at all.
Eventually mentioning the lack of attention to our server, a confronting attitude offered where an apology would have been far better made, it was thankfully here that appetizers arrived, the crisply fried cheese and vegetables offering a slight bit of heat amidst hefty aromatics while the lightly charred pizza featured a crust robust enough to stand up to several unctuous toppings, the signature cornbread dumplings dotted in pancetta, tomatoes, and greens certainly as hefty a plate as would be expected, a dish best shared to be sure as a half-portion would serve smaller appetites as a meal in itself.
Onward to entrees, at this point visibly seeing patrons in the larger room wince at the behavior exhibited from the party of twelve, it was another large bowl of pasta that proved the best of three plates for as good as each sausage was the accoutrements leaned heavily on the use of onions with the chicken version all the more confounded by what seemed like nothing more than raw lettuce, an odd choice to say the least, though certainly not as unpalatable as the side of corn grits that was so bracingly bitter than it went almost untouched, a ‘your mileage may vary’ plate to say the very least.
Having heard many positives of the City House dessert program, enough so that the meal would culminate in an order most easily stated as “one of each, please,” it was here that I was glad none of the entrees compelled me to overeat for as much as the prices of some savories seemed a tad excessive the $8 sweets were portioned exceedingly generous, the lightly set panna cotta most certainly the lightest of the quartet despite its bold flavors while the strawberry tart melded cream and fruit flawlessly, both cakes far more decadent with the poundcake potentially containing as much as a stick of butter per slice and the layered Tennessee Waltz just boozy enough to tantalize the tastebuds up front before dissipating into notes of coffee and caramel competing for top billing amidst a buttermilk tinge.
Japanese Method Iced Coffee – Kunjin Papua New Guinea
Maple Praline Coffee Cake
Black Cherry Cornmeal Scone
Going above and beyond Barista Palor by not only roasting its own beans on premises, but also in offering a more pleasant and intimate experience conducive to lounging and feeling at ease, Nashville’s Crema takes a page straight out of the Pacific Northwest while offering the sort of Southern hospitality rarely associated with hip and trendy Coffee Houses, a best of both worlds sort of experience well worth investing some time to sip, savor, and relax.
Independently owned, with a hefty wood décor and outdoor deck overlooking the ever evolving Music City landscape, arrival at Crema found the café approximately half-full at half-past four and with several options available from espresso to pourover it was largely an effect of the sunny outdoors that saw us order two iced coffees and one cup of tea, the late day bakery discount unable to be resisted despite dinner plans just a few hours away.
Spending a few moments browsing the beans and brewing paraphernalia while drinks were poured and pastries plated it was soon in comfy leather chairs that each of us sat, the coldbrew nutty and smooth in body with virtually no acidity while both the muffin and scone were moist yet toothsome and chock-full of berries, the coffee cake an all time ‘best of’ contender as buttery batter tinged in maple found balance with candied bits of nuts strewn liberally throughout.
Margherita DOP – San Marzano Tomato Sauce, Basil, Garlic, Scamorza, Mozzarella di Bufala, Pecorino Romano
Bianca – Garlic, Mozzarella di Bufala, Scamorza, Ricotta, Pecorino Romano
Considered by most to be Nashville’s best pizza, and undeniably the most authentic Neapolitan Pizzeria in town, it was for a second lunch that DeSano Pizza Bakery was visited and with a triple stone oven format as well as a proper dough room similar to that of Atlanta’s Rustica the experience unfolds quite similarly, a condescending youngster sporting a flock of seagulls haircut at the counter the lone fault in what was otherwise a very impressive place to purchase a pie.
Now part of a small chain, with locations as far west as Los Angeles extending all the way to Charleston South Carolina, the idea behind DeSano is a simple one with focus on tradition and imported ingredients, but with prices comparable to places as yet not using authentic bufala mozzarella and San Marzanos, let alone flour transported from Italy, the value for the dollar here is well worth consideration – even the refusal to add additional ingredients to the Bianca showing an adherence to old world rules with flavor and texture to match.
Obviously not a place to cut corners or lack for lines around lunch, but one that was found mostly deserted just after noontime rush, it was at the aforementioned front counter that orders were placed and taking a seat at one of several communal tables it was a mere five minutes before pizza was delivered with cheese still bubbling, a light bit of char conferred by the mere sixty seconds spent adjacent to the wood fueled fire.
Treated to the sounds of Italian Opera as we tucked in, it was also a $5.25 Traditional Cannoli that was tasted, and although freshly filled with creamy ricotta at a small station to the left of the ovens neither the size nor the flavor remotely justified the pricetag, a bit of a shame as the pizzas themselves were a shade over double the price with soft stretch amidst light yeasty notes and the sort of natural-yet-perfect flavors that let you know exactly how much effort goes into their creation, the Margherita as fresh and zesty as can be found anywhere in America while the Bianca was the very picture of creaminess amidst garlic and just the lightest hints of smoke.
Again granted a two-hour lunch it was with good fortune that family had stuck close to downtown after breakfast, and driving Northwest from Music City Center it would not be long before the car was parked before Prince’s Hot Chicken, a restaurant revered by locals and tourists alike for serving some of the best fried bird and boldest spice profiles around.
Certainly with its “charms” as relates to location and décor, essentially tucked away in a strip-mall with a simple sign and painted glass that could use a fresh coat while the interior features a cash-only window plus a few tables and booths, it should come as no surprise that Prince’s is the sort of place prone to comments about questionable cleanliness, but with staff as friendly and attentive as the vast majority of Southern spots the room was actually quite tidy, just a little bit run-down.
Chuckling at the broken water fountain, something that almost seems intentional to push $1.50 bottles of water in a space known to offer blistering sauces ranging from mild to ‘xxxhot,’ it was after only a moment of indecision that an order was placed, and waiting mere moments before our ticket number as called a tray and two plates were soon in hand, a trio of desserts later purchased from an elderly African American woman who brings in her house baked goods every day just prior to noon.
Opting to take it easy on spices after the effects of Hot Chicken in Memphis it was with one plate of mild and another of medium that the meal began and first tasting the lightly spiced breast my initial reaction was one of wonder as to how they managed to make the batter so crisp while the flesh was so moist, the next bites of leg and thigh raising the bar even higher with just a light bit of burn tickling the back of the throat and base of the tongue.
Amused that my dining partners found even the mild to be a bit too heated for their tongues, and taking the opportunity to gladly finish off the wing as well as saucy bread beneath, it was onward to desserts that we moved and although roughly packed in plastic clamshells for easy portability the flavor of each selection more than made up for any lack of showmanship, the Hummingbird amongst the most pineapple-studded I’ve sampled to date beneath a lacquer of rich icing while the chess was pleasantly tangy and smooth, a best bite found from the buttery yellow caramel iteration with glistening tan frosting and plenty of sweetness to spare.
Half Dozen Buttermilk Biscuits with Housemade Blackberry Jam
French Toast New Orleans Style with Vanilla Maple Syrup and Caramelized Bananas
Pancakes with Strawberries and Cream
Chicken & Waffles – Belgian waffle, boneless fried chicken, vanilla maple syrup, whipped butter, fresh fruit
Again planning an early breakfast before attending the morning sessions of AACE 2015 it was to local’s joint 417 Union that we pointed the GPS and arriving just moments after opening to find a few folks already seated it was to down-home service and surprisingly excellent fare that we were treated – the outdated online menu a lone disappointment as I was denied s Snickerdoodle some sources feel to be beyond compare.
Named and decorated to celebrate Southern heritage and the men and women serving the armed forces both now as well as in the past, 417 Union features scratch-made breakfasts and lunches made from mostly locally sourced ingredients and although prices may appear low when perusing the a menu full of favorites the portions prove to be anything but, two-entrees and a shared appetizer plus biscuits almost overburdening the four-top at which three of us sat.
Making the kitchen aware that we wished to dine within an hour, and as such served plates just as soon as they were ready from the kitchen, it was indeed the aforementioned biscuits that first arrived and with ample notes of buttermilk amidst the fluffy risen crumb one couldn’t help but be excited for all the things to come.
Listening to a news program playing on a television near the bar it was just as the first biscuit was to be slathered with housemade jam that the rest of the order was brought, and rearranging real estate to fit it all in a veritable smorgasbord of shared plates began, the pancakes with strawberries every bit as well crafted a batter as the biscuits while deep fried French toast topped in molten bananas and caramel was perhaps the very definition of crispy decadence, a light waffle topped in slightly tough chicken but upgraded substantially by housemade vanilla syrup proving the only item short of exemplary, though still a worthy rendition of a classic that now seems to be omnipresent on breakfast menus from coast-to-coast and north-to-south.
Floored by McCrady’s, but a bit less enthusiastic about a meal at HUSK in Charleston, it was with two friends that I decided to dine at Sean Brock’s second ‘homage to southern ingredients,’ and once again finding the restaurant housed in a renovated historic home the experience was unsurprisingly not dissimilar, the friendly service and lively setting bolstered by an ever evolving menus where high prices and small portions spoke to the quality of the sourcing, if not the creativity utilized in the kitchen.
Undeniably a beautiful space, the two-story home built into a hill with bar downstairs and open kitchen at ground level, it was in passing by several tables and room of aging meats that I found my friends seated on high stools and finishing their cocktails it was back upstairs we wandered, a tidy fourtop just left of the hostess stand our seat for the next 140 minutes during which the din of the dining room occasionally reached unexpected peaks while creaky floors and high ceilings acting to amplify the sound.
Quickly offered water along with a folded bill of fare that had changed only slightly from what was offered the night prior it was with great indecisions that options were weighed, a trio of buttery rolls soon joined by a stump of cured meats, pickles, and fluffy cheddar biscuits from which the fried rillettes and smoky cotechino particularly shined, though in reality not a single uninspired bite was to be found.
Continuing a trend of strong starters, round two featured stellar belly bacon atop soft rolls that would make almost any upscale bao hang its head in shame and although neither of my Southern dwelling pals appreciated the Pimento Cheese with rice cakes as much as I did suffice it to say HUSK’s “caviar of the South” is about as sharp as it gets, the asparagus in bright green broth proving a bit less bold than would be expected in the presence of pigs ears and bottarga, though certainly not lacking for vegetal flavors in any conceivable way.
At this point feeling confident that the combination of old friends and good food would make this visit to HUSK more memorable than the last it was unfortunately in entrees that the meal fell from grace, the meaty catfish recommended by our server a lone standout amidst bitter nettles and nutty groats while the sauce Chausser and peppercorns absolutely buried the beef, an overcooked breast of chicken only propped up by a bed of stewed dark meat hidden beneath a blanket of turnips lightly tinged in brine.
Entirely unamused by ‘hot water’ cornbread that likened a wet sponge both in texture as well as taste it was with hope for a reprieve that sweets were selected, and although the lauded Grit Pudding is apparently only available at lunch it was with good fortune that all three desserts proved as delicious as those found in South Carolina, the Chocolate Chess beneath peanut butter and caramel every bit as decadent as its ingredients would suggest while a square parfait was silk amidst strawberries and sorrel granita, the chocolate cake topped with smoky ice cream and toasted meringue serving up the flavor of S’mores without the campfire and mosquitoes, just the way I’ve always wished it could be.
Seemingly taking notes from Sean Brock in presenting “reimagined farm-fresh Southern classics…in a hip space,” The Farm House seemed an inspired place to grab a few bites with family before meeting friends for dinner at Husk, and although Tennessee native Trey Cioccia may not have garnered the accolades of his South Carolina based competition the cuisine that rolled out of the kitchen during our 90-minute meal was not only more interesting, but undeniably more delicious than anything experienced at 37 Rutledge Street later that night.
Promoting a list of local purveyors for everything from meats and produce to brews and décor while the soundtrack trends mid-90s Pacific Northwest rather than “down-South” the menu at The Farmhouse is one of daily changes and with entrees ignored in place of several small plates this method of ordering proved fortuitous as generous portions were found at prices far less outlandish than other local upscale locales despite everything from charcuterie to ice creams being made in house.
Starting with the aforementioned cured meats, along with two buttermilk biscuits served piping hot from the oven, one would be hard pressed to name a flavor more dynamic than that of the coffee-cured duck while both the gamey rillette and dried beef were also quite pleasant – a lone ‘oddity’ found in gelatinous beef jelly with the sapor of bone marrow that admittedly did not go over like a lead balloon.
Requesting items be expedited as they were readied from the kitchen, largely on account of time, it was merely fifteen minutes before an opening trio arrived and with both salads prone to wow by both texture and taste it was unsurprisingly the molten pimento cheese beignets that provided the most dynamic early bites, a pocket of buttery brioche and ‘caviar of the south’ made all the more impactful through the addition of pepper paste and ash.
Opting next for three heavier plates, dessert soon joining the mix as a large party had slightly set back the savory half of the kitchen, both the signature pork-belly ‘poptart’ and texturally compelling ‘2x’ potato were whimsical yet elegant as rich flavors of swine and cheese were reined in by acid and earthy aromatics, the steamy cast-iron cornbread topped in creamy cow’s butter competing bite-for-bite for top billing while sweets showed even better – a tiny baked Alaska bruleed in the kitchen proving toasty and smooth atop a thick chocolate base while a sphere of soft coconut cake perched atop a pile of sorbet was as beautiful as it was delicious, the chocolate crumbs and spiky ring of meringue lending just enough sweetness to make more subtle flavors really come forth.
Combo Plate – Brisket, Shoulder, St. Louis Style Ribs, Creamed Corn, Mac n’ Cheese
Chocolate Chess Pie
Exceedingly unimpressed with Barista Parlor, but with more than an hour to kill before the conference resumed, it was to Broadway that I turned and with reviews of Jack’s BBQ ranging from ‘tourist trap’ to ‘Best BBQ in Nashville” I decided to take a chance, the answer found somewhere in between as not only the cuisine but the experience was worthwhile, if not particularly worth writing home about.
A staple of Nashville’s entertainment alley long before the city’s recent wave of growth, and since spawning additional locations where waiting is rarely an issue, it was to a short line that I entered the three-story property and quickly entering the queue it was with only a few seconds to decide that I approached the wordless server, a combo plate quickly slapped together and handed to me on a tray with cornbread – two pieces of pie added en route to the cashiers who did little more than collect $20 before sending me off to find a table.
Opting to eschew upstairs seating and instead occupying a teensy two-top near the front door it was amidst a décor of sports, pork, and country regalia that I partook in my ‘cue and immediately finding the wet “St. Louis Style” ribs meager in meat and overly sugared a transition to the brisket and shoulder proved far more competent, both versions juicy and moist with a good bit of smoke complimented by light sauce, while both creamed corn and macaroni n’ cheese were on par with the environs, the former none too sweet and far more creamy than that from a can.
Moving to desserts, but remiss to not mention slabs of toothsome cornbread that reminded me of the savory stuff down in North Carolina, it was admittedly a bit of a surprise when I popped open clamshells to realize I’d selected two versions of Chess rather than what looked to be Pecan, but never one to quibble a good piece of pie one would be hard pressed to name a better slice of either in the city of Nashville, the vinegar notes peaking through the sugar at all the right times in the traditional version while the chocolate was far more rich despite a mouthfeel closer to that of pudding.
Considered by some to be the best coffee shop in the city, but a bit disappointing to me as they opt to outsource their beans to purveyors such as Stumptown, Four Barrel, Sightglass, and Intelligentsia instead of roasting in-house like nearby Crema, it was for the first part of a two-part lunch that I stopped by Barista Parlor and as much as the sprawling space inhabited by Nashville’s hip and trendy is remarkable in its open layout little of what was experienced within its confines was otherwise memorable, a buttery scratch-made biscuit with impressive rise the lone exception to the rule.
Featuring all sorts of coffee apparatus, along with beans by the bag and an area equipped with a roaster that makes me wonder exactly what its purpose is, if not to roast, it was on approaching the counter that a hirsuit young man greeted me and opting for four pastries, a coldbrew, and two kitchen-prepped items a long wait while browsing WiFi would ensue – the baked donuts proving doughy at best beneath their repective toppings while the Macaron was fairly decent with a crisp break and creamy filling, the “Pop’s Tart” a total dud reminiscent of Toaster Strudel without warmth, flakiness, or much caramel flavor at all.
Sipping the coffee while awaiting my entrée, suffice it to say that the aforementioned biscuit was without a doubt the only item worth waiting for because as much the quality fluffy yet crisp waffle was appreciated the meager sidecar of strawberry compote was absolutely no match for the heavy slathering of cream cheese that was so sour I actually questioned whether it had spoiled, the majority of it scraped off and discarded along with half of the pop-tart and any desire to recommend the space, let alone to return.
Sausage Biscuit, Bacon Egg and Cheese Biscuit, Chicken Biscuit
The “King’s” French Toast – Egg Dipped and Pan Fried Brioche, Bananas, and Peanut Butter topped with Powdered Sugar and Served with Syrup and Fruit
Southern Stack – Slow-smoked pulled pork over sweet potato pancakes and fried apples, topped with a fried egg, and served with a side of our home fries
Maple Pecan Pie
Deep Fried Brownie Sundae – Brownie batter mixed with triple treat cookie dough, battered and fired, topped with vanilla bean ice cream and candied bacon
Andy’s Triple Treat Cookie – chocolate, peanut butter, & butterscotch chips mixed with pecans and topped with Vanilla Ice Cream
With the conference set to begin at 8am it was an early alarm followed by a long run, shower, and quick drive that saw us arrive at Puckett’s mere moments after doors were unlocked, and opting for excessively priced parking next door as a matter of convenience it was almost immediately on entering that we were seated – the service given every chance in the world to be timely given the absolute lack of patrons but excessively delayed as our waitress stood sipping her Starbucks and kibitzing with the kitchen.
Eventually acknowledged, and placing an order in an expedited manner after being informed that desserts are not offered until 11:00, it was perhaps twenty minutes of waiting that followed before plates were delivered and with the space approximately 1/4 full by that time the noise level remained relatively tame, a later return around noon showing the scene to be entirely different as a 1-hour wait for a two-top was quoted over sounds that likely challenged a rock concert in decibels.
Soon receiving our plates, though water refills were decidedly hard to come by, it should seem obvious that Puckett’s targets the tourist population, but at the same time doing things right with regard to sourcing and preparing most items in house the cuisine itself was actually quite competent – the French Toast presenting a lone disappointment as it was still somewhat doughy in the center with too little topping while the biscuits fluffy and golden surrounding quality proteins, the sweet potato pancake beneath a pile of pulled pork and a fried egg undoubtedly the most interesting of the options with great flavor to the smoked shoulder that makes me wonder if other meats fare as well.
Having previously mentioned the lack of sweets available at breakfast, it was only later that I returned solo to sample a few of Puckett’s signature skillets, and bellying up to a bar during lunch to find service surprisingly even less attentive than what was offered earlier it was with good fortune that the both the award winning deep fried brownie and Triple Treat cookie were every bit worth the annoyance and accolades, the former a chewy bit of decadence wrapped in crunchy cookie dough beneath ice cream and candied bacon while the later arrived just browned at the edges with a soft set center chockablock full of melting morsels equally crowned with ice cream and caramel, the piece of Maple Pecan Pie taken to go also quite pleasant but certainly not reaching the high standard set by other versions in the city, let alone the items served just short of molten noted above.
Small in size, and difficult to locate in an area currently high in construction, Matt Bolus’ The 404 Kitchen was the finishing piece to a large puzzle of dinner decisions in Nashville and featuring more ‘farm to table’ cooking inside of what was once a shipping container the cuisine proved every bit as good as highly praised spots like Josephine, Husk, and City House while the setting and service were perhaps even better – the small size and tongue-in-cheek humor providing an excellent experience spread over the course of two hours.
Described as ‘uncomplicated’ by the chef, with a menu that varies almost day-to-day, our arrival at The 404 Kitchen found a four-top ready in waiting despite a late arrival due to difficulties finding the space around orange barrels and joking about how much the city had changed in the last 12 months, not to mention the dozen years past since our last visit, it was almost an immediate connection with the staff that was established – the conversation free-flowing and full of recommendations not only for food and drink, but things to see and do in the area.
Eventually deciding on a four-course order to begin with a plate of locally sourced charcuterie paired to housemade preserves and warm sourdough brought in from a local baker it was much to our surprise just how enjoyable the whisky apple butter was alongside the more briny bites of pork and slathering the bread thick with Goldrush Apple compote while sipping a mighty fine spin on the classic Aviation it was with the restaurant quickly filling to capacity that appetizers arrived, the duck egg and faro dish presenting an earthy aromatic bowl of creamy porridge while the fava bean soup was the very definition of vibrant – a fresh seasonal expression that saw every ingredient utilized to the utmost potential for texture, flavor, and balance.
Progressing to entrees, and taking into account the amount of eating already done that day, it was in two plates that we invested along with a side of skillet cornbread that easily proved to be the best in the city when soaked in smoky-sweet butter, and although the “jellybeans of the sea” scallops were indeed quite sweet amidst their rich accoutrements both the small size and use of truffle oil were offputting considering the $32 pricetag, a far better appropriation of funds invested in the pan roasted bird atop liver-rich porridge balanced out by the tender mushrooms and kale.
Inspired by dessert descriptions, at least enough to order one of each, it was once again here that Tennessee surprised my generally citrus-averse palate, for as good as both the thick port-infused chocolate pudding and innovative take on strawberry shortcake were neither even came close to the mason jar parfait of creamy lemon curd decorated by meringue with roughly chopped dates and cashews, a dish that in many ways supported the Chef’s vision of simplicity while still presenting as quite sophisticated, much like the experience as a whole.
Serving Nashville residents and tourists the best in home cooked Southern cuisine for over thirty years, and having now spawned two other locations, it was almost a requirement of a trip to the Tennessee capitol to visit Monell’s, and opting to visit the original location just after 1:00pm on a Tuesday our party of three found the oft-packed 19th century building with just four seats available, a prompt seating seeing food placed before us no less than 60-seconds later with plate after plate soon to follow.
Originally opened as a sort of boarding house, the Monell family serving downhome cooking to persons staying in the residence, the space has since been converted to a one-price all you can eat experience open for lunch and dinner plus weekend brunch, and with some parties opting for a made-to-order meat-and-three option the true ‘experience’ is most certainly found at a communal table with shared plates passed amongst new friends and travelers, the food every bit as good or better than rumors have it with a pricepoint that really cannot be beat.
Beginning first with several passed sides, though some tables may begin with breads or proteins depending on what the kitchen has most recently prepared fresh, it was with attention to the fact that much more was to come that small portions of items such as green beans, mashed potatoes, stuffing, and pasta salad were sampled and first deciding to go all-in on cinnamon apples followed by corn pudding both items proved to be absolutely delightful, the biscuits and country gravy also quite impressive while cornbread proved just a bit drier than one would hope, a situation augmented admirably by butter and honey, or poached pears that are also available by the jar to take home.
Moving on, much like the sides Monell’s offers a regularly changing list of entrees and joining ever-present fried chicken that features light batter and minimal grease overlying a lean bird that could have arguably used a bit more brine or seasoning was actually the baked bird that was the best protein available, a nice spice profile overlying skin almost as crisp as that of the fried version, the pork faring far less favorably and quite tough even when taken bite for bite with cinnamon apples, most of mine remaining on the plate to allow for a second helping of corn pudding, the lone dessert of banana pudding proving a competent, if not particularly compelling, iteration with a touch to much sog to the wafers.
Monty “Python” Cristo – Ham, Turkey, Cheese on Texas Toast, Hand Battered and Fried with Raspberry Sauce and Powdered Sugar
White Cheddar Mac n’ Cheese
I’m Goin’ to Graceland (half) – Peanut Butter, Banana, Honey on White Bread, Hand Battered and Deep Fried with Powdered Sugar, served with Vanilla Ice Cream and Chocolate Sauce
Cinnamon Sugar Bread Pudding with Vanilla Ice Cream
Continuing on despite the recent passing of its owner, Becky Piper, Pied Piper Eatery was the third stop on Tuesday’s breakfast triathlon and with Led Zeppelin followed by The Who, Doors, and Stones quickly playing on entry as tables featuring all four bands plus severeal were found throughout the dining room I knew right away that we were in for an experience, the food in some ways an effect of the concept but quite creative and tasty just the same.
Greeted by a young woman with ‘old-timey’ mannerisms that seemed surprisingly natural considering her age and side-job fronting a local rock band it was a clever all-day menu both in names and compositions that we investigated, the eventual order entailing one entrée, one included side, and four desserts from which only the odd custard based Pecan Pie was less impressive than the descriptions implied.
For all intents and purposes a locals oriented rock n’ roll diner with a small prep kitchen tucked behind a white wall with more seating than I’ d imagine is usually necessary, it was with only three other parties present that our meal at Pied Piper took place and opting to have everything delivered at once as a matter of schedule it was to quite the smorgasbord that we were treated, the white macaroni and cheese surprisingly well made with plenty of sharp cheddar balanced by buttery notes atop soft, spiral pasta while the steamy square of bread pudding, proudly touted as being without raisins, was bold with cinnamon and sweetness beneath a melting ball of creamy vanilla ice cream.
Having already mentioned the pecan pie, it was the seemingly the exact same pie minus pecans that served as Pied Piper’s take on Chess and although far better here than with the nuts the flavor was still somewhat ‘off’ compared to others in the area, the far better investment being a pair of deep-fried specialties including the Presley inspired “I’m Goin’ to Graceland” with honey, bananas, and peanut butter and far too infrequently seen legitimate Monty Cristo, a hand battered stack of ham, turkey, and cheese on Texas toast given a quick bath in hot oil before being patted dry and paired with housemade raspberry puree for a taste both sweet and savory that by itself more than justifies a visit to Pied Piper…in this case, the concept most definitely secondary to the cuisine.
Unapologetically targeting a Breakfast triple-header since later days would largely see my mornings absorbed by the conference for which I was in town, stop two on Tuesday was at East Nashville’s Yeast and known to be the local home of the Kolache I was pleased to find at least a half-dozen takes on the regionally celebrated interpretation of a Czech/Slovak specialty, the eventual order settling on a sticky blueberry circle that was still warm to touch with stewed blueberries sitting at the center of a yeasty, lightly sweet rim.
Featuring an open kitchen set amidst a small row of buildings housing several local businesses Yeast is without a doubt a mom n’ pop place with a reputation built largely on word of mouth, and with two young ladies providing top-notch service with a smile to a steady stream of traffic it was much to my delight that in addition to the Kolaches two of my other personal favorites were being offered that morning, the ‘casserole’ a substantial upgrade on any savory amalgam of meat and eggs instead featuring bread soaked in custard overnight with ample pockets of chocolate and a light bit of cinnamon that lingered on with each bite.
Already impressed, but happy to seek a recommendation from servers who seemed to really enjoy what they do, I was told by both ladies that although unauthentic the Cinnamon Roll made from the same dough as the Kolache was perhaps the small bakery’s best item and although the item was saved until later given our extensive eating agenda a gentle rewarming to melt the frosting showed the staff opinions to be true, the pillowy base formed into a gentle curl around butter and cinnamon with frosting that was of the more tangy variety, yet still sweet enough to let you know that what you’re eating is about as indulgent as it comes.
Croque Madame – Ham, Swiss, French Toast, Hollandaise, Sunny Side Egg
Brie French Toast – Drizzled with Honey
PB&J Stuffed French Toast Pancakes
Unamused by almost every aspect of Pancake Pantry on Monday it was a bit off the grid that breakfasts ventured the following day, and heading to trendy East Nashville where a small corner spot in a residential neighborhood houses Sky Blue Café the experience was a veritable one-eighty from all the hype, a down homey spot full of creativity with great coffee in endless quantity from a local vendor known simply as Drew’s Brews.
Certainly catering to the growing hipster and wannabe musician population inhabiting much of the area, Sky Blue Café is the sort of place where local artists decorate the walls while community events such as Cornhole tournaments are advertised alongside boardgames it was just seconds after seating that a young man who looked fresh-from-bed greeted us with stubble and an Iggy Pop T-Shirt, orders soon taken and delivered directly from the kitchen by a woman with a huge crown of braids who joked that we’d likely bitten off more than we could chew.
Dimly lit on the interior, but bathed with sunlight from a lovely day outdoors, it was with great gusto that we tucked in after a long morning run, and starting savory before moving onward to sweets the Americanized take on Croque Madame with French Toast and buttery Hollandaise was inauthentic yet excellent, the Tennessee ham particularly briny but well balanced by cheese, sauce, and egg.
Refilled with coffee for the umpteenth time, never once requiring a request, it was next the French Toast sandwich stuffed with Brie that caught our attention and although the cheese itself was expectedly mild the addition of honey brought out some of the more creamy notes, no such subtlety necessary or found in the French Toast Pancakes that literally saw two slices of eggy French Toast stuffed with peanut butter and jelly lodged between two pillowy buttermilk pancakes, a meta-food that from my perspective puts the Turducken to shame.
Chocolate and Salty Caramel Tart with Opal Basil, Orange Zest, Meyer Lemon, Chocolate Crunch
Considered to be one of Nashville’s most inspired kitchens it was somewhat unfortunate that a seat at Josephine’s newly launched 10-by-10 dinner could not be found during my stay, but taking the opportunity to instead dine with my mother and aunt it was just after 7:00pm that we were seated in the restaurant’s front left corner, the unforgiving chairs and pillowed banquets not exactly an ideal arrangement for a long meal, but better than being crowded around the excessively loud bar.
Admittedly far louder than one might expect for a restaurant considered by some to be ‘fine dining,’ the service at Josephine was perhaps equally surprising with a young staff that was not only a bit less refined than I’d expected, but also a bit discombobulated when it came to describing plates and presenting a bill that nearly doubled the price of a pre-ordered “Large Format” dessert I’d been quoted a price of $35 for when securing it with a credit card just two days before.
Taking a sort of pan-European approach to Southern ingredients with an ingredient steeped in seasonality and local produce it was with a few questions answered that an order was assembled, the $7 loaf of steaming hot pretzel bread arriving in a matter of minutes along with two salads including lightly charred snap peas with goat cheese and honey from which not a single unimpressive taste or texture would be found.
Onward with small plates, course two featured a pair of the more interesting plates offered on a menu with no lack of creativity and intrigue, and as much as the description of scrapple may turn some people off it can only be said the version served at Josephine is a whole different ballgame, the compressed meat treated to a light breadcrumb coating and served with elegance amidst greens and balsamic to reign in the natural sapor without burying it, a similar degree of subtlety discovered in poorly named ‘mustard dumplings’ that instead presented like pan-seared Parisian gnocchi with only a hint of the ingredient amidst a rich stew of pork, mushrooms, and peas.
Having discovered the housemade pastas in the Volunteer State to be almost universally on par with some of the best throughout the United States it was in two plus a plate of creamy risotto that savories would culminate after an unexplained thirty minute delay and although the crispy skinned duck was rosy and rich atop risotto that was marred by too much citrus both the ribbons of al dente pappardelle and tender agnolotti were picture perfect, the morels atop the former a very pleasant surprise while the sweet carrot reduction was as boldly flavored as it was colored, each bite leaving me to wonder if a better spin on peas and carrots has ever been prepared.
Having already mentioned the pricing issue related to dessert, it was equally perplexing that the already prepared tart was presented in whole tableside before being returned to the kitchen where it took nearly twenty minutes to cut, but setting aside these issues one would be hard pressed to find fault in a single aspect of the dish, a large number of discrepant ingredients coming together to form a flavor profile that ran the gamut from bitter ganache to milk chocolate rocks atop a lacquer of salty caramel while light sours from Meyer Lemon and orange zest melded seamlessly beneath the aromatics of freshly cut opal basil that lingered on the palate, if only for a moment, following each bite.