Nashville appeals to tourists for many reasons, Connie Britton’s heavenly head of hair, and Keith Urban’s heavenly head of hair among them. On my latest journey down south, I had a very specific agenda that was slightly more focused on calories than country music, and Nashville surprised and delighted me with an exciting culinary scene that does not try to0 hard or get caught up in pretension. Also, I learned that every city has hipsters, an epidemic I thought was indigenous to New York outer- boroughs and Silver Lake.
I emailed my cousin in Nashville with some restaurant requests, and she was my foodie fairy- godmother that made all of my dreams come true. We started my trip with an overview of Nashville, literally; drinks in a private space overlooking the entire city, which gave Boyfriend and I some perspective and sense of orientation. Our first night we headed to City House, which I must admit came onto my radar after reading an interview with Lily Aldridge; this pick was further validated by a celebrity sighting of another type in the dining room, none other than Jonathan Waxman, who has a restaurant in the nearby Gulch. We ate at 9pm which was a little late, and they were running out of their famous pizzas, of which we were thankfully able to nab two. Our number with the egg on top was truly something special, the highlight of the meal. City House seems like a reliable, laid back place that could be enjoyed any night of the week; it is not trying to be too ambitious, just serving straight-forward, confident food.
I have always wanted to go to a “meat and three” and my cousin’s posh brunch plans got blown out the door the second her daughter mentioned a place called Monell’s, a traditional southern restaurant where you sit with strangers and eat whatever is brought to the table, always passing the heavy, gorgeous platters of heaven to the left. This meal is all that I wanted out of the south- sweet tea, biscuits and gravy, fried chicken, corn pudding, ham, bacon, sausage, cheese grits…See above…The meal was indulgent, fattening, and unforgettable, an experience for which I am forever changed, and grateful. Never will you eat as good for less than $12.
After a beautiful hike and several hours of avoiding mirrors, we set out for an early dinner at Rolf & Daughters, which was recently named one of the best new restaurants in the county by several publications, and also received several James Beard Awards. Rolf & Daughters served excellent, well-composed food in a slightly industrial/rustic, loud environment, and they seemed very pleased with themselves. I was impressed with their used of green market produce (our waiter said “green market” about a billion times), and the pastas were non-fussy but constructed to elicit maximum flavor from every ingredient; the pork ragu was exceptional, as was their ramp- infused version of carbonara. Their respect for their ingredients was evident across the board, from beef tartare to a cauliflower entree; even a simple salad was elevated by a dusting of crunchy quinoa. It was a little odd that they were out of one of the three desserts on offer by 7pm on a holiday weekend, but hopefully the throngs of people waiting to be seated weren’t there for the chocolate cake, which was sourced from a local bakery. It is to be noted that most of the restaurants we ate in were in Germantown, a relatively up and coming neighborhood that has repurposed old warehouses and homes into restaurants spaces as well modern living spaces, reminiscent of Brooklyn.
Husk was the meal that I was most looking forward to, and I can not remember the last time I enjoyed a meal as thoroughly. Husk is truly beyond words; they take comfortable dishes, use high-quality ingredients and extreme skill to create flavors and experiences that are mind-blowing. Husk is proof that you don’t need to reinvent the wheel or use foams to make food exciting; strong flavors and textures with some surprise elements are all you need for a fabulous meal. The shrimp and grits were different from any other I had sampled prior, with more emphasis on subtle flavors than a rich sauce; the shrimp tasted like shrimp and the grits had a texture that was more interesting and addicting than I could have imagined. The egg over veggies was gorgeous to look at and thrilling to taste, the ribs were smokey and simple, and the South Carolina soft-shell crab had hints of Old Bay that was like a dance on my tongue. Husk is in an old home, and there are several dining areas, including the bar area downstairs; the waiters wear plaid shirts and jeans with suspenders, and while we had borderline terrible service, it hardly put a damper on the entire experience. We were served glorious, fluffy rolls with pork fat butter (we actually requested more but they never arrived), and a large list of bourbons enabled an unofficial education in identifying my exact bourbon preferences (brown).
I will attempt to go into details about the main courses, but they all shared the common thread of perfection. The pork dish was created by wrapping pork belly in the pork shoulder, and the fat from the belly just infused every bite with porky goodness; Boyfriend even ate the veggies on the plate, that is how outstanding it was. My trout had the right amount of acid to keep every bite bright, and the cucumber accompaniment was the couture equivalent of cucumbers; they have never looked so good. The steak dish was also true to what we had come to expect, simply done but perfectly flavored. The brown butter pound cake was a little dry, but the chocolate dessert did not disappoint.
Although Nashville is still teeming with tourists and bachelorette parties (they have “bike bars” where everyone sits on a bike seat around a bar and peddles their drunk asses to other bars), there is a vibrant food scene that is on par with many other larger cities. Not bound to trends but anything but expected, Nashville offers some of the best Southern classics with some modern interpretations; and pork, Nashville offers a lot of pork…
12222 4th Avenue N
1235 6th Avenue N
Rolf & Daughters
700 Taylor Street
37 Rutledge Street