Wood pigeon with asparagus tips and caramelized yogurt from The Catbird Seat.
Nashville's food scene has exploded over the past five years. Here are my two favorite oldie-but-goodies and two forward-looking new spots that make the Music City dining scene so special.
Hot chicken is to Nashville eats what the Opry or the Ryman is to its music scene. You'll find dozens of places serving hot chicken throughout Nashville, but none is as legendary as Prince's Hot Chicken Shack. They story goes like this: When Thornton Prince, a known womanizer, stayed out a bit too late one night, his lady friend cooked up some cayenne-blasted fried chicken to teach him a lesson. The prank backfired: Thornton loved the recipe, and his family has continued to make it for decades.
For a contemporary spin/beautiful homage to hot chicken and other Southern treats, head to The Catbird Seat. Talented founding chefs Josh Habiger and Erik Anderson recently moved on, but Strategic Hospitality tapped the brilliant Trevor Moran, former Noma sous chef, to man the menu. The restaurant has just 32 seats, arranged around a U-shaped bar that circles the kitchen, allowing the culinary team to interact with guests as they create dinner. "We get to talk about the dishes, products, techniques and just generally hang out," says Moran. "We're very focused on the food, but it's a very informal and fun meal." The 10-course menu changes nightly and is ever evolving. One night, you might find a 190-day aged rib eye, other nights, that hot chicken—crispy, spicy, fried chicken skin, sorghum basted and seasoned with small dots of Wonder Bread emulsion. It's awesome.
Meat-n-three is Southern lingo for a place where you pick a meat and three sides. Arnold's Country Kitchen, owned and operated by the Arnold family for more than three decades, does it best. Every dish is made from scratch, daily. Think meat loaf, chicken and dumplings and roast beef served with classic sides such as turnip greens, mac and cheese, creamed corn and friend green tomatoes.
The meat-n-three concept gets an overhaul at Pinewood Social. Part bar, part restaurant, part rec hall, there is no beter place to hang in Nashville, period. The brainchild of the aforementioned Josh Habiger and restaurateurs Bejamin and Max Goldberg, Pinewood takes an elevated approach to nostalgic culinary classics such as those served at Arnold's. It's open daily for breakfast, lunch and dinner, and you'll notice staples such as fried chicken, calf's liver and onions, omelets and a beef tongue Reuben. Not ready to leave once your check arrives? No problem.
"We wanted to create a 'third space'," says Habiger, referring to the restaurant's multiple spaces. "You can do homework, read a book, relax with a drink. [We've partnered with] an amazing coffee shop ... an have a bowling alley in the back." There's also a bocce ball court, karaoke lounge and, fingers crossed, an outdoor swimming pool come summer.
Nashville's ability to honor and support a progressive restaurant scene and iconic stalwarts make a truly great food town. "The restaurant community here is great," Habiger says. "We are all trying to help promote each other. I think that it will continue to grow and that we will start to see some bigger city chefs come to Nashville to bring some new concepts."