I haven’t always been a huge fan of Nashville, Tennessee. My earliest trip there precludes my memory. According to my mother, my family stopped there on the way back from Destin, Florida. We stayed at the Grand ‘Ol Opry hotel, which apparently was a sight to behold.
However, all I remember was feeling like I walked into a strange, musical country saloon. Someone was yodeling, and a woman who looked alot like Dolly Parton was standing next to the check-in counter. But other than that, Nashville is a blur in my childhood memory.
So imagine my surprise when, sixteen years later, my boyfriend of two-years announces that he was going to move there. I hadn’t thought about Nashville in awhile, and shuddered at the thought of the CMT awards, cowboy boots, and southern twangs. Needless to say, I’m not a country music fan.
However, on a recent trip to the city, I discovered its hidden treasure: the food. Of course, Nashville is no New York or Paris. The main dishes aren’t glitzy and glamorous, and more often than not, menus will include Southern Comfort food: fried potatoes, chicken, mashed potatoes, creamed spinach. But some Nashville restaurants manage to strike the perfect balance between modern and classic, down-home cooking, proving that even smaller cities can hold their own.
My first night in Nashville, I tried the restaurant to beat all restaurants: F. Scott’s. The Restaurant (which doubles as a jazz bar) moves away from country music, and offers live-jazz music most nights. When you walk in, you’ll feel as if you’ve stepped into a scene from The Great Gatsby. The lights are dim, and while this makes for great ambiance, it didn’t agree with my camera (so excuse some of the low-quality pics.)
For an appetizer, I ordered the Grilled Pumpkin Ravioli, stuffed with a sweet pumpkin purée, and topped with a maple brown butter vinaigrette and crunchy, candied spiced pumpkin seeds. Every element of the dish was delicious, and I mopped up the maple brown butter vinaigrette with my bread.
My boyfriend ordered the scallops, which were served in white truffle oil.
Even though I love seafood, I opted for a more classic, Southern dish: Herb Roasted Chicken with sweet potato croquettes and creamed spinach. I had never really eaten croquettes, and was expecting something more akin to a pancake. Instead, when I cut into it with my fork, it was a ball of mashed sweet potatoes with a fried, crispy exterior. The potatoes were sweet, warm and moist, the spinach was creamed to perfection, and the chicken was tender, with delicate skin and just the right amount of salt and pepper.
The next day, we visited the Belle Meade Plantation and ate at The Harding House, a restaurant that was built to accommodate hungry tourists. I was surprised to hear German (or was it Dutch?) coming from the table across from us, but was even more surprised by the names of the Omelettes and Skillets. It turns out, the restaurant named them after all the plantation’s prize-winning horses (one of whom sired Seabiscuit and Secretariat. If that means nothing to you, Google the movies). I ordered the “Bonnie Scotland,” which was an egg-white omelette with mushrooms, Mozzarella cheese, spinach, onions, and peppers. It was served with a hearty helping of home fries, and two slices of toast.
After many days of savory, I was ready for something sweet. Over the summer, when I visited Columbus, Ohio, I stumbled upon one of my greatest food finds: Jeni’s Splendid Ice Cream. The shop offers unique ice cream flavors made with organic ingredients, and after one taste, I was hooked. Lucky for me, Jeni’s also happens to be located in East Nashville.
I ordered three “half scoops” (Jeni’s serves ice cream in half-scoop portions…why, I don’t know) in a bowl, which was topped with a sweet, crunchy piece of waffle cone. I ordered my favorite flavor, Pistachio and Honey, which is just the right blend of sweet and salty…And chose a classic, Salty Caramel, and Brown Butter Almond Butter as the other two flavors.
Jeni’s was the cherry on top of a good visit, as I returned to St. Louis the next afternoon. I was sad to leave my boyfriend, and wasn’t looking forward to returning to my old routine of cooking dinner and making sack lunches. But I made some great food memories, and discovered a different side of Nashville….One that I hope to revisit soon.