It was a t-shirt that captured my feelings throughout the pandemic, “When this is over, meet me at Dino’s”. But for me, it meant more, it was my focus through the days that felt like weeks that felt like months. When this is over I’m going to Nashville.
Nashville? Why Nashville? Well… it has one of the most exciting and accessible food/drink scenes in America (IMO), and is coupled by the fact that these eating and drinking adventures are done with my favourite friend/cousin Alex!
And while this pandemic is far from over, at the first chance I was given to travel safely, I headed south and made my way to Music City.
My Nashville eating/drinking list has become so long that I knew I was going to have to make some hard decisions with only 4 nights in town. Even before I arrived, I had troubles narrowing down the “must return to’s” and the “must tries” while attempting to leave myself open to a bit of spontaneity. Ha! Let’s get real, I knew I had over planned and there was little wiggle room in my itinerary. But when Alex is involved, I also know I need to be open to any alternate suggestions she makes.
Arriving early evening in Nashville, I was excited to meet up with Alex for a pre-drink before dinner. It’s been 2 years since we’ve hung out and while our multiple Zoom sessions during the pandemic were nice, hanging out in person is SO much better.
To get our Nashville adventure started, we looked at Mother’s Ruin, Geist and the Optimist for cocktails because all are located close to our dinner reservations in Germantown. We chose the Optimist and specifically Jacqueline for their their outdoor patio because the space looked too good to miss.
It’s been 2 years since my last visit to Nashville and there were new tastes to try, but my first night had to be at Rolf and Daughters for their incredible pastas & roast chicken. I was so happy during this dinner. I was enjoying a meal with Alex, tasting things I have been dreaming about for the past year and a half. Being there in that moment meant the sign of brighter days to come.
Rolf and Daughters for dinner on our first night in Nashville has become our tradition because it always meets, and exceeds my high expectations for excellent food and drink in Nashville. Another thing I love about Rolf and Daughters is that they “get” vegetables, something that I feel is lacking when I spend any time in the South.
We started dinner off with an incredible peach and burrata salad followed by sweet roasted carrots with a savoury anchovy sauce. Of course, we ordered the roast chicken with lemon sauce and it did not disappoint! We finished with a duo of pastas, including another must, the mezze rigatoni with heritage pork ragu.
I haven’t visited Broadway on my last few visits to Nashville but had a craving to listen to some live music on this trip. There’s a plethora of options on the strip, but in my mind it has to be Robert’s Western World. We decided to go out during the day to try to beat the crowds, but found that even at noon on a Friday, Broadway was packed with tourists.
I knew we were living dangerously in these Covid-times, but I didn’t want to turn around. We found the inside of Robert’s was busy but not uncomfortable, so we pulled up to a table and listened to some good old honky tonk tunes for the afternoon.
While I had a great time listening to music on Broadway, my idea of great Nasvhille evenings happen outside of downtown, so we ventured in a different direction for drinks and dinner for the evening.
Tucked away in an old boiler room of a former commercial laundry company from the 20’s is Old Glory, a below level cocktail bar located off Edgehill Avenue (look for the gold triangle). I loved the exposed brick and funky brass & tile decor with a giant smokestack in the corner. Old Glory was busy on an early Friday evening when we arrived, but we were able to find a seat along the stairs. The cocktail list was very tantalizing, and I decided on El Diablo with mezcal, cassis and ginger mixed into a Topo Chico bottle, which I loved!
When we were planning the dinner line-up for Nashville, I told Alex I wanted to try some new places. She immediately recommended Locust, a dumpling house, but I immediately poo-poo’d the idea. I admit I am a snob when it comes to Asian food. I have travelled through a lot of Asia and eaten amazing flavours. I live in a city (Vancouver) that has some of the best Asian food outside of Asia, and outside of Asia, I only trust Asian experiences made by Asian people. But Alex promised me I would not be disappointed, and “in Alex I trust”.
Locust is the brainchild of Chef Trevor Moran (formerly of Catbird Seat & Noma), and his pedigree alone should have convinced me that this would be a great dinner. But I still went in with moderate expectations, and wow, did I have my socks blown off!
I browsed the menu while sipping on my yuzu drink, but decided on one of everything!
Every dish we ate was delicious. I felt tears of joy to be able to travel to experience new and wonderful things again and push my perceptions outside its boundaries. All the dishes looked simple, but the flavours were amplified to achieve maximum delight. The food was so good that after we were done eating one of everything, we had to order another round of dumplings and shrimp toast!
I admit I’m usually not a kakigori fan, but I think it’s because I’ve only had it in the Hawaiian shave ice version with its neon sugary syrups. The kakigori at Locust with black tea, shortbread and peaches was mind blowing. The ice was fluffy, like the purest cotton and while it changed my mind about what kakigori can be, I also know that this version will be hard to top.
Needless to say, I loved everything about Locust, especially the passion and enthusiasm of Chef Trevor Moran. The meal was so good, that I went back again 2 days later because I couldn’t leave Nasvhille without tasting all of Locust’s amazing dishes again.
I was still on a high from the meal from the night before that I had a hard time deciding where to go for lunch. I knew I wanted to change the flavour palate completely and tried to wanted to change the the flavour palate completely for lunch the next day. My first thought was to check out Lyra, a modern Middle Eastern restaurant, but it was just closing as we got there so we decided on going to Mas Tacos instead.
My first visit to Mas Tacos Por Favor was in 2014 on my first visit to Nashville and back then I enjoyed the easy meal where everything on the menu was good. I’ve been back a few times since and it’s become my go-to for a quick, but tasty lunch option when I want good but not fussy. Unfortunately, it’s been “found” from Diners Drive-ins and Dives, but the line up didn’t deter me this day.
My order this time around was a fried tilapia and a fried avocado taco which I paired with an elote. Everything was as tasty as I remembered and it’s a place I’ll keep on my list to return to when I can!
We had another evening out and another pre-dinner cocktail. We chose Fox Bar and Cocktail Club in East Nashville because it was another place I’d never been to. We entered through the back alley into this art-deco den to imbibe in some perfectly balanced (and delicious) cocktails with a side of (vegan) pimento cheese.
One of my favourite meals on my last trip to Nashville was a birthday dinner was at Penninsula, located in East Nashville. The entire meal of Iberian-peninsula inspired, Spanish-esque dishes was excellent, but my recollection of the insanely tomato-ey tomato toast was what convinced me to book again (especially when I saw it was still on the menu).
Unfortunately, there was a power outage in East Nashville earlier in the day and the owners at Peninsula decided to close for the evening and cancelled all their reservations. This left me disappointed and scrambling for a replacement reservation last minute on a Saturday night. I really wanted something that I felt would match/exceed what I’d been expecting from Peninsula and luckily, we found a late reservation at Folk, which I was also happy to return to.
I don’t think Folk made the first cut on “must return to” Nashville list because the chef/owner is the same as Rolf& Daughters, and in my mind I wanted to experience different tastes. But Folk is only the similar to Rolf in that the service is incredible and the food is wonderfully delicious. The menu, and more importantly the vibe at Folk is completely different from Rolf and I was happy to enter the room buzzing with energy.
Alex had been to Folk recently and she had some favourites she told us we must try. I’m happy to let others (I trust) choose as I often get to taste things that I wouldn’t normally choose myself.
We started with Heirloom tomatoes with plums & nectarines and a cucumber caesar with smoked trout roe and sharp cheese and an heirloom tomato salad with plums and nectarines which on paper seemed similar to the salad from Rolf, but was completely different. Our mains included the little neck clam pizza and chicken Milanesa with filleted beans and green tomatoes. We decided on the tiramisu for dessert while we sipped on a few digestifs but the staff at Folk treated us to their whole line up of desserts. While it was nothing we needed, it was something we truly delighted in. Life in Nashville is so wonderful.
No trip to Nashville is complete without a visit to Dino’s and we decided that Sunday lunch was the perfect time to go. With all of the Covid restrictions and the growth of outdoor dining, Alex built out the back patio to include a covered area with a lot more seating. I was happy to see it busy even early on a Sunday and even happier to chow down on a Dino’s cheesburger and Animal-style fries.
Sometime last year, a few months into the pandemic, Alex told me to check out @alebrijenash as something new and amazing in Nashville. Chef Edgar Victoria was making Mexico City inspired street food, “focused on preserving ancient Mexican techniques, ingredients and culture”. Of course I started following and drooled over the photos of beautiful tacos, gorditas, huraraches and sopes made from Mexican corn. I gained an understanding of how passionate Chef Edgar was for nixtamal and I knew I wanted to check out.
As of now, Alebrije is popping up at Farmers’ Markets in Nashville and the big bar at Bastion on Sunday and Mondays. Spending my last night in Nashville eating Mexican while drinking great cocktails at Bastion seemed the perfect way to end this trip!
As per the usual, we ordered one of everything on offer and while I was disappointed that they were sold out of hamachi tostadas, that was more than made up for with the squash tlayuda. I loved everything I tasted but especially the tlayuda, the braised pork sope and chicken tinga crunchy taco (I’m totally a sucker for crunchy tacos).
We were joined by Chef towards the end of the night and we sipped the delicious cocktails from the bar and chatted about his food, his inspiration and his hopes to open up a brick and mortar one day soon. I was moved by his passion and look forward to eating Chef Edgar’s food again on my next visit to Nashville.
No matter how many days I spend in Nashville, I always leave feeling like it wasn’t enough. But delighting in Nashville’s delicious food and drink scene, coupled with spending time with Alex is the pull to keep me coming back over and over again. As the world opens up more and more, I can’t wait for my next trip back!
Places I checked out on this trip to Nashville: