Music City is famous as the home of country music but long hours in the studio fuel the appetites of singers, musicians and producers. As a result, Nashville has a great food scene and, of course, there’s a whiskey distillery to keep those creative juices flowing. Rupert Parker tests out his taste buds and cherrypicks his 5 best food joints in Nashville.
Pinewood Social is a bar and restaurant with six bowling lanes and an outdoor space complete with two dipping pools. Although it’s open from breakfast through dinner, it’s ideal for brunch perhaps after a swim, or a few rounds of bowling.
Arriving in time for breakfast I enjoy grilled flat iron steak with eggs over easy and hash browns. Coffee is always the weak spot of breakfast in America but here they offer espresso as well as a range of teas. If it’s the morning after the night before, then they do excellent Bloody Marias – mescal instead of vodka with a shrub of jalapeño in the usual tomato mix.
Nashville hot chicken is world famous and, at Party Fowl, they serve it with different amounts of fire, ranging from low to what they call “Poultrygeist”. That’s probably the reason for having more than 20 local beers on tap.
Fried chicken livers tossed in a spicy bam bam sauce is a tasty place to start but there’s so much, I fail to finish the whole plate. Next I go for the hot Chicken Po’ Boy at “Poultrygeist” level – the waitress cautions that the chili is intense but I dismiss her advice. The spicy hot chicken is served on a French baguette with tomato, lettuce, pickles and a side of fries. As my mouth burns, I realise I’ve bitten off more chili than I can chew, but the beer provides some salvation.
Skull’s Rainbow Room
Right in the heart of downtown, down Printer’s Alley is Skull’s Rainbow Room. It takes its name from David Schulman who opened the restaurant in 1948. It lasted 50 years until he was sadly murdered during a robbery. It remained closed for almost 17 years but has now reopened, refurbished to its former glory. As well as food, there’s live jazz performed on its original checker-board stage.
My appetiser is tuna tartare served with lemon and homemade potato crisps. Main course is a grilled 16oz New Zealand rack of lamb marinated in pomegranate juice, olive oil, garlic and rosemary, served rare. There’s a great atmosphere here, with a competent band and singer providing musical accompaniment, and the bar is open until 2am.
Rolf & Daughters
The historic Germantown district is a couple miles north of downtown, and has some of the finest dining. Rolf & Daughters, has been here since 2012, putting Nashville on the culinary map. It’s a lively industrial chic space and specializes in small plates, although since it’s the US they’re fairly large. Sharing is the thing, and there’s a long table in the centre where you’re encourage to eat with strangers.
I start with sourdough toast spread with dry aged beef tartare, topped with thin radish discs. There’s also a toast with chicken liver pate, diced green tomatoes and cocoa. Next is Stracciatella, meltingly soft cheese, made in house, with a salad of satsuma, hazelnut, anchovy and radicchio. That’s followed by thin spiralised butternut squash with thin slices of mimolette cheese and a chili based salsa macha.
Meat is next, in the form of lamb sausage, served with roast carrot, sprinkled with Egyptian dukkha and topped with shaved fennel. I’m getting quite full but the next course is so simple – worms of cecamariti pasta, made from sourdough, mixed with cultured butter and black pepper. This definitely the highlight of a tasting menu that’s strongly Italian influenced with nods to every corner of the Mediterranean.
Nelson’s Green Brier Distillery
Charles Nelson left Germany for the US in 1850 and settled in Nashville just before the civil war. He opened a grocery store selling coffee and meat and was one of the first to bottle whiskey for sale rather than refilling jugs and barrels. By 1885, he was selling 380,000 gallons of Nelson’s Green Brier Tennessee Whiskey every year. In 1909 prohibition shut down the distillery, but 100 years later Charles’ great great great grandsons have revived the business on the original premises.
I take a tour which starts with the history of Nelson’s Green Brier Distillery, followed by a visit to the production floor. Nelson’s First 108 follows the original recipe, 70% corn, 16% wheat, and 14% malted barley but no rye, unusual for Tennessee. They do follow the state tradition of mellowing it through sugar maple charcoal, before aging it in 30 gallon barrels for two years. At the end, to round out the flavour profile, it spends a short time in 53 gallon barrels.
The highpoint of the tour is the tasting session where I get to taste it – only 2000 cases of Nelson’s First 108 were produced and it’s only available at the distillery. On the nose I get caramel and candy apple, the first sip has brown sugar with a finish hinting at butterscotch and cocoa, cinnamon, cherry and coconut. This is good whiskey, but, even better is their single cask, cask strength edition which is richer and fuller. If you want to sample it yourself, you’ll have to get down to Nashville fairly quick as supplies are definitely limited.
Tell Me More About Nashville Country Cooking
Visit Music City has information about the city.
Deep South USA has information about the region.
The Germantown Inn is a charming converted townhouse, complete with antiques.
Sobro Guest House is close to downtown and the rooms include kitchens.