I just spent a few months living and working in Nashville, Tennessee which was an incredible experience. As I’m apt to do, I researched, ate, drank, tried, and asked my way around the city ‘til I found the best spots it has to offer. Never have I met such warm people, heard such good music, eaten so much fried chicken...I could go on and on. This week’s letter will cover the music/food and next week's will cover the rest. It's pretty easy to get to if you live in the good ol’ US of A as it’s kind of smack dab in the middle (well, not really, but almost) and is so worth a trip. It's pretty damn great.
The Ryman was founded as a church in 1892 which explains the stained glass windows and church pew seating. In the mid-twentieth century it came to house the legendary Johnny Cash television show and the weekly Grand Ole Opry concert and radio show which was broadcast on WSM-AM. The Opry, and the radio show have since moved house but the Ryman remains a must-experience concert venue for its spectacular acoustics. The Opry makes occasional returns to the Ryman, which is what I was lucky to catch back in January of this year. Definitely try to get tickets to a show there and skip the daytime museum tour, you can kill two birds with one stone and check out the display cases while you’re at the concert.
Grand Ole Opry
2804 Opryland Drive
+615 871 OPRY
Each week the Grand Ole Opry takes place as a showcase of the best country, bluegrass, and folk bands in the country. The night I caught it on a visit back to the Ryman, I saw the amazing Emmylou Harris, Carrie Underwood, and Vince Gill, just so you have an idea of the kind of all-star casts the Opry always hosts. The entire show is broadcast live every Saturday on WSM-AM at 7pm and is the longest running radio show in history. People say the Opry is touristy, and this is true, but it is at the same time absolutely authentic and the quality of the concerts is truly remarkable.
Located in the up-and-coming Gulch neighborhood, the Station Inn is a vestige of another time. Don’t be fooled by the bare-bones exterior, this is the best venue for bluegrass. Period. They don’t take reservations and it’s first come, first serve and doors open at 7 pm so be sure to line up early. When it fills up, they stick a paper plate on the door that says “Sold Out.” One of the nights I went, I saw Jim Lauderdale, one of the best and most well-respected local singer/songwriters, and his band play some rockin’ bluegrass. I went with a bunch of musicians that night and they were truly blown away by the music. The Time Jumpers, who play there on most Monday nights, are also truly worth catching if you get a chance.
The Ernest Tubb Record Shop, with its vast array of blue-grass and classic country music, also hosts a live WSM-AM radio show each Saturday night – a Midnight Jamboree – at its other location at 2416 Music Drive, Suite 110.
Our favorite place for honkytonk dancing, this low-key bar has live music every night bringing couples young and old out to showcase their skills on the dance floor. It’s a great place to go on weeknights since it gets rowdier since on the weekend as it is located right on the main strip. You can also buy cowboy boots here; one of the walls is lined in shelves full of pairs in every shape and size imaginable.
The Loveless Café
8400 Highway 100
Another institution, the Loveless has been around since the 1950’s when it began as a motel. Refurbished and expanded in 2004, it is now a restaurant and another WSM-AM radioshow venue. On Wednesday nights, the Loveless Barn lights up with a concert of country and bluegrass big-names, “Music City Roots: Live From The Loveless Cafe.” I went there and had dinner - their food is delicious, a traditional southern heart attack – and stayed for the show.
This bar is as cozy and intimate as could be; it has a worn-in, comfortable feel to it. There is a low stage in the back for all the musicians that come through playing bluegrass, country and rock. The Vegetarian Shepherd’s pie is spectacular, made of layers of perfectly seasoned lentils, mashed potatoes and cheddar cheese.
The Hutton Hotel
1808 West End Avenue
+615 340 9333
I stayed at the Hutton Hotel for 3 weeks and truly enjoyed the whole experience. A new hotel, it is very clean and exceptionally kempt. Plus, it has an eco-friendly bent, which means no bathtubs in order to conserve water, LED lighting, and a hybrid courtesy vehicle when in need. If you’re staying for an extended period, and need a night in, the dining room is nice for a bite and a cocktail.
The Quest for the Best Fried Chicken:
Prince’s Hot Chicken Shack
123 Ewing Dr
+615 226 9442
It’s a long wait for and a long drive to the fried chicken here and for good reason. It comes in 4 levels of hotness starting at mild and going to extra-hot and they mean business. One of our team suffered the consequences for the entire evening after. The shack, and yes, it’s a shack, is open late but be prepared to wait up to forty-five minutes for an order since they are made fresh and come straight from the teeny kitchen in the back, so call and make your order in advance.
Tim McGraw’s recommendation, Swett’s serves Meat & Three – your choice of meat plus three sides that could be collard greens, macaroni and cheese, mashed potatoes, apple or peach pie and more. The fried chicken here is superb… crunchy and not oily on the outside and juicy on the inside.
Arnold’s Country Kitchen
605 8th Avenue South
+615 256 4455
Arnold’s is only open on weekdays but we heard so much about the fried chicken and Meat & Three options here that we paid a visit and it was well worth it for an all-around authentic experience.
At The Table
907 12th Ave S
+615 242 0077
Another family run Meat & Three joint, the sides here are great, and even better than some of the other places’, but you’re better off eating fried chicken elsewhere.
City House’s rustic Italian-meets-Southern food stands out from that of the rest of the Nashville restaurant scene – it’s a true foodie’s restaurant. I had phenomenal braised fennel with Montasio cheese pizza from their woodburning oven. You’ll also find brisket and fried catfish on the menu if you’re looking for a Southern fix, but for me, after all that fried chicken, it was a relief to get some ingeniously treated vegetables. Stop by the bar on your way in or out, the bartenders here know their stuff and will concoct any drink you may fancy.
This rowdy restaurant serves typical American fare. Get lots of plates to share; the sweet potato fries are delicious, the fried chicken sliders do the trick, the biscuits are the best I sampled in the city of Nashville, and the oysters on the half shell come with a shot of Bloody Mary. What more could you ask for? Just be sure to bring an alka-seltzer.
This is the swankiest hotel in town and drips in old world charm. The food here is pretty traditional but it’s fun just for the atmosphere. Be sure to check out the gorgeous art deco men’s bathroom that women are aloud to peek into.
A daily-changing menu of French and Italian dishes comes out of this husband and wife owned restaurant in East Nashville. Chef Margot emphasizes local and seasonal ingredients in her dishes.
+615 329 6674
The crew from the movie I worked on kept raving about Noshville, a New York style deli in the middle of Nashville. I never made it there, but I hear it’s the place to be for brunch and the veggie burgers are supposed to be outstanding.
The Patterson House
1711 Division St
+615 636 7724
Here’s a real old-fashioned speakeasy — a part of the New York/LA throwback-to-prohibition bar trend, where getting into the bar requires some work and house rules dictate you must stay seated once in. It’s well worth it. The prim and proper mixologists, in their old-fashioned uniforms, will make miracles happen with the ingredients.
Markets and Artisans:
Scott Witherow started this chocolate factory in 2009 after 3 years of gathering machines, cacao beans and parts from all over the world in order to create his chocolate. The chocolate itself is some of the most flavorful we’ve ever experienced and the combinations are amazing. The day we were there, Scott was excited about a new variety he’d made with Dominican beans. It was really unusual and the cacao itself had a fruity taste. The cinnamon chili chocolate is the best interpretation we’ve tried of Mexican chocolate and beware of the espresso chocolate, delicious, but one piece is like a potent doppio espresso. Each wrapper’s design, is, like the chocolate inside, exquisite.
Drews Brews Coffee
+615 262 4099
Drew is the man behind the brews at the best coffee shops in Nashville. A quirky character and a true craftsman (he lives in an ex-motorcyle gang meeting place that he is rehabbing); he hand roasts his famous coffee beans and writes each label himself.
A one-stop shop for all your organic groceries. The staff of hipsters here are always friendly and happy to help.
A sister to Margot restaurant, this café and deli serves and sells meat, poultry, fresh in-house baked bread, and lots of surprising European goodies. The seating area is spacious, airy and light-filled and looks like a great place to get some work done or enjoy coffee with your girlfriends.
Always bustling with students, freelancers and passersby, this cozy shop sprawls through a small house including a porch, which must be lovely in the summer.
I got my Drews Brews coffee every morning from Ugly Mugs while in Nashville. The space itself is airy and expansive, perfect for a full day of freelancing or reading the Sunday paper sprawled on one of the couches.
Fido at Bongo Java
1812 21st Avenue South
+615 777 3436
Bongo Java is another major hangout in Nashville. When we passed by on a rare sunny day in the winter, there was a crowd sitting at the tables on the front porch, happily chatting the afternoon away. Bongo Java, has Fido, a restaurant inside that serves a great brunch. I got their fabulous tofu veggie scramble on several mornings to arm me for a day on set.