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Although I am not venturing into new states with my trip to Music City, visiting Nashville is a always a nostalgic trip for me. I spent two of the best years of my life studying business at Vanderbilt University and the fond memories of country music, Southern food and hospitality, and whiskey seem to permeate my memories.
(Source: US News and World Report: http://colleges.usnews.rankingsandreviews.com/best-colleges/vanderbilt-3535)
Alumni Weekend for my business school comes every year in April – and it usually calls me back to Nashville for a weekend of meat and three, a trip to a cigar bar or down Broadway, or an adventure to a restaurant in east Nashville that didn’t exist when I studied here. Music City has earned its nickname from the many bars, cafes, and other venues that host acts both undiscovered and super famous. During my time in Nashville, it was not uncommon to see Taylor Swift walking into the Starbucks across the street from Vandy, Lady Antebellum show up to play a couple songs at Losers, or hear about classmates seeing Kenny Chesney.
When I stay in Nashville, it’s usually on a friend’s couch. But when I go the hotel route, the Hutton Hotel or the Omni is where you want to go. The Hutton Hotel is the boutique hotel that defines the standard for any small luxury hotels. With its sumptuous showers and beds to rival Westin’s sweet sleepers and the best happy hour special in town, the Hutton is convenient to Vanderbilt and downtown. The 1808 Grille is the bar at the Hutton and it has a happy hour on Thursdays where you can find the best burger in Nashville for $5. And that includes a basket of shoestring fries too!
This may comprise the majority of this post and it’s not for the faint of heart. You have been warned. Nashville has a surprisingly diverse mixture of different and vibrant cuisines, but at its heart, it’s a southern capital. This means fried chicken (hot, if you like that sort of thing), meat and three, and then modern takes on southern cuisine.
Breakfast at the Pancake Pantry might strike some as touristy or cliche – there’s a long line out front and the food won’t blow your mind – but it’s deeply satisfying, comfortable like a diner should be, and the pancakes are mighty tasty. And all while not charging a pretty penny. If you’d rather leave town, head over to the Loveless Cafe for their famous biscuits.
If lunchtime rolls around, you better be at Hattie B’s or Prince’s. Hattie B’s is a relative newcomer on the Nashville fried chicken scene and although some might denounce its proximity to Vanderbilt as a sign of how *un*authentic it is, these people are speaking nonsense. The chicken here is crispy, moist, and the spice scale accommodates all tastes. The mac and cheese is an excellent side there. Prince’s is a bit of a drive and is a complete hole in the wall – but there’s a reason it was voted one of the top 21 fried chicken places in America by Thrillist. If fried chicken ain’t your thing, first of all you’re an idiot. But I digress. Arnold’s is your classic meat and three place. Again, you will wait in a line just to get your food – and it’s a spartan interior. Because the effort goes into the food.
As dinner time rolls around, Merchants is a classy downtown restaurant that features a slightly more casual downstairs and a more upscale upstairs. I’ve done upstairs and the food impresses with both its presentation and flavor. The Lobster mac and cheese, potato chips, and oysters will more than satisfy you. But then you get to tackle the entrees, cocktails, and perhaps even a dessert if you so desire.
In the past, I haven’t added a separate section for drinks but Nashville has some noteworthy places to call out. The Yazoo Brewing Company was founded by a Vanderbilt MBA, so automatically I’m a big fan – and the kicker is his beer is really stinkin’ good. The Dos Perros has a chocolatey flavor to it and it incredibly smooth, but if it’s a hot day outside, the Hefe is what you need. Also consider the “Embrace the Funk” beers – those are the two below next to the Sue (also definitely worth trying).
Take a ride over to the old Marathon Motor Works factory and you’ll find Corsair Distillery, a craft distiller that took over Yazoo’s old space. Here you’re going to sample some of the best artisan Gin and Whiskey around – and some super unusual spirits. The Quinoa Whiskey might trip you out – but don’t worry. This isn’t some Portland hipster mixing something in his backyard. It’s legit.
Nashville is more than a musical capital or the subject of the ABC television show of the same name. It’s a warm southern capital that is finding out what celebrity status can do to a town. This can be good…and it can be bad. For now, it’s still easy to get around and find parking. You’ll still get a smile from everyone you meet. And it’s still my favorite town in the south. How long it stay that way is anyone’s guess.
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