Nashville is making a name for itself outside of the music scene, with an increasing number of farm-to-table, casual and innovative restaurants. While recently in this fun city for a wedding, I had trouble deciding which of them to try. These are the ones I settled on (I skipped Husk because I have been to the original in Charleston):
Rolf & Daughters in Germantown has garnered much national attention in magazines like Bon Appetit as well as on the internet. So of course I had to go there for one of our meals. While the former factory had undergone a very cool transformation and I enjoyed each dish, I can’t say I was bowled over by what I ate.
The Brussels sprouts salad was nice, but nothing special. Shaved and raw, dressed with lemon dressing and topped with Pecorino, it’s a dish that’s become ubiquitous. Our server raved about the Asian chicken wings, which she said had been marinated in a spicy fish sauce concoction. I immediately thought of the wings I covet at Voltaire, but these fell short of that standard.
Pasta is a specialty of the house and we tried two that have received so many accolades. I love squid ink, so naturally I gravitated to the Squid ink canestri, shrimp, squid, pancetta, and lemon. It was indeed unique and flavorful, though it was “fishier” than I would have liked, which is odd since I love everything in the dish. The Garganelli verde, heritage pork ragout, and parmesano was outstanding. The dense pasta was the perfect foil for the thick sauce, and reminded me of Italy. The lamb meatballs had a good flavor but were on the dry side. Next time I’ll order the Bucatini fra diavolo with octopus, rad lardo, and calabrian chili.
City House, in the same neighborhood, was fabulous. When we walked into the charming and very rustic house in the middle of a residential neighborhood, I had a feeling we were in for a special evening. Though it was loud when just half full, we were a group of nine so hearing someone at the other end of the table was going to be an issue wherever we went. But the food more than made up for that annoyance.
I started with Grilled Octopus with Kale, Red Onion, Olive Dressing, Bread Crumbs. It sounds good but not anything special, right? Wrong. I mourned the empty plate before I had even finished the last bite. My husband’s soup with Black Eyed Peas, Turnip Greens, Tomato, Grana Padano was hearty enough to be a meal in itself, yet he almost asked for another bowl.
I had heard the pizzas were amazing, so I decided to have one sporting ingredients you don’t see atop a pizza every day–Broccoli Rabe, Montasio, Garlic, Chilies. The server asked if I wanted to add arugula and it sounded like the perfect topping, though she failed to mention the $3 upcharge. Looking around the table, it appeared to be a lucrative suggestion for her. But the pizza was excellent so I really couldn’t complain. The pizza was thin, but thick enough to be chewy and foldable. It was charred perfectly and would appeal to anyone who’s into bread.
My husband continued with the broccoli theme and had the Casareccia with Broccoli, Anchovy, Lemon, Garlic, Chilies, GMRS, Bread Crumbs. Perhaps not as innovative as the Squid ink canestri from Rolf and Daughters, but still delicious.
A big group of us went to the Southern for brunch the next day. The place was hopping and, as with Rolf and Daughters and City House, reservations were a must. It’s just off the main drag in downtown Nashville and is clearly a hot spot.
Our server highly recommended the shrimp and grits, and it seemed like the thing to get in Nashville, but my husband was underwhelmed. They were incredibly rich, but without the flavor of the dish that Colby Garrelts serves up at Bluestem and Rye.
I ordered the Cuban, which was an egg dish not a sandwich–pork tenderloin marinated in mojo, pan-fried with black beans, yellow rice, skillet debris and two sunny side up eggs. With a few shakes of hot sauce, it was a very satisfying mid-day dish.
Chicken and Waffles are a big seller there, and the dish can be ordered with “hot chicken”, a signature of Nashville made famous by Prince’s Hot Chicken Shack.
As an aside that has nothing to do with food, if you’re in Nashville make sure to go to Cheekwood, a spectacularly stunning botanical garden. My friend’s son got married in one of the gardens, with the reception being held on the terrace of the mansion that was at one time the home of the Maxwell House founder and his descendants. It was the most beautiful setting of any wedding I’ve ever been to, and my only regret was that we didn’t have time to meander through the extensive grounds. It is so worth the drive. And a perfect place to walk off some of the meals you’re going to eat in Nashville.