Nashville’s 10 Best Local Restaurants | Music City Dining
Nashville can lay claim to being the home of country music in the USA, where greats such as Roy Orbison, Elvis Presley, Willy Nelson and Dolly Parton cut their finest records. There is also a thriving culinary scene, with great quality produce being brought into the city from local farms, lots of edgy cafés and traditional family-run diners. Here’s our updated guide to the best restaurants to check out in ‘Music City’, Tennessee.
The Loveless Café was first opened in 1951 and has since gone on to become a Nashville institution and a must for foodies passing by on the nearby Highway 100. Run by Nashville natives, the café serves up Southern comfort food made by chefs who arrive at three in the morning just to start prepping the ingredients. You can find classic Southern staples such as fried okra, fried green tomatoes, homemade creamed corn, and the classic Southern breakfast of grits and scrambled eggs. Also on the menu is plenty of fried chicken made to the very same recipe as when the Loveless Café opened back in 1951, 7oz country ham with eggs, and grilled or fried catfish with hushpuppies and tartar sauce.
Rolf and Daughters is based in the Germantown area of Nashville and is housed within a century-old building. The restaurant took third position in the Bon Appétit ‘Best New Restaurant in America in 2013’ listing and serves up a mixture of locally sourced excellent ingredients with a menu with considerable European influences. The finest ingredients come from local Tennessee suppliers including eggs from Wedge Oak Farm in Lebanon, beers from local craft brewery Jackalope, fruit and vegetables from Bloomsbury Farm, and grass-fed beef from Bear Creek Farm. Pasta is also rolled in the kitchen and bread baked freshly on-site. The dining room was designed by Oxford Architecture and is a magnificent open space.
Pancake Pantry, Nashville | Image Courtesy of Jeni's
The Pancake Pantry is another Nashville institution. It has been owned since 1988 by David Baldwin, the son of the original owner Robert Baldwin, who opened The Pancake Pantry way back in 1961. Many of the employees are the sons and daughters of the original employees too, providing a real family atmosphere. The idea behind the restaurant was to provide top-quality pancakes – there are now over 20 different varieties to choose from on the menu including Caribbean, Georgia Peach, and blueberry. All of the pancakes are made using speciality flour collected from the hills of eastern Tennessee. The Pancake Pantry was featured on the infamous Man v. Food TV show in which the sweet potato pancake with cinnamon and icing sugar was sampled by the presenter Adam Richman.
The self-styled ‘Ice Cream Explorers’ at Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams claim to make the finest ice creams in the world using milk from grass-grazed Ohio milk and ingredients from around the world that are prepared in the scoop shop kitchen using baking, blending and blowtorch techniques to draw out the best possible flavours. The Nashville scoop shop was opened in 2011 and offers ice creams, sorbets, frozen yoghurts, ice cream sandwiches and a variety of toppings. Amongst the wonderful ice cream flavours to be found inside the scoop shop are brambleberry crisp, goats cheese and red cherry, wildberry lavender, sweet corn and black raspberries, Bangkok peanut, the ‘milkiest chocolate in the world’ and Ndali Estate vanilla bean.
The Catbird Seat, Nashville | Image Courtesy of Etch
The Catbird Seat offers a unique dining experience – there are no menus and you most certainly will not be able to just walk in without a reservation. The restaurant is based on a U-shaped layout that enables all of the diners to watch the chef prepare the food. The twist is that whatever the chef is preparing that day will be what is on offer, with diners encouraged to comment and ask for their dish to be tweaked top suit their tastes. The chef at The Catbird Seat is Trevor Moran, who came to the restaurant at the start of 2014. His pedigree is impeccable – in 2009 he headed to Europe to work in the kitchen at Noma under the head chef René Redzepi in Copenhagen, ranked by Restaurant Magazine as the best restaurant in the world in 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2014.
Etch Restaurant, Nashville | Image Courtesy of The Wild Cow
Etch is based on the ground floor of the Encore Tower in Downtown Nashville and is the latest restaurant venture of the celebrated chef Deb Paquette. Formerly Paquette was the chef and owner at Zola’s, which was repeatedly voted the best restaurant in Nashville and was included in Gourmet Magazine’s ‘Top 60 Restaurants in the USA’. The cuisine at Etch displays her characteristic boldness and innovation – starters on the menu include tempura catfish with compressed watermelon, lamb tartare with mint and kumquat, and octopus and shrimp on bruschetta. Main courses to choose from include pan-seared filet of beef, catch of the day from the fish market, and duck ratatouille crudo.
The Wild Cow, Nashville | Courtesy of The Standard
The Wild Cow is a laid-back, easy-going vegetarian and vegan restaurant based in East Nashville that takes great care and pride in sourcing all their ingredients ethically, therefore ensuring they provide a cruelty-free menu. All of the ingredients are bought in whole, so that the team at The Wild Cow make all of their own stocks, soups, dressings, and sauces – in fact, the kitchen staff know every piece of produce that goes into a meal at The Wild Cow. Starters on offer include hummus with pita, fresh Caesar salad, and spinach and artichoke dip with crostini. Amongst the main courses to tempt diners are black bean and sweet potato tacos, lentil bowls with carrots, cauliflower, onion and aioli, and roasted vegetable bowls with quinoa and aioli.
The Standard is located at the Smith House, the last remaining townhouse in downtown Nashville. Built in the 1840s in the classic antebellum Italianate style the Smith House features a huge ballroom, trapdoors, and the very first bowling alley to be built in Nashville and was used during the American Civil War as a planning headquarters by the Union side. In 2014 the restaurant was awarded an OpenTable.com Certificate of Excellence due to excellent customer feedback over a prolonged period of time. The cuisine is classic southern and includes lump crab bisque, shrimp and grits, fried green tomatoes, Caesar salad, and The Standard classics – Velvet Chicken, with melted gruyere, Black Forest ham and red peppers; and ‘The Standard Filet’, with truffle hash and tobacco onions.
Merchant’s Restaurant was opened back in 1988 in what had been the Merchant’s Hotel since 1892 – the building itself dates back even further to the 1870s when it was used by a drug company who manufactured a mixture of alcohol and opium named ‘Blood Medicine’, which can still be seen advertised on the outside walls. The old Merchant’s Hotel was used by Nashville music legends such as Dolly Parton, Hank Williams, Patsy Cline, and Roy Acuff. Original architectural feature scan be found all over the building. The bistro menu includes dishes such as Southern fried catfish and shrimp served with okra, devilled eggs, smoked brisket with coleslaw and cornbread, and steak frites.
Ellendale’s is a family-owned restaurant that takes its name from the great grandmother of the owners. Head chef Julie Buhler has been in her position since 1999 and was formerly the personal chef to Dolly Parton, and also cooked for great music figures such as Garth Brooks and Vince Gill. Subsequently she has been featured on Fox TV cookery shows and on the local TV show Tennessee Crossroads. Ellendale’s boasts a historic farmhouse setting and the cuisine is classic southern with a touch of contemporary influence thrown in too. You will find dishes such as shrimp and grits alongside more modern seared rare ahi tuna and mimosa scallops. Amongst the main courses are crispy rabbit with mushroom sauce, apple and cinnamon pork chop, and steaks as big as 16oz.
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