Nashville: the first timers long weekend guide
For years, I've wanted to go to Nashville -- hot chicken, honky tonks, hipster life -- what's not to love? So when I got desperate trying to figure out the perfect Christmas-Anniversary-Valentine's gift, I cashed in on a free ticket (thanks, Delta!) and focused on the planning.
Priorities were to a) eat b) eat more c) not drive a car and d) get a feel for its different neighborhoods.
Note that this guide is the car-less guide -- we relied on Lyft and Uber with no problems. If, however, you plan to drive yourself and/or have extra time, you should be scrapping parts of this itinerary and instead heading to Puckett's Grocery and Restaurant, Loveless Cafe, and Prince’s Hot Chicken.
Also, if you’re feeling like a big spender, I’ve heard only incredible things about Catbird Seat (reservation most definitely needed).
Nashville is famous for hot chicken -- basically fried chicken, just with more flavor. Hattie B's Hot Chicken on 19th Ave. S is one of the best. Get yourself a beer, chicken, bread, pickles and whatever sides they recommend (anything that sounds like it may be veering into healthy territory is a no-no) and close out with banana pudding.
From there, take a 5 minute ride over to Station Inn for a night of bluegrass. But be warned: it closes early. So early that we never made it, despite staying next door. But everything I’ve heard and read swears that it’s the place to hang out and hear some great music. So please go, and send me a postcard... or at least take a shot on my behalf.
Forget breakfast, and head straight to lunch. BBQ in Nashville is “whole hog” style, and while every local has their favorite, Martin's Bar-B-Que is definitely in the top ten and most conveniently of all, is located in east Nashville. Have redneck tacos and a pulled pork sandwich, and then head on over towards Sevier Park.
Strolling North on 12th South, keep an eye out for Las Paletas, a tiny shop selling Mexican-style icepops. If you’re still feeling pain from breakfast, get yourself two mini flavors (the avocado!) and keep on walking down.
Make sure you swing by imogene + willie, one of the best denim makers around. It should be frighteningly hip, given its location in a former service station, chill aesthetic and stock of impeccable bandanas, but it’s Nashville so it’s just awfully nice.
Then hop in a car and head over to Olive & Sinclair, a local chocolate company (read: the Mast Brothers of Nashville). If you’re the type to plan ahead, sign up online for their $5 tour, which comes complete with a hairnet. For the rest of us, the shop is stuffed with samples. My favorites had to be the Mexican-Style Cinnamon Chili and Cocoa Nib. Claim that the fifty or so bars you end up clutching are for everyone you know, and get out while you’re still standing.
From there, take a nondescript walk through a residential neighborhood to get yourself over to S 11th Street.
If you’re still full from the chocolate, stroll north, heading towards Eastland. Caffeine is likely needed, and there’s one place to go. Barista Parlor has to be one of my favorite Nashville discoveries, which probably outs me as a Brooklyn yuppie. Yes, it has outrageously expensive coffees, and it’s where all the hipsters hang out, and Dan Auerbach of The Black Keys is a co-owner, but the place has serious soul.
Settle in for awhile, unless of course all the excitement has awoken your sweet tooth, in which case you should pop into Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams (editor’s note: we visited well before Jeni’s hit front page news for a listeria outbreak… and can only hope that you will visit once it’s quieted down, because goddamn that ice cream is good.)
But whatever happens, make sure your afternoon snack is at Mas Tacos Por Favor. I was skeptical that the best chicken tortilla soup was to be found in a former food truck in Nashville of all places, but could not have been more relieved that we made the detour. It was incredible -- so incredible, in fact, that it became the only place where we ate twice. (It also incidentally was the only restaurant open in a 30-minute radius when the ice storms hit our last day… but that’s another story.) If you can manage it, pair it with an iced horchata coffee. Totally unreal.
At about this point, you should probably take a break. Nap. When you’re ready to venture out again, head over to The Patterson House for a pre-dinner cocktail. From the outside it doesn’t look like much. But once you’re inside, and have paid the waiting toll (...waiting… and waiting for awhile), you’ll finally see a beautiful curved bar, bartenders who are not messing around, a Bible-sized book of cocktails, and the occasional celebrity.
From there, head straight over to Husk, the Nashville outpost of the Charleston institution. Chef Sean Brock has made it his mission to bring back heirloom ingredients and reinvent their use. I had read this New Yorker article years ago and was completely fascinated by the history -- but frankly, unsure about the end result.
The joke was on me though because Husk offered one of the most memorable meals out there. Photos are few and far between because we were too busy oohing over the wine menu, divided by soil, and aahing over the starter of Carolina Rice Griddle Cakes with pimento, but also be sure to get the shrimps and grits with a perfect egg perched on top.
But whatever you do, don’t keel over. Because tonight is the night you head to Robert's Western World and Tootsie's World Famous Orchid Lounge… the two most touristy and yet most local of the honkytonks in town. Go, drink, dance. If all else fails, eat a fried bologna sandwich.
After that night, you need a breakfast that’s not messing around. Monell's is the only place to go. Located in Germantown, it serves a family-style “country” breakfast from 8:30 - 11:00 on Sundays. What makes it country, I have no idea. What I do know is that you sit with strangers and strictly pass to the left. There will be eggs, and bacon, and sausage, and french toast… and corn pudding, and fried chicken, and biscuits… and fried apples, and I swear the rest of the meal is a blur. (Note: no picture here because I could not even begin to dare to take my cell phone out on such hallowed grounds.)
Once you’ve managed to roll yourself out of your chair, the odds are that you will be feeling slightly ill. If you, like me, feel the need for a long and unscenic walk to forget the eighteen biscuits you just inhaled, head yourself over towards Victory Park.
Once you’ve had your fill of country music, it’s time to get down to the other side of Nashville music. Jack White’s Third Man Records is a weird and wonderful place. (Note, it’s not the best of walks to get there -- it may seem silly on a map, might be worth grabbing a cab.)
That night, treat yourself to a relaxed meal. Rolf & Daughters was named one of the country’s best restaurants by Bon Appetit in 2013, and continues to stun. If you can’t get reservations there, or for some reason aren’t into squid ink pasta with shrimp, nduja and breadcrumbs (questionable), check out City House or The 404 Kitchen.
After the day you’ve had, it might be time for something a bit more… civilized. The Oak Bar at the Hermitage Hotel is about as old and fusty as you’d imagine. Ignore the umbrella’d cocktails and go straight for a whiskey on the rocks. You aren’t actually here to drink. You’re here to visit a national monument: “voted nation’s best in 2008”, the facilities are just phenomenal. Art deco like you’ve never seen, and is still fully functional. (Like, actually. It is fully worth paying for an overpriced drink for the honor of utilizing one of the most surreal restrooms of all time).
Start the day off right with Golden Sound, the sister to Barista Parlor. Does it seem silly to go to both? Only if you haven’t been. Rad coffee, incredible biscuit sandwiches, great people watching. It’s the hipster coffeehouse drill, except somehow so much cooler.
Then pretend you’re a local and head to Arnold's Country Kitchen. One of the biggest disappointments of my life is that we weren’t able to make it to Arnold's, the most famous "meat + 3" in all the land (it’s open only M - F, 10:30 am to 2:45 pm - plan carefully!). From everything I've read, it’s reason alone to go to Nashville.
And after that, it’s probably time to leave. If you stay any longer, you will likely be found ten years from now, buried under a pile of chicken bones and biscuit crumbs.