Eight Great Dining Options in Music City
By Hope S. Philbrick
Culinary styles grow out of the foods available in a region and the people who live there. In land-locked Tennessee, there’s a long tradition of barbecued and deep-fried beef, chicken, pork and even vegetables. In Nashville, this sort of stick-to-your-ribs home-style cooking is common. But not all of the culinary offerings are traditional: Many talented chefs are giving Southern cuisine a contemporary twist, with award-winning results. And international cuisines are available, too. The farm-to-table trend is in high-gear, and fresh, seasonal and local ingredients set the stage for today’s Nashville flavor.
A recent visit confirmed these eight restaurants are great dining options. (Check back—we’ll feature more Nashville dining recommendations in future issues.)
Schermerhorn Symphony Center (Nashville Symphony)
127 3rd Avenue South, Suite 200
Formal attire isn’t required at Schermerhorn Symphony Center—it’s in Nashville, where jeans and boots are the norm—but if you prefer elegant over casual then the on-site restaurant does not disappoint. And we’re talking about the food. This is no grab-and-go quick-before-the-show place; it’s a sit down and get pampered affair. Servers will ensure you get to the performance before the curtain goes up without rushing you (at least not unnecessarily). Executive Chef Roger Keenan serves spectacular dishes made of top-quality ingredients like Italian sausage, Colorado lamb, wild king salmon, ahi tuna and more as suits the season. His stated philosophy is “procuring the highest quality product, cooking it to perfection and presenting it in a creative way.” Mission accomplished with dishes like house-smoked duck; pan-roasted mahi-mahi with Creole beurre blanc sauce; and olive-cured chicken breast. Save room for desserts like the chocolate croissant bread pudding with chocolate stout caramel or roasted ginger crème brûlée with soy and cashew brittle. We bet your meal will warrant a standing ovation.
* ‘Been There’ Tip: The restaurant is open before all Nashville Symphony SunTrust Classical, Bank of America Pops and Jazz Series concerts and most special performances. Doors open two hours before the performance. Reservations recommended.
Capitol Grille at the Hermitage Hotel
231 Sixth Ave. N.
When greeted by a doorman wearing a top hat at the entrance of the Hermitage Hotel, it’s hard to keep your expectations about the restaurant inside from skyrocketing. Let them soar, they will be met. The man at the helm, Tyler Brown wears three hats: executive chef, farmer and rancher. His seasonal menu showcases ingredients he grows at the Farm at Glen Leven, just five miles away. Organic, heirloom, sustainable, and fresh are words frequently tossed around at many restaurants, but they’re core values here. Prime beef is sourced from the grass-fed, heritage-breed cattle grazing in pastures at the 245-acre Double H Farms in Dickson County, just west of Nashville. Love for ingredients is a difference you can taste. Familiar dishes are treated to upscale preparations, and even one bite of something that may sound simple like buttermilk mashed potatoes confirms you’re in expert hands.
Cascades American Café
2800 Opryland Dr.
Contemporary Southern cuisine is on the breakfast, lunch and dinner menus at this upscale casual restaurant in Gaylord Opryland. Friendly servers provide just the right amount of conversation and attention. While surrounded by lush tropical gardens and waterfalls of the Cascades Atrium, it’s difficult not to feel relaxed—whether or not you’re officially on vacation. We’re fans of the crab cake eggs Benedict, shrimp & grits and grilled Gulf grouper. Bonus points for the sustainable options like Gulf triggerfish and beef bistro filet served with seasonal sides from local farms. You’ll leave with a toothy grin to match that of the the puffer fish swimming in the tank near the entrance.
Never has history tasted so good. Housed in a building constructed in 1870, Merchants Restaurant serves up Southern cuisine with a fresh contemporary spin. Think pecan wood smoked chicken wings, confit turkey leg sandwich, pork pot roast, crab cake trio, cornmeal fried quail breast and pan roasted grouper. If looking for a casual dining atmosphere, opt for the street level space; if you favor a swankier fine dining vibe, head upstairs. Brothers Benjamin and Max Goldberg—of Strategic Hospitality LLC, who also operate the kitschy Paradise Park and chic Patterson House—are rumored to have the Midas touch when it comes to restaurants. Certainly bringing in Jason Brumm as executive chef was a stroke of genius.
Puckett’s Grocery & Restaurant
Franklin: 120 Fourth Ave. S., 615-794-5527
Leiper’s Fork: 4142 Old Hillsboro Rd., 615-794-1308
Nashville: 500 Church St., 615-770-2772
Odds are you’ll have to wait in line for a table at Puckett’s Grocery & Restaurant, but it’s worth the wait. Popular with tourists and locals, Puckett’s serves breakfast, lunch and dinner with a focus on classic dishes like pancakes, omelets, burgers, shrimp po’boys, barbecue, catfish and Southern fried chicken. Founded in the 1950s as a country store, today it’s more restaurant than grocery—though shelves stocked with staples outline the dining space—and also boasts a stage to showcase emerging talent. Roll up your sleeves to eat and don’t worry about keeping your elbows off the table: This is a casual, friendly place that treats guests like family.
2800 Opryland Dr.
Been awhile since you’ve felt spoiled? This fine dining restaurant at Gaylord Opryland will solve the problem. Order a classic cocktail while you settle back with the menu. Overwhelmed by the mouthwatering possibilities? Start with artisan cheeses and cured meats from the antipasti menu and trust the sommelier to make selections and recommend pairings for you. Then order whatever your server suggests; if two specials sound too good to resist, either order both or flip a coin. You really can’t go wrong. From fresh seafood to rustic pasta—we’re suckers for the spaghetti Bolognese—all the authentic flavors will convince your taste buds that you’ve landed in Southern Italy. Save room for dessert; if you can’t eat it now, take it to go for later enjoyment, like a souvenir.
2800 Opryland Dr.
This Mexican restaurant at Gaylord Opryland was originally more upscale and creative, but Chef Paulina Suarez retailored the menu in response to customer requests for something more laid back. The focus is now on Mexican classics like tacos with grilled or slow-cooked fillings, enchiladas, burritos and fajitas. Guacamole is made fresh with each order. You’ll feel as if you’ve been magically transported south-of-the-border while savoring Latin flavors and sipping a margarita in the lush Garden Conservatory Atrium. Solario is open for dinner only, perhaps since you shouldn’t really have a margarita for breakfast or during work hours.
The Southern Steak & Oyster
150 3rd Avenue South
Prepare to fall in love. Yes, you may well tumble head-over-heels for your server, who’s probably an aspiring musician just earning a living ‘til hitting it big. But we’re talking about the restaurant itself and, of course, the food. The vibe in this space is so inviting and relaxed you may consider it a second home. And the food, well, you’d be a cold-hearted muse for a sad ballad if you don’t appreciate the flavor as well as the thoughtfulness behind each creation. Executive Chef Matt Farley takes the green philosophy to heart, featuring locally grown produce as much as possible, sustainable seafood, and direct-sourced beef. That’s not all: The restaurant is on the street level of Nashville’s first LEED certified high-rise, so reduce/reuse/recycle is a way of life, the appliances are high-efficiency and the wood-fired grill is powered by tornado-salvaged hickory wood, among other things you won’t notice like earth-friendly cleaning solutions. The menus showcase local flavors with an eclectic mix of influences. We crave the bleu cheese biscuits with steak and horseradish; the ‘Bless Your Heart’ salad with hearts of palm, artichokes, roasted beets, goat cheese and balsamic herb vinaigrette; fish ‘n grits; and fried chicken with white cheddar mac ‘n cheese, greens and gravy. But we’re also looking forward to heading back and trying more.
-Photo Credits: couple, Solario © Gaylord Opryland Resort & Convention Center; Puckett’s © Tennessee Department of Tourist Development; Cascades, Ravello © HSP Media LLC.