I've enjoyed Nashville since I was a kid. There were family trips and school trips and church trips - lots of them involving a long-gone theme park that was called Opryland. My favorite Nashville memories were not of the theme park but of trips with my cousin Sallie. The Opryland Hotel was always on the list - as was the Green Hills Mall. It seems silly now - but I first found Pier 1 on one of those Nashville trips with Sallie. My little small-town heart couldn't believe there were things from allll over the world there. I wanted one of everything.
As a young adult I moved to the Nashville area from a very small town in West Tennessee. It is the first place my husband and I called home together so it will always be special. I still feel like Nashville is home...even though it has changed DRAMATICALLY over the past few years.
Our first stop on this recent trip was for lunch at Bricktop's West End location. Bricktop's is a small American restaurant chain with several locations in the Southeast. I have such good memories of the Nashville West End location and the food is always, always, always wonderful. Their burger has long been my favorite and the perfect excuse to order shoe-string fries alongside. This restaurant has a menu to suit anyone so it's also good for a crowd. Select from sushi, burgers, ribs, guacamole. Did I mention they have the best salads ever? Or that only Elvis music is played in the restrooms? So many good things done well here with a nod to Ms. Ada “Bricktop” Smith. Look her up!
Need cocktails? If so, head to Patterson House. The drinks are so fresh and creatively crafted. They are also boozy so pace yourself and order a snack. You will almost miss this one if you aren't careful. Look for a wooden door with a large glass window in a regular, mostly unmarked, painted gray brick building. I almost never run into people entering or leaving so there is not a crowd hovering to confirm that you’re in the right place. When you enter there is a host stand plus heavy blue-gray velvet curtains. Perfect for pre or post dinner with an air of Prohibition speakeasy.
As mentioned, Nashville has exploded since I last lived there. Downtown is typically an area I stay away from because it is constantly congested. Although, if you’ve never been to Nashville you must go! The historic Ryman Auditorium is nearly buried amidst new developments downtown. One of those new developments being the Assembly Food Hall. This is a huge collection of restaurants and bars in the middle of downtown. It’s like they brought ”Taste of Nashville“ to a food hall. You'll find Coco's Italian, Prince's Hot Chicken, The Pharmacy Burger, Cabana Bar (with live music), Desano Pizza and many more. Although the food hall is one of the reasons it is now hard to find the Ryman - it does make downtown more family-friendly.
Be sure to stop at Tootsies or Legends for a taste of classic Nashville honky-tonks known for music, drinks and good times. When you’re worn out with the crowd on Broadway make your way to Printer’s Alley and imagine what it might have been like in the early 1900s. Known for its speakeasies during Prohibition, the center of Nashville's printing industry in its heyday and a lively bar and music scene for singers and songwriters over the years, you are sure to find something interesting here.
You’ll have options in Printer's Alley but my crowd seems to gravitate toward Fleet Street Pub. It’s a basement level British pub that’s easily walkable from the honky-tonks. Play darts, watch a game and order a beer or cider (or something else-I just think beer/cider goes with “pub” best). I can definitely recommend the chips (fries) and I spotted a bacon sandwich called a “bacon butty” that did not disappoint those who ordered it.
If you venture across the river you’ll end up in East Nashville. Lots of yummy spots here but we ended up deciding on a tiny Mexican spot called Mas Tacos Por Favor - super tasty, low-key and affordable. Between 4 of us I believe we ordered most of what was on the menu. Hibiscus sangria, plantains, street corn and tacos below. I have regrets for not ordering the soup. Local friends told us how we missed out by not having it…next time!
From Mas Tacos we stumbled upon The 5 Spot just in time to catch their Funk Night shows. Both amazing! Nashville is full of all kinds musical talent (just in case you thought only Country music lives here). How cool that we also got to see salsa dancers on the dance floor. Nashville + Funk Night + Salsa Dancers = unexpected but wonderful experience!
Best brunch. I'm listing the one we ate at this time BUT there are so many more. Coco's Italian Market in West Nashville is always on my list. Many tasty choices here with an adorable Italian market and a bocce court out front. They have an Italian version of French toast made of Panettone. Breakfast Bruschetta made of focaccia schmeared with fresh ricotta and topped with honey and crushed nuts is one of my favorites. We always visit the location on 51st Street but I found out they have grown! Multiple locations across Nashville have popped up.
Top: Fagottini con prosciutto, Ham and Swiss layered with Italian crepes with a side of pesto + scrambled egg
Bottom: Breakfast bruschetta
And either on the way to Coco's or on your way out...look for this gold-domed building. It always makes me smile :) A little history if you care to read it.
One of my all-time favorite dinner spots is City House. Not just a favorite in Nashville, but overall. The menu at this James Beard award-winning restaurant includes local seasonal items and changes often. Because we visited on a Sunday we ordered from the Sunday Supper menu - which is completely different from the menu the rest of the week and equally as tasty. Our meal was wonderful but I DO still have to mention 2 items from the regular menu: 1. Belly Ham Pizza (plus an egg in the center) 2. Frico (not pictured) If you are there any day but Sunday please order these two - along with whatever else looks yummy.
Belly Ham Pizza w/egg - Wine from Sardinia (very cool) - Lamb - Meatballs and Polenta - Lemon Almond Ricotta Skillet Cake
City House is another restaurant that can be daunting to find. The building is only marked down the right side of the building beside the door. Look for something like the below across from a new townhome/condo building.
A few oldies that I cannot help but mention:
Marche – East Nashville
Go for brunch or breakfast (before 11 on weekend)…OMG-it is awesome!
They don’t do reservations but worth the wait if there is one. **Take out only for now**
Margot – East Nashville – sister restaurant to Marche
Dinner only – French inspired, cozy restaurant supporting local sourcing. Every time I’ve eaten here it has been wonderful. Highly recommended.
Urban Grub – 12 South
REALLY good oysters…I know-oysters and no ocean – BUT – they fly them in daily! Wine list is awesome here – lots of options. They have a great patio in the back that is half open to the outside-wonderful atmosphere. The steaks are great and I love the half bbq chicken. The cheese and charcuterie are my favorites too!
Mafiosas – 12 South
Go for the wings…get them naked with buffalo (house-made) sauce on the side. I don’t even like wings and I like these… This is a pizza place but we always go for the wings. *Good for families*
Desano – Midtown
You MUST order the San Gennaro Pizza-hands down the best one on the menu! You can buy drinks here or BYO. Seating is at big communal picnic style tables and the pizza makers put on a good show. ATL ppl – this is the same as Antico – sister restaurant. *Good for families*
Café Nonna – In Sylvan Park
Tiny little Italian place (more traditional). Make reservations for sure.
Seafood Angelina is enough for 2 to split with a salad…tell them and they’ll bring it in 2 bowls.
Kayne Prime – The Gulch
Splurge-worthy steak restaurant. Make a reservation. The steaks are awesome but I find myself equally excited about the sides...cream corn brulee, creamed spinach that involves a fried egg, potato gratin. Then we have the cotton candy bacon appetizer. You cannot go wrong here.
The GreenHouse - Green Hills
Maybe the most unique and lovely bar I've visited. It is a greenhouse built around a bar.
The Food Company - Green Hills
Next to The GreenHouse and great for lunch.
McDougal's Chicken - Hillsboro Village
Very yummy chicken fingers - fried or grilled - tons of sauce options. Nice to sit outside if weather permits.
Close to Broadway / Downtown
If you want to do a night on Broadway / 2nd Ave-where all the “honky tonks” are and want less of a chaotic situation - go during the week when there will be less of a line. You could do a walk down Broadway on the weekend just to see all the street performers if you want to be in the atmosphere and not necessarily wait in lines and fight the crowd to get in anywhere. When you do visit the area - have a drink in Tootsies or Legends. Those are some of the old, long-standing honky tonks.
Ryman Auditorium You can plan a tour or purchase tickets to a show for the time that you’re there.
Country Music Hall of Fame - Contains all the history on why a lot of you might decide to go to Nashville in the first place!
The Frist museum - is right across from Union Station Hotel. Its Nashville's fine arts museum housed in an Art Deco building that happens to have the most unique wood floors. Perfect for a few hours of your day.
Cheekwood Estate and Gardens - amazing in the spring. I saw my first Chihuly exhibit here and have been to see other exhibits over the years. Check for any seasonal events if you are in town - it is a beautiful spot to enjoy.
Singer / songwriter shows at The Bluebird in Green Hills - Make reservations here and note the rules: The Bluebird Cafe is a listening room. If you do not honor our SHHHH! policy (being quiet while the performers are on stage) you may be asked to leave.
3rd and Lindsley - Eclectic music venue with food and beverage service. Check the calendar-lots of interesting shows.
Belcourt Taps - live music 7 nights a week in a cozy setting with good drinks and food.
The honky tonks downtown have live music anytime you walk in.
Hillsboro Village - An area near Vanderbilt University and Medical Center. Lots of cute places to shop and eat.
Green Hills Mall is never disappointing AND is the one I loved the most on my Nashville trips with Sallie!
Hill Center is also in Green Hills - another nice area with upscale shopping.
There is so much more that is not mentioned here.
Just go explore Nashville - I'm sure you'll enjoy it!