Nashville Dining: Five Restaurants to Eat at Now

Nashville Dining: Five Restaurants to Eat at Now

Down-home and upscale: Bastion’s apple pie, potatoes topped with paddlefish, slices of country ham, and cobia and hibiscus.
Down-home and upscale: Bastion’s apple pie, potatoes topped with paddlefish, slices of country ham, and cobia and hibiscus.
Laid-back tasting menus sing harmony with hot chicken. 
Just as Nashville’s country music has evolved to include many flavors, its restaurant scene is expanding to suit a wide variety of tastes – but not in the way you might expect. Leave the dimly lit fine-dining spots to L.A. and New York; Music City, U.S.A. does upscale in a more grassroots way, interpreting high-end as high-touch service and intimate tables. “Sit back, relax, and let us feed you” is the attitude of Nashvillian chefs these days.

“The influx of new residents, including chefs from all over, has contributed a new vitality to the already solid culinary scene,” says Chris Chamberlain, the primary food and drink writer for local weekly the Nashville Scene for more than ten years and a lifelong Nashvillian. “The same way that local songwriters have learned to play together in sessions, these new chefs embrace the atmosphere of creative collaboration to infuse Nashville cuisine with regional and international influences.”

True to Nashville form, these relaxed spots take the pretense out of tasting menus, making the most of fresh ingredients.
An edible floral design at The Catbird Seat.
An edible floral design at The Catbird Seat.

The Catbird Seat

This spot, which opened in Midtown in 2011 with the city’s first tasting menu, put Nashville on the haute cuisine map. Eight years later, it has been transformed into an entirely different space, led by two new twentysomething chefs, Will Aghajanian and Liz Johnson. They’ve renovated the interior, a long hallway leading to a 22-seat counter; changed out all the serveware; overhauled the menu; and even swapped in playlists that match the food. The chefs have a laser focus on presenting ingredients in a new way. The flavor combinations are by no means classically Southern, but they’re rooted here. For example, a recent menu featured Maine bluefin tuna served in two courses: fatty tuna alongside country-ham-wrapped watermelon, followed by slices of lean tuna atop chilled ratatouille. “The lean tuna is finger food,” Aghajanian says – one that pairs well with whiskey. Finger food is one way the duo downplays the fancy factor. “For us,” he says, “a really good Georgia peach in the height of the season is luxury.”  
Tailor Nashville’s Gujarati-inflected dishes, including fall squash and bafeli singh peanuts.
Tailor Nashville’s Gujarati-inflected dishes, including fall squash and bafeli singh peanuts.

Tailor Nashville 

Although Vivek Surti, a first-generation American of Indian descent, was well known for his supper-club pop-ups that began in 2011, the Tailor Nashville owner didn’t have a brick-and-mortar in mind. “People would ask me if I’d open a restaurant, and I’d say ‘Absolutely not,’ ” he says. “I’m not somebody who runs a restaurant, but I entertain a dinner party.” Fast-forward to December 2018, when he debuted Tailor Nashville in the Germantown neighborhood. Tailor mimics the social affairs Surti grew up going to around Nashville: Diners let him know they’re coming (by making a reservation online, capped at 40 guests per night), then sit down with friends at a table already filled with snacks and work their way through a menu that brings together elements of middle Tennessee and Gujarati (western Indian) cuisine as Surti tells the story behind each dish. For example, take the humble catfish: This middle Tennessee ingredient is prepared Indian-style here, with turmeric, ginger, and green chilies. “This is a restaurant,” Surti says, “that can only exist in Nashville.”

Bastion

Josh Habiger, one of the chefs who started The Catbird Seat, has moved on to open a fine-dining spot in the Wedgewood-Houston neighborhood. At Bastion, he’s adapted the tasting menu as a choose-your-own-adventure dinner, in which the evening’s 15 flavor combinations are arranged in a simple five-by-three grid on the menu. “It’s a hybrid tasting menu in that we’re not choosing everything; you as a guest have a say in the matter,” Habiger says. The equally unusual layout feels like a reverse speakeasy: Visitors enter through Bastion’s big bar, and a large metal door in the back slides open to reveal the Bastion kitchen, with ten bar seats and three tables. The cooks deliver all the food, emphasizing the space’s friendly feel.
Josephine chef Andrew Little.
Josephine chef Andrew Little.

Josephine

Many choice restaurants call the hip 12South neighborhood home. Chef Andy Little’s is among the friendliest. This casual yet elegant spot offers menus filled with updates to time-tested dishes (duck-fat hash browns with trout roe, duck-leg confit with black-eyed peas). The gem at Josephine, however, is the ten-course, chef-guided tasting menu, served to just ten guests on Friday and Saturday nights. Dubbed X|X (ten by ten) and served in a semiprivate dining area in view of the kitchen, the menu in this portion of the restaurant reveals only a list of ingredients – Amish cantaloupe and scallops, say. Little explains each dish as it’s delivered to the table. A central Pennsylvania native, he takes a Pennsylvania Dutch approach to cooking, transforming humble traditional dishes such as scrapple (a mash of pork scraps thickened with cornmeal and flour) into Nashville delicacies. 
The 12South neighborhood, home to hot restaurants.
The 12South neighborhood, home to hot restaurants.

The Rabbit Hole

Dinner at The Rabbit Hole begins with the playlist, a mix that heightens various phases of the meal. Queen’s “Don’t Stop Me Now” might set the scene at this Alice in Wonderland-meets-rock-opera, single-table restaurant-within-a-restaurant that seats four people, all tucked inside Henley, an American brasserie just off Music Row. Executive chef Daniel Gorman, a Charleston native, incorporates Low Country techniques, Tennessee ingredients, and a hefty dose of whimsy. The tasting menu, usually around 13 courses, changes weekly, but the playfulness remains, as in Basil’s Bowl of Crunchiest, for example: a sophisticated riff on Froot Loops.

Where to Stay During a Nashville Culinary Trip

Nashville’s chic Gulch neighborhood is home to the 12-story Thompson Nashville, within walking distance of several music venues and The Catbird Seat. Aside from its 224 modern, light-filled rooms, it’s known for L.A. Jackson, a classy rooftop bar that draws locals and visitors for shareable cocktails and weekend brunch. Virtuoso travelers receive breakfast daily and a $100 dining credit.

Located a block off Music Row, the 250-room Hutton Hotel is a warm, stylish property beloved by creative types. The Writers Studios, outfitted with state-of-the-art recording equipment, and Analog, a social club-cum-music venue, anchor the property. The musically minded can also borrow Fender guitars, basses, and ukuleles, along with amplifiers and headphones, for in-room sessions. Virtuoso travelers receive breakfast daily and a $100 dining credit.

The Hermitage Hotel, opened downtown in 1910, radiates Beaux Arts glamour. Each of the hotel’s 122 guest rooms is decked out with Frette linens and Italian marble bathrooms with deep soaking tubs and Molton Brown products. The on-site Capitol Grille uses produce sourced from the hotel’s heirloom garden. Virtuoso travelers receive breakfast daily and a $100 dining credit.

Noelle’s name pays homage to the hotel’s roots as Noel Place, one of Nashville’s first fine stays, dating to the 1930s. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the Boutique Row property has a lofty lobby bar with pink Tennessee granite, and art and handcrafted pottery from local makers adorn the 224 guest rooms. Virtuoso travelers receive breakfast daily and a $100 dining credit.

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