Each year my friend Stacey and I travel to a US city neither of us have been to before. We have enjoyed some great weekends in LA, Savanah, Seattle and Niagara on the Lake to name a few. This year we picked Nashville.
Steeped in history, Nashville is known for many things – the birthplace of country & western music and of course the Grand Ole Opry, the Honky Tonk capital of the world and now bachelorette central for the US. This review will focus more on the dining and historic touring scene of the city with a little bit of Honky Tonk thrown in.
Instead of a hotel this year, we thought we would try Airbnb and struck gold with a quaint little 2-bedroomed house in the historic Germantown. Our house was located within walking distance of some fantastic restaurants and just a $6 Uber or Lyft ride to Downtown. Nashville has a lot of Airbnb’s so it’s definitely worth checking them out.
Being the huge foodie that I am, I always research the heck out of every city I go to for their hidden gems as well as the standout darlings of the dining scene. We believe we did really well with our choices in Nashville. Here are some of my recommendations…
Breakfast – Red Bicycle Coffee & Crepes
Right across the street from our house in Germantown was a cute little casual coffee and breakfast shop/restaurant. One of the mornings we just got takeout of coffee and donuts but on another day, we sat and enjoyed massive crepes of Florentine and one called a Sunrise served with strong coffee and a side of fruit just to make us feel righteous. A great start to any day.
Lunch – Merchants
In my 20s and even 30s I was all for the crazy mayhem that went along with big crowds, packed bars and day drinking. These days I am more a fan of watching from afar while of course still occasionally indulging in the day drinking. Merchants located right on busy Broadway and part of Merchant House gives you a prime people watching location from one of Nashville’s most historic buildings. Their first-floor bistro menu offers good solid lunch items of soup & sammy to salads, burgers, BBQ pulled pork and Crawfish Gumbo. Hang out at the bar with the wonderfully entertaining bar staff and try the tomato soup with grilled cheese & bacon and one of their hand-crafted cocktails.
Lunch – Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge
So, remember I said just a little bit of Honky Tonk, well here it is. I honestly could not handle the long lines and insanity that goes with being on Broadway on a weekend evening, so we cheated a little bit and went for lunch to Tootsies. Tootsies has 4 floors of entertainment all day at their mainstay location of the Broadway/Downtown music scene. Every part of the wall space is filled with country music star photos and memorabilia. Just being there makes you feel like you are part of the fabric of this neighborhood. We sat on the second-floor indulging in a basket of chicken and fries and burger and fries while listening to a great story telling country band. Entering Tootsies is like going to the ultimate dive bar with graffiti all over the tables and walls. If you are a little older like me go during the day when it is more breathable but you still get to be part of the live music scene! If you are younger, then hit Tootsies for the nightlife entertainment – you will not be disappointed.
Dinner – City House
Our first evening took us to the busy and loudly fun City House, a pizza and Italian restaurant. We were seated at the chef’s counter right in front of the large pizza oven. It was suggested to us that whatever pizza we get we must get it with an egg on top so that is exactly what we did. We shared Belly Ham pizza, with a crust to die for and a yokey egg ready to be broken across the top for added flavor. We also ordered an incredible whole trout, which our waiter fileted right in front of us. It was light and amazingly tasty. City House is a superb casual place, which is great for being able to talk loudly with your friends while enjoying the feasts of their menu.
Dinner – Rolf & Daughters
Just amazing! I absolutely loved this urban restaurant, which focuses its menu on locally grown, seasonal ingredients. We had a very late reservation but took the initiative to go 2 hours earlier and managed to grab a seat at the bar, which I actually loved more. Dining on creative dishes of “Food” small to large portions we worked our way through the menu starting with fantastic shishito and ham followed by burrata and tuna and ending with the highly recommended Gargenelli verde, their signature pork ragout pasta dish, which was absolutely sublime – a must try menu item! Both Stacey and I give Rolf & Daughters huge thumbs up – we loved this place.
Dinner – Husk Nashville
Probably one of the most wowed restaurants on the Nashville scene today. Husk is located in the Rutledge Hill area just outside of downtown in a beautiful white house with lots of little rooms for its diners to enjoy their daily changing southern menu in an intimate setting. Starting with warm, soft Parker House rolls and salty butter only goodness and great food followed. We dined on ‘Killed Lettuce’, a salad so simple it becomes a gamechanger once the hot dressing of oil and duck fat is poured over it. I succumbed to their delightful Sunburst Trout with white rice peas and turnips, while Stacey enjoyed the juicy Springer Mountain Chicken. Book in advance to get into Husk, it will be worth the wait.
Late Night – The Green Hour at Tempered Café & Chocolate
If you are feeling a little cocktail adventurous during your trip to Nashville, pop by the Tempered Café after 8pm and you will be part of The Green Hour, which features an array of Absinthe and cocktails. We sat at the bar of this tiny, dark establishment and felt part of something from the past, almost immoral but somehow right. Jerimiah, the bartender played superb host to our ignorance of this once banned liquor. We didn’t want to go straight up on Absinthe so we shared with him our preferences with regards to tastes. Mine was gin and citrus so he made an outstanding cocktail of exactly what my taste buds would enjoy with a twist of Absinthe.
While we really didn’t do that much shopping we did go to an absolutely awesome store called Peter Nappi, which I highly recommend you stop by if you are interested in hand-crafted Italian leather bags and shoes. Located in a grubby, seemingly middle of nowhere part of the city, Peter Nappi’s store is in a giant warehouse, which is a scary adventure just to walk to – you may want to drive! Immediately upon entering you are welcomed with an offering of a drink and an overview of the history of this family of shoemakers. Both Stacey and I surrendered to buying the same stunning clutch bag, however, even if you are not in the market for some hand-made accessories, the showroom is worthy of a visit.
Allow Ryan from Really Entertaining Tours to take you on a 90-minute historic walking tour of Downtown Nashville. Ryan really knows his stuff from the darker history of Nashville of the pioneers to politicians and country & western music to what’s happening today with the burgeoning growth of the neighborhoods. Get your Fitbit steps in while being educated in the history of this great city. I have to say Ryan is also really entertaining.
Explore the history of this iconic country music legend by walking the halls of a museum dedicated to his work, music, poetry, artwork and life. The Man in Black truly had an interesting life and you get to see all of it along with clothing, music memorabilia and artifacts from his long life. You will also get to see many clips of movies and TV shows Johnny was in. If you are Cash fan, it’s worth the visit.
You really can’t go to Nashville and not check out the world-famous Grand Ole Opry, which has been the stage to a long history of music legends. We did the backstage tour and while I have to say it wasn’t my favorite tour due to them setting up for an event at the time we were there, which stopped us from being able to go onto the stage, it was definitely informative of its history. It was actually really cool to understand how artists are invited to be part of it and the emotion that goes along with this prestigious invitation – it really is a big deal.
The backstage tour takes you through the hallways the artists walk from the individually designed artists rooms to the green room and the walk to the stage. You will get to see firsthand what it’s like behind the scenes and for them coming into the theater to perform.
On our last day, a gorgeous fall crisp weather day, we made a last-minute decision to go to Belle Mead Planation based on a recommendation from our Airbnb host. I am so glad we did as it may have been my favorite tour and a 180 from the Music City we had been in for 3 days. Belle Mead (beautiful meadow) has a long and varied history worthy of doing a tour to learn all about it. We bought a package ticket of a tour of the house, grounds and a wine and food tasting. Yes, my readers I was about to taste Tennessee wine! We started with lunch in their restaurant, which was surprisingly good before walking the grounds to check out carriage house filled with beautiful restored carriages, the gardens, mausoleum and log cabins where the workers lived.
The house tour, hosted by our costumed guide took us through the gorgeous Greek-revival mansion from floor to floor while she regaled us with the Harding/Jackson family history, which was most prominently known for its stud farm for thoroughbred horses. The tour ends with a free wine tasting; however, we went one better than that and did a private seated wine tasting with a great wine host, which I have to say was great fun with solidly good wines.
We tasted 5 different wines from sparkling to whites, reds and a traditional sweet local wine paired with cheese, meats and chocolates.
I thoroughly enjoyed my long weekend in Nashville, TN and look forward to going back soon.