Nashville is an amazing city. Its nickname “Music city” is well deserved, but food too is a pleasant surprise. Here are my adventures during my 48 hours stay there.
When we arrived in Nashville on an August night, it took us a second to get in the music mood. Our airbnb was called “music house” and the walls were literally covered with vinyl LPs. I refrained from playing one only because we were starving. We dropped our suitcases and headed right away to a city’s dining institution.
MEAL #1: HOT CHICKEN & STEEL TEETH
We drove out of town to the place known for having invented (or perfected, according to others) a Nashville specialty: hot chicken. I could not miss it. When we arrived at the Prince’s hot chicken shack we found out that it’s not a restaurant, but a take-away kiosk with a few seats. This is a working-class area of the city, most of the customers are Afroamerican and regulars. There were also a few white guys in suits, clearly coming straight from the office. Not many strangers and no sign of foreigners. And, in fact, when we were ordering, the girl at the window asked us immediately where we’re from. “They’re from Italy” she shouted to the lady sitting on a chair in the kitchen (undoubtedly Mrs. Prince) who replied “last week there was one from France”. When placing the order you have to choose type of chicken (breast, leg, 1/2, full) and the desired level of hotness. The scale ranges from “plain” to “xxxhot”. I risked a “medium”, Joanna was more cautious and asked for the less hot.
A long wait started then. We realized quickly that locals are served first regardless of order number and that it would take a long time. Meanwhile, an Afroamerican boy sat next to us and started eating his chicken. After a while, he spoke to me. I was embarassed: I could’t understand a word he was saying! And most of all, he had scary steel teeth grillz! After a while I could guess what he was saying and started a simple conversation. When he found out I ordered “medium-hot” he said “damn you’re a tough one!” Joanna laughed like crazy, I began to worry.
After 1 and 1/2 hours they finally called our order. I run to collect it and opened the package in no time. My medium-hot half chicken was presented on two slices of white bread with pickled cucumbers (as a side dish I also got cole slaw and beans). It was rust-like red and I felt hot just by watching it. I took a breath and gave a bite. Ha, yes it was definitely hot. But fortunately not just due to peppers (rather a mix of spices), so I could manage to eat it all. The chicken was good and well fried – crispy outside and soft inside – but actually too spicy to enjoy it fully (for my taste). I would recommend (for those who like hot food) to stay on the “mild” at max. However, besides having insensitive tongue and lips for 3-4 hours, I had no problem. And the evening had just begun.
Nashville hot chicken (1/2), 11$+tax*
Prince’s hot chicken shack– 123 Ewing Dr Ste 3 Nashville, TN
MUSIC #1: CHECKING OUT THE STRIP
Our first evening in Nashville had to end with a walk on the famous strip. It is a must see for any visitor, so here we are. I never saw anything like that. On a 300-mt-long piece of street about sixty live music venues are packed one next to the other. The sidewalk is a musical chaos, at each step you hear a different song. Denying the image that Nashville has outside the States, it is not just about Country. Nashville, in fact, has an extremely diverse musical scene, in which all genres are represented and Nashville musicians are known to be among the best in the country. On the strip, however, mainstream rock is prevailing and most bands are playing covers (remember tipping if you make a request). We tried three different places. The best was the terrace of the Stage – not easy to spot, we found it thanks to a tip from a local. It was nice to see people of all ages around, having fun with live music. In Italy you might easilier meet a polar bear eating in a restaurant than sixty-year-old people dancing in a rock bar.
MEAL #2 : MEAT & THREE
At lunch on the second day we headed to Nashville’s #1 favorite, Arnold’s. No surprise to find a long queue outside when we arrived, mostly tourists. Yet the place is very simple, basically a self-service diner. The formula is called meat & three, since you get a main course (meat or sometimes fish) and three side dishes of your choice, but you can add extras. The menu changes every day, but there are also daily specials: on that day they offered Cherry-smoked BBQ spare ribs.
The queue was moving fast, customers were joyful and the staff behind the counter was doing a good job. The lady behind us – from California, I think – asks us where we’re from: Americans always spot that we are foreigners. In a short time, we are piling up along the counter and our dishes are quickly delivered on trays. Within 15 minutes we passed from the parking to the table. I got the spare ribs, the first I eat in America. And they were extremely good. As side dishes I got mashed potatoes and the turnip, a green thing that was not the most inviting, but it was sold as the “local vegetable”. It tasted like “cime di rapa” something we know very well in Italy (and cook much better). The best side dish by far was the cole slaw, clearly made from fresh vegetables. Definitely a great meal, in a cool place.
Cherry-smoked BBQ spare ribs with three side dishes, 10,74$ + tasse*
Arnold’s Country Kitchen – 605 8th Ave S, Nashville, TN
MUSIC #2: THE MUSIC MUSEUMS
Nashville’s most famous attraction is undoubtedly the Country Music Hall of Fame. A big square building visited by anyone coming to town. The itinerary features an endless number of displays containing memorabilia of artists who made country music history, from Alabama’s pioneers to Taylor Swift. If you come from Europe you probably never heard about 99% of them, but the visit is worth anyway. Remarkable sights are the hall of fame rotunda, a circlular hall were bronze palaques of official members hang, and the wall covered with hundreds of gold albums.
After having a break with a shake at the Goo Goo shop, we went to the Johnny Cash museum, a small but well-kept museum that allowed us to discover many things about the great man in black. For instance, his sympathy for the prisoners and his multiple appearances in series and movies.
This part of the visit to Nashville was the most obvious, but it was pleasant because this city has many souls and this is the most famous.
MEAL #3 : THE PHARMACY BURGER
For dinner we decided to try what all our Uber and Lyft drivers unanimously praised as the best burger in town. The place is in the east and is called The Pharmacy, because – guess what – it used to be a pharmacy. When entering we found ourselves in a small room and we thougt that with no reservation they would reject us. Instead, they took us to the back where they have a huge open-air area with wooden tables and benches (which they call Beer Garden, like the Germans). While waiting to be seated we stopped for a drink at the small outdoor bar serving excellent craft beers and cocktails.
When we got our table, I chose the farm burger, with country ham, applewood-smoked bacon, willow farm egg, maple mustard. The portions were big, the bun was slightly crispy on the outside, the meat very tasty, the hand-cut sweet potato fries ok; overall it was very good. The only minus was that it was cooked medium-well (I like it rare) and the waiter did not ask us (a note on the menu says you have to ask for it). Had they done it would have been the best burger I’ve had so far in the States.
Farm Burger, 10,5$ + tax*
The Pharmacy, 731 Mcferrin Ave, Nashville TN
MUSIC #3: THE ALTERNATIVE CLUB
For our last night in Music City we wanted a place where the locals go. I was advised by a guy who had been living here for a year – word of mouth is better than tripadvisor! – that revealed to me that the coolest area at the moment was East Nashville and suggested me a few places. Of those, the Spot 5 has been confirmed by others. And they were right! The club has a great cozy atmosphere. When we entered there were around 100 people and on stage there was a band playing some kind of glam rock (but probably they define themselves otherwise). The forty-something singer was dressed like Steven Tyler from Aerosmith and had before him a suitcase from which he extracted strange objects at every song. I would not buy a record of them, but they were fun.
When we were about to leave, we were stopped by a guy we thought he was the manager. “Please stay, Baby Face’s band is coming for a jam session”, said he. Well, we couldn’t say no. After a few minutes we enjoyed some great music played by the very same guy (great voice!) along with a group of great musicians (I wouldn’t bet they really were from Baby Face’s band, though). Amazing night. I felt just a local.
In conclusion, I loved Nashville. Music and food was a perfect mix. The city has a very positive vibe. People are friendly and talk to you (you can see how different the Southern American states are). I can understand why at present it is one of fastest growing American cities by population. If you go, try to ask the locals. Everybody will tell you “X people move to Nashville every day.” The number vary from 80 to 500 depending on whom you talk to. I loved that.
* In the US taxes (about 6-7%) are generally not included in the price displayed
This is all about Nashville! Have you already checked the post on PHILADELPHIA?
Have you been to Nashville? Leave a comment!