Tag Archives: Nashville

Dishing the Delish in Music City

I did lots more than eat while I was in Nashville recently and you can read about my music, civil rights, history and art explorations in other posts. But, this one is all about eating.
What better way to start a foodie tour of Nashville than at Christie Cookie Co.? I stepped into the aromatic shop on trendy 12th Ave. South and my taste buds started to tingle.ChristieCookies The back story is that owner Christie Hauck used to bake cookies for his college friends when he attended Vanderbilt University. They were so popular he went into the cookie business after he graduated in 1983. Starting out as a mail-order operation, he made his oatmeal raisin cookies first, then branched into lots of other flavours including chocolate chip with toffee, and peanut butter chocolate chip with toffee. Yum! His secret? No GMO or preservatives, real butter, chocolate from sustainably farmed cocoa beans and fresh ingredients. You can get them online or at Kroger grocery stores. American Airlines and United Air serve them to first class customers. Double Tree hotels give warm Christie’s chocolate chip cookies to guests when they check in. Store manager Chrissie tells us, “The plant in in Germantown, six miles from here. They make 100 million cookies annually. At Christmas the plant looks like Santa’s workshop.”
UrbanGrubExterior After this pre-appetizer, I headed to Urban Grub, up the street. A rather secret spot since it has no outdoor signage, it’s well known to locals. In fact, you can’t miss the distinctive exterior – it’s located in a renovated carwash.OK, time for the real appetizers and this place had mouth watering choices. I dug into the charcuterie board which included house-smoked meats and prosciutto. The Andouille sausage was superb, a pork loin with batter, rub and sauce melted in my mouth, and I also scarfed down a few delicious peel and eat shrimp and some delicious diver scallops.UrbanGrubShrimp
Time for my mains at Josephine where chef Andy Little is focused on classic recipes…Little was a James Beard semi-finalist for Best Chef Southeast in 2017 and I could see why. From Pennsylvania, he fused some traditions from his home state into modern alternatives. For instance, his hot scrapple was ground pork shoulder and chicken liver, corn meal and fennel. “It’s usually made from scraps,” he explained. Also on the menu were roasted chicken, brined overnight, deep fried in peanut oil then roasted, chopped kale salad, fingerling potatoes and pickled mushrooms. Stick-to-the-ribs good.JosephineChicken
Dessert was at Flipside, also on 12th Ave. S., where milkshakes are a specialty.FlipsideMilkshakes
Next day, lunch was at The Farm House, downtown, south of Broadway. Chef-owner Trey Cioccia has come up with a homey décor and a custom menu featuring from-scratch ingredients supporting local or family-owned businesses.FarmhouseInterior The bar is only of of a handful in the U.S. with all inventory purchased from distillers and brewers operating in the contiguous 48 states. No booze for me, though. Too early. Instead I had a deeply flavourful cup of coffee and a superior club sandwich.FarmhouseClub
Dinner that night was at Folk, newest venture of Rolf & Daughters chef/owner Philip Krajeck. This place was listed by Bon Appetite magazine as one of America’s best new restaurants of 2018. The place was hopping and a table nearby was filled with women wearing birthday hits. Apparently, I was told, Nashville is a top choice for bachelorette parties. I decided to go light and indulged in the wood-fired pizza … scrumptious.FolkPizza
The following day, I headed to Woolworth on 5th, which occupies the historic Woolworth building where civil rights protesters conducted sit-ins that eventually lead to desegregating lunch counters. (See my Nashville Civil Rights post.) Today they make a point that the restaurant “welcomes all.” Southern cuisine reigns supreme here. Fried green tomatoes, fried chicken, pot roast black eyed peas with chow chow, biscuits and grits, corned beef hash. Breakfast is served from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., but it was after noon so I opted for the fried green tomatoes with a dab of goat cheese and an heirloom tomato salad with crumbled blue cheese. Fantastic.Woolworth-TomatoSalad
Dinner was at Little Octopus, where influences from the Caribbean, Spain, India, England, Portugal and Lebanon can be seen on the creative menu.LittleOctopusPainting Plates were served family style and our group shared seasonal ceviche with snapper, cobia and scallops, beet salad with fennel, goat cheese and chickpeas, cucumbers with buttermilk and mint and wax beans with black bean sauce and peanuts. Super clean and healthy. A good way to combat over indulgence in the usual southern-fried fare.LittleOctopus-starters
A highlight during my trip was the 1.5 mile Walk Eat Nashville tour with company founder and CEO Karen-Lee Ryan. A former journalist and editor at The Tennessean, Karen-Lee is passionate about her hometown and its good eats. First stop was Hattie B’s Hot Chicken on 19th Ave. S. HattieB-LineThis place gets huge lineups on the weekend, but luckily our group was treated to a quick taste before opening at lunchtime. Nashville Hot Chicken has a story attached. “Forty years ago, Thornton Prince came home from a night of womanizing and his wife decided to punish him. That Sunday night she poured extra hot spice into his fried chicken. But it backfired. He loved it!” says John Lasater, chef and owner of the restaurant. There are now three Hattie B’s throughout Nashville, but the 19th Ave. one is the original location.HattieB-Chicken “We offer mild, medium, hot, damn hot and Shut the Cluck Up,” noted Lasater. I opted for medium after Karen-Lee offered, “When I ate Shut the Cluck Up there were tears streaming down my face. I knew exactly where that chicken was in my body at all time.” Um…TMI?
Gigi-CupcakesOur second stop was Gigi’s Cupcakes next door. Gigi Butler came to Nashville from California with visions of becoming a country music superstar. Instead she found herself with a maxed out credit card, cleaning house for singer Leann Rimes. Her brother had called her from New York City where he stood in line for cupcakes one evening. “They are not as good as yours. You should start a business in Nashville,” he told her. And she did. Now she has nearly 100 locations in 23 states. Wow. Although Wedding Cake is the number one flavour, I tried Midnight Magic…and that is was. Decadently sweet and buttery.
Midtown-ExteriorAt Tavern Midtown we got back to apps and mains with an amazing kale salad with toasted almonds and Parmesan cheese, Philly cheese steak, and buffalo cauliflower with cornmeal crust and blue cheese dip (my fave).Midtown-KaleMitownCauliflowerMidtownRedVelvetWaffleDessert was red velvet waffles. More decadence! This place was rocking as it is super popular for brunch.
Finally, time for a drink. At Mason Bar in Loews Hotel, I sampled a Music City Spritzer made with Corsair gin, Aperol, grapefruit, and Prosecco. Very refreshing. This place had been voted best hotel bar due to the creativity of the mixologist, plus the great snacks from chef Patrick Gossett, including a small plate of cobia on creamed cauliflower.MasonBar
Our final stop on the food tour was Elliston Place Soda Shop. Opened in 1939, this place has had many cameos on movies, Al Gore did an interview here after he announced his run for president and the Nashville TV show has done 10 episodes here. SodaShop-ExteriorThis little 68-seater is not a museum for owner Skip Bibb, who also calls himself “Head Jerk.”SodaShopInterior “I feel a sense of stewardship about this place. I haven’t tried to change much because there’s a vivid history here. One couple came by and they were celebrating their 65th anniversary. They’d had their first date here.” It’s also hub for celebs and I noticed John Schneider from Dukes of Hazzard was sitting in a banquet while we were there. He probably came in for a milkshake, since they were voted No. one for the creamy confections in Nashville.
The last night’s dinner was at Nicky’s Coal Fired, where coal fired pizzas are baked in a four-ton oven.NickysKitchenNickys-Pizza
This was just the tip of the iceberg. Nashville has become a culinary hot spot. “A hundred new restaurants opened last year,” Karen-Lee told me. Why? “Nashville in a creative place. Musician are all about collaboration and so are the chefs. Here, they don’t work in isolation, but support each other.” Next time I’ll bring my extra-stretchy pants.

Civil Rights Champions of Nashville

Nashville, I recently learned, is not only about country music. Walking along Fifth Avenue North downtown, I came upon a plaque explaining how one of the original “five and dime” stores, F.W. Woolworth became the site of some of the first lunch counter sit-ins during the 1960s Civil Rights Movement.CivilRights-WalgreensSign A stop on the Civil Rights Trail, this was the first city in the south to begin the desegregation process.Woolworth-ExteriorNow known as the restaurant Woolworth on Fifth, the storied site was built in the 1890s and went through a number of retail tenants before opening its doors as F.W. Woolworth in 1913. The lunch counter was introduced in 1925 but a fire in 1941 destroyed the store’s interior. It opened a year later with better displays and two lunch counters, one on the main floor and a second on the mezzanine level. In 1976, Woolworth’s closed and various businesses rotated through, including a Dollar General. But all along, people knew it as a landmark for the city’s civil rights movement. A lot of excitement had built up by the time Tom Morales and his TomKats Hospitality team reopened the door this past February, welcoming all to Nashville’s most historically significant restaurant.Woolworth-LunchCounterWalking in was like walking back in time. The lunch counter loomed on the right, much like it must have been almost 60 years ago with swiveling peach-coloured stools and backlit signs for seafood gumbo, pancakes and cream pie. Upstairs on the mezzanine level, the renovation has not been completed and I could see the second lunch counter’s original wall tiles and bolts in the floor for the stools. This was where U.S. congressman and civil rights champion John Lewis was first arrested, marking the beginning of a movement of nonviolent protest challenging segregation (Jim Crow laws of the 1890s prohibited African Americans from eating at public lunch counters) and racism that saw Lewis arrested 49 more times.Frist-WoolworthCounter
Downstairs, the dry goods cases have long disappeared and the floor was filled with tables of lively groups digging into heaped plates of fried green tomatoes, pot roast and mashed potatoes, deviled eggs and hot, fried chicken sandwiches. I joined them and was especially delighted with the fried green tomatoes topped with goat cheese and red pepper jam.Woolworth-FriedGreenTomato The menu definitely celebrated southern cooking and I noticed sides included black eyed peas with chow chow, collard greens, candied yams and skillet fried cabbage. It was fascinating and unsettling to try and piece together what had happened here so many years ago. I asked my server how had black citizens been served before desegregation, did they have a separate area? She looked at me. “No. they had to go out back and ask for what they wanted there.” Wow. Library-SitInPhotoThe sit-ins began in February 1960 when a group of young black college students from Fisk University, American Baptist College and Tennessee A&L walked into a number of downtown lunch counters and asked to be served. The students followed the nonviolent protest techniques of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and were diligently trained by Rev. Kelly Miller Smith Sr. at Nashville’s First Baptist Church Capitol Hill. The method was to endure abuse without reacting or fighting back. Two more sit-ins occurred in the following weeks and Woolworth’s closed its street level lunch counter and would only allow whites up to the mezzanine level. A few days later the home of civil right attorney A. Alexander Looby was bombed and 4,000 students, including John Lewis, marched to the count house to confront Mayor Ben West.Fisk student Diane Nash asked him if segregation at lunch counters was morally right, and he answered “No.” The process of desegregation at downtown lunch counters had begun.Library-Mayor
I had heard John Lewis speak at St. John the Divine church in Manhattan years ago and was curious to read more about his journey. The Nashville Public Library Civil Rights Room contained a treasure trove of information about Lewis and the Civil Rights movement. In Nov. 1986 Lewis was elected to Congress and currently serves as US Representative of Georgia’s Fifth Congressional District. He went to college in Nashville and after his arrest in 1960 he was involved with Freedom Rides and was severely beaten when he and Hosea Williams attempted to lead 600 marchers across the Edmond Pettus Bridge on their way to Montgomery. At 23, he joined Martin Luther King Jr. in the famous march on Washington when Dr. King delivered his famous “I have a Dream” speech. He also delivered his own speech to the crowd of 200,000.
Black-and-white photos from that turbulent time hung on the library room’s walls, and a symbolic circle of stools with a time-line of events honoured the lunch counter sit-ins.Library-CivilRights One interesting fact that surprised me regarding school desegregation in the city was that eight of 19 black children who went to white schools transferred back to their former schools. I thought it would have been higher with all the nastiness that had been stirred up. Andrea Blackman, who is in charge of the room’s special collection, is also a teacher and facilitator and has worked with school groups, police and corporate groups to clear up assumptions and set the record straight. “This is the only space of its kind in the American library system,” she explained. No wonder Nashville Public Library was named Library of the Year last year.
Wrapping up my civil rights tour, I headed to the Frist Art Museum, housed in a former Post Office constructed in 1933. My eyes were drawn to a black- and-white photography exhibit of shots published in the liberal newspaper the Tennessean, and the conservative Nashville Banner during the desegregation years. The tension, fear and hatred in the pictures was palpable.CivilRights-FristGuns
We have come so far, but when I listen to the news today, it seems like some people are slipping back to a time when dehumanizing humans was normal.
What happened in Nashville in the 1960s changed America for the better, but there is still so much work to be done.
We shall overcome, but it won’t be easy.