For anyone who calls Nashville home or is just here for an extended stay, it is very difficult not to take the splendor of all the different coffee shops, bistros, ice cream parlors, and, of all things, popsicle bars. What is even more difficult sometimes is separating the good places from the…not so good places. Nashvegas is a weird place in the sense that Urbanspoon, Yelp, and Trip Advisor are going to send you into a bunch of tourist traps (insert sad face), so one must incessantly rely on the locals for recommendations on the hometown garb. Being a musician in what is called the “Music City,” I feel as if food is an extension of the musical element here. I mean…what’s the good of being in a cultural center if the food sucks right? So this is why I decided to give honest reviews of five places in Nashville you may or may not have heard of. I also try to debunk some of the preconceived notions about a couple of my favorite joints and laud on the places that already receive praise.
So here we go, this is in no order of discretion.
1. Frothy Monkey - 12 South
I know what you’re thinking. “Good grief, not this again.” Frothy Monkey is incredibly popular. When people like Taylor Swift and Hunter Hayes grace this establishment with their presence, you wonder if folks are actually here for the food or here to take a selfie with the girl that’s feeling 22. But all things considered, Frothy really isn’t kidding about “Frothy Love.” There are few other places in Nashville that I would want to be come brunch on a Sunday. My usual is the “Bill” which is a fantastic 100% Buckwheat waffle served with whatever two sides that fit your fancy (I think most go for the farm eggs and bacon). While sometimes they put a damper on my day with a very bland French Roast (no offense FM, it’s just not my taste), they usually have a nice medium roast on tap. When that’s the case, life is good. What’s so great about this place is that it’s not really a tourist trap and it’s not really low key enough to be a hipster joint. You’ll never run into a bad worker, and don’t be afraid to get the special of the day, there’s a reason why it’s called “special.”
2. McDougal’s Chicken Tenders and Wings - Hillsboro Village
Besides it being WAY too small, WAY too close to Vandy, and deceptively pricey, there’s not a better place to curb your disappointment on a Sunday when Chick-fil-A is closed. I’ve never been to a chicken joint where all three things are on pointe. We’re talking about the chicken, the fries, and the toast. The toast is what makes a fried meal complete, but everybody neglects it. Not McDoogs. The Texas Toast in Hillsboro Village is buttery, crunchy, and, if you like dipping your bread in McDougal’s sauce, tangy. Also, if you make a trip there, make it a must to try the Honeybee wing sauce on anything. I haven’t been able to find anything else like it in the USA, so obviously McD’s knows something that everybody else doesn’t. If you need to feel fat every once in a while, this is the place to do it. Here’s a warning though, don’t wear your favorite shirt to McDougal’s, because if the staff sees it and thinks it’s cool, they’ll want to hang it up on the wall. You’ll get a free meal and a new shirt out of the deal, but let’s get real here. You never want to see your “T-Rex Hates Pushups” shirt go.
3. CREMA - Hermitage Ave.
For coffee lovers only. This place is my favorite spot in Nashville. Home of a roasting school and all things coffee connoisseur, a simple cup of coffee here is life changing. Bring your best friend, your significant other, your arch nemesis, anybody. Here, coffee isn’t about being a snobby hipster who enjoys all things organic and fair-trade. It’s about sitting back and enjoying something that takes time to make. If you get one of their pour-over brews, it takes about ten minutes to get your cup o’ joe, and the staff always takes the time to enlighten you of this. They clearly don’t want you waiting for no reason, and even if you’re inexperienced in their craft, they are always happy and eager to explain to you what goes into your purchase. With a warehouse-like atmosphere near the banks of the Cumberland, Crema isn’t a coffee shop, it’s in a league of its own. Voted one of the top three coffee roasters in the US by more than a few critics, it’s a true gift that Nashville possesses. If you’re ever having a bad day or need to get away from the hectic city/college life, Crema is one of the best places to unwind.
4. International Market & Restaurant - Belmont Blvd.
This establishment is one that becomes near and dear to the hearts of all who step inside. A gem of Belmont Blvd. since 1975, the owner, Patti Myint, who also possesses PM, Chago’s Cantina, and Blvd. across the street, picked the perfect place to settle down an Asian market in Nashville. Just a single step south off of Belmont’s campus will put you at the front doors of this restaurant, and while its naysayers attest to its outward “sketchy” appearance, they have never even been inside to try the food. There are more flavors, combinations, and comestibles in this building than can be found anywhere else in the Belmont/Hillsboro area. If Patti’s in the house, make sure you have your chopsticks in hand, and abstain from using the soy sauce, lest you use it wrong. The folks here care so much about their customers that they do not just give you authentic Thai cuisine, but they make sure you eat it right. Customs are not out of the boat inside the walls of International Market, and don’t be surprised if you get a scolding for not using the spicy sauce in your curry noodle soup. This place wins the award for the fanciest not fancy meal in Nashville.
5. The Pharmacy - East Nashville
This cul-de-sac of culture in East Nashville just gets the people here. While its patio isn’t the place you would want to find yourself in the winter, the line to get in the door is usually a bit more satisfying than another similarly popular place on 21st Avenue (you do the math). To be honest, the best burger I’ve ever had is not at The Pharmacy, it’s being served at Eagle’s Deli at Cleveland Circle in Boston. However, this hometown joint cures your ailments with organic ingredients, all from within the borders of Tennessee. The food is hard to describe because there is just such an attention to detail, and guys, we’re just talking about burgers, soda, and beer. If the waiters and waitresses weren’t sporting flannel shirts and jeans, The Pharmacy might literally be able to transcend time. With an old school soda rail and a traditional German beer selection, one might feel like they just stepped into the Eagle and Child with C.S. Lewis. To me, this place is nothing all too special, but maybe that’s the way it should be. There’s a lot to be said for not making things too extravagant, and The Pharmacy is a place that chooses to do everything just right instead of perfect.