1. The restaurant scene
We have great produce, so farm to table has always been very strong here. But chefs realised it didn’t all have to be all shrimp and grits and fried hoe cakes, and they could use local ingredients to create amazing Asian food or rustic Italian menus. Take City House with chef Tandy Wilson. He would substitute grits for polenta or catfish for whitefish in a traditional Italian dish.
It’s trendy in restaurants now but it’s a historic practice. Country ham (salt-cured aged, smoked ham) came from Appalachians who would slaughter a pig, salt, smoke and preserve it so that they’d have meat through the winter. The same thing with corn and whiskey. Excess corn can be converted into whiskey – easy to store in barrels and your neighbours will pay you money for it.
3. Nashville hot chicken
You’ll find hot chicken all over Nashville but the founders and champions are still Prince’s Hot Chicken. The story goes back to Thornton Prince who was cheating on his girlfriend. She decided to punish him by piling cayenne pepper all over his chicken until it was infernal, but he loved it and invited his friends over to try it. And they told him he should open a restaurant to serve it. Prince’s Barbecue Shack came out of that.
4. Food trucks
Food trucks are a great stepping stone for chefs. Julio Hernandez is a good example. He was working in kitchens but grinding his own maize to make his own masa. That turned into Maiz de la Vida, his food truck and tortilla operation using American corn. He parks in front of Chopper Tiki, a fantastic tiki bar, so you can order your meal from him, go inside and eat with a cocktail.
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BBQ is big here but I wouldn’t say we have a unique Nashville style of barbecue. I think that’s because we’ve got three or four interstates that cross within a mile of each other downtown. And they all lead to great barbecue regions like North Carolina, Memphis, St Louis and Alabama. All those influences cross here in Nashville.
6. Tennessee whiskey
After Prohibition you could only distill in Tennessee in three counties. For 50 years those three counties only had two distilleries, George Dickel and Jack Daniel’s. The law changed in 2009, now we’ve got an entire Tennessee whiskey trail of 40 different distilleries. We have the perfect climate for it and we’ve got the limestone shelf through which the water is drained and it takes the iron out of the water, so it makes a nice soft whiskey.
7. Gin renaissance
If you want to go into business as a new distillery you need to have things you can sell immediately. So the first things off the still are going to be clear spirits like vodka or gin. So in a lot of cases, that is the primary product for the first couple of years of a new distillery. So that’s where we’re seeing our gin renaissance.
8. New food neighbourhoods
The Nations is a place that’s growing fast. It was a residential neighbourhood until one corridor of it started popping up restaurants, and now running down 51st Avenue you’ll find 15 great restaurants and bars, a craft butcher and two breweries. We’re also seeing growth going up on the east bank of the city and going north.
9. Craft beer
We’ve got about 30 independent breweries across the county brewing to their own style and making what they are passionate about. There’s been a couple of breakout beers in Nashville that are become regionally popular, like Homestyle IPA from Bearded Iris. There’s a lot of collaboration and it’s a small, tight industry.
10. Meat and three, and soul food
A meat and three is a down home restaurant where you go down a line and pick one meat, such as roast beef, baked ham or catfish. And then pick your three veg to go with it. A soul food restaurant is similar but the difference is who’s cooking. It’s almost always black-owned restaurants and so that’s a chance to experience a part of Nashville’s community that doesn’t really have a toehold downtown. If you want to experience traditional soul food try Big Al’s Deli or Silver Sands.
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