Saturday, December 19, 2015

Notes on Nashville Food

The Significant Other and I spent a few days in Nashville last week and had a great time.  It's a lively city, growing fast and full of various entertainments.  We especially enjoyed the local cuisine.


We arrived in the late morning, and ventured down to Broadway, the city's entertainment row, to find some barbecue.  We stopped at Rippy's, a two-story restaurant/bar/sports bar that sits in the shadow of the Memphis hockey arena.  (Yes, Nashvillians are hockey fans.)
     Inside were a medium-sized number of lunchers and three young musicians performing live for the small crowd.
     We ordered our barbecue, which arrived with sauce. I poured the sauce on my pulled pork, carelessly, and it took several glasses of water to wash it down.  (Tennessee barbecue can be "dry" or "wet," and it is always wise to consult your waiter about the relative hotness of what is served before ordering or, at least, taking a first bite.)
     Meanwhile, the singers were performing; they may not earn recording contracts, but their music was pleasant and not hard on the ears. One of them walked around with a tip bucket and inquired where we lived.  After we said we were from New Jersey, she rejoined her colleagues and they knocked out a Bon Jovi number.
     Then another fellow, from Austin, was encouraged by two friends to sing a song they all liked.  He grabbed a microphone and did so.
     The diners at the bar and tables were not many in number, but beer was being sold in copious quantities. Several times the bartender pulled five bottles out of a cooler and uncapped all in less than 10 seconds.  Nobody seemed drunk, but the atmosphere was convivial.


The next two evenings we ate at nice restaurants.  Both had unusual menus that suggested nouvelle cuisine is alive and well in Tennesee.

Some examples from each:

Restaurant One:
      -- Appetizer:  Octopus and Shrimp Bruschetta:  manchego, arugula, fennel roasted tomato,
                             capers, garlic oil, sunflower seed hummus, bacon.
      -- Entree:  Grilled Lamb Loin: feta filo crust, pomegranate walut sauce, lemon black olive
                        tapenade, confit pearl onions, tunisian poached apricot, mint relish, grilled okra.

Restaurant Two: This farm-to-table restaurant's menu was a little less complicated, but included items not found often outside the south -- porkbelly poptarts, crispy pig ears and braised cow tongue, among others -- and possibly not found often in the south either.

I am am not criticizing these menus, only noting their novelty.  Everything we ordered was carefully prepared and tasted great.

The restaurants also had remarkable beverage lists.  In Restaurant One, the drinks menu included about 10 wines and 108 bourbons and other whiskeys. Yes, I counted.
      (True, Tennessee is at the center of the American whiskey industry.  But our family visited Scotland some years back, and I can't recall any restaurant there that stocked more than 15 single-malt scotches, including the 18-year-old ones.)
     At the recommendation of the bartender, the SO and I shared a shot of Belle Meade bourbon, which was excellent.  Later, a friend recommended another one, Knob Creek (distilled in neighboring Kentucky), which also was excellent.
     You can't drink this stuff every night, of course, but I understand now why bourbon is trending these days.

We stayed in the not-swanky Hyatt Place in downtown Nashville, and a buffet breakfast was included in the tab.  I used to live in Texas and have spent time elsewhere in the in south, and so I figured I knew what to expect -- biscuits and gravy.  Also grits.
     But these were not on the menu.  Instead there was a nice selection of breakfast sandwiches.  I don't eat any of the above-mentioned foods, but I did appreciate the novelty.
     Also there were cut-up sections of fresh ruby grapefruit and plain yogurt, which are to my mind a fine way to start the day.  So I was happy.
     And I kept getting happier.  The hotel lobby jingled with holiday music -- not some bland Muzak loop tape but good stuff -- jazz and ballads and blues, some familiar to me but most of which I hadn't heard before. Great stuff.

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