Top 5 Nashville Restaurants to “Eat Nasty.” No Jacket Required Posted by: Aaron Stearns | 0 Comments
I’ve spent most of my career as a chef in the South refining Southern classics and creating upscale dishes to serve in white tablecloth restaurants. However, when I’m “off-the-clock” and traveling for pleasure, white-tablecloth is not what I’m looking for. I love real, southern food, prepared by the folks who have handed down recipes through generations.
Nashville is a city known for its amazing southern cooking, and the five Nashville restaurants I chose to write about reflect an accessible southern dining experience. No need to drain the wallet or put on a fancy dress at these restaurants. Roll your sleeves up, grab a stool and dig in to my five favorite Nashville joints. No jacket required.
Arnold’s Country Kitchen
The first thing you’re met with at Arnold’s is a crowd full of people huddled outside the door, waiting to get in line and grab their trays. This is always a good sign. When I eat at a meat-and-three, the first thing I look for are the specials. This particular day the special was chicken livers, which was the second sign I had found the right spot.
Owner, Kahlil Arnold and his mom work behind the counter and are always excited to share their food with you. When people order the turnip greens, the staff will say things like, “Well, you have to get the mac & cheese if you’re getting the greens, honey.” This is the third sign I’ve found the right spot.
I love to take cues from the staff on what to order. I may have ordered the chicken livers, but Kahlil knew I just had to try his hickory-smoked chicken, and the grits with red bean gray, and the fried green tomatoes. Arnold’s staff goes above and beyond to deliver. Kahlil even walked around with a bowl of fried-green tomatoes for anyone who didn’t order them on their first pass through the lunch counter.
As my wife takes photos of our feast, the old couple next to us leans over and asks, “What are you doing that for?” This crowd isn’t used to people Instagram-ing their food before they dig in. It’s the kind of spot where you look around and the only apparent connection between these folks is a love of good food. I see businessmen, truckers, hipsters, grannies… this is the South.
Mas Tacos Por Favor
I love Tex-Mex. I love salsa, queso, and chips on the table, but Mas Tacos is not that place. I also love a good Mexican mercado. I love a place that requires a solid, working-knowledge of Spanish in order to avoid an unfortunate slip of the tongue. Mas Tacos is not that place either. Mas Tacos is hip, college-town Mexican. This taco truck turned brick-and-mortar hasn’t lost any of its street vibe. The staff still yells your name when your order is up, despite you sitting three feet from the counter. The only thing sitting on your table is a roll of paper towels and a bottle of Valencia.
To start, we had to order the fried plantains with sweet crema. My wife always orders one of their soups, made with fresh ingredients, homemade stocks and unexpected garnishes. But I’m there for the tacos. With three different tacos on the menu, I’m game to try one of each. I would tell you all about the Spicy Carne Molida taco or the Pulled Pork tacos, which were both excellently seasoned with perfect garnishes, but the vegetarian taco stepped up to bat knocked them both out of the park.
I’m a carnivorous chef by nature, but the Quinoa & Sweet Potato taco with cabbage and tomatillo salsa was an absolutely perfect balance of fresh Mexican flavors with the surprise of having ingredients you wouldn’t think to put in a taco shell. These tacos aren’t short on anything, and made particularly outstanding by the two homemade corn tortillas that cradle them. That’s the sign of a good street taco.
In true Bourbon & Boots style, we woke up Saturday morning with a need for some greasy biscuits to soak up last night’s fun. On a local friend’s recommendation we were pointed to the small town of Franklin—20 minutes outside of Nashville—to check out Biscuit Love, a food truck that sets up shop in their local farmer’s market.
As the name alludes, this truck does biscuits right. Tempted by such offerings as French Toast Biscuits, or the SEC [sausage-egg-and-cheese], we gave into their specialty biscuits. This not your typical biscuit sandwich experience, as much as it is a knife and fork affair, requiring you to make a table off the hood of your car. My “Princess” biscuit was a play on Nashville’s famous hot chicken. Sweet and spicy, fried boneless chicken thigh rested atop an open-face biscuit, topped with pickles and mustard.
My wife’s morning really called for not only a biscuit but also sausage gravy. The “East Nasty” offered just that—an open-face biscuit, fried chicken smothered with sausage gravy.
Biscuit Love delivered more than what we came looking for. They’re a new operation, but I get the feeling that their biscuit recipe has been around for awhile. Beyond a breakfast spot, I would recommend you try biscuit love anytime you’ve had a little too much fun in Nashville.
Prince’s Hot Chicken
Our local friend, who we jokingly refer to as the King of Nashville, met us for a late lunch, and where else would the King of Nashville take us but Prince’s Hot Chicken. Prince’s is a Nashville institution. Open from 2 p.m. to 4 a.m., there is no time to visit Prince’s where there isn’t an hour-long wait for your chicken. Hot chicken is a Nashville specialty; fried chicken basted in lard and cayenne pepper. There are few choices to make on Prince’s limited menu, but I recommend you choose wisely. Many people may be brave and order the “extra-hot” or the unlisted chef’s-selection hot chicken, but as someone who proudly takes the heat on a regular basis, I can tell you most people can’t handle anything higher than just their “hot” chicken—my wife and her sister wisely ordered the mild.
After placing our orders, we were given number 51, as I heard them calling order number 27. It looked like we’re going to be there for awhile, but that’s the Prince’s experience. It’s fascinating to watch the bonds that form between strangers waiting an hour or more for great food. When my number was finally called and I went to pick up my brown paper bag of chicken, I felt like I’d won something. I got a round of approving nods from the people I passes on my way to the counter.
This is not only amazing hot chicken, nor is it only incredible fried chicken. Sitting atop two pieces of white bread and garnished with pickles, this chicken is everything you’ve ever wanted chicken to be. My hot chicken was so spicy the only way I felt like I could treat the heat was by eating more. This is the kind of chicken that I’m going to crave three days from now. Easily worth the heat, and my burning lips two hours later. Don’t forget to wash your hands.
There’s nothing more quintessentially Southern than sitting down to a family-style meal, being handed a bowl of creamed corn casserole and told to “pass it to the left, baby.” Monell’s has been feeding Nashville residents and tourists family-style since about 1880. “Come as strangers, leave as friends” is the motto their website touts.
You don’t get to choose your food, you don’t get to choose where you sit or whom you sit with. This experience is post-church, Sunday brunch at your grandma’s house. First things first, “Please pass the biscuits and cinnamon rolls,” and “Yes, I’ll take the gravy.” It’s nearly impossible to eat with strangers without a conversation taking place. “Where are you from? What do you do? And why are you taking pictures of the food?”
Our table companions consisted of a family visiting their daughter who had recently moved to Nashville. They were celebrating their father’s retirement. “What did you do?” His response was beyond anything I could have imagined for this scenario. “I built racecars for Penske.” For NASCAR? “Yes. Could you please pass the meat platter? Because I’m a real meat guy.”
Every bite of food has been prepared with love, and served by people who feel like family, but Monell’s delivers something more than a great meal. To become instant friends with a NASCAR mechanic and his family over classics like biscuits with sorghum, sausage patties, bacon, creamed corn casserole and fried chicken… this is what makes your Monell’s experience truly special.
Nashville’s food experience extends beyond the local flavor and seems to be about everyone’s common love of great food, good company and Southern hospitality. Y’all come back now! Don’t mind if we do…
A naturalized Southerner, Chef Matthew Bell is happy to call North Little Rock, Ark., home. Since moving to the South 8 years ago, Bell has fallen in love with the heritage of southern food. After serving upscale southern in fine-dining for the last 5 years, Bell is looking forward to opening his first establishment, South on Main, where he will serve refined southern food in a casual setting.
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