By Jeffrey Urquhart
Clockwise from far left: chefs Josh Habiger and Erik Anderson of The Catbird Seat; chef Sean Brock at Husk prepares a meal; haddock from The Catbird Seat; the kitchen at Husk
Tennessee’s capital is best known as the nation’s mecca for country music, but the high notes are increasingly being hit in the town’s kitchens. These days, it’s not uncommon to find crooners confabbing over bushwackers (a frozen concoction of Kahlua and rum that’s ubiquitous in Nashville’s bustling dive-bar circuit) as well as the area’s culinary bounty.
Much as Music Row lures talented singers with a twang, Nashville’s up-and-coming foodie movement called to Charleston, S.C.–based chef Sean Brock, who opened Husk (37 Rutledge St.; HuskNashville.com) there this year. The eatery is more upscale than the old-school meat-and-threes that used to define the town, but Brock, who has lived and cooked in Nashville before, saw a perfect fit. “It’s been great to watch Nashville grow so rapidly over the last few years,” he says. “The creative energy is crazy, the people open-minded. They’ll eat just about anything.”
Though Brock represents the apex of the town’s gastronomic rise, he’s hardly the first to blaze the trail. When The Catbird Seat (1711 Division St.; TheCatbirdSeatRestaurant.com), a 32-seat chef’s counter helmed by Josh Habiger and Erik Anderson, opened in 2011, it was unclear if the neighborhood would embrace its reservations-only, tasting-menu model. “I honestly do not think true fine dining exists in Nashville,” Anderson says. “And that’s actually not a bad thing.” The pair decided to keep their vibe casual but their food crazy-good, and the restaurant has been booked every night since.
The ingredients don’t hurt, either. “It’s about products that are within arm’s reach,” says Brock. “I’ve been floored by the flavor of the vegetables here, so they’re the focus.” Anderson agrees, singling out one in particular: Nashville’s incredible tomatoes.
So whether you’re housing Husk’s heirlooms—dressed with blackberry vinegar, bourbon smoked salt, and pepper—or Catbird’s porcini mushroom wafers, the food scene in Music City is sure to make you sing. And there are still plenty of bushwackers to be had.
When in Nashville...
A pleasure hound’s guide to the new Music City
Old School: Grab a tray at Arnold’s Country Kitchen (left), a cafeteria-style meat-and-three. Pair the day’s succulent offerings (roast beef, BBQ pork) with sides like black-eyed peas and candied yams. 605 Eighth Ave. S.
New School: Germantown eatery City House calls itself Italian, but its house-made charcuterie and pasta preparations really showcase the area’s produce. You’ll weep when you try the peaches. 1222 4th Ave. N; CityHouseNashville.com
Old School: Broadway is lined with honky tonks, but once you throw on your hat and boots, you won’t care. Hit up Robert’s Western World, a boot shop by day and rollicking rockabilly bar by night. 416 Broadway; RobertsWesternWorld.com
New School: For a high-end, speakeasy vibe, grab cocktails at The Patterson House (1711 Division St.; ThePattersonNashville.com). When you’re ready for shots of Fireball with the locals (pictured left), head to Stone Fox (712 51st Ave. N.; TheStoneFoxNashville.com) in West Nashville, a new haunt with live music and cheap PBR.
Old School: First catch a drag show at stylish, expansive Tribe (1517 Church St.; TribeNashville.com). Then, once you’ve got a sufficient buzz, mosey next door to dance under the laser lights at Play (1519 Church St.; PlayDanceBar.com), where all the cute people end up.
New School: Close to downtown, the no-frills Stirrup attracts an older crowd of mostly locals. Perfect if a two-for-one happy hour is more your speed than a 1 a.m. rage. 1529 4th Ave. S.; StirrupNashville.com