Once Julia picked us up from the Gaylord Opryland after Russ’s convention ended, we wasted no time in checking out the City of Music’s other culinary hotspots, starting with Tavern the city’s cool-casual, gastro-pub concept, located on Broadway in Midtown. It was an absolutely stellar day outside so we requested an exterior table for four, as fiancée Byron would shortly be joining us.
After cocktails were ordered (no judging, we were on vacation), we decided to split a Starter of their famous Nachos with chile-spiked black beans, a three cheese blend, lots of cheddar cheese, jalapeño rounds, and an addition of “angry chicken” which made for quite possibly the BEST we’ve ever eaten. These puppies were anything but lightly dressed and arrived gorgeously plated. Dig in we did.
After that, I decided to scale back and get the smaller version of the Baby Wedge with tomatoes, candied pecans, and goat cheese tossed with an Alabama white vinaigrette, and topped with a skewer of four of the most plump and tender chile garlic shrimp—oh my, the memories.
I must have been so infatuated with this salad that I completely forgot, and have no pictures of, what Julia ate! Must have eventually returned back to earth though because I did photograph Russ’s Seoul Bowl consisting of short ribs and veggies in a spicy beef broth with steamed rice and topped with a soft egg. He couldn’t get enough of it.
Byron, being an ex-NFL football player has room to consume, so he enjoyed their good-sized Salted Caramel Pork Chop with Brabant “stacked” potatoes and haricot verts. No doggy bag there. After all that, we actually went food shopping to pick up loose ends for the next several days.
No, we didn’t just eat our way through the vacation, we actually walked many miles a day at different parks and gardens, but this is a food blog after all so I’ll concentrate on that aspect. Julia had taken a few days off from work and was ever-so-kind to schlepp us around and play tour guide.
After one particular trek through Cheekwood Gardens, we decided to enjoy another late lunch outdoors, this time at bartaco, on the infamous 12th Street in the Gulch neighborhood. It is inspired by the beach culture of Brazil, Uruguay and southern California and serves upscale street food with a coastal vibe in a relaxed environment. Julia was very excited to show us this place and has frequented bartaco on numerous occasions.
She gave us the lowdown on how to order. Each table has a set of checklist menus, and you order a la carte so we put our noggins together and came up with a variety of selections that was then given to the waiter. Each item on the menu indicates the number of calories, which helps you stay focused, if so inclined.
For cocktails, it was unanimous, three amazingly delicious bartaco margaritas lovingly made with libélula joven tequila, combier liqueur d’orange, agave syrup and lime juice. OMG, BEST. EVER.
Dad and Julia begin lunch with a toast to the beautiful day.
So what did we eat? How about a “Not Tacos” starter of guac + roja + verde, three divine sauces accompanied by large crisp taco chips. Russ and I could not get over how wonderful the roja sauce was, we are determined to get that recipe somehow (the chef would not divulge). The verde and guacamole were not too shabby either, and whatever was leftover went onto our tacos.
Speaking of tacos, we ordered a combination of chicken chorizo (green chicken chorizo sausage with tomatillo avocado salsa), mojo pork carnitas (slow-roasted with tangy mojo sauce), crispy rock shrimp (masa-crusted crispy rock shrimp with a remoulade sauce, lemon parsley slaw), and roasted duck (tamarind glaze). They were all splendid so it was difficult to choose a winner. Although still very good, Russ and I decided the duck was probably the least favorite (Julia didn’t try it). Again, I was so caught up in the food, I completely forgot to take pics of the numerous tacos, mea culpa… the two margaritas probably had something to do with that!
But ironically, the duck quesadilla, shown above, was a fabulous compilation of hand-pressed blue corn tortilla stuffed with roasted duck, tomatillo sauce, caramelized onions, oaxaca and cotija cheeses. Another side that Julia insisted on was the street corn fritters with charred corn, oaxaca and cotija cheeses, roasted poblanos, and a elote mayo for dipping. She and her dad loved them, while they were a bit too rich for me, but nonetheless tasty.
OK, you know I’m not a dessert person, but given the fact that the food was soooo good, Russ just had to try their churros, shown below. He and Julia split the four pastries with a melted chocolate sauce for dipping, and claimed them excellent. Can we put in a request to open one of these restaurants back home?
Our last night in Noshville was a Friday so the four of us wanted to try something new and different. After hours of scrolling online, Julia sent us links to a few places neither she nor Byron had gone, and that might appeal to us. The winner was The Mockingbird, a modern diner with global fare, funky touches and wicked fun. Their unusual menu is what won us over.
Problem was, we couldn’t get a res until 8:30, so we decided to kill two birds with one trip and have rooftop cocktails beforehand at Rarebirds, in the Noelle Hotel overlooking downtown with a clear view of the AT&T Batman Building and Nissan Stadium.
Russ and future son-in-law Byron get comfy while Julia and I warm up by the fire.
A few cocktails later, and after chats with a couple from Boston, it was time to make the short drive over to The Mockingbird on 12th Avenue North. The restaurant plays with a special sense of whimsy that is evoked in their menu. Playful in nature, each dish is a nod to the experience that the owners want their diners to have—and boy did we have fun!
One of the rooms sports loud floral wallpaper while the ladies room showcases some interesting fixtures.
Where to begin? Our indulgent feast commenced with a complementary dish of toasted baguettes with a savory relish topping—extremely tasty IMHO. And of course Julia had to sample their signature drink, Tequila Mockingbird (don’t you just love the title?) concocted with fidencio mezcal, tequila, lime and an egg white embellished with an image of a mockingbird.
For some Small Plates we chose Rice, Rice, Baby—round balls plated in a ceramic egg carton made with pimento cheese, arancini, pickled pepper, grilled scallion and chamoy. Russ and Julia loved ’em, Byron and I not so much.
Feeling Grate! Julia and Byron adore Mac & Cheese, and here it is richly made with cheddar, gruyere, manchego and persillade.
Sea Señor—Steamed mussels is a Russ favorite, and these were presented in a caramelized fennel-onion cream with Korean chile threads and a Spanish chorizo. They had to bring more crusty bread for us to mop up that luscious sauce.
All About M.E. was another small plate of Middle eastern spiced Za’atar braised lamb tart, feta, herbs and a summac humus.
And for me (lowercase 😉 ), the Let’s Get Freekeh, was a mixed green salad with roasted mushrooms, currants and a miso vinaigrette. Nobody other than me wanted this wonderful salad (too healthy?) so I had some leftover for the next morning.
Hey Dumplin’—Julia is a gnocchi fan, and although they sounded wonderful on the menu with ricotta, milk-braised pork shank, tomato stew, butterbeans, and spinach, she wasn’t really enamored with the dish. She tends to gravitate toward the creamy, cheesy type.
The Bird is the Word—Byron was full speed ahead with the fried chicken thighs topped with a white (looks orange to me) chorizo gravy over salsa verde mashed potatoes. Then a little pop of color was added with red pickled onions and a sprinkling of fresh cilantro.
And just because, a side of French Fries served with garlic confit aioli and ketchup.
I din’t think anyone could possibly eat more, but no, the three of them decided dessert was a good idea. Julia and dad shared Chess Pie, something I had never heard of until coming to Nashville. It is gooey, buttery, and supremely sweet, and has been a staple of the Southern dessert table for a couple hundred years.
Mr. Byron ordered a fancy Vanilla Milkshake complete with oozing chocolate sauce, mounded with whipped cream and topped with what looked like a streusel of some sort. Well, let me tell you, by the time we got back to their house, they no longer thought dessert was such a good idea. All that sweetness mixed with lots of rich food and libations… you do the math…
For our last meal in Nashville, Julia was excited to take us to one of her favorite brunch places, Urban Grub, an indoor-outdoor restaurant-bar located in a renovated carwash in Nashville’s booming 12 South district. A few of the large, glass roll-up doors are still in use. We loved the design of the restaurant which features a rustic elegance filled with custom woodwork, stone fireplaces and rounded booths tucked into intimate corners.
As for the eclectic menu, pastas are made in house in a vintage pasta machine, the meat pantry is well stocked with freshly butchered pigs, goats, lambs and cows, and the meat curing room has slabs of bacon, prosciutto and culatello aging and curing in preparation for its debut on The Grub’s world-class charcuterie boards.
That famous seafood and charcuterie bar (from 11am to 3pm on Saturdays and Sundays) includes a wide assortment of fresh seafood, house cured charcuterie and unique salads featuring local fruits and vegetables. If I recall correctly, the price varies on how you plate and/or share it. We opted to order from the regular brunch menu starting with a well-made Bloody Mary and a bread basket filled with homemade biscuits and mini chocolate chip muffins, replete with a homemade jam and whipped butter.
After much deliberation, Julia and I ended up both choosing the superbly delicious Shrimp Omelette stuffed with chorizo and Manchego cheese, although she got the side of cheesy grits and I opted for the home fries, shown below.
My man Russ excitedly ordered the signature dish Fried Gulf Oyster Bennie plated over coleslaw and smothered with Old Bay hollandaise sauce, accompanied by cheesy grits and a couple of fried oysters.
I’m going to be perfectly honest here, even though I did think to take a photo, I can’t remember exactly what it is that Byron ordered. An educated guess would be (based on the picture), Sausage, Egg and Biscuit Sliders with a side of fries and dipping sauce.
We had a couple of hours to kill before heading to the airport so Julia, Russ and I decided to visit Centennial park where an exact replica of the Parthenon is built; glad to walk off some calories and enjoy the sunshine before returning home. It was a good thing this time that they didn’t really serve any food on the airplane because I don’t think we could have managed another bite—or that it would have come close in quality to what we’d been used to the past week.
So if you plan on heading to Nashville in the future, don your cowboy boots (or buy some there, the choices are tremendous), practice your twang, and plan to belly up to the bar and strap on your feed bag. Perhaps some of the aforementioned culinary establishments will be on your gastronomic list of things to do…
Plan a winder of time so y’all can be fixin’ to experience some of that Southern charm in Noshville!