Had a terrific meal at Zola's on West End. I am not one to be blown away by a salad, but I had a dish called Beet and Heat that was fantastic. It consisted of pecan crusted fried beets, sage goat cheese, bacon, greens and a maple, Tabasco vinaigrette. Every bite was sublime. Dinner was grilled venison with a black bean relish and pistachio crusted sweet potato fries which was very good and very well prepared, but it was really hard to stand up to that salad. The service was some of the best I have had in a while: attentive, but not intrusive and very knowledgeable. Highly recommended.
Dinner the next two nights was at the Watermark. Very good meals both nights, very buttoned down, very hip, not much real personality. One thing that did stand out though - the grit souffle - prepared with a truffle-bacon cream sauce, was rich delicious southern-infused frenchy goodness.
Here are some places that definitely may not be what someone might think is stereotypical of Nashville, but still a representation of what this city has to offer:
Marche Artisan Foods - great food and atmosphere...and a great place to people-watch
Casual Lunch/Dinner/Weekend Brunch:
Monell's - homestyle, southern cooking in a great environment
(Germantown or Downtown Franklin areas
Watermark - regional, classic fine dining
(ask for Terry to serve you!
Joey's House of Pizza - for real NY style pizza (the family that runs it is worth it as much as the pizza)
(Maryland Farms area in Brentwood)
Dessert or Snack:
Las Paletas - Mexican popsicles made fresh in the back, incredible flavors and combos
(12th Ave South area
Merridee's Breadbasket - key lime squares (yum!
F.Scott's Restaurant & Jazz Bar - nightly in the lounge (no cover), full menu available, too
(Green Hills area
Beverages and Such:
J & J's Market & Cafe - international & domestic coffee, tea, misc beverages, chocolate, munchies, magazines etc.
(near Vanderbilt University, on little Broadway, next to Noshville)
This may be too late to be of use to you, but the Tennessean's food critic listed 13 of his favorite places of all types in an article last week. Here's the link: http://www.thetennessean.com/apps/pbc...
We're in Nashville often and have had really good meals at Margot and Ombi, and are looking forward to trying the rest.
When you say center of town, I'm assuming you mean downtown or West End area.
Top Dinner recommendations:
Mirror on 12 South: You can make a meal of just the tapas/small plates. Right now they have some really incredible things on the menu. They also have lots of fun, interesting drinks- my favorite being the American Beauty. Ask your waiter or waitress what kind of infusions bartender Stephanie has whipped up for the day....they are always fresh and seasonal.
Zola on West End: http://restaurantzola.com/ Mediterranean and Spanish influences. My special occasion pick. They just came out with their new summer menu this week and it looks great. I just forwarded it to my boyfriend yesterday with a "when can we go?"
Radius10: http://www.radius10.com/ New American. Very hip decor, great view of Union Station. Love their Low Country Shrimp and Grits and their arugula salad. Oh, I just remembered- they do lunch now too. I've never been for lunch, but I'm sure it's just as good as dinner! They also have a great happy hour menu in the bar.
The Yellow Porch on Thompson Lane: hidden gem. It's easy to miss....right across the street from a Wendy's. Service is always excellent and I have never had a bad meal here. Great ambience.
Calypso Cafe on Elliston or Thompson Lane (depending on which is nearer to where you are staying)- Great healthy, delicious options. Rotisserie chicken, great salads (black bean salad with chicken) and sides (corn and black bean salad -YUM) And the prices are great!
Bread and Company (lots of locations, I go to the one in Green Hills): Great sandwiches, salads, etc.
If you find yourself out towards the Nashville airport area, we really enjoyed Phat Bites, a little deli place that has an amazing pork loin and carmelized onions sandwich. They're sort of a casual offshoot of a fancier restaurant that's in an elegant old house on a hill nearby. We were there back in very early January so I can't vouch for its quality at present but if that pork sandwich is still around, I'd give it a try! Here's the website for the fancier restaurant--the deli site is under construction at the moment: http://www.ellendales.com/buffet.html .
I'm not familiar with places to eat near the aiport, but the airport has been recently renovated a lot of local Nashville restaurants have now opened branches in the airport. If you find yourself with not enough time to leave, the food might be better than typical airport food.
Back in Fewbruary-April, there were apparently loads of people visiting town, and also apparently fo Vanderbilt graduation. There were some very thorough discussions about barbecue, breakfast, meat-n-three, hot chicken, brew pubs, Mexican, taco trucks, and fine dining. All told, there are about two dozen solid recommendations for food all along the price spectrum. I reviewed the to see whether they're up to date and am posting post a couple of links here to those threads. If you've got specific interests (brew pub, Thai, near Opry Mills, late night, kid-friendly) ask and you'll get loads of answers.
Round-up of people's favorites in various categories:
Debate about three of our great contemporary American places
More debate on good local places
Meat-n-three, more barbecue, and honky tonks