A Nashville Trip Report
I didn't spend much time searching Chowhound before my trip to Nashville since I knew I was basically throwing myself into the hands of my local friends anyway. Here's a quick roundup on where we ended up:
Wednesday lunch: There's an apparently recently opened Japanese place in the strip of restaurants right near that damned traffic circle on Music Row. (Can I tell you how many times I drove around that thing in a circle trying to get onto 16th to pick up my friend?) It is, sadly, a bad recently opened Japanese restaurant. The yakisoba dish I ordered was basically overcooked -- overcooked noodles, overcooked vegetables, even the sauce tasted a little burnt.
Wednesday dinner: Burgers and such at Merchant's. The salmon burger was pretty decent. The key lime pie was excellent. The waiter brought me about 98 cups of diet coke, which, when you consider I hadn't slept in some 36 hours at that point and was trying to stay awake for the Kris Kristofferson Artist in Residence show at the Hall of Fame that night was the best thing he could possibly have done for me. I didn't pay that bill, or I'd have left him a huge giant tip for never letting my glass get down past a quarter all night.
Thursday lunch: Jack's on Broadway. This was described to me as 'adequate if not great BBQ that's about typical for Nashville.' I can't say for sure if it was typical, but I can attest to it being adequate but not great. Better than anything you can get in Toronto, but that's saying approximately nothing, as we have no BBQ here worth eating. The ribs were pretty good, though, and had nice smokiness. The baked apples nearly ripped the top of my mouth out, as they were very, very hot, but they were good.
Thursday dinner: Monell's in Germantown. This was really fun. The shared tables and family style dining and the friendly staff all combined for a great atmosphere. It really does feel like family dinner. Most things were good (though I can't say I was much for their biscuits, really) and the fried chicken was much better than good. I really liked the white bean dish, as well.
Friday lunch: Jackson's. I have no idea where in town we were at that point. I ordered a burger, which was decent enough, and then followed it up with the trashiest dessert imaginable. Cookie dough egg rolls. Cookie dough in an egg roll rapper, deep fried and served with ice cream and chocolate sauce. The ice cream was really terrible and melted practically into water, but the cookie dough egg rolls were wickedly disgusting. They were so wrong and so right all at the same time. I wouldn't recommend eating them exactly -- you'll probably feel bad about yourself after, but you'll enjoy it while it's happening.
Saturday and Sunday brunch: Ellendale's which was somewhere in the middle of nowhere. Filled with graciously charming staff who seemed to know absolutely everyone who walked in the door. Some of the food was suffering rather badly from steam-tableness, but in general it was all still pretty good. The biscuits at Ellendale's, for those of you keeping track of biscuit quality at restaurants carved out of former houses that feature portraits of the previous owners of the home, are much better than the ones at Monell's. I also ate way too much chicken fried steak, because they just don't do that to steaks up in Canada. Which is probably for the best, really. But still, I couldn't resist. The dessert table is a highlight, especially the decadent frosting on top of the carrot cake.
Saturday dinner: This was sort of the surprise meal of the week. In between Alton Brown's cooking demo and the meet and greet (did I mention I was in Nashville to see Alton Brown?), the Opryland staff put on a wine and cheese pairing session for the VIP ticket holders. The maitre fromager from the steakhouse at Opryland did a more than credible job of entertaining the crowd (and following Alton is a tough act) so we decided to go to the steakhouse for dinner in the interests of meeting his cheese cart. We hadn't quite factored in the food we ate at the tasting, and then at the meet and greet, so we never actually found room for the cheese cart. But dinner itself was excellent.
I didn't really expect much of the steakhouse in such an obviously tourist hotel. A nice enough room, but we were seated in the bar and the service was kind of flaky. I opted for the rack of lamb as my entree, while we ordered asparagus and mashed for sides. Sides were good and flavourful, but the lamb. Oh, the lamb.
You might want to get comfortable here, because I could go on for awhile about the lamb.
The portion was generous. The preparation was flawless -- it was perfectly cooked to medium. When I cut off the first slice, the knife slid through it like it was butter, which I attributed to a good knife.
But then, I put the lamb in my mouth and it melted away. It was like chocolate--if chocolate was salty and meaty.
I've had a lot of pretty lovely lamb, and a lot of pretty lousy lamb, and a lot of lamb that I'm pretty sure hadn't been lamb for a good number of years. But that lamb was undeniably the best I've ever had.
I wish there'd been time and room for the cheese cart, but I might have had to miss the lamb.
Anyway, contrary to what I was told before I went, it's not true that there's no good food in Nashville. There may well be a lot of bad food in Nashville, but there's good food, too. And then there's that lamb.
I'm glad your overall experience was good, and especially glad you liked Ellendale's. I work nearby, and it's really our only good 'hound option out here, so I"m always pushing it on people staying at Opryland.
Opryland formerly operated a culinary school, because it needed a constant supply of trained cooks, but ended it about 10 yrs ago in budget-cutting. I felt they did a good job, considering the volume of meals and banquets on their list every single day. After the closure, I would have thought the food suffered, but it apparently has (and I'm embarrassed to say I haven't eaten there in a decade, though I work about 2 miles away).
Thanks for the report -- we are very often asked for recommendations at Opryland Hotel, and I will steer people to your post.
I didn't eat much at the hotel, because it seemed a little cruise-shippy to me. Too many restaurants and too much volume for the food to possibly be good. After that stellar dinner on Saturday night, though, I was tempted to try one of the restaurants for Sunday brunch but the logistics of their very expensive parking and very early checkout time made it more sensible for me to go somewhere else, so I went back to Ellendale's.
The wine and cheese event that they put on was also really lovely. Their cheese guy is young, charming and slightly goofy. He's obviously tremendously knowledgable, and he brought in some really excellent choices for a tasting for such a mixed audience. They were lovely cheeses with a lot of depth and subtlety of flavour to experience--but nothing particularly aggressive or likely to put off people who don't eat much cheese. Based on the tasting he put on, my bet is that his cheese cart is a very worthwhile experience.