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Help to avoid Nashville disappointments

  • w

I will be in Nashville shortly and going out to dinner with friends. They like upscale places and sent me menus, but all the places are so un-southern, I am hugely disappointed. I checked out some of the dinner places recommended here, and they are the same: Margots, F Scotts, Sunset Grill, etc etc . . . not a single southern dish on the menu! Mirror at least has fried green tomatoes as appetizer--but that's the only dish with any local flavor. And Mad Platter for LUNCH has shrimp n grits, but I really need to go for dinner, and their dinner menu is the same old same old boring boring boring to me (I know other people have different taste but I am just so not interested in fine dining I can do generically any place in the US). Also, the places were so expensive! If I am going to spend, I want it to be southern nouvelle, at least (like SNOB or 82 Queen in Charleston, or the South Kitchen place in Atlanta) or a nice pleasant place with southern homestyle, pulled pork, hot fish, fried chicken, sweet tea, like that, and it has to be not too far out of town, because we are tourists and don't want to spend too long driving away from the tourist areas. . . and remember, it needs to be for DINNER, not lunch . . .

What about Swetts, would that be any good?

Any other suggestions would be much appreciated.

Thanks so much!

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  1. My friends in Nashville took me to a Southern place called Monell's that was wonderful. It's not really upscale, it's served family style at shared tables, but it's in an old house, so the setting is still quite lovely. Perhaps your friends might slum it a little so you can try some great southern fried chicken for dinner?

    Monell's Dining & Catering
    1235 6th Ave N, Nashville, TN 37208

    1. While Nashville is in the South, our dining options are not only Southern. The best time of day to get Southern food here is lunchtime, which you already said is not an option for you.

      Watermark in the Gulch is upscale Southern. The only time I ate here, it was very good but I didn't care for Watermark as much as I like Margot Cafe.

      I think your only other option for dinner is Monell's.

      There are loads of great Southern or Southern inspired places for lunch. If you do have an opportunity to eat lunch or weekend brunch, I would recommend Martha's at the Belle Meade Plantation. Martha's will be more Southern inspired than traditional Southern or Meat and Three. Her fried green tomato salad might still on the menu, and it is not to miss. If you want the best meat and three in town, go to Arnold's for lunch M-F.

      1 Reply
      1. re: Jennie

        I thought of another meat and three dinner option: The Copper Kettle. They serve very good food, most of it is Southern, cafeteria style. It's a nice, pleasant place to eat. Definitely not upscale, and it's only open for dinner (they close at 8pm) M-F.

      2. Real Southern food like that is a lunch thing in Nashville. Swett's is good, but it's only open for lunch (I think) and it's very definitely not upscale. If it's open for dinner, the food will be pretty wilted by then.
        For upscale Southern-influenced food, try Cabana for crab hushpuppies and Tennessee ssliders, smoked local trout and buttermilk fried chicken. I think Ombi often also has southern things -- seems like I had shrimp and grits there this summer. But true Southern food is really a lunch thing. And breakfast -- Arnold's and Silver Sands serve breakfast. Grits galore!

        1 Reply
        1. re: fluffernutter

          Swett's is open for dinner, they close at 8. Another meat&3 option for dinner is Sylvan Park restaurant, but they close at 7. Radius 10 in the gulch gives a few nods to southern cuisine on their menu, and I think Watermark would also be a decent choice. Like fluffernutter suggested, Cabana probably fits the theme of "Southern Nouvelle" best, but its a trendy place that focuses heavily on the scene/alcohol. Monell's would be a unique and unabashadely Southern experience, but it is decidely not fine dining, which is the draw of the place. It might as well be your grandmother's house (assuming she makes killer fried chicken).
          Prince's hot chicken will likely be open, but it does not lend itself to an enjoyable dinner with friends, definitely more of a to-go place, as are most of the other hot chicken/fish places.

        2. The recommendations so far are good. I would add Neely's barbecue, which has awesome meat and good sides. It's open for dinner and is an eat-in place, but is definitely not upscale.

          2 Replies
          1. re: nm1

            As an addition to nm1's rec, I'd like to add that I have tried giving directions for Neely's to out of towners on two different occasions, and both times the parties took terribly long to find Neely's, blasted Metro Center!

            1. re: notgreg

              Just a couple of notes to the above suggestions -- Radius 10 is great and Jason Brumm makes the best grits I've ever had. His signature shrimp/scallop/grits is amazing. Cabana is a scene, but if you go early (7'ish) and make a reservation you should be fine. The real scene doesn't get going until later in the evening. Also, Copper Kettle is open for Sunday brunch as well as dinner. Good luck!

          2. Check Tayst in Hillsboro Village. They have some regionally inspired things on the menu and have been a good business dinner place for me, decent wine list too.

            Just a heads up but Monell's is a family seating place so your party will be seated with who ever else is there. There is no menu, they just bring out food. Good, grandma's cooked all day, southern food.

            The Germantown Cafe has regional food too and is open for dinner. Fried green tomatoes, cheese grits etc. And your party will have its own tabel :)

            Margot Cafe is a favorite of mine and is consistently good.

            You mention hot chicken in your post. Send someone to pick up dinner or lunch from Princes Hot Chicken. You don't want to try eating there, but it is my favorite for hot chicken. (Gourmet magazine did an article on Nashville hot chick/fish last month)

            If you are looking for a meat and three experience you are limited to lunch time for the best. (Sylvan Park, Swett's, Arnold's)

            4 Replies
            1. re: bubblet4me

              Sylvan Park and Swett's are open for dinner. Monell's can be a bit disconcerting if you weren't expecting the communal experience, its a good thing you mention that, bubblet. However, the food more than makes up for the discomfort. I would also agree with Margot Cafe. I've eaten Chef McCormack's food probably 2 dozen times between Margot cafe and Marche and can't recall one bad dish.

              1. re: bubblet4me

                Where's the best hot fish in Nashville? I pass through from time to time generally using the Briley by-pass since I'm traveling from I-24 (southeast) to I-65 (north), so the closer to that the better. I've stopped at Prince's several times but never seem to get there when they are open so remain a hot chicken virgin----maybe fish would be better?

                1. re: johnb

                  I've found Arnold's (lunch only) and Sylvan Park to lead the pack of meat-and-threes in Nashville, both always spectacular.

                  1. re: johnb

                    Eastside Fish is the best hot fish. Take 65 and get off at Gallatin Rd/Due West. It's on Gallatin Rd. But Jane and Michael Stern just did a story on them, so be prepared to wait.

                2. Thank you all for your help. As it turned out, I did not have as much southern food as I thought I'd want. But I really enjoyed most of what I had. Wound up going to the Sunset Grill, and I had the crabcake (it's listed as appetizer), pumpkin soup, and a pudding dessert with jalapena--everything just excellent--this was my favorite place, though sure was noisy! I liked Mad Platter too though not quite as much, it was pleasantly quieter, and there was a dessert there called chocolate Elvis that was fabulous. For more southern food we wound up driving to a place called Cock of the Walk out near the Grand Ole Opry; had excellent fried catfish & chicken & hush puppies, shrimp not quite as good but it was a fun place. My one free lunch I was going to walk to Arnolds but was told it wasn't a good walk alone and anyway I didn't have too much time so I pulled pork & 3 downtown in Jacks BBQ and it was fine.Had Texas BBQ in another place downtown--big bar type place, a bit off the beaten path, not as good but that's because I guess I don't love brisket, too dry. We also had a fine pancake brunch up by Vanderbilt, don't recall name of place. Also had white chocolate raspberry ice cream in a shop right on Broadway downtown (Mikes?) that was very good.

                  5 Replies
                  1. re: Wanda

                    I'm glad it worked out for you, Wanda.

                    The dessert at Sunset of which you speak is their Habanero Butterscotch Bread Pudding, and I love it too. If nothing else, Sunset has a great dessert menu.

                    It's a real shame you didn't get to go to Arnold's. I'm kind of surprised you were told it would be unsafe to walk there. I can't really think of anywhere in Nashville that's not safe to walk through during daylight hours.

                    I'm guessing the Texas BBQ you had was from Judge Bean's on 12th Ave N? Their brisket is kind of hit or miss for me, but usually it's at least good enough to make a decent brisket taco. Anyway, I hear that Bean's is moving over to Greer Stadium (minor league ballpark). I have no idea why he would think that is a good idea.

                    Perhaps your pancake brunch near Vandy was at The Pancake Pantry? Hope you didn't have to wait in line too long!

                    1. re: jamiecarroll

                      Yes, that's it, and it sure was yummy. I also tasted my friends' desserts, and though good, they were not as great as mine--one of them a little too chocolate (and coming from a chocolate lover like me that is saying a lot); the other had an interesting ice cream but was nowhere near as special as the Habanero pudding.

                      The advice I got about walking to Arnolds came from employees of the Country Music Hall of Fame, and I had a feeling it wasn't right. They said it was a mile and a half walk, which--looking at the map--I sincerely doubted. They told me I'd have to walk past deserted factories, and I had a feeling the area might not be the problem they said it was. Still, I was pressed for time--lots to see!--so I just headed for Jacks, which was definitely more convenient. And it was really quite tasty. I got there before there was much of a line, and by the time I left I was glad I had.

                      The Texas place you mention is indeed Judge Bean's. I was unimpressed with the brisket; it was good quality meat but overcooked. It made me decide I prefer pulled pork, which is more reliable. They did have a very nicely spiced side of beans, though, I thought. It was an interesting space; too bad they are moving. But maybe location was a little too off the beaten track?

                      I think the pancake place was indeed Pancake Pantry, but for some reason I'm blanking on the name. It was on a corner, maybe even on Broadway; my friend drove and I for some reason (probably talking) wasn't paying attention. We got there early enough to avoid any line, though there was one forming as we left.

                      One place we went that disappointed me, oddly enough, was the famous Bluebird Cafe--maybe because I was so looking forward to going there! I'm sure they have lots of fine music, but the night we were there was a tiresome singer/songwriter duo (though excellent musicianship) and the space was way too cramped for me, with really uncomfortable chairs. I was also very disappointed to see it was in some strip mall in a suburban-looking area. I didn't mention it before because all I had was a drink there, but I know people were eating. Is the food any good there? I loved the Grand Ole Opry, OTOH, and never expected to like it as much as I did, so I think maybe it's all a matter of expectations. It was a thrill to be in the Ryman seeing the GOO too (that is where it is this time of year). I did wonder about people keeping their Stetson-style hats on in both these venues, though. I mean, hats like that are no problem to me in music venues on Lower Broad, but to sit behind someone in such a big hat in a place where one pays a fair sized cover to get in (like the Bluebird) or quite a bit for a ticket (GOO)--well, that seemed mighty rude to me. Unlike the South, New York is not known for its good manners, but you would never see anyone wearing a big hat in front of you at a Broadway show! Is this customary behavior at all music venues in Nashville?

                      1. re: Wanda

                        Just a reminder folks, that Chowhound is focused on food. The etiquette of music venues is off topic for our site.

                        1. re: Wanda

                          I agree that it is a bit weird to see that the Bluebird Cafe is in a stripmall, but once you're inside, you kind of forget about it. The food is not why people go there--there's a $7 minimum at many shows, so a drink or two and some sweet potato fries are what we usually order. I think that they do an ok job of their fairly standard menu--that is to say, the food's not bad, it's just not a food destination. By the way, I've never really seen a "tiresome" show there. Pretty well all of the music is supplied by singer/songwriters, whose talents range from very good to amazing.

                          1. re: Yongeman

                            I think a lot of people are surprised by the Bluebird's location. It's very near my house (I won a Walkman at the grand opening in 1982) in the 'burbs, but I remind people that New Orleans' clubs and attractions are spread out into the burbs, too. Because it's cramped, crowded, and sometimes a crapshoot, I rarely go. I too have seen a tiresome songwriter session there many years ago. I imagine it's too famous now to have to fill the schedule with tiresome songwriters. I went in late October -- first time since about 1995 -- and ordered fries and a glass of wine. It was a good time but my XXL husband was uncomfortable.

                            FWIW, I agree with the Hall of Fame staff that walking to Arnold's can be dicey. You have to walk right past the, ahem, Campus for Human Development, which is a very fancy name for the homeless service center. Lotta homeless folk, mostly harmless, hanging on the sidewalk. The clencher, though, is a scary railroad underpass that's the favorite drug-doing, inclement-weather post for that crowd. I ride my bike past there often in the early mornings, and Ima tellya the truth -- I don't ride in the far right lane -- too close to the needles and broken glass and crazy-looking people who might chuck a can or stick into my path. And I certainly wouldn't do it on foot.