There is a change happening in Nashville, and it's starting from the ground up. As long as that ground is filled with okra, potatoes, corn and other fresh vegetables. As more and more chefs embrace farm ingredients and regional cuisine, Southern food in Music City has gone far beyond the meat-and-three's and barbecue joints normally associated with the area. Not that those places aren't loved deeply. But a new guard of restaurants are showing diners just what can be done with okra and sweet potatoes that has nothing to do with mashing and frying. At Lockeland Table, chef Hal Holden-Bache serves up a a jar of chicken liver pate, sealed with East Tennessee's revered Benton's bacon fat, with grilled Tuscan bread and smoked peach preserves. Brandon Frohne has honed his culinary skills most recently doing the Forage South pop up dinners and has taken his classic regional recipes and infused them with classic French techniques at Mason's in the Loew's Vanderbilt Hotel, yielding something so unique and at the same time so familiar, diners can't help but fall in love. And at Cabana, you can never go wrong with the lump crab hush puppies or bacon cheddar grit bites.
The Southern Steak and Oyster
Located in the heart of the SoBro district downtown, The Southern Steak and Oyster does all kinds of things just right. Take their Bananas Foster bread pudding for example. Perfectly fine to order in the morning, but you should maybe start with some of their delicious coffee first. Then, move on to chicken and waffles or steak Benedict. Other winners are the oh-so-southern deviled eggs and barbecue shrimp. They take grits to another level when they go red and sweet thanks to berries, tapioca and creme anglaise. The atmosphere is lively but it can tend to be on the cold side the hotter it gets outside. Bring a jacket. (615-724-1762)
The Catbird Seat
For a truly memorable dining experience, score one of 32 seats with full view of the chefs at this second-story boutique restaurant. This isn't just a meal, but a form of entertainment, where menus don't really exist and multi-course meals and drink pairings are full of delight and surprise. It's not for those who like to play it safe with food, but a treat for foodies and adventure seekers. (615-810-8200)
Part club, part bar and part restaurant, South manages to do all three with flair. Inspired by its deep southern roots, South creates a casually chic atmosphere that offers quality entertainment with true hospitality. The southern inspired menu has quickly become a local favorite offering delicious homemade pimento cheese dip, shrimp and grits and honey-bourbon chicken. The bar serves up an expansive list of wines, beers, cocktails, and specialty southern creations. Brunch brings decadent servings of biscuits and gravy and pastries. But nothing compares to the South Eggs Beauregard, served on an open biscuit with pimento cheese, bacon, fried-green tomatoes, fried eggs and chipotle hollandaise. (615-724-1770)
This hip yet casual bar and restaurant is known for its ambiance, and yes, it's cabanas. The private, semi-secluded cabana dining areas come with sheer drapery that can be closed off for ultimate privacy. The varying decor of the rest of the establishment creates the perfect setting for a casual dinner or a celebrated night on the town with friends. The menu features cuisine with a Southern twist, including favorites like the Day Boat Scallops Benedict, Coffee and Coco Crusted Venison, and Chicken and Black Bean Ravioli. The extensive beer, wine and cocktail lists allow you to find whatever suits your taste to compliment your meal. (615-577-2262)
Watermark's upscale, contemporary feel is enhanced by colorful modern art and gorgeous views of the Nashville downtown. The decadent menu reflects the modern city feel without being overly creative. For example, traditional Southern fare like crawfish, cornbread and grits are paired with meats like veal, pork tenderloin and grouper, resulting in stylish yet tasteful main courses. Watermark's happy hour is extended through Saturday from 5pm-7pm and they're known for their happy atmosphere and friendly waitstaff. The rooftop garden provides herbs and greens for the menu, and might show up in one of Chef Bob Waggoner's dishes like the seared diver scallops over a brocolini, portabella and leek risotto in a roasted hazelnut, honshimeji mushrooms and smoked bacon jus. (615-254-2000)
This Southern-influenced, neighborhood bistro in historic Germantown is a savory collaboration between Clay Greenberg, former executive chef of Virago and Lime, and Paul Cercone, previous owner of Normandy Farm Artisan Bakery in Charleston,South Carolina. The farm food is served in a lively, welcoming setting, complete with a community table, a private dining room, a large bar area, two patios and an open kitchen. The chef-driven menu has a focus on local ingredients and the Slow Food movement. The fare is completely southern, including a pulled pork "benedict" with poached eggs, English muffin and jalape�o hollandaise sauce for Sunday brunch. ((615) 750-2912)
Mason's features historic Southern dishes that represent the best of what both home cooks and professional kitchens have passed along for generations. The down home classics are prepared with classic French techniques to create a unique dining experience in modern day Nashville. Chef Brandon Frohne approaches food with energy and creativity, and his passion for farm-to-table cooking is quite clear in dishes like the heirloom tomato and okra panzanella with baby Romaine, mozzarella, olive crumble, sourdough crouton and buttermilk-garlic scape dressing. Chef Frohne isn't afraid to experiment and diners are all the better for it. Just ask anyone who has had the fried green tomato with crab, field peas, feta ans smoked pepper aioli. (615-321-1990)
Chef Holden-Bache has made his mark all across Nashville and fans have followed him everywhere, from his first stint in town at the famed Nick and Rudy's Steakhouse before joining Executive Chef Tyler Brown at Capitol Grille at The Hermitage Hotel. After five years as executive chef of Eastland Cafe, he opened his first restaurant, Lockeland Table. Start with a jar of chicken liver pate with Benton's bacon fat, grilled Tuscan bread and smoked peach preserves. A choose-your-own cheese plate is a delicious option, as are any number of the wood fired pizzas. The local Olive & Sinclair chocolate chip skillet is also a winner. (615-228-4864)
Chef Tyler Brown and his team are as well versed in the techniques of BBQ, dry-aged beef and smoking meat as they are in sous vide cooking, making the Capitol Grille a favorite among professionals and locals for business lunches and pre-theater. Serving upscale Southern cuisine, the dark-paneled Capitol Grille is located on the lower level of the Hermitage Hotel. Breakfast is a a favorite, with offerings such as the Eggs Benedict "Commander Style," The Nashvillian with two eggs, ham, grits, and biscuits and gravy; and the steak and eggs. Fresh pastries, cereals, and pancakes are also available. The Capitol Grille's relationship with the Farm at Glen Leven lets Chef Brown, who farms his own ingredients, truly link the farm and the table. (615-345-7116)
Does it get more decadent than crispy fried chicken skins, served with honey and hot sauce? If it does, you'll probably find it at Husk, the Nashville outpost of James Beard award winning Chef Sean Brock's Charleston outpost. Southern fare is more than a star here - it's everything. The kitchen takes a modern approach that results in dishes steeped in history but with an innovative new twist. Crispy pig ears come with a sop pepper glaze, Bibb lettuce, cucumber, lime and sweet onion, while a Fudge Farms pork chop, comes with grilled cabbage, buttermilk-potato puree and mustard onions. Desserts are a must-have before leaving, especially if the brown butter pound cake with caramelized Tennessee apples, sorghum swirl ice cream and pecan crumb is on the menu. (615-256-6565)
About Hollie Deese
Hollie Deese is a Nashville-based writer who has spent the past 10 years falling in love with the sights, sounds and flavors of Music City. Hollie has 15 years experience as a writer and editor for regional and national publications, including The Tennessean, USA Today, Nashville Interiors, and the Nashville Ledger.
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