One of the many advantages of living in a city like Little Rock is its centralized location to many celebrated food towns. An adventurous eater can hop in the car one morning and by lunchtime be eating in any number of nationally recognized restaurants…spending the entire weekend eating and exploring a new city’s food scene. I joined my Rock City Eats colleagues, Greg Henderson, Kevin Shalin, and Ken Dempsey for a food-filled weekend in the beautiful city of Nashville, TN. Our single goal: eat as much good food as humanly possible…and luckily, we accomplished what we set out to do. Here’s how our trip played out:
While not entirely unexpected, we found our favorite meal of the entire trip at our first stop. Saturday morning brunch was had at Husk, the handsome, upscale southern restaurant headed by renowned chef Sean Brock. This, of course, is his second Husk location, the first one being in Charleston, SC. Brock’s work at Husk and his other restaurant, McCrady’s, has earned him international recognition, including several nominations from James Beard, and a Beard win in 2010 for “Best Chef: Southeast.” Husk was also named “Best New Restaurant in America” by Bon Appetit that same year. So did Husk live up to its reputation? Yes…it absolutely did.
Everything about the place—from the impeccable yet approachable and friendly service, the beautiful yet comfortable decor, and of course the food—was as close to perfect as it comes. Our meal brought us some truly exceptional dishes. There was a small skillet of coddled egg over boudin, with pickled green tomato, and a tomato cornmeal gravy. There was thinly sliced 24 month-aged country ham, served alongside a black pepper biscuit, sour butter, and pickles. And finally, a lovely plate of French toast with grilled apples, peanut butter, maple, and Chantilly cream…a dish which actually proved to be the best plate of the entire trip, in my opinion. If you’re in Nashville, or anywhere nearby, Husk should be required eating…definitely not to be missed.
From Husk, we ventured out to another of Nashville’s most celebrated institutions, Prince’s Hot Chicken. Prince’s is a small, humble restaurant, sitting in appropriately humble surroundings. But somehow, this tiny fried chicken shack has managed to draw praise and press from a huge number of the nation’s top food publications…The New York Times being only one of them. It’s often a several hour wait before you finally get your fried chicken handed to you. There’s little space inside the restaurant and dozens of customers, so you’ve got to carve out a fairly decent about of time if you’re hoping to eat here. However, we were all, ultimately, a bit disappointed with Prince’s. Not that it was particularly bad, simply we had a difficult time understanding what all the fuss was about. The crust isn’t the crispiest, the meat (a combination of both white and dark) was not the most flavorful we’ve had. The spice (which comes in four levels from mild to “super hot”) was fine…but even the medium was so unbearably spicy it was almost not enjoyable. In the end, it was nice to have experienced Prince’s once…but we’re unlikely to return on a subsequent visit.
From there, our trip found us making a number of short, quick stops…killing some time before dinner (or dinners) by visiting and snacking at various popular Nashville shops across the city.
We enjoyed a few scoops of Jeni’s Splendid Ice Cream, a small regional chain with two shops in Nashville, known for its unique and creative combinations of high quality, small-batch ice cream. It came highly recommended to us from our very own ice cream extraordinaire, Loblolly’s Sally Mengel. It’s understandably famous and certainly deserves the name “splendid.” Worth a visit if you’ve got the time and you’re aching for a sweet treat in Nashville.
We visited the home base of one of my favorite southern chocolatiers, Olive & Sinclair. Their chocolate bars and other candies can be purchased across the country at this point, and are particularly popular throughout the South…you’ll often find them in Little Rock at Hillcrest Artisan Meats. They offer regular tours through their facilities—something we didn’t have the time for on this day—and all of their products for purchase at their storefront. Don’t miss their Mexican chocolate bar with cinnamon and chili—it’s a wonderful bit of sweet heat.
Across the street, we sat down at The Post, a popular coffee, juice, smoothie and pastry shop. Here we were able to relax a bit, enjoying our various beverages, and taking in the surroundings of this beautiful East Nashville neighborhood. Lucky for us, parked just outside the shop we found the celebrated food truck, The Grilled Cheeserie…a gourmet grilled cheese truck that’s received numerous accolades and attention from local publications and has even found itself on both the Food Network and The Cooking Channel a handful of times. No surprise…the sandwiches here are excellent. Be sure to check out the “B+B of Tennessee”, a wonderful sandwich composed of buttermilk cheddar, Benton’s bacon, and blood orange and thyme marmalade.
Later that evening we sat down at two of Nashville’s more popular establishments for dinner. City House came first…another restaurant recently honored with a James Beard nomination—Chef Tandy Wilson being nominated for Best Chef: Southeast. City House impressed with its classy, elegant decor and sparkling service…but the food brought about mixed reviews. Our starter of chili sorghum sausage paired with grapefruit, orange, and parsley was good, but probably not good enough to justify the $13 price tag for half a sausage. We all enjoyed our pizza selection—a wonderful pie with belly ham, mozzarella, oregano, chilies, and Grana Padano cheese. But our final entree fell flat. The “conchiglie” is a new menu item composed of conch-shaped pasta shells, mushrooms, parmesan, lemon, and parsley. Our biggest issue with the dish was the grossly undercooked pasta, but some found it a bit too salty, as well.
Rolf & Daughters is not an easy place to get a seat. It’s a noisy, hip place with a large, crowded bar, communal seating and lots of people standing around waiting for a table. The food was, overall, quite good. We were all particularly impressed with the roast chicken flavored by preserved lemon and a garlic confit…certainly one of the best bites we had all weekend. The dry aged beef tartare was another winner—tender, flavorful beef served with sunflower and barley crackers and creamy egg yolk. But we were all a bit underwhelmed by the squid ink pasta, and would be unlikely to order that one again in the future.
Before making our way home the next morning, we visited Biscuit Love. This Nashville hot spot began as an area food truck in 2012, but opened a brick-and-mortar location in 2015 after enjoying a great deal of success. The place serves up huge portions…mostly housemade biscuits topped with everything from spicy chicken to country ham to smoked sausage. Our biscuits were good—we sampled their “East Nasty” with fried chicken, cheddar, and sausage gravy—but the real star of this meal was one of their sensational starters known as “Bonuts” (biscuit donuts). These are fried balls of biscuit dough filled with lemon mascarpone, rolled in sugar, and set on a bed of blueberry compote. These “bonuts” alone are reason to stop by Biscuit Love.
We returned to Little Rock stuffed and satisfied, having just consumed a massive amount of calories and several excellent meals in a relatively short period of time. Nashville’s food scene has got some great things going for it…and we surely only scratched the surface.