8 Places You Must See in Nashville

This summer, I started a walking tour of downtown Nashville (walkinnashville.com). After twenty years of writing about music, and interviewing the likes of Loretta Lynn, Merle Haggard and Kris Kristofferson, I figured it might be fun to share some of what I’ve learned, along with a few backstage stories.

There are a number of tours on offer in Nashville. Segway tours, redneck comedy tours, Civil War tours. But I think mine may be the only one that’s designed for hardcore music nerds. If you want to hear stories about the time Johnny Cash was banned from the Grand Ole Opry, how Tammy Wynette almost pulled the plug on her biggest hit, or how a Grammy-winning album was once recorded on a downtown sidewalk, then come see me when you’re in Music City.

Ryman Auditorium

They call it the “mother church of country music.” And for good reason. Built in 1892 as the Union Gospel Tabernacle, this hallowed hall started out with fire-and-brimstone sermons, then later featured top entertainers (Orson Welles, Katharine Hepburn, Enrico Caruso), all on its way to becoming the home of the Grand Ole Opry from 1943 to 1974. Today, it’s one of the top concert venues in the country. Sit in the hundred-year-old oak pews. Enjoy the perfect acoustics. And feel the spirits of Hank, Johnny, Patsy and all the legends who’ve performed there.

Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge

If walls could talk. . . well, in Tootsie’s they almost do. The whole history of country music, from the famous to the almost famous, smiles down from the tattered walls of this honky tonk bar – 8 x 10s, candid photos, bits of napkin with song lyrics. Back in the early 1960s, this place doubled as a songwriting hangout for the likes of Willie Nelson, Roger Miller and Kris Kristofferson. Today, it offers round the clock country music and cold beer.

Ernest Tubb Record Shop

When Tubb used to tour around the country in the late 1940s, his fans asked him, “Where can I buy your records? Where can I buy records by Bill Monroe or Roy Acuff?” In response, Tubb decided to open his store that specialized in country and hillbilly music. Sixty-five years later, it’s still going strong. Looking for that hard-to-find George Jones box set, DVDs of The Johnny Cash Show, or Loretta Lynn’s cookbook? Find it here.

Hatch Show Print

“Advertising without posters is like fishing without worms.” That was the slogan of Hatch when they opened in 1879. A hundred and thirty years later, they’ve survived every new technology and trend to stand alone as the world’s best-known letterpress printing shop. They make amazing, one-of-a-kind posters – all hand designed, hand cut, hand inked. And their client list includes everyone from Elvis to Garth Brooks to Ringling Bros. Circus. If you’re looking to bring a true Nashville souvenir back home, you can’t go wrong with a Hatch show print.

Printers Alley

Once the heart of Nashville’s red light district, this block-long alley was a burlesque paradise. But it was also a hotbed of great music. Dolly Parton, Kenny Rogers, George Jones, Roger Miller – they all worked the clubs here. So did a young Jimi Hendrix. And Paul McCartney even wrote a song here. For modern country fans, Printer’s Alley was also where Carrie Underwood shot the video for her number one hit “Before He Cheats.”

Chet Atkins Statue

Back in the mid-1950s, country music was under siege by rock ‘n’ roll and pop music. Producer Chet Atkins didn’t see that as a bad thing. As an experiment, he blended elements of both into country and helped forge a new style dubbed “The Nashville Sound.” It saved country music and drew up a blueprint for everything that it’s become. Oh yeah, Atkins was one of the world’s greatest guitar players too. Sit down on the empty stool next to Chet and play guitar with him.

The Loveless Café

Biscuits, grits, sweet potato pancakes, country ham. If you’re looking for a traditional southern-style breakfast with big ol’ helpin’s, this is the place. Opened in 1951 by Lon and Annie Loveless, the restaurant is a Nashville tradition. And stick around on Wednesday evenings for the variety show Music City Roots, the Lovelesses’ own mini-version of the Opry.

Bluebird Café

You know how sometimes in a restaurant or bar you’ll hear a guy or gal with a guitar singing the latest hit by Keith Urban or Lady Antebellum? Well, at the Bluebird, the difference is that the guy or gal will be the one who actually wrote the hit. The Bluebird invented the “writers-in-the-round,” an informal circle with four songwriters taking turns, playing their best tunes to a rapt audience. Look for the bar to be featured heavily in the upcoming ABC-TV show Nashville.

Thanks so much to the Nashville Towing Company for sponsoring my blog.

5 Must-See Places in Nashville

Nashville Farmers’ Market

You’ll find fresh food every day in downtown Nashville. Truckloads of homegrown melons, pattypan squash, and enough peppers to make you whistle are hauled in early seven days a week in the shadow of the capitol. The sprawling market is home to dozens of sun-wizened growers, such as tomato guru Johnny Howell. Shopping and storytelling intertwine here.

Bluebird Café

Located on Hillsboro Pike, in an unassuming strip mall between a Shell gas station and a McDonald’s, the Bluebird Café is one of the top venues in America for hearing up-and-coming (and already famous) singers and songwriters. The small, 100-seat room isn’t fancy, but an evening there sure is fun. Country, rock, and contemporary Christian songwriters gather nightly for the 6 p.m. shows (6:30 on Friday through Sunday), sometimes joined by Bluebird alumni, such as Kathy Mattea and Garth Brooks.

The Parthenon

The centerpiece of Nashville’s Centennial Park, this full-scale re-creation of the ancient Greek Parthenon was built in 1897 as part of the city’s Centennial Exposition. The recently renovated building now serves as Nashville’s city art museum and features two galleries exhibiting American art from the 19th and 20th centuries, as well as temporary shows and exhibits. In addition to the artwork, the building also houses a 41-foot-tall statue of the Greek goddess Athena, sculpted by Tennessee artist Alan LeQuire in 1990.

RCA Studio B

After taking in the sights at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, take a tour of RCA Studio B. Located on downtown’s famed “Music Row,” the recording studio (Nashville’s oldest) was built in 1957 and reopened as part of the museum in 1977. In between, some of country’s biggest stars, including Elvis Presley (who cut 150 tracks there), Roy Orbison, Dolly Parton, Willie Nelson, and Lee Ann Rimes, recorded more than 1,000 top 10 hits in the studio. Today, Belmont University uses the facility to teach future recording engineers, musicians, and singing stars the fine art of making music.

Loveless Motel and Café

For more than 50 years, Vanderbilt University students, downtown office workers, and thousands of other Nashville residents and visitors have made the trek south down Highway 100 to the Loveless for some of the best scratch biscuits and crispiest fried chicken in Tennessee. Located at the northern terminus of the Natchez Trace, the cozy eatery serves hearty, country-ham-adorned breakfasts, as well as classic meat ’n’ three lunches and dinners daily.

Thanks so much to the Brentwood Tree Service for sponsoring my blog.

Best Places to Get a Hamburger in Nashville, TN

There’s no question that Nashville’s burger game is strong. Heck, even Thrillist’s National Burger Critic Kevin Alexander came through town on a greasy tour of some of our best patties and did a pretty darned good job at identifying some of the top spots (for a carpetbagger). But listen to a local if you want to find Nashville’s most iconic and delicious burgers. Here’s where to get your fix in the Music City.

THE BEST BURGERS IN NASHVILLE RIGHT NOW

FRENCH BREAD BURGER

Rotier’s Restaurant

MIDTOWN

Rotier’s is largely famous for its French bread burger, which is essentially a regular burger on French bread instead of a traditional bun. There’s just something about the quirky bread swap that had made this dish exciting for decades. It’s probably due to the complementary side of surliness, the routine jokes and insults that fly between servers and patron. Remember, it’s all a ruse, so be nice and tip well.

CHEESEBURGER

Brown’s Diner

The rumor is that the reason Brown’s burgers and fries are so damned good is that they haven’t changed the grease in the fryer or the griddle in years, but that’s not true. They change it religiously — on Easter and Christmas. For an authentic experience, get the cheeseburger with mayo, lettuce, tomato, onion and pickle, and don’t forget to remove that toothpick holding it all together before you bite down.

HILLSBORO VILLAGE

THE HUSK CHEESEBURGER

Husk

SOBRO

If you want to feel a bit high class while enjoying one of the best burgers in Nashville, then Husk is your spot. This classic burger is stacked high with double patties of Tennessee-raised beef, onions, and lots of American cheese. Arguably one of Sean Brock’s simplest and best culinary masterpieces, this burger is a tribute to the drive-in diners of his childhood. It’s only served on their lunch and brunch menus, so don’t go expecting a burger for dinner.

KOBE BEEF TRUFFLE BURGER

Southside Grill

ANTIOCH

What — you haven’t heard of this place yet? Maybe you should get south of Old Hickory Boulevard every now and again, because this little gem is definitely worth the trip to greater Brentioch right before you reach Nolensville. The Greek family behind Southside combines their heritage with traditional American food to create a unique cuisine, including this outrageous burger served with Gouda, truffle oil, and apple-smoked bacon.

GD BURGER

Gray & Dudley

DOWNTOWN

Truthfully, many of the burgers on this list are some sort of knock-off of the iconic Californian In-N-Out Burger, but Gray & Dudley Chef Levon Wallace can claim the Cali heritage to improve on the original with his creation. After extensive study of the proper ratio of ketchup, mayo, and relish in his special sauce, the conscious decision to barely sear the bun on the flat top grill, and the addition of thick-cut onion rings that he describes as “damned near burnt,” Wallace’s masterpiece stands alone.

WASH PARK

Biscuit Love

HILLSBORO VILLAGE & THE GULCH

Wait a minute — how can a biscuit make a burger list? There are few better hangover helpers than a good greasy beef patty, so you shouldn’t care what sort of bread it lies upon when it’s waiting to help you absorb last night’s overindulgence. The Wash Park at Biscuit Love stacks two beef burger patties, pimento cheese, bacon jam, and an egg on top of a perfect biscuit. Thank us later.

FAT MO’S SUPER DELUXE BURGER

Fat Mo’s

MULTIPLE LOCATIONS

Fat Mo’s often gets overlooked on these lists, and that’s unfortunate because owner Mo Karimy was grilling up great burgers in Nashville in the early ‘90s, long before the current spate of gourmet beeferies sprouted up with menus of organic grass-fed patties topped with cheese from a goat named Petunia on a bun baked using wheat that was milled using an ancient grindstone powered by a team of unicorns. Mo makes huge burgers, and the 27-ounce super deluxe comes topped with American cheese, mustard, mayo, ketchup, pickles, lettuce, tomato, grilled onions and mushrooms, bacon, BBQ sauce, and jalapeños. It’s literally not for the faint of heart.

PM CHAR GRILLED BURGER

PM

MUSIC ROW/VANDERBILT/BELMONT

Thanks to the flavorful glaze of sweet chili teriyaki sauce, the veggie version of PM’s char grilled burger is the rare example of a non-meat patty that’s almost as good as the carnivore’s version. (You’ll note we said “almost.”) Served on a kaiser roll with crispy lettuce, onion, and tomato, this is a neighborhood secret that’s worth seeking out.

Best Places to Eat in Nashville, TN

Contrary to the established laws of supply and demand, new restaurants continue to open in Nashville at a furious rate. The latest hot spots seem to be pulling crowds away from the bustle of Downtown and into places like East Nashville, which has a new joint great for food from the Iberian peninsula or Germantown, where you can now satisfy a shellfish craving year-round or get fresh, hand-cranked sausages while watching a game. Whether you’re a tourist or a local, Music City’s appetite for great, new food is as bottomless as a cup of Waffle House coffee. Here are some of the latest, greatest Nashville restaurants where you should grab a table right now.

GRAY & DUDLEY

DOWNTOWN

High-end comfort food you can watch being made through an open kitchen
Considering that Gray & Dudley is located inside the 21C Museum Hotel, it’s no surprise that the decor is modern and edgy with effigies of wolves and sheep hanging from the walls. However, the food on the plate is its own type of art, thanks to soulful presentations of elevated comfort food classics like the perfect diner-style thin pork chops grilled to the exacting doneness. If you get one thing, go for those pork chops, which are served with Brussels sprouts, sweet potatoes, pine honey, and delicious fermented chiles.

OAK STEAKHOUSE NASHVILLE

SOBRO

A classic American steakhouse serious about its beef
This spin-off of a Charleston steakhouse offers a dramatic interior with soaring ceilings and a clubby environment befitting a shrine to red meat. Lots of places serve wet-aged steaks nowadays, but the dry-aged signature steaks at the Oak are revelatory: rich, slightly funky, and unlike any beef you’ll find at a national chain. If you want the best, get the 20-ounce Certified Angus Beef bone-in ribeye.

HENRIETTA RED

GERMANTOWN

High ceilings, seafood, and an unparalleled raw bar
Forget that old warning about not eating oysters unless there’s an “r” in the name of the month. Call it “Raugust” if that makes you feel better, but anytime is the right time to order bivalves from Henrietta Red’s menu of fantastic oysters and clams from around the country. If you don’t like it raw, the kitchen also demonstrates impressive expertise cooking all sorts of seafood.

HEMINGWAY’S BAR & HIDEAWAY

WEDGEWOOD/HOUSTON

A delicious homage to the legendary writer, complete with a daiquiri tap
In addition to a tremendous cocktail menu, including the Papa’s eponymous version of the classic daiquiri available on tap, Hemingway’s serves up unpretentious food to soak up all that great booze. The king trumpet mushroom dish is ingeniously designed like a deconstructed pizza that will make you forget it’s vegetarian, made with charred cauliflower & sunchokes, parsnip puree, and roasted tomato vinaigrette.

 

HENLEY

MIDTOWN

The best spot for big groups and New American cuisine
Bring some friends because Henley offers communal eating at its best. Between the snacks, like oysters and aged hams served from a rolling cart, the small plates suitable for mixing and matching, and the large-format communal platters heaped with chicken or beef, this is not a restaurant for selfish people. I guess you could always team up with the table next door if you don’t have enough dining buddies. You’ll need them to enjoy the excellent short rib, which comes from Bear Creek Farm and is served with smoked and grilled broccoli.

GREKO STREET FOOD

EAST NASHVILLE

Authentic, cheap Greek street fare served on large wood tables
The Darsino family came over from the old country almost 50 years ago, but this fast-casual Greek eatery is the first chance that many Nashvillians have had to sample their bold flavors and elevated street foods. Pick from a list of souvlakis or skewers of grilled octopus to taste the essence of Peloponnesian cuisine. The Korinthian lamb, which is served over hand-cut fries with oregano and mizithra cheese, is a rich, irreplaceable dish that you would probably never think to call street food.