Like typical Midwesterners, my roommate and I both had a long weekend from work and decided, “let’s drive 7.5 hrs to Nashville this weekend”. Normal midwestern stuff. I was actually telling this story to a couple of friends from Louisiana the other day and they looked at me like I was a crazy. And one of them looked at the other and just said, in his creole southern accent, “Midwestern girls, y’all are a strange bunch.”
Anyway, this was my first trip to Nashville. And for a girl who grew up on country music and has sang in church my whole life, I am surprised at myself that it took me this long to make it to Music City! Better late than never. And boy, am I glad my roommate and I made the last minute, long weekend decision to road trip. Not only does Nashville have great music and music history, but it has some darn good food too.
Exploring 12 South
Our first morning in Nashville, we decided to check out one of the instagram-able spots in Nashville. It was a weird mix of hipster, hipster cowboys, and slightly posh professionals. I didn’t dislike it. It was a cute little neighborhood, easy to walk around, with really good restaurants and really great photo ops. You can find a handful of Nashville’s famous murals in the 12 South area. Like the one at the beginning of this post, and the one just below. The one below was taken outside Draper James, the boutique shop Reese Witherspoon has opened in the neighborhood. If you walk in the shop, you are greeted with a cup of sweet tea to sip on while you browse a variety of cute southern goodies: clothes, bags, stationary, cups, party-ware, books, etc.
Coffee is a must for me first thing in the morning, and 12 South has quite a few good coffee options. But this morning, first thing on my mind was getting some Five Daughters Bakery donuts.
The donut that caught my attention on the menu was the King Kong: a 100 layer donut (think a cross between a croissant and a donut), filled with buttery cream, topped with a maple glaze and bacon. Y’all, it was so good. And so rich that I didn’t even get to eat the other donuts I bought. I had to save them for a little afternoon snack back at our hotel.
Speaking of the other donuts I bought. I have quite a few people in my family and friend group who are on a paleo and/or keto diet right now (I’ll admit, I also try to eat a little lower carb normally… but it’s a well-known fact that vacation carbs don’t count). So, in their honor and because it was fall and I love pumpkin, still wanted to get the paleo pumpkin donut. Texturally, you could tell it was a paleo donut, but as far as paleo donuts go? Best one I’ve had.
Then we have the vegan huckleberry yeast donut. This one was almost as good as the King Kong. I prefer yeast donuts to cake donuts and this one did not disappoint. Plus the glaze was sweet, tart, and delicious. There’s not much else to say other than, get this one if you visit.
My roommate has a weakness for chocolate croissants, so that’s what she got, along with a chocolate ganache with sprinkles 100 layer donut.
Broadway/Music Row/Honky-Tonk Highway
Whatever you call it, the energy on Broadway in downtown Nashville is electric and exciting and gets into your soul. You can hear all of the music from blocks away. However, because my roommate and I aren’t fans of large crowds of people, we decided to check out Broadway around noon and early afternoon. Even this early, there was a large crowd around at the bars. I blame the Chiefs fans. We drove 7.5 hours away from Kansas City for the weekend, only to realize the Chiefs are playing in Nashville that weekend and there were thousands of fellow Missourians in the city with us.
There are a lot of country music stars who have opened honky-tonks on Music Row. From the picture above, you can see Kid Rock’s new honky-tonk, Luke Bryan’s bar, which is above Jason Aldean’s place, and further down the street, there is the FGL House by Florida Georgia Line. You can also find Dierks Bentley’s Whiskey Row on Broadway. With all of these options, we decided to check out Ole Red, Blake Shelton’s honky-tonk.
First things first about Ole Red: the proportions are HUGE. My roommate got the ham and cheese sandwich. It’s not just one sandwich. It’s two. Stacked on top of each other with pimento cheese and bacon between the sandwich halves. Don’t try to be a hero. Share your meal with a friend, or two.
Instead of a sandwich for a meal, I thought, “I’ll just get a little appetizer for my meal.” The nacho appetizer was anything but small. It basically came out on a medium-sized baking sheet. I ate about 1/4 of it and tried to take the rest back to the hotel for a late-night snack and I needed TWO to-go boxes (and I still left some chips behind).
Second thing about Ole Red: the food was DELICIOUS. I mean, how can pimento cheese and bacon between ham and cheese sandwiches be bad? Also, like good southerners, they put fried green tomatoes in with their fried pickles! Genius. Even the giant proportion of nachos: homemade potato chips, smoked chicken, bbq sauce, pico, nacho cheese, sour cream, guacamole. And they didn’t just pile all the goodies on top of the homemade chips. They layered the goodies in the nachos, as one should. In case you guys didn’t know, nachos should go: chips, goodies, chips, goodies. Like a lasagna. Layers.
Lastly about Ole Red: good music. Some of the honky-tonks sounded like there was just noise coming out of them, especially when different floors of the honky-tonk would have different bands or musicians playing. Ole Red though, there’s sounded like music. It was also loud enough that it had the honky-tonk energy, but not so loud that you couldn’t have a conversation with your table-mate.
The only drawback to Ole Red: we were so full from the giant proportions, we weren’t able to try any other delicious foodie-ness Nashville has to offer. Like hot chicken. I guess I will just have to go back.
There’s more to do down on Broadway than just visiting honky-tonks. The Johnny Cash museum is down near Music Row. This was a must-see for my roommate and I. The tour through the museum was also self-guided. I love a self-guided tour. Bonus: we were able to put some of the information we learned at the museum to good use during a trivia night back in Missouri. There was a music cover category and Hurt by Johnny Cash was played and we were asked who originally did the song. Answer: Nine Inch Nails.
It wouldn’t be a must-see list of Nashville for a food blogger if I didn’t eat at least one place the late Anthony Bourdain ate when he filmed Parts Unknown in Nashville. So, on our last morning before driving back to Missouri, we hit up Pinewood Social for brunch. Plus, how could one go wrong in a place like Pinewood. There’s a coffee shop vibe up front, a large bar full of delicious cocktails, restaurant seating, a handful of bowling lanes, and a pool in the back.
Because we went in the winter, we didn’t check out the pool. And because we were getting ready to head home, we didn’t take the time to go bowling. But let me tell you about the coffee, food, and cocktail situation.
I’m a sucker for a whiskey sour. And Pinewood had a delicious play on it using Japanese whiskey, a bit of rum, lemon, passionfruit, and ginger. They also have hot cocktails. Like the Southern Limerick that my roommate got. Basically it’s a fancy (and stout) Irish coffee.
And the food situation. This was probably the best food we had in Nashville. Saving the best for last. I had a smoked pork chop, with red eye gravy, on cheesy grits. It made me think that the next time I get some smoked pork from my stepdad, I’m making a pulled pork version of this. The pork was tender, not overcooked, the grits were cheesy and delicious, and the gravy was less gravy-like, more like a delicious pan sauce that I will probably tirelessly try to recreate. I think it had some whorstershaire sauce happening in there.
I know there are many more things I need to check out in Nashville; like the Grand Ole Opry, hot chicken, and more honky-tonks I would love for y’all to leave a comment with any other places you think I must see or experience in Nashville.