Nashville comes by the nickname Music City honestly, with the Grand Ole Opry, Ryman Auditorium, all the honky-tonks lining the neon-illuminated Broadway downtown and myriad smaller venues throughout the city featuring country, bluegrass and indie rock. When you aren’t listening to music, you can shop at any number of new or vintage guitar stores, or spend as much as you want on a pair of boots and a cowboy hat so you look at home. But the flavors of the city have risen to match the sounds and provide the fuel needed for a night of dancing. It’s easy to get a good meal in Nashville, but that comes with a caveat: Most any place you want to go will involve waiting in line, so plan accordingly.
The menu at Biscuit Love (three locations, including 316 11th Ave. S; 615-490-9584; biscuitlove.com) presents a problem: The first two items under the “With a biscuit” section — and why are you at a place called Biscuit Love if you aren’t ordering something with a biscuit? — are the East Nasty and the Princess ($10 each). The East Nasty is a biscuit with a fried chicken thigh, cheddar and sausage gravy. The Princess is an homage to the city’s signature hot chicken, popularized at Prince’s, with a spicy fried chicken thigh topped with pickles, mustard and honey. The length of the menu suggests there are other things available, but it’s already hard to choose between those two, so I stop looking. And I learn from a friend in town that you don’t have to: There’s a secret sandwich off the menu. Order the Nasty Princess ($10), and you get the spicy thigh with sausage gravy and cheese. It’s inspired decadence. These are presented as breakfast sandwiches, but good luck picking any of them up. Give up immediately and attack with knife and fork — especially if you add the optional egg on top ($2).
If you’re looking for a restaurant that has the seemingly paradoxical endorsements of both the James Beard Foundation and Guy Fieri — and Nashville has more than one — get to Arnold’s Country Kitchen (605 Eighth Ave. S; 615-256-4455; arnoldscountrykitchen.com). It’s a no-frills meat-and-three that’s been around since 1982 with decor built on a palette of cinder blocks and plywood that may be trendy now but feels true to utilitarian roots. It’s open only for lunch and only on weekdays. Each day has four or five meat options — roast beef is always one, and there’s some kind of chicken and seafood — and twice that many sides, and the standard equation costs $10.74. You don’t have to get a meat, and you can get as many sides as you want, but really, it’s called a meat-and-three, and it seems like we should respect protocol. When I went, it was chicken and dumpling day, so I got that, and my only regret was that there were unannounced pork ribs available further down the line. When picking sides, if you get white beans and turnip greens, you can take some chances with the third because you got those two right. Dessert is extra, but just $2.75 for a piece of pie that will remind you of your best family picnic memories. If the spicy chocolate pie is among the rotating options, do yourself that favor.
The Germantown neighborhood just north of downtown is packed with dining options, and one getting buzz lately is Henrietta Red (1200 Fourth Ave. N; 615-490-8042; henriettared.com ), which made the James Beard list of best new restaurants this year and is led by chef Julia Sullivan, who was just named one of Food & Wine magazine’s best new chefs. The oyster bar is the centerpiece of a pristine-white dining room and foretells the menu’s seafood focus. The raw bar features oysters sourced from the perimeter of the country ($2.75-$4 each), and the menu is made up of small, shareable plates with a laser focus on what’s best now. That almost comes to a fault during a visit at the height of peach season when we’re six plates in and realize that we’re on our third in which the fruit plays an important role. All is forgiven because they’re really good peaches, and each instance is a thoughtful use of them. Like the tomato salad ($14) with baked ricotta and peaches. And the polenta with sweet corn and peaches ($18). The fruity bits in the beautiful snapper crudo ($12) are actually Cara Cara orange. Desserts are mostly simple, elegant affairs, but a sundae ($8) with a mix of lime, caramel and coffee makes a lot of sense when you taste it.