Nashville is well-known for two things: It's music and it's food.
I'm starting with the food this week since it's such an important part of every culture I've encountered in my travels.
The striking thing about eating in a new location in my own country is both the similarities and stark differences across state lines. America gets the reputation around the world for being the home of the hamburger and also for doing fried chicken and breakfast (especially pancakes!) very well. Nashville takes all of these American staples (and more) to a whole new level!
The down side to my food experience in Nashville was that I had only one weekend to enjoy it! Four days is simply not enough time to eat at all of the amazing restaurants. The following are the foods I did have time to try. At the end of this post, I'll suggest some of the others I missed!
1. Pancakes from the Pancake Pantry
The Pancake Pantry in Hillsboro Village is considered one of America's top 10 pancake houses.
Going to the Pancake Pantry for breakfast became our mission while in Nashville. It's a mission because the line is always long!
At least they serve coffee on a little cart as you wait.
After passing up the long line we found on a Friday morning, we found the line was much shorter when we tried again on Sunday. Perhaps everyone was still at church?
Anyway, let me start by saying I am a serious breakfast eater. Of all the breakfast foods, I'm an even more serious pancake eater. So my expectations were super, duper high when we finally sat down inside this no-frills restaurant.
I got their traditional, plain ol' buttermilk pancakes. A staple and a must for a true, purist test. When I took my first bite I was surprised. The pancake was so light and fluffy and it almost instantly melted across my tongue and in between my teeth like a pad of butter. It was truly amazing! I've never had a pancake do that before. And the taste was great.
The only part that had me thrown was the maple syrup. I'm pretty adamant about having 100% pure maple syrup with my breakfast. Anything Aunt Jemima-like and I'm ready to leave. If you ask me, fake maple syrup wastes a perfectly good breakfast!
While the Pancake Pantry wait staff told me they didn't serve 100% maple syrup, the syrup turned out to be a secret concoction of ingredients (including real maple) that was not nearly as bad as I expected. No, it wasn't pure maple syrup. But, as much of a syrup snob as I am, I can admit it was the next best thing.
2. Anything on the menu at Fido
Fido used to be a pet store! But now it's a yummy food joint with an ironic name (be relieved this isn't in Thailand). Go to Fido for breakfast or lunch if you want what locals call good "hipster food." Now, what makes it hipster food? I guess it's the fact that this restaurant doubles as a coffee bar—and where there is great coffee, there are hipsters.
They have a rotating seasonal menu as well as endless breakfast staples, sandwiches, salads, fish and meat specials. Try a Bachelor "bomb" with its sliced banana and peanut butter on a bagel.
Our group of 7 New Yorkers went there for our first breakfast since the line was so long down the street at the Pancake Pantry. Let's just say, we did not regret having to go to Fido's instead (and wait on their line, too!). Every single one of us left with a very happy belly.
I was craving pancakes since we weren't willing to wait for the Pancake Pantry. So I had Fido's whole grain oat and flax seed pancake with a side of eggs and bacon.
The best part was they served it with 100% Vermont maple syrup. No chintziness there!
3. Hot Chicken from Hattie B's
Nashville is possibly the most famous for its hot chicken.
Hattie B's is one of many restaurants serving this local favorite. I decided on this spot because it came highly recommended by my Uber driver when I first arrived to the city! I asked her where the locals go for their hot chicken and this was the place she suggested.
There was a line when we arrived—this seems to be the trend for the best food in Nashville, so plan ahead! The food was well worth the short wait.
The hotness factor in hot chicken refers to its spice level. At Hattie B's there are 6 levels: Southern (no heat), Mild, Medium, Hot!, Damn Hot!, and SHUT THE CLUCK UP!!!
I went for medium but I definitely could have handled Hot! I love my spicy food. I seriously upped my tolerance while traveling Thailand so consider this a warning to anyone else who is not used to spicy foods!
Try it with waffles (a southern tradition) and wash it down with a pitcher of beer or some sweet tea. Sweet tea is another southern staple.
4. Hillybilly Grill at Robert's Western World
Robert's serves all-American, all-of-the-bad-for-you bar food you can possibly get your hands on. And this former cowboy boot store turned bar does it really well in the middle of absolute chaos.
Robert's gets packed front to back with people there to see the free live country music show. There's a long bar with a grill right behind it serving up fried and greasy delights to drunken partiers all night long.
The most memorable part for me was probably not as much the food as the bartender who took our order. We shouted over the music at her with something crazy like 7 completely different drinks and 10 different food items. Without writing any of it down she managed to get the entire order correct and even remembered which drink went with which foods. Very impressive!
My favorite of the foods were the beer battered and fried pickles. I've had these at a few different places around New York—but Robert's pickles definitely topped all of the previous fried pickles I've had!
5. A "Bushwacker"
At various bars around the city, you may see on the menu or hear about a drink called a Bushwacker.
We heard about this one from a couple of friendly employees at Third Man Records. They suggested we head over to East Nashville to indulge in one at 3 Crow Bar.
The bushwacker is basically a milkshake for adults. It's a dangeously delicious, vodka-spiked milkshake. It's perfectly refreshing especially on a hot day.
Careful, or you'll suck it down way too fast!
6. GooGoo Clusters
GooGoo Clusters can be found in others parts of the USA—but they originated in Nashville in 1912.
They are extra special because they are considered the very first combination candy bar. In other words, GooGoo Clusters were the first candy bar to include other types of candy amidst the chocolate.
I didn't spend enough time in regular stores to catch sight of these chocolatey chunks of awesome while wandering around Nashville. But I made sure to grab a few at the airport before departing back to New York.
When I finally chomped into one on the plane, I was so surprised at how delicious they are. I'm a huge fan now and have been spotting them all over New York ever since!
As a foodie, my heart breaks over missed food encounters.
When my Uber driver was making suggestions to me, I frantically wrote them down knowing I would never be able to try them all.
I only got a chance to visit Hattie B's which was my driver's first and foremost suggestion. Phew! At least I got that one in.
Eating all of the Nashville food highlights was simply not possible in the span of one weekend. Nevertheless, if I ever make it back or if you make it there, here are the remaining suggested eats my driver told me about:
The best burger – I'm not really a burger fan, but maybe you are! Ironically enough, the best hamburger in Nashville is claimed to be at the "wurst burger" joint. The Pharmacy is a biergarten with a huge selection of German wurst, beer, and burgers! Prost!
"Meat & 3" – Try a traditional plate of 1 choice of meat and 3 sides at Puckett's Grocery & Restaurant. There's two locations—the original is the one in Leiper's Fork southwest of Nashville. But there's one in downtown Nashville, too. Alternatively, try Arnold's Country Kitchen for your meat and 3 experience.
That's it! Stay tuned for my post next time about Nashville's best music spots!