A few months ago, my husband David and I were watching Bizarre Foods America with Andrew Zimmern. Traveling through Nashville, he hit various spots that sounded delicious. Shortly afterwards, David and I decided we needed to do a weekend getaway. We unanimously determined our destination would be Nashville.
After much Internet research and consultation with a co-worker who is a Nashville native, I came up with an extensive list of activities and restaurants. Throughout our four-day weekend, we ate, toured and explored almost everything on our itinerary.
We drove down on a Friday morning. When we arrived in Nashville, we went straight to The Hermitage, the home of President Andrew Jackson and his wife Rachel (4580 Rachel’s Lane). Your $20 ticket includes an interpreter-led tour through the mansion, plus access to the museum, a walking trail and the grounds, which include several outbuildings, slave cabins, the Jacksons’ tombs and a pleasure garden. Approximately 90 percent of the furnishings and items in the house are original.
We got there too late, but there is one tour a day at 1 p.m. of Tulip Grove, the home of Andrew Jackson Donelson, Rachel Jackson’s nephew and Andrew’s personal secretary. We definitely would have added it if I had known about the limited tours. If you get hungry on your visit, the Kitchen Cabinet Café offers food from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. We didn’t eat there, but a local recommended The William B. Lewis sandwich made with house-made pimento cheese and tomato.
After checking into our hotel (a Hampton Inn in Antioch right outside of Nashville), we headed to Hattie B’s, one of Andrew’s stops in the city. At quarter till five, there was already a half-a-block-long line waiting to get into the restaurant. There are multiple locations. We visited the one at 112 9th Ave. Be warned, we waited in line for 90 minutes before we even ordered our food. We ate chicken tenders, thighs, legs, pimiento mac and cheese, greens and cole slaw. It was good, but to me it was not worth the wait.
On Saturday morning, we started early and arrived at the Loveless Café (8400 Tennessee Hwy. 100), a Nashville institution, shortly before 9 a.m. Surprisingly enough, we got a table immediately. Known for their biscuits and peach jam, the food is country home cooking at its best. Pretty much as soon as you sit down, the biscuits arrive with a selection of jams (the peach is, by far, the best). I enjoyed the country ham and eggs, while David had the Southern Sampler with bacon, sausage, country ham and eggs. I asked for the red-eye gravy on the side because I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. It did complement the ham very well.
After a little shopping at the stores surrounding the café, our next stop involved exploring a bit of nature at the Cheekwood Botanical Gardens and Museum of Art (1200 Forrest Park Dr.). Absolutely beautiful, the grounds include a Color Garden, a Japanese Garden, a Water Garden and many others. We met the quintessential southern lady who was a volunteer tour guide. Her name was Eleanor Templeton (could you get anymore southern than that?) She shared much of the history of the house and the family with us. The museum’s new curator is in the process of restoring the mansion museum to how it looked originally when the Cheek family lived there. Christopher Cheek owned a wholesale grocery business. His business partner and cousin developed the blend that came to be known as Maxwell Coffee. When the brand was sold to Postum (which later became General Foods), Christopher took part of the proceeds to buy the land and build the home. Eleanor showed us a number of photos of the house in its original state. It will be worth a return trip when the restoration is complete.
Again walking where Andrew tread, we drove to the Kurdish Azadi International Food Market (391 Elysian Fields Ct.). The signs along the way were all in Spanish or Arabic for the most part. When we got there, it didn’t look like much. It is basically a supermarket. We walked around looking for someplace we could buy the flatbread Andrew had eaten. At the back of the store, I happened to look up and see a sign that said “Bakery Open,” with an arrow. We walked around the corner and a man was just taking a tray of the flatbread out of the wood-fired stone oven. Covered in ground lamb and cheese, it was amazing.
When we finished eating, we set the GPS for Belle Meade Plantation (110 Leake Ave.). For $20 you receive a tour of the 1865 Greek Revival mansion; access to outbuildings such as a dairy, a carriage house and a mausoleum and a generous, free wine tasting. We tried four different wines after our house tour, then a few more before we purchased a few bottles to take home. All the proceeds from the wine sales go directly back into the plantation. Stop at the gift shop on the way out. I haven’t tried the ones I purchased yet, but they sell spreads in wonderful-sounding flavors like honey pecan jelly, raspberry honey jelly and muscadine grape jelly.
After a brief rest at our hotel room, we decided to do dinner at Fido (1812 21st Ave. S.). Described as an upscale coffee shop, they use quality ingredients to make delightful foods. We arrived around five, so crowds were no problem, but I have been told to expect them, especially on Saturday mornings. David enjoyed his hamburger, but I loved my salad. I have to say it is one of the best I have ever eaten. It was loaded with flavors. There were greens, strawberries, figs, feta, chicken and pecans with a caramel-champagne vinaigrette. Yum!
During my research, I read a blog that mentioned salted caramel croissants at Provence Breads and Café. While checking out the street where Fido is located after dinner, we came across one of their locations. The guy behind the counter denied any knowledge of said croissant. He did, however, have a salted caramel chocolate tart and, since they were closing, their chocolate croissants were buy one, get one free. We had the tart for dessert and it was good, but not wonderful. We saved the croissants for breakfast the next day. We heated them up in our hotel microwave and they were quite delicious.
We ended our night with a Nashville Ghost Tour. A few years before, I had done the Haunted Downtown Nashville walking tour, so this time I thought we would try the Nashville Hearse Tour. I recommend the walking tour hands-down. It was very interesting and informative. Of course, the guide makes or breaks these tours. The one we had for the hearse tour was not as amusing as he thought he was and he really did not tell us much history or many ghost stories. Also, it was hard to hear him over the city traffic. Plus, the walking tour is only $15 compared to the $25 for the hearse.
I will say I wish we had switched our Saturday and Sunday activities. Many of the shops we wanted to visit are independent, owner-operated businesses that are frequently closed on Sundays and Mondays, whereas the tourist spots we hit on Saturday are also open on Sunday.
Sunday morning started with an aborted trip to Fort Nashborough. When our GPS told us we had arrived, there was nothing there. We learned from a guy on the street that the fort had been torn down. Nothing on any website, including the tourism site for the fort, said anything about its destruction.
Our luck improved at the Nashville Farmers’ Market (900 Rosa L. Parks Blvd.). There were many produce vendors, and while the peaches smelled amazing, we didn’t buy any. One of the first booths we visited offered a breakfast sandwich with sausage and their own pimento cheese made with sharp white cheddar and cream cheese instead of mayo. David and I split one and it was scrumptious.
Jamaicaway was one of my co-worker’s recommendations. I am not very familiar with Jamaican food, so we opted to share an order of fried plantains. They were most delicious. For lunch we chose a little booth called City Farm. David ordered the summer shrimp and grits and I ate the herbed chicken with sautéed squash over cauliflower rice. (We did share.) Wow! Everything was so good, I had to ask the ladies how they packed so much flavor into the cauliflower. Apparently, you have to roast it before you rice it. There were no options for dessert. It had to be Jeni’s Splendid Ice Cream. If you every come across on of the shops, you must stop. They have the most amazing gourmet ice cream in unique flavors like Sweet Cream Biscuit and Peach Jam and Roasted Strawberry and Buttermilk.
David wanted to be sure and see the Parthenon (Centennial Park, 25th at West End Avenue). Originally built as part of Tennessee’s 1897 Centennial Exposition, it is the only full-scale replica of the temple to the goddess Athena located in Athens, Greece. Inside, you will find an art museum complete with photos and history of Nashville’s Parthenon. A 42-foot statue of Athena anchors the cella of the temple. The exterior shots of the Parthenon in the movie Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief were filmed on site. The interior scenes were re-created in a studio.
We tried to do some shopping, but as I mentioned a lot of the places were closed. I would advise that you skip The Gulch. Mainly it was filled with over-priced stores and restaurants, many of which we have here in Greater Cincinnati. I did enjoy a tasty, fresh juice combo of carrot, beet orange and ginger at The Juice Bar. The Shoppes on Fatherland Street looked quite interesting. Sadly, very few were open on Sunday. We did not make it to Marathon Village, but it also piqued my interest with places like Antique Archeology and Bang Candy. On Saturday evening, I knew the candy story would be closed on Sunday, so when I saw boxes of their handmade marshmallows at Fido, I picked one up. I would recommend the toasted coconut almond and even the rose cardamom, but I would skip the maple bacon bourbon (which, in theory, sounded awesome) and the chocolate chili. For dinner we devoured huge, delicious burgers and sweet potato fries at The Pharmacy (731 Mcferrin Ave.).
One of the top restaurants on our list (as well as all the blogs I read) was Mas Tacos. I wanted to eat there Saturday night, but found out they close at 3 p.m. on Saturdays. Sunday was also not an option since they are closed. We had to stick around Nashville until they opened again on Monday at 11 a.m. After checking out of our hotel, we needed to kill some time. At Rocket Fizz Soda Pop & Candy Shop (201 2nd Ave. N), we found tons of goodies. They carry just about any kind of soft drink you want from root beer made with cane sugar to bacon-flavored pop. Their inventory also includes retro candy, saltwater taffy and fun posters and signs.
We made it to Mas Tacos (732 Mcferrin Ave. across the street from The Pharmacy) right as they were opening. There was already a line, but the wait was pretty brief. I picked the chicken taco and the spicy carne molida taco. They were good, but too spicy for me. I was picking off jalapeno to modify the heat level. My horchata (a drink made with rice, water, cinnamon and sugar) did help cool things off.
After lunch, we traveled homeward filled with some of the best food in Nashville and plenty of wonderful memories.
A circulation assistant at Florence for almost two years, Suzanne Yowler enjoys traveling, eating and then writing about it.