Here’s the thing about Nashville: it’s not Chicago. I mean, I’ve liked Music City since the day I came but, besides Tim, there’s little about it that feels like home. It’s smaller and it’s hotter and you can drive 30 minutes in almost any direction and end up in the kind of empty town that feels like someone must be pulling your leg.
Everyone’s a hipster. Or a hippie. Or a musician or a writer (!) or a debutante. And there are a lot of times I have someone who’s not from here ask me what it’s like to be from here, and I want to say to them, who me? I’m not a local! except in one case, and this is probably the only case: when they ask me about the food.
Listen, if you’re like most of the world, you hear Nashville and think music—or maybe that new TV show with Connie Britton coming out this fall. But Nashville is something else: it’s a paradise of local food options, and I mean paradise!, where you can find tacos and burgers made with meat from grass-fed cows that were raised an hour north; fresh produce sourced from an organic farm within driving distance whose name is written on the restaurant’s chalkboard wall; Italian ices made from peaches that were picked the day before.
And then, also, there are the food trucks:
It’s Saturday morning, and it’s hot. As soon as we step out of the car, I wish I could pull my hair up, if only to keep it from sticking to the back of my neck. It’s early, but the sun is high and bright, enough that we’re squinting as we head towards the row of food trucks lined up one by one, just steps from the city’s Parthenon and Centennial Park band shell. We take cups of fresh pineapple lime mint juice from the first vendor, Nashville’s own Juice, a raw pressed juicery business, and one sip in, we’re smacking our lips and wishing for more.
Today is Dining Lot, Nashville’s first annual street food festival, a sort of celebration of the thriving Nashville food-truck scene, and Tim and I are two of dozens of bloggers who’ve come out an hour before the event starts to sample foods and cast votes for best entrees.
When you live a lifestyle of eating whole, fresh ingredients, going to a fair focused on street food might not seem like an obvious choice. I mean, street food means fair food, right? The kind of the summer festivals I grew up with, like Ribfest in Naperville (going on now!), the Taste of Melrose Park, Taste of Chicago? To this girl from Illinois, street food is cotton candy and fried Snickers bars and meat on a stick—but not in Nashville.
Nashville’s food trucks are totally different—and Saturday’s trucks are just a small sample—I’m talking raw juice meets farm-grown Tennessee tomatoes meets locally made Provence bread. During the hour or so we are sampling bites Saturday, we enjoy iced coffee with organic cream, all-natural Italian ice and a grass-fed burger.
The Grilled Cheeserie gives us a sandwich made of Delvin Farms fried green tomatoes, buttermilk cheddar and rosemary olive oil bread. Izze’s ice offers peach ice made fresh that morning. And while of course there are the more typical options too, these food trucks make it possible to feel comfortable at a street food fair, even when you’re not the typical customer and even when you have specific dietary needs, and I have to admit, this is one way Nashville wows me.
Plus, like you might expect of businesses that sell their goods on wheels, moving from farmer’s markets to retail strips to urban food parks like this one, the people running these trucks are excited, eager to spread the word about their products, eager for a new spot to set up shop and show you what they offer.
So after grabbing our last tastes and turning in our ballots, Tim and I head back to our car and I think to myself, in this one way at least, I see that Nashville’s not Chicago, but I’m glad.
About Shanna Mallon
Shanna Mallon is a freelance writer who holds an MA in writing from DePaul University. Her work has been featured in a variety of media outlets, including The Kitchn, Better Homes & Gardens, Taste of Home, Houzz.com, Foodista, Entrepreneur, and Ragan PR. In 2014, she co-authored The Einkorn Cookbook with her husband, Tim. Today, you can find her digging into food topics and celebrating the everyday grace of eating on her blog, Go Eat Your Bread with Joy. Shanna lives in Nashville, Tennessee, with Tim and their two small kids.