Although Tim’s lived in Nashville almost four years longer than I have, we both consider ourselves transplants—he from Ohio and me from Illinois. As born and bred Midwesterners, we can tell you this town’s a whole lot bigger than Dayton and much easier to navigate than Chicago; the weather’s nice, especially this time of year; and, mostly, the food’s fantastic, with locally sourced ingredients aplenty. Because it’s almost summer travel season and because we get emails so often requesting recommendations for the area, we thought, in today’s post, we’d take you out and around our Nashville, which tends more towards food than the music scene, and show you some of the spots we like best.
Our neighborhood: We live in South Nashville, in a tiny little nook of a neighborhood called Glencliff (update, September 2014: no longer!). When I first moved to Nashville, I lived in East Nashville, or more specifically in Inglewood, which is kind of East East Nashville, farther away but filled with historic architecture I love and some of the hippest, coolest eateries in the city. Tim was living pretty close to this area, in the area most locals call Little Mexico, off the long commercial strip that is Nolensville Road.
Best part of our neighborhood: The thing about Nashville is that no matter where you live within the city, you’re close to everything. Our sweet little street is filled with brick houses built in the 1940s and households of people who like to take care of them.
Our home: Tim and I live in the main level of a little white brick house. We love our hardwood floors and built-in bookcases, as well as the fact that every single room has a window, bringing in lots of natural light. Tim and our friend Terry built a bunch of our furniture when we moved in, from our farmhouse-style dining table to the living room buffet.
Nashville clichés: The first time I came to Nashville, I expected to buy cowboy boots and hear country music. Turns out, while you can definitely find those things, especially on Broadway, this city’s music scene is actually much more diverse. Also, most people don’t have Southern accents, even people who’ve grown up here all their lives. That still amazes me.
Best places for breakfast: I’m pretty partial to Marché, an East Nashville café with a charming French-Italian style, long rustic tables and large windows on every side. They source their ingredients locally and use grass-fed meat. Weekend brunches are notoriously crowded at this spot, however, so if you go on Saturday or Sunday, plan to wait. We’ve also enjoyed casual breakfasts at coffee shops like Frothy Monkey and Fido, both of which offer full menus in addition to drinks. We’re obsessed with the breads, salads and bakery items at Dozen and probably go there at least once a week. Also if you haven’t heard of Five Daughters Bakery and its organic doughnuts yet, you’re going to–this place could easily win Nashville’s Most Popular award.
Best place for a picnic: Any of the city’s many parks (see below) or, if you’re up for a short drive, Arrington Vineyards. Weekend evenings are free concerts, rolling hills and some of the prettiest views in the area.
Best tacos: Go to Mas Tacos for the fried avocado tacos, if you’re lucky enough to visit when they’re on the menu, but stay for absolutely everything else. We’re big fans of the chicken tortilla soup, the cast-iron chicken tacos, the quinoa sweet potato tacos and the black beans.
Best pizza: You can’t beat Bella Nashville and its thin, chewy Neapolitan-style sourdough pizza crusts, cooked before your eyes in a wood-fired oven, smack dab in the middle of the Nashville Farmers’ Market, which, incidentally, is open year-round. Our favorite is the Margherita with turnip greens added on top.
Best place to celebrate with a great dinner: Sister to Marché, East Nashville’s Margot is the place to go for fine dining, with the same high-quality ingredients and a more upscale atmosphere. The menu changes daily but usually features six appetizer choices and seven entrees—every one I’ve ever picked has been good. Also excellent: City House, Etch and Epice.
Where to go with special dietary needs: The Wild Cow restaurant offers a variety of vegetarian and vegan dishes in its little space in East Nashville. Last weekend, I had a slice of raw cheesecake at this unassuming bakery called Khan’s, and I haven’t stopped thinking about it since. Vegan Vee has both gluten-free and vegan options. And there’s always Whole Foods, set in the busiest and most traffic-packed part of Green Hills.
Where to go on a cold day: If you’re like us, cold days tempt you to hibernate, but, if you’re willing to venture out, Nashville has no shortage of cozy coffeeshops. Besides Fido and Frothy Monkey, which were mentioned above, try Crema, the very cool Barista Parlor, The Well or Edgehill Cafe.
Where to go on a hot one: Tim and I met at Las Paletas, a gourmet popsicle place in the trendy 12 South neighborhood, and there’s nothing quite like grabbing a grapefruit paleta and taking it with you on a stroll through Sevier Park on a sunny day. And when it’s a beach you crave, head to the Anderson Road Recreation Area at Percy Priest Lake—this city may be land-locked, but lounging by the manmade water area, you’ll forget completely.
Where to go to shop: For books, McKay’s. For antiques, Gas Lamp Antique Mall or the monthly Nashville Flea. For cheap thrifted finds you have to hunt for: any of the city’s many Goodwills, Music City Thrift, which is near our ‘hood, and Southern Thrift.
Where to walk: Tim and I love taking long, rambling walks through area parks, inhaling the fresh air and remarking on the changing greenery. We especially like Percy Warner, Shelby Bottoms and Sevier (mentioned above). Also, if you don’t mind a 20-minute drive, Franklin’s downtown is cute and charming, perfect for casual strolls, and it boasts a variety of both unique and big-name shops, including a new Anthropologie.
Weirdest place we like to visit: The Gaylord Opryland Resort is as touristy as Disneyworld, but we have to go every Christmas to check out the killer lights display, including a life-sized nativity scene. True confession though: I also like walking through the labyrinth of atriums and walkways every so often at other times during the year—the place overwhelms me in an odd and mesmerizing way.
Farmers’ Markets: Come next month, farmers’ markets will be everywhere, and we can’t wait! Last year, our CSA pickup was at the 12 South Tuesday market, so we found ourselves there every other week; the Franklin farmers’ market meets at The Factory, a cool warehouse-style space with shops and eateries; and the East Nashville Wednesday market always draws a crowd.
Good ethnic food: Sitar is the Indian restaurant that launched my love affair with garlic naan and butter chicken—also, shout-out to their homemade rosewater lassi, which I dream about from time to time. What’s great about The Smiling Elephant is that they use no MSG and cook with olive oil instead of canola. There’s also Woodlands, an all vegetarian restaurant with a big Sunday buffet and even bigger crowds of people eating it.
Free fun: It’s worth linking to Nashville For Free, a website highlighting each week’s free events. Especially as summer comes, there are free concerts popping up like wildflowers. Also, Vanderbilt’s University Orchestra offers free shows regularly, and they’re a lovely treat.
Daytrips: From Nashville, you’re a quick drive to Lebanon’s outlet mall and antique stores, Franklin’s cute downtown and beautiful neighborhoods or Clarksville’s funny blend of military buildings and old, old houses. Being that it is the South, Civil War memorials aren’t hard to find, and, in the warmer months, picking fruits at nearby farms is as easy as searching u-pick farms online.
Where to Stay: Nashville’s packed with great AirBNB rentals, so if you can’t Priceline a good bargain or get a night in one of the sweet hotels downtown (or if you want the perks of your own kitchen, etc.), use our link to get $20 off your booking, and we’ll get a $20 credit, too.
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.