[Daddy Long Legs performs at You Can't Drown The Loud Sounds, a benefit for Norton Records.]
Epicenter of the Honky Tonk, former stomping ground of Elvis, The Man in Black, Willie Nelson, and home to Jack White (we stayed two blocks from his estate on Franklin Pike) Nashville is definitely a music town, but its budding culinary scene is nothing to stomp your feet at either. I can’t recall exactly how many “Wagon Wheel” covers I heard in my week stay, but I loved every one of them. Nashville has a sense of nostalgia that is evocative — music runs through this city whether you are at the Honky Tonk’s on Broadway like Roberts, or the three-tiered towering venue Mercy Lounge on Cannery Row. Music is not the only thing that trickles through this city. Nashville and the rest of Tennessee are home to over a dozen breweries, some of which I had the pleasure of visiting, others I settled for getting to know via a pint glass.
Our Mash Headquarters, M.L Rose Craft Beer and Burgers was the perfect spot to sample many of the local brews. My Fat Bottom Brewing Ruby Red had just the right bite to wash down the Brooklyn Burger special, with Brooklyn Brown Ale caramelized onions, crispy bacon and NY State cheddar cheese. Boasting a tap selection heavy on local and domestic breweries, I got intimate with some of my new Tennessee favorites and was eager to go visit Yazoo and Jackalope breweries, as well as Bosco’s Brew Pub where my buddy Drew prepares the daily specials to accompany their award winning beers.
Our week kicked off quickly and remained burger-centric with a Wednesday night collaboration dinner at Burger Up with Chef Philip Shyatt and his team. After four courses, seven beers, and the last bites of crispy cream bread pudding and sips of Brooklyn Black Ops, guests continued to drink and chatter long into the evening. Thanks to our new friend, a wine maker from Sonoma, so inspired by our beers that he brought a variety case of different styles and vintages from his vineyard to share with those lucky enough to linger after the meal, it wasn’t Vin Santo but made for a nice after dinner treat. I would have stayed out and partied with the gang over at 12 South Tap Room but it was time to get some rest for our Slow Supper dinner with Brandon Frohn and his team from Mason’s, the new chef-driven restaurant in the Loews Hotel.
I met Brandon in the maze that is the back of house kitchen for Loews Hotel and got to work making minted gnocchi and my braised lamb ragu. Although we were prepping in a beautiful full-equipped hotel kitchen, we were serving on site at the Peter Nappi Studio located in the old Neuhoff meat packing plant built in 1906, six blocks from downtown Nashville located on a rock bluff overlooking the Cumberland River. This boutique, home to the highest level of Italian boot craftsmanship, was a truly magical space to host our Slow Supper event benefiting Slow Food Nashville. Holly Williams, country artist and lover of all things gnocchi, graced the stage with her husband for three incredible songs, setting a laid back and boisterous tone for the evening. Ghost bottles abounding, we served smoke-wafting boxes of deviled eggs, seared scallops with Sorachi Ace, and a dessert reminiscent of my childhood featuring Flintstone push-pop sorbet made with liquid nitrogen and a sweet potato beignet with an oat and chocolate cremoix. As diners ate their frozen ice-cream shards, we relished in the warmth of the room, and picked out our dream pairs of shoes, but the price tags made it hard to do more than dream.
After working with two young talented chefs I was starting to understand the new Nashville food scene. Chock full of recommendations, I was excited to hit up some of Nashville’s favorite digs, while experiencing some of the newer gems popping up in Germantown and other newly developed neighborhoods. Nashville is undergoing a transformation much like that of Brooklyn, and many young chefs are finding themselves running off the beaten path to spots with rustic sincerity and attention to local sourcing, simple techniques and good homestyle flavors. Nashville seems as comfortable dishing out artisan extruded pastas as they do meat and three plates, and Rolf and Daughters along with City House have the Garganelli to prove it.
But if elegant home-style Italian is not your thing rest assured Monell’s has a seat for you at a big round table with a slew of wide-eyed strangers, awaiting their southern traditional Sunday meal, every day of the week. The shear quantity of plates that began to hit the table was astounding. Our only instruction was to pass to the left, as biscuits, grits, greens, beans, collards, mash, suckatash, corn pudding, brisket, gravy, fried chicken, meatloaf, banana pudding, pickles, chutney, and many more dishes hit the table in a whirlwind of food that would give even thanksgiving at my house a run for its money (and we feed 35 people). After this special family experience at Monell’s it was time to dance off my meal to the sounds of Jonathan Toubin at his NY Night Train Soul Clap & Dance-Off. Any chance I get to hang out with Jonathan is a good night. Besides being one of the kindest and most engaging people I know he knows how to spin a 45 and keep a crowd moving like no other, especially when they are competing for a free trip to NY, courtesy of Brooklyn Brewery.
The music didn’t stop there, Sandy Relief benefit for Norton Records in Brooklyn was a mash up of Brooklyn and Nashville talents Daddy Long Legs, A Bones, The Ettes and Weekend Babes. This line up at Mercy Lounge was killer and we stomped and stomped till the house came down. High Watt, on the top floor of the Mercy complex, which is also the home to a Sunday rock and roll church group (better attended then most concerts I go to) was the locale for Found Footage festival which is always a solid hour or two of laughs, and guest starring the beautifully awkward comedic genius of Kate Berlante.
Top this exciting week off with an impromptu stop at Taqueria San Luis for the biggest tamales ever (basically banana-leaf-wrapped pillows) with two scoops from Jeni’s ice cream in a Black Chocolate Stout float featured at our Togather literary series on Sunday, and I was holding my sides almost as hard as I had at our comedy event the night before. Nashville, I can’t wait to come back, my only regret, being too full for Princes Hot Chicken. Next year, Nashville. Next year!