Emily in Nashville

Recently, I have been very blessed in that my job has sent me on some adventures. I work at a company that supplies photography services at various events. I love working at these events--to me it is a different approach to customer service in an event setting. I also love the opportunity to travel. I've mentioned that Tennessee is my home state--Memphis inspired my love of all things barbecue. Needless to say, I was thrilled when the chance to work in Nashville came up.

When I travel, I make it a point to try and find at least one new restaurant. My love for food gives me an appreciation for different flavors. I was recently discussing this with one of my co-workers, who said that he sees food as just fuel rather than the flavor journey I do. I can understand the perspective, as before I cooked, I just ate the easiest thing I could find in the freezer. The more I learn about the chemistry of food and the complexity of seasonings, the more I value the unique combinations chefs come up with in different regions.

After flying up the first evening, the first stop was a restaurant just by the Opryland. We were working in that area, and having arrived late in the evening, we hopped over to the first place we could find. I was absolutely starving! Caney Fork River Valley Grill was the winner.

This place is literally right outside the Gaylord Opryland. It's interesting that there are really very few venues directly by the Opryland. There is a mall an exit over, but food-wise right nearby was a Shoney's, Cracker Barrel, a small bar near Willie Nelson's museum (aka gift shop), and this place. Truth be told, there isn't much need to leave that hotel. It has two entire ecosystems right inside, complete with massive gardens with wavy walkways throughout, a river with a tour boat, and even fish. The place is so huge, I got lost. If you are staying there, you have everything you need. It's like a small city in itself.

Being tired from a day of work and travel, I didn't take any photos of the food. But they had a pretty interesting menu with wild game--elk, gator, and venison. I had to snap a pic of their game menu, below:

While I have enjoyed venison (and heard elk is delightful), I figured it's better to be safe in an unfamiliar city when you have to work the next morning. Instead, I ordered chicken with a honey mustard sauce that was topped with mushrooms and sauteed onions. It reminded me of a dish I had at a St. Augustine restaurant, Harry's, that served New Orleans style food. I loved it at the time and was excited to have it again. My colleague ordered an impressive platter of fried fish, which he complimented extensively. It was good have dinner at last. After that, it was off to bed as there was work to be done in the morning.

Chicago Style Gyros

I was staying off-site, so I had time to wander. After getting off work the first afternoon, I went to a cute little coffee spot called Sip Cafe. They had a tasty vanilla latte, and I sat down for a few minutes to decide what to explore next. If I am in a new place and off work, you better believe I am taking full advantage of my time. I looked up some lunch joints in the area, and found a gyro place with good reviews. The Greek in me was giddy with delight.

Forgive the quickly snapped pic - I was in line and about to order. Just after this, I was quizzed a bit by the gentleman looking at the camera, politely of course, about why I was taking a photo. I explained that I had to show my Greek family where I ate. They were pretty curious and were very kind.

I ordered a falafel gyro, as it had been a couple months since I had my falafel fix. They are fried chickpea balls, topped with tzatziki sauce. The falafel was excellent, and I began wishing I had ordered fries.

Germantown Cafe

At the airport, I saw an add for Nashville Originals, an organization dedicated to promoting local restaurants. Naturally this caught my eye, as I am always interested in trying foods of the location while I eat. I scanned the list, checking out how close by they were. My colleague and I were working different schedules, and I had the advantage of the rental car. I picked him up one afternoon when he completed work, and suggested one of the places I had spotted. It was described as featuring a lovely view of downtown Nashville and some great food.

The view was quite nice, as described, and it was the first time I saw the big buildings of Nashville. Though the whole menu sounded delicious, I settled on the pasta of the day. It turned out to be a fresh linguine with a garlic alfredo sauce, topped with blackened chicken. There was a hint of lemon juice in the sauce, and it tasted strong of pepper, in a good way. Delicious. The lighting was dark in that place, so forgive the photo.

There was a plethora of appetizers and desserts that made my mouth water, but I was full after half a plate of pasta. I did treat myself to a beer, a pilsner brewed in Memphis. I only drank part of it as I knew driving was my job, but it was nice to taste a beer from my hometown.

The next day, I had some work to do that I was able to complete from my hotel room. This meant waking up early, knocking out everything, and getting back out to explore. I usually bring my DSLR with me so I can capture some knockout pictures, but this time I packed lighter so I could bring work gear and used my iPhone.

The day started out with a visit to the Parthenon, a staple of Nashville. The Greek in me squealed yet again. This is a replica of the undamaged Parthenon, complete to the last detail. There was a museum inside, and it was pretty spectacular.

The first level featured some art exhibits and artifacts, on which no photography was allowed (and I have been guilty of photographing many museum exhibits for later reference). The second level was a further replication of the Parthenon, with a huge Athena statue. Check out the people in the photo below for scale.

There were also models of the statues on the current standing building, complete with miniature versions of the replicas.

This was my first visit to this museum, and I would recommend it to other Nashville visitors. With a $6 admission fee, this one is certainly worth the stop.

Corky's BBQ

After my wandering, I had developed an appetite. Corky's BBQ was one of the pulled pork players in Memphis, and when I learned of one nearby I decided the 20 minute trek was worth it. I spent my drive scanning country music stations and enjoying the fact that drivers around me didn't drive nearly as crazy as they did in Florida. Wow, what a place.

I happily sat at a table and ordered beef brisket, which is still one of my favorite meals (See my Four Rivers post for my gushing reviews of an Orlando favorite). Pardon my blurry photo...

The brisket was tasty, but that bun was greasier than I'm used to. Fortunately, the fries were crisp and flavorful and the meat was moist, so the bun didn't stop me from enjoying it.They even got that Memphis style right by topping the BBQ with coleslaw. This location had a drive through in addition to the sit down restaurant, so I am thinking it was more of a fast food setting than the locations I used to enjoy. Either way: Memphis BBQ is good any time.

Next stop: the Country Music Hall of Fame.

Unlike the typical visitor to this museum, I didn't grow up listening to country. I've only recently began really enjoying country. Though I listen to everything, from metal, jazz, synth pop, soul...country was not my forte. Mainly this was due to my perception of country music as 3 minutes of twangs and songs about broken hearts and trucks. My best friend is a big fan, and drug me to an Eric Church concert a few months back. It was then that I really gave it a chance, and began seeing that the style has evolved so much, it's a mix of country, rock, and pop. Hmm.

Everyone said I needed to visit the hall of fame, and being that it was in Downtown Nashville, it was totally do-able. The building is massive, to say the least, and has some lovely architecture.

I took my time browsing the exhibits, learning about the past and present stars of country. This isn't a place that features only hall of famers; rather it has exhibits and memorabilia from anyone who impacted the genre. Even Elvis had a part, as the museum had his gold piano and a Cadillac he once owned (complete with a corded phone attached to the floor). Though usually known as a rock n roller, different music genres affected each other. There was plenty of Johnny Cash, and a featured exhibit about Bob Dylan's time recording music in Nashville.

After visiting the Country Museum Hall of Fame, I wandered around downtown. Just outside the museum, the tent setup was beginning for the Country Music Awards, which were set to take place the following week. It was a really nice area, with lots of shops and bars blasting country music. The weather was perfect - right in the 70's. I got to enjoy the fall air and changing colors on the trees as I walked. I spent some time browsing shops, looking for gifts to bring back home. 

This place is a neat one that would nicely into any city. It's located right near the hockey arena, which is adjacent to the Hall of Fame. I needed a quiet place for dinner and a drink after a busy day filled with work and exploration. They were one of the few places not blasting music so loud I couldn't think straight (those locations are reserved for special occasions), and to seal they deal, they had a 3 story building with rooftop seating. 

I sat for a while in the early evening, watching the city lights come on as the sunlight faded. The menu had some interesting choices, with my choices torn between a steak sandwich and a lamb burger. The burger won (Have I mentioned yet that the Greek in me has been delighted this whole trip?). Besides lamb being a Greek staple, I have never encountered a lamb burger before and who knew when I would again?

I ordered a salad to go with it, topped with a white balsamic vinaigrette dressing. Um, YUM. But let's focus on the burger. The burger was topped with feta cheese, tzatziki, along with the standard tomato, onion, and lettuce. Whoever thought of this combo was so smart. It was like a gyro in the form of a burger, and I loved it.

Hattie B's Hot Chicken

When I saw the name Hattie B's Hot Chicken come up on Google Maps, I knew it sounded familiar. I was sure I had seen this place on TV, with a host overwhelmed by the hot sauce used on the chicken. I couldn't remember the name of the show, but knew I had to try this chicken. I drove by the location first, as the parking lot was so small I had to turn back to find a paid lot. I paid for 20 minutes and headed to the building, just a short walk away.

The line was out the door. This isn't new to me, as Four Rivers often has this occur. The line tends to move quickly, your order your food at the counter, and off you go to eat. But this line was different. It was moving painfully slow, and before I knew it, the line of 12 people out the door had grown into a line of 30, and was getting bigger. I asked the gentleman standing behind me if he had been here before, and inquired on how long it took to get through the line. He said they cook the food fresh, so it would be at least 15-20 minutes after getting through the line before I got my food. He was kind enough to hold my spot, and I ran and added more time for parking. The last thing I needed was to be stuck in Nashville with no car!

And as you can imagine the story goes, I made it through the line, made my order, and waited patiently for the best fried chicken of my life.

I ordered the chicken tenders, with a side of macaroni and cheese and southern greens. Collard greens are not everyone's favorite taste, but I find that they are delicious with the right seasoning. That mac and cheese though...it was a pimento mac and cheese, and it was mild, creamy, and addictive. I need more of that in my life.

I love buffalo sauce, so I was thrilled to try the main dish. The chicken was sauced in medium sauce, but I couldn't resist a side of the super spicy "damn hot" variety. And they are not kidding--I've seen all kinds of hot sauce names, but this one was the most appropriate yet. The medium sauce gave me a slight tingle, and I tried maybe a dash of the hottest one. Eyes watering, tongue burning, just a dash was enough. I can't imagine eating a whole chicken tender tossed in the stuff. Can we get one of these down in Florida ASAP?

Wasabi at the Gaylord Opryland

As I noted before, the Gaylord Opryland had tons of food options, from a sports bar to a Jack Daniels restaurant and a steakhouse. Wasabi was part of another restaurant, and just before we had to work an evening event, my co-worker and I decided it best to eat something so we wouldn't starve all night. Sushi is a nice, light meal, so we went for it.

I posted a basic sushi recipe not long ago, and noted my overwhelming urge to avoid it for years. I thought it was all raw fish, which I had tried and disliked. So that I could stick with cooked varieties, I decided on a simple California roll. My bravery was not great that day, but like I said before, eating crazy things before you have to work with people is not my idea of an adrenaline rush.

My co-worker on the other hand turned out to be a bit of a sushi nut, so he went with a roll that had crab, tempura shrimp, masago (which I learned were fish eggs), and avocado topped with Sriracha (insert heart emoji here). Being that the whole deal was cooked, I tried it, and actually really liked it.

Two thumbs up.

Shipley Do-nuts

Way back when I took my trip to Houston, I had my first run in with Shipley. Now listen, donuts are one of my all-time favorite things. they can turn a bad day good with their overpowering sweetness. And Shipley does them right.

I had no idea they were even in Tennessee - but while checking out my map app, I saw them pop up and DONE! I had to make an appearance. Thank you, technology.

YESSS! I grabbed a some cake donuts, coffee, and a few extra to eat later. I stuck with cake donuts rather than regular donuts--cake donuts have a more crumbly texture, and tend to get soggy slower than regular fried donuts. I enjoy both varieties, but the density of a cake donut was right up my alley that day. Devils food and blueberry were my picks, and when I brought one back to my colleague (yes, I am the best coworker you could ask for), he said, "That was a killer donut." Good call.

I'll never turn down a hot cup of coffee and a fresh donut.

So, in case you couldn't tell by the length of this post, I had a great time in Nashville. Not only was the work fun, but the exploring and the food made the trip even better. This town was amazing. I was lucky to visit in the fall, before it got too cold, though I'm certain it is pretty year round. The beauty and general vibe of this city was nothing but pleasant. I felt safe everywhere I went, and was stunned by the beauty of the geography at multiple points. People were nice and talkative. The culinary experience was filled with fresh ideas. I have a whole new appreciation for my home state.

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