When you think of Nashville, what comes to mind? I think of the Grand ole Opry, country music, cowboy boots, and a big star. Maybe the star is more of a Texas thing? I dunno. I also didn’t know what Nashville had to offer in terms of food until I had an excuse to visit and see, first hand, what culinary delights awaited!
While planning for this trip I discovered the Nashville food scene is synonymous with two things: hot chicken and fried catfish. Seeing as my favorite food are chicken wings and I love a good piece of catfish, I was on a mission to see if they lived up to the hype and I also stumbled upon a few other places that were worth mentioning. So without further delay, here’s is my brief yet delicious foray into the Nashville food scene.
Hattie B’s Hot Chicken
I searched far and wide and the number one food that popped up for Nashville was hot chicken. Hot diggity darn! Hot chicken is not like regular fried chicken. Nashville is pretty southern so it is fried, of course, but it’s not as simple as tossing the chicken in a bucket of hot sauce or adding sprinkles of hot spices to the skin.
Oh no, do not be mistaken! Hattie B’s Hot Chicken serves breaded fried chicken dipped in a melted spice blend. The result is a juicy product with red-stained, crispy skin. Just the idea of it excited me! I mean, juicy, hot, spicy chicken with a perfect blend of spices. YES! When we arrived late afternoon on a Friday there was a long line. Yes, a line during the week slightly after typical lunch hours. We stood for about half an hour, baking in the southern sun for hot chicken. Ha! Here we are, looking to bite into chicken submerged in piping hot grease while we were the ones being fried outside of the building. Oh the irony.
The 19th street location (112 19th Ave. S., Nashville, TN 37203) was nothing special inside. There was a large menu, service counter, crammed drink station, and industrial yet southern-inspired “chicken coop” inspired décor.
There are six different spice levels ranging from southern (no spice) to “Shut the Cluck Up”. My body can’t take spicy food so I ordered the mild wing platter that comes with two sides ($10). I chose collard greens and potato salad while Hun ate the chicken sandwich with an extra side of coleslaw ($9). At the advice from a good friend I tried the banana pudding ($3/large), another classic southern dish that helped to cool the spice off our tongues. Nothing on the menu is over $10.50 and everything can be ordered a-la-cart. In the words of a Nashville resident, “what makes Hattie B’s so popular is that it is consistent. You know exactly what you’re going to get every time you walk in…and it’s good!”
Pro Tip: The lines are long and they don’t accept reservations. Ever. Order To-Go meals online or on your phone while you’re waiting in line then take your deliciousness to eat elsewhere.
Bolton’s Spicy Chicken and Fish
I’ve been spoiled with good catfish all my life. My grandmother was born and bred in Louisiana and owned her own restaurant. My mother worked there, too, and passed along the generational gift of how to make amazing food in a short amount of time. Because mom and grandma, and later dad, cooked like fine restauranteurs we did not need to hunt for a good meal…but that didn’t mean we couldn’t try to find something comparable. Finding good piece of fried catfish is a difficult task, but Bolton’s Spice Chicken & Fish made it easy.
The exterior (624 Main St. Nashville, TN 37204) is nothing to rave about. Honestly it looks questionable, like for a second I thought that maybe I shouldn’t go inside but I ignored that feeling and went anyways. When in Nashville, right? The inside was equally unimpressive with bare white walls and dark ceilings, but what matters most is not the outward appearance, but the integrity of the catfish. Surely that has to be some quote from some president or something. No? Ok, that’s cool. Once inside sitting in front of a plate of hot catfish, I could testify that Bolton’s serves good, southern, straight-from-yo-mama’s-kitchen type of meals. Presentation isn’t their strength – you’ll get your meal in a plain white styrofoam box on top of white paper with two slices of white bread. Sometimes there can be too much butter on the vegetables but whatever, I wasn’t there for the corn so it didn’t bother me. The spice levels range from non-spicy to extra spicy. My sister, a spice connaisseur, tried the medium spice and was overtaken by the heat.
The menu includes chicken (individual parts and sandwiches), fish (catfish, whiting, grouper, tilapia), and pork (ribs and chops) with all the southern sides you can think of. Prices range from $5 to $12 for an entrée and two sides, with the $12 range being a full rack of ribs. Right as you approach the shady order window there is a sign that reads, “NOTICE! The spice is a dry rub. Please wash your hands before rubbing your eyes or babies! No refunds, returns, or exchanges. Choose your spice level at your own risk!”
Pro Tip: Order the catfish plain, with no toppings, and ask for all condiments up front.
Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams
The inside of Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams is soooooo cute! Ok, I just had to get that off my chest. The chalkboard wall for kids, bright yellows, fuchsia, and greens, the farmhouse chic decor…it makes you want to squeal with giddiness. Yes, I have a thing about cute things and this thing totally fits my thing!
There are only 10 states that host a Jeni’s with most brick and mortar stores in the midwest and southeast coast of the U.S. in addition to the online ordering option from their website. Nashville is one of the lucky ones with six locations around the city, so I had to stop by the East Nashville site (1892 Eastland Ave. Nashville, TN 37206) in what appeared to be a modern hipster-ville type complex at the recommendation of a native. I was halfway expecting to see the classic vanilla, chocolate, and blah, blah, blah classic flavors but that’s not what was laid out before me. I read as many unique descriptions as I could and the employees, dressed casually with their hair in cute bandanas, were patient and very pleasant. They offered a free mini spoon sample of whatever flavor I wanted and suggested that I could even mix flavors. Score!
I boldly selected two half-scoops of the Frozé Sorbet and Strawberry Buttermilk in a waffle cone. My sister chose a “Trio” of half scoops. Both options, like the full menu, were about $6 each. Pints of ice-cream to go cost $12. My nephew (in the first picture) tried some of everyone’s and didn’t want to stop. He was the unofficial Jeni’s greeter that evening and captured the hearts of a flock of ladies on their way out, as he proclaimed the ice cream gospel from the wooden pew. Classic.
Pro Tip: Sample everything before you buy; but, there may be a few flavors that taste better than you think. Also know that a “half scoop” is really a full-sized scoop according to my standard.
Acme Feed & Seed
I spent my final few hours in the city at Acme Feed & Seed in downtown Nashville (101 Broadway, Nashville, TN 37201), right across the street from to the Titans stadium at the end of the famous party street. The exterior looks like an abandon building and we weren’t quite sure if we were at the right location, but thankfully people walked out the door and we jumped right in, lucky to dodge the boozy bros on the pedal tavern or the truck load of day-drinking bachelorettes that are typical residents on a Saturday afternoon. Once inside the interior is dressed in typical Nashville fashion: whitewashed wooden beams, brick walls, hardwood floors, and wooden table-tops with metal stools. And a deer head. Can’t forget about the deer head.
The host was super cool and friendly as he greeted us, slipped us a menu, and explained the concept. We were to order at the registers immediately on the left and pickup the food on the 1st floor. Tables are first-come, first-served and we could sit wherever we’d like. Drinks are ordered at the bar. That’s it! Brunch is served on the weekend and offers the best pricing. Slightly more expensive than the other restaurants mentioned here, prices range from $7 – $16 with most items falling in the $12 price point. There are some items that are more expensive (full rack of ribs, $24) and others are less (two biscuits & gravy, $4), it depends on what you get and how hungry you are.
The bar is directly across from the live stage with music starting around 1pm. I made the bartender laugh when I seriously ordered an orange juice – no vodka or alcohol. “I don’t think I’ve ever had anyone ask me that before…I don’t even know how much it cost!” he exclaimed. I laughed along with him. When you think about it, I guess it is an odd request. Here I am in honky-tonk central at brunch ordering an orange juice – straight. Oh well, I like what I like! After a few minutes he located the proper price and I was on my way to find a table and wait for my food.
I was surprised at the freshness and quality of the food. Nothing was too heavy and most had great flavor. Waiters roamed the floor and stopped by every now and then to see if we needed anything. They were like community servers with everyone helping everybody else. So very Nashville!
Pro Tip: Sit close to the kitchen area on the 1st floor to get speedy service, access to the bar, the biggest table, and a great view of the live music.
I know there are plenty more great restaurants to list, so what other affordable and tasty restaurants have you tried in Nashville? Leave your recommendations in the comments below!