Music City Meals

My partner in cuisine crime took me to Nashville to celebrate my birthday.

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I’d never been there before. For some reason, I was expecting a small country town. I guess that’s because I equated it to honky tonk.

This city rocks. Literally.

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Sky-high buildings. Bars with music that shakes your soul as you walk by. Drool-inducing scents of pralines, barbecue and beer.

Our first night in town led to much discussion, and walking, to find the perfect place to chow down.

We ended up at Merchant’s.

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Signs point you to the hostess stand in the back. We were told that, luckily, they had a cancellation and we could be seated right away. We took the chance.

The place is kind of like a cross between a bistro and an old diner.

The servers sport suspenders. The bartender is muddling and concocting within plain sight.

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The history is as rich as the mac and cheese I ate. In the late 1800’s it was a hotel. The guest list eventually included notorious names like Patsy Cline, Loretta Lynn, and Dolly Parton. The original tile and marble is there.

There are two options here. Upstairs you get fine dining built around a seasonal spread. Downstairs you’re offered a Southern menu. We avoided the elevator.

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We started off with cocktails. I got the dark and stormy: house made ginger beer, rum, and lime juice. Candied ginger dangled across the top of the glass. My partner in cuisine crime ordered a variation that included house made ginger beer, vodka, and lemon. The drinks were delicious. The ginger beer brought our tongues to a simmer, while the booze and citrus extinguished the sizzle.

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For an appetizer we got crab guacamole. The avocado was fresh. The mash enveloped the tender crab meat.

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My dinner: white cheddar mac and cheese with bacon, tomato, and roasted poblano. The white cheese made the dish even more decadent. The saltiness of the bacon played nicely with the heat from the pepper.

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His dinner: Mahi-Mahi tacos with mole, jalapeño aioli, guacamole, and a freshly made slaw.

We shared. The tacos were a nice break from the coma-causing casserole of comfort food I chose. The tacos were bright, zesty, and super fresh.

This place was a hit!

After months of hearing its praises, we made it to the famed Pancake Pantry for breakfast the next day.

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The line is long. Like, wrap around the restaurant, long.

We moved fast, though. Within 30 minutes we were inside. This place is a well-oiled machine. They’ve got it down to a science, which, along with the list of 23 pancake varieties, makes it famous.

I opted for the cinnamon spice pancakes with cinnamon cream syrup. It was a hard-fought competition between that and the Santa Fe cornmeal pancakes (stone-ground cornmeal pancakes with chunks of bacon, Cheddar cheese, and roasted green chiles cooked inside. Recommended with maple syrup, hot picante salsa, and sour cream). I mean, this place has cakes served cool with compotes and all kinds of goodies, potato pancakes, silver dollar pancakes the size of dessert plates, and sweet potato pancakes (my partner in cuisine crime’s choice).

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My pancakes were packed with the warmth of so many spices. We’re talking 5 spectacular circles. They were melt-in-your-mouth perfection. The cinnamon cream syrup wasn’t overly sweet or thick. This dish also came with applesauce. I know, right? But, let me tell you, I loved it! I ate half of the cakes with the syrup and the other half with the applesauce, which was cool, and had a subtle tartness that perfectly cut the heartiness of the spread.

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I’m a sucker for hashbrowns and home fries, so I had to have theirs. Holy wow.

They were buttery, and hidden under a crust that Nancy Kerrigan could use for figure eights. Incredible. I love a crunchy crust that makes you want to crack through to a pillowy potato.

It’s a must. Don’t let the line get you.

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Breakfast the next day brought us to a place down the block from the Pancake Pantry. It’s called Fido’s. My PICC found it. You stand in line to order, then scour the place for a place to sit.

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I got the torta: eggs scrambled with chorizo (sausage), them mixed with cheese. It’s sandwiched between two crispy tortillas and served with sour cream and salsa. Once again, I had to have the potatoes. The torta was phenomenally flavorful. The eggs were like silk. The home fries had that perfect crust. I think you have to be a master of the breakfast spud before they’ll hire you in Nashville.

Lunch on our last day came from a recommendation.

For some reason, I decided I wanted cowboy boots. The clerk, who was very helpful, told us to go to Puckett’s. She suggested it without even taking a breath after our request for a recommendation.

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She held our boots while we hoofed it a few blocks.

This place was neat. Groceries line the walls and the scent of a traditional meat-and-three barbecue joint teased our noses.

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I had the pulled chicken, potato salad, and baked beans. It came with a Cajun corn cake. My PICC had the pulled pork, mashed potatoes, and turnip greens. This was a homey hotspot that gave us a warm send off from this splendid city.

But get this. I went to pick up our boots as headed out of town, and I thanked the clerk for her suggestion. She said, “I’m so glad you liked it. Is it bad that I’ve never eaten there?” I laughed out loud like a fiend, then said, “You recommend a place where you’ve never eaten?!” She said, “Yes. So many of my coworkers suggest it and customers always come back and tell us they loved it, so I suggest it now.”

Can you believe it?

The food in the Music City hit a high note with me. I can’t wait for an encore.

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Tip: Don’t try to cram in all the foodie fun in one visit. Scout out the places you want to go next time, and then you’ll have a legitimate reason to return. When we go back I want to go to a place called Mike’s that has a slew of gourmet hot chocolate choices. I also want to hit up the Olive & Sinclair Chocolate company, and a Popsicle company called Las Paletas…It’s supposed to have crazy flavors.

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2 Comments Add yours

  1. McMom says:

    You really need to do this for a living. Makes me want to go and I’ve never wanted to before. Someone should pitch the idea of a news segment with you traveling as the food critic.

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