College Town Tours: The Best of Nashville, TN

Nashville, Tennessee may be known to most as the country music capital of the U.S.A. Believe me, though, there is a lot more going on in this Southern town than just tunes blasting from an old jukebox. Visitors to Nashville can choose from a mixed bag of city-wide activities. From fine dining, to classic southern cuisine, eclectic boutique shopping, historic music venues, and bountiful nature, one day in Nashville will have you nodding your head in agreement to that classic Southern turn of phrase, “y’all come back now, ya hear!” You just can’t fit it all in in one go-round.

**SKC Picks**

Best Coffee Shop
The Frothy Monkey
2509 12th Ave S // (615) 292 1808

Situated in the up and coming 12 South neighborhood of Nashville, The Frothy Monkey is my favorite coffee shop almost anywhere. I love the architecture of this converted old house, the big windows and the intimacy of the main room. The coffee comes from Costa Rica and is bold and intense. If you enjoy espresso-based drinks, The Frothy Monkey’s signature drink, the Monkey Mocha is a must-try. A blend of espresso, cocoa, organic banana syrup, and milk, this is my hands-down favorite latte creation ever. When I visit for lunch, I order the Randy, a tuna salad sandwich on sourdough, dotted with pepperoncinis, carrots, celery, and sweet relish. Don’t neglect the house-made baked goods either. Muffins and cookies are delicious here!
Must-Order:Monkey Mocha with extra whipped cream

Best American Cuisine
Burger Up
Various locations // (615) 279 3767

American cuisine in Nashville usually means “meat and three;” it is the South after all! However in the last two years, Nashville has been expanding its restaurant offerings, seizing the abundant local produce and farming in the greater area to craft sustainable, health-conscious, and super delicious menus for those of us out there who crave a little diversity. Burger Up is without a doubt the poster child for this “locavore” trend in Nashville. Taking the classic American combo of burgers and fries as its theme, Burger Up dishes up juicy patties garnished with unique and seasonal condiments. My favorite item off the menu is the Marathon. This black bean- and quinoa-based patty is both crispy and soft, with a slightly flaky outer crust and a chewy center. The burger is served on a brioche bun with red onion, lettuce, tomato, and cilantro creme fraiche. Make sure to order the sweet potato fries, worth the extra $1, and take note of the house-made Jack Daniels ketchup. Save a little room for dessert as the Olive & Sinclair dark chocolate brownie served with house-made ice cream is the perfect over-indulgent note to end on!
Must Order: The Marathon Burger with Sweet Potato Fries

Best Meat and Three
Arnold’s Country Kitchen
605 8th Ave // (615) 256 4455

I grew up following a meat and three diet; one serving of protein and three sides were always on my dinner plate, and I was expected to eat every bite before being excused from the dinner table and given permission to choose dessert. It may sound like a drag, but as it turns out, I always loved this classic combination. It makes simple sense and certainly fills you up; plus in the South, macaroni and cheese is considered a vegetable! Arnold’s Country Kitchen whips up southern cuisine like your grandmother makes it, battered, buttered, and fried to to a golden brown. The fried chicken is spot-on, never too soggy, as are the turnip greens and black-eyed peas. The roast beef is very juicy and pairs nicely with the moist corn bread or fried green tomatoes. This is a stick-to-your ribs kind of a meal best followed by a nice long nap.
Must Order: Turnip Greens and Extra Cornbread

Best Shopping District
Hillsboro Village

I am a sucker for shopping neighborhoods. I love to spend an afternoon strolling from shop to shop, grabbing a bite to eat, and sipping a coffee on the sidewalk in between maxing out the credit cards. Hillsboro Village offers just that. Start your excursion off with a trip to Posh Boutique for gorgeous designer brand fashion and jewelry. Pangaea, next door, showcases eclectic finds ranging from clothing, to jewelry, to trinkets, to home goods. This is my go to spot for unique birthday gifts for my girlfriends. Then find yourself a gently used book in the nearby Book Man, Book Woman, or just spend a few minutes browsing the aisles and taking in that old book scent. Across the street grab a cup of coffee from Fido’s and sit on the sidewalk as you enjoy. Then continue on to Fire Finch for more interesting fashion and jewelry plus a cute line of baby/children clothes and toys as well.
Must Order: Vegan Spicy Chocolate Cookie from Bongo Java

Best Brunch
The Pfunky Griddle
2800 Bransford Ave // (615) 298 2088

Generally speaking, Nashville’s historic Pancake Pantry is a shoo-in for the brunch category. However, ask a local Nashvillian this question and answers will vary. While Pancake Pantry does a stand-up job flipping flapjacks, I prefer the quieter, less expensive Pfunky Griddle for my Saturday serving of griddle cakes. For $6, diners get unlimited pancake batter (both organic 5 grain and unbleached white) served with homemade syrup and choice of one topping. Additional toppings are only $.75 extra and range from fresh fruit to chocolate chips to granola. If pancakes aren’t your game, omelets and egg and biscuits are offered as well. The most exciting party of The Pfunky Griddle is definitely the DIY nature of the whole experience.  A griddle sits in the middle of the table so that patrons can create their own breakfast combinations and eat until their hearts are content. It’s a hell of a deal in a cute little bungalow in the Berry Hill neighborhood, one that keeps me coming back each and every time I am in town.
Must Order: Make sure to get chocolate chips and bananas as two of your pancake mix-ins

Best Movie Theater
The Belcourt
2102 Belcourt Ave // (615) 383-9140

This historic theater sits in the heart of the Hillsboro Village neighborhood (mentioned above) and has been holding its ground for 75 years despite a struggle to keep doors open a few years back. When the Belcourt first began in 1925, it showed silent movies on state of the art equipment. During the 1930′s and onward, the Belcourt became the home to two local performance groups as well as the Grand Ole Opry, until 1966 when it was converted back into a movie house. Today the Belcourt shows independent, foreign, and classic films, as well as children and family programs, and live theater/music events. An added bonus, the theater concession stand offers a fully stocked beer, liquor, and wine bar to make your movie-going experience even more of a treat.
Must-Order: Popcorn and Beer

Best Mexican
Baja Burrito 722 Thompson Lane // (615) 382 2252

Chipotle ain’t got nothing on this locally owned and operated Nashville classic. Baja Burrito is a bare bones California-inspired burrito and taco heaven. Choose your tortilla type and size and get to work as you move you your way down the buffet line showcasing the many options necessary to create the perfect burrito. The guacamole is always fresh and perfectly salted, a pleasant accompaniment to the house-made tortilla chips and fresh fruit tea. Do not overlook the fish tacos either. These little beauties are composed of lightly fried fish and sautéed veggies inside a fresh flour tortilla with a squeeze of lime. Split an order with a friend before tackling your own burrito. Food coma is part of the Baja experience.
Must Order: Fish Taco Basket and extra guacamole

Best Outdoor Activity
Percy Warner Park 7311 Highway 100

Whether it be a leisurely stroll, a pavement pounding run, or a picnic with friends, Percy Warner Park is the perfect location to enjoy Nashville’s abundant greenery . Situated in the heart of the ritzy residential neighborhood of Belle Meade, Percy Warner contains beautiful vistas of the surrounding city, looping hiking paths, and sprawling green lawns. I enjoy walking the 6 mile road loop with my girlfriends and running the stone steps with my guy friends, as well as sledding in the winter-time, or throwing around the frisbee in the balmy summer months.

Best Ice Cream
Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams
1892 Eastland Ave // (615) 262 8611

This relative newcomer to the hip East Nashville scene is certainly giving the rest of the Nashville ice cream market a run for its money. I had the pleasure of first trying Jeni’s on a below-freezing winter night and the nasty weather conditions didn’t make a bit of difference. I would have stood naked outside in the snow for hours on end if it meant getting a scoop or two of this outstanding cream. Flavors range from goat cheese with cognac figs, Jeni’s version of  the fig newton, to Queen City Cayenne, a rich chocolate crew, enhanced with a cayenne pepper kick. My favorite flavors are the Riesling Pear sorbet, which literally tastes like a fresh pear as it melts on your tongue, and the Bangkok Peanut, a smooth peanut-based cream with hints of honey, coconut, and cayenne; it’s sweet, salty, and complex- it’s heaven. The good news is no flavor is disappointing. The bad news is you won’t be able to make up your mind, so go ahead, try them all!
Must Order: Queen City Cayenne and Bangkok Peanut

Best Vegetarian
Calypso Cafe
Various locations // (615) 321 3878

I wasn’t always a vegetarian. Growing up, I ate meat with the best of them, my hands-down favorite meal being a barbecue sandwich, and baked beans with bacon glaze. Then I went to college, read a few books, and suddenly, my meat days were over. My first trip back home after semester # 1 at NYU was nerve-wracking. I just knew my staunchly meat-eating father  would be appalled. As it turns out, my own personal dietary habits are about as interesting to my dad as the latest Perez Hilton gossip. I didn’t think finding veggie-friendly restaurants in Nashville would be easy. To the contrary, Nashville offers a wide array of vegetarian and vegan-friendly dining options. My all time favorite, and one of the first restaurants I run to upon touching down back home, is Calypso Café. This local restaurant, with multiple locations in and around town, has a Caribbean feel to it. Menu items like mashed sweet potatoes or collard greens are given an island-centric spin through subtle manipulation. The Martinique Callaloo, a house blend of mustard greens with tomatoes and onions are a tasty and healthy choice with enough flavor to have you ordering seconds. The black beans pack a nice blend of seasoning and spice and boast a vegan friendly label. The Lucayan Salad, with its sliced almonds and mandarin oranges, is always fresh and filling, evoking an afternoon spent on the ocean. Don’t overlook the Boija Corn Muffins which are crumbly, buttery, salty, and a hint sweet , with bites of fresh corn in the batter. Calypso serves these treats in twos and I have yet to eat just one.
Must Order: Black Beans and Three plate; house-made fruit tea

Best Music Venue
The Ryman Auditorium
116 Fifth Avenue North // (615) 889 3060

Nicknamed “the mother church of country music,” The Ryman Auditorium in downtown Nashville offers audiences pitch-perfect acoustics in an architecturally delightful space with a rich history of its own. This Nashville landmark was built in 1901 and has been showcasing talented actors, singers, musicians, and entertainers ever since. In 1943, Nashville’s weekly country music showcase, The Grand Ole Opry moved to the Ryman where it has remained. Minor renovations throughout the years have kept this venue in mint condition without sacrificing its aesthetic. Nowadays, country music is not the only genre to take the stage. Folk, rock-n-roll, pop, and indie acts worldwide schedule shows here. Tickets range in price depending on the act but are well worth it, as the Ryman is as much a cultural and historic icon as it is a great space to listen to your favorite tunes.

Best Souvenir
Moon Pies
Sold at various locations or online

Who doesn’t like graham crackers covered in marshmallows dipped in chocolate? Moon Pies, created in the early 1900′s in Chattanooga, Tennessee are the perfect local souvenir to bring home with you. History has it that these little treats were created and marketed as the “working man’s lunch” due to the large population of coal miners who bought and consumed Moon Pies during the long work days. I always buy a box or two before a big vacation to leave with my host as a thank-you gift. My former high-school exchange students go absolutely bananas over mention of one of these simple delicacies, and once a year I ship a box or two. There is just something about the no frills nature of this cookie that makes me stop in my tracks and linger over every bite. The Moon Pie jingle really does speak the truth: “they’re outta this world!”

Sarah Buchanan is a senior studying History and Creative Writing at NYU. When she is not hard at work on her honors thesis, she is most likely running around the city in search of the best artisan pickles or at home in her apartment sharpening her culinary skills.

Originally posted on Friday, February 10th, 2012

2 Responses to “College Town Tours: The Best of Nashville, TN”

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    February 10th, 2012

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