My "6 Pack" series will be crafted as any list should be. #1 is the best and then it goes down from there. But I will be putting the #1 pick at the top. This isn't a fucking countdown. There is no anticipation necessary. It's just a list of places I like to eat folks. There may also be versions of the "6 Pack" adapted to fit into a broader scope of the national food scene. So don't be surprised when the you see me come home from the corner store with a "12 pack" instead. You following me? Cool.
Best place to start has gotta be Nashville since I live here and get to eat here every day. As anybody who lives here or visits knows, Nashville is a killer food town. And it's only getting better, because this town is exploding and new restaurants are opening every week. Oh and I should mention, that fancy places will be scarce on my lists. I LOVE a nice restaurant and have eaten at some of the best in the country, but I much prefer the hole in the wall super chill joint. Also I enjoy actually being able to afford to eat somewhere. My Nashville 6 pack does however have one nice place on the list. Here we go:
1. ARNOLD'S COUNTRY KITCHEN
Not only is this the best restaurant in Nashville, if I were making a list for the entire US (which I will) this would be at the top spot. This is my absolute favorite restaurant on earth. I'm not alone either. Maybe you don't care, but many prominent chefs around town have expressed my sentiment. Arnold's is the perfect definition of what we call a "Meat & 3". No secrets in that name. You get your meat, and you pick 3 sides. Menu changes everyday except for a few staples. It's cafeteria style so it's the ultimate democratic experience. Everybody has to wait in line, no matter your status. And the line is often LONG. Go right when they open or right before they close to avoid the crowds. Oh and guess what? They actually SEASON their food properly. I feel that too often, places similar to this leaveyou wanting more in the salt department. Not Arnold's. Have a taste before you reach for that salt shaker dude. This family knows how to cook. Whatever you do, if you come to Nashville, do not royally fuck up by skipping Arnold's or you shall be shamed.
My picks - Roast Beef w/ jus, corn pudding, green beans, squash casserole and a corn hoe cake (basically a cornmeal pancake)
2. PEG LEG PORKER
Some magazine recently declared Nashville "America's Best BBQ City" which I will admit is bullshit. There are tons of lists out there declaring all sorts of shit that don't mean shit (including this one I'm making right now). BBQ is such a hot button topic to begin with because of course everyone thinks their version/region does it best. While Nashville probably isn't even a top 5 city for BBQ (I personally would have Memphis at the top) it still has some great fucking Q. Cary Bringle at Peg Leg Porker is playing a major role in the success of the Nashville BBQ scene. PLP is actually right next to Arnold's, so if you can find one, you can find the other. I've been going to this joint since right after it opened in 2013. It's a family run place, so expect a very welcoming atmosphere. I go here so much that my daughter basically acts like she owns the place. Great memories at the ole Peg Leg Porker. Everything is great. Small menu and very traditional for Tennessee BBQ. NO BEEF. Hickory smoked meat. In this part of the country, pork and chicken are king and queen of BBQ, so don't go bitching on Yelp about how this isn't a real BBQ restaurant. We ain't in Texas darlin'.
My picks - Dry Ribs, Dry wings w/ white sauce, Pulled Pork Sandwich (don't be an asshole, get it with cole slaw).
3. CITY HOUSE
City House has been around since way before the culinary boom hit Nashville. Chef Tandy Wilson has been racking up James Beard Award nominations for years, though I don't believe he has ever actually won. Too bad, because dude has been pumping out bad ass food for a long time. Way before doing farm to table was the cool thing to do in Nashville. I fucking hate that term by the way.
City House is Italian, but really highlights more indigenous ingredients to the region. It's not the type of Italian place where the chef is from Italy and all the ingredients are from Italy and blah blah blah. They use Italian techniques and dishes to highlight whats going on in Tennessee. Wood fired pizza, Napoletana style, but instead of pancetta they use "belly ham" that they make in house. Catfish has been on their menu for years. They produce their own cured meats. They are just doing so much shit RIGHT. It's my perennial birthday dinner type of place. It's hip, but not too hip. Casual enough to not be worried about if you look cool enough. Plenty of other places in town to worry about that shit, if you are into that thing (ahemmmmm pinewood social ahemmmm).
You can get out of City House on a budget too. Pizzas are affordable, and it's totally acceptable to sit at the bar (or the kitchen view bar) and split one with your lady, or man or whatever you are into.
My picks - House cured meats, Pizza w/ belly ham, chiles, mozzarella, grana padano, cookie plate, WINE
4. HATTIE B'S
One thing that is truly Nashville - HOT CHICKEN. Most people from out of town don't know what hot chicken is. They always think something like buffalo wings. Fuck off most people from out of town. We talkin' bout Nashville Hot Chicken. I've been wondering when this is gonna spread around the country, but it seems to be mostly confined to our great city. Hot chicken is fried chicken, but....hot. Ok that's an awful explanation. Everybody around town has their own version. In a nutshell, its your typical piece of fried chicken but after it comes out of the fryer, it gets tossed, or brushed, or dunked into a sauce made with fry oil and a dry rub mix of LOTS of cayenne pepper, sugar, garlic powder, onion powder, paprika, and maybe molasses. It's really like nothing you've ever had in regards to fried chicken. And in my opinion it is the BEST version of fried chicken. A place in a rough part of town called Prince's invented it like 80 years ago. I love that Prince's and though they invented hot chicken, they ain't making it the best anymore. That honor goes to Hattie B's in the Midtown/Vanderbilt neighborhood.
It pains me a little bit to admit to this. Hattie B's is like the yuppie, safe, whiter, craft beer, better logo, better part of town hot chicken. However, in the end, the only thing I give a shit about is the food. And the food here is so awesome. Hattie B's has a superior bird, compared to all the others. Wildly consistent with the quality and spice level of their chicken. At some of the hole in the wall type joints around town, you will get a dry, overcooked piece of chicken from time to time. Or sometimes ordering mild is simply a suggestion that the cook may consider. At Hattie B's, the chicken has tasted the same. Every. Fucking. Time. Also the sides are amazing. Most hot chicken joints have the shittiest sides imaginable. Hattie B's is all from scratch. Another tip on not being an asshole - don't get tenders dude. Fried chicken is meant to be consumed on the bone. If you order tenders at any fried chicken joint and have a single complaint about your food, I can't help you. You fucked that one up. I tend to go back and forth between white meat and dark meat. But right now....
My picks - Small White (breast & wing) Hot, pimento mac & cheese, southern greens, beer. Extra pickles.
5. MARTIN'S BBQ JOINT
Don't you dare judge me for having two BBQ joints on this list. I'm a southerner dammit. We really like BBQ. Look, it's not all about being fat and shit. Most the time I go here I just order like a shit ton of meat. Paleo bitch. Why is this lower on the list than Peg Leg you ask? I don't have a great answer for that. Honestly I struggle with which one I like more. It seems that the one I like the most, is the whichever one I went to most recent. Martin's has a WAY bigger menu, which typically for me is a negative. More shit to execute can often mean you lose some quality. But, everything I've had at Martin's has been great. The burger? AWESOME. The bbq tacos, although a bit of an abomination in Tennessee if you ask me? AWESOME. Oh and they have brisket.
Sure, it's fucking offensive to celebrate the "BBQ" traditions of that oversized, on the verge of secession, Rick Perry electing, oil wasteland that is Texas here in my home of Tennessee. But man, brisket is awesome. Beef is good. I'm not a BBQ racist. I like it all. Beef, chicken, pork, goat, lamb or whatever else somebody could consider BBQ. If there is fire, smoke and meat involved I'm INTO it.
The biggest selling point of Martin's is that they are rocking whole hog BBQ. Which if you don't know what that is, well the explanation is in the title. You take an entire pig- nose, tail and everything in between, split it down the belly, and toss it on a pit. Depending on the size, it can take anywhere from 12 - 24 hours so smoke. It is so worth it. Every bite has bits of shoulder, belly, tenderloin, rib, cheek, ham and so on and so on. I'm still learning about BBQ in Nashville, but as far as I know, Martin's is the only place you can get whole hog bbq every day of the week.
My picks - Pork sandwich, brisket, dry wings with white sauce, hush puppies (guys...always get sauce on the side. if the meat is good, you don't need the sauce.)
6. GABBY'S BURGERS AND FRIES
We have burger problems in Nashville. No I don't mean, that there are no good burgers. I mean we have a place called The Pharmacy that is one of the most overrated restaurants I have ever been to in my life. This place has 2 hour waits on the reg. It's in my neighborhood in East Nashville, and it's THE COOLEST. I will admit, the beer garden is pretty bad ass. Except the chance of getting a 2nd round of beers measures out to the mathematical equivalent to winning fucking Powerball. If you like dry, overcooked, under seasoned burgers by all means, keep waiting for hours on end to be seen at The Pharmacy. A real HOT SPOT. But if you care about a good burger, made the way a burger was meant to be made...head over to Gabby's.
Juicy, greasy, salty, made however the fuck you want it. That's what I need. If I don't go through half a roll of paper towels consuming my burger, it must not have been worth eating. And at Gabby's when I order my burger medium rare, they execute. This dude, he takes no shit. One of these shoot you straight fellas, who is too busy to take shit from a dumbass customer. Line out the door all the time. Lines are USUALLY a good sign (The Pharmacy is an exception to this rule - besides it's not a line - it's a "wait"). And hey, the fries are great too! My wife and I adore Gabby's. She is a real burger fanatic. She even worked at In-N-Out burger for almost four years while growing up in San Diego. If she is down with a burger, you know you are on the right track. Now is a good time to impose my burger building philosophy. The BEST burger you can possibly construct consists of the following:
Mustard, Onion, Pickle, AMERICAN CHEESE FOOD*, Medium Rare.
*stealing from my food writing hero, Anthony Bourdain
There is no room for debate. I DARE you to prove me wrong.
My picks - The Seamus (pronounced Shay-mus; this is their double patty burger) medium rare with you guessed it - mustard, onion, pickle, american cheese - butter grilled bun, fries and sweet tea
Honorable Mentions: Bro's Cajun Cuisine, Lockeland Table, Chinatown Restaurant, Mitchell Delicatessen, El Jaliciense Mexican Restaurant, Two Ten Jack, Prince's Hot Chicken Shack, King Market