TIP 1: Get a car! After the 2 hour flight from La Guardia, we planned to get a cab from the Nashville airport to our hotel. The 6 mile drive cost $25, which was more than a car rental would cost for the day. After that first ride, we hired a car immediately. The hotel: Sheraton Downtown, only a few blocks from the hustle and bustle of Broadway.
TIP 2: Eat communally. I can’t cook very well, but oh, I can eat- especially if its fried or topped with bacon. And in Nashville, pretty much everything has both of those delicious characteristics. Our first meal was at Arnolds, a lunch only place that serves until they can’t serve no more. Food usually runs out by 2, so your best bet is to get there at 11 before the masses descend on the meat-and-three. When we disclosed out lunch location to the concierge at our hotel, she looked at us incredulously- “How do YOU know about that place? It’s only for locals!”
The assembly line-cooks crank out plate after plate of delicious tastes- meatloaf, roast beef, fried green tomatoes, turnip greens, mac and cheese, and pies with piles of whipped cream so fluffy, they could lift off. Local police, families with small kids, towing guys on a break crowded next to us at the long table, all eating the same simple, delicious food. We hobbled across the street with our bellies sufficiently stuffed for some top-notch antiquing , then back to the hotel for a quick break (aka NAP).
TIP 3: Bar Hop. The initial attraction to the wealth of music and food can be overwhelming on the downtown strip. Do you want to dance? Eat? Listen to some bluegrass? Eat? Drink some great brown booze? Eat? There are options for everyone, you just have to be patient. We sampled the local bourbons and beers at many bars, heard some great music (and some very weird stuff too), watched professional swing dancers hurl each other across dance floors, only to catch each other like a boomerang on the return. At the famous Tootsies Orchid Lounge, you have your choice of the two listening rooms, just try to pick one….
TIP 4: Talk to people. Some would find this intuitive, but less-inclined-to-talk-to-your-fellow-elevator-rider New Yorkers such as myself can benefit greatly from a bit of Southern Hospitality. Yes, you will have trouble sometimes understanding your own language. Yes, you will sometimes wish they would hurry up already. But yes, it is good to let that southern drawl wash around your inner ear, and allow their pace slow yours. Especially if you have already followed tip #3.
TIP 5: Explore the outskirts of town. Breakfast #2 – Loveless Café for the world famous biscuits, barbecue, and ohhh the bacon. The Southern Sampler offered the best of all they had to offer, and after I licked the plate clean, I came back for more biscuits.
TIP 6: Shop very local. My favorite place that we visited lay 45 minutes south of Nashville, as small town called Leiper’s Fork. The town’s singular street consists of the famed Pucket’s Grocery, art galleries, small boutiques, and myriad restaurants. A live band played in the grocery to a largely local crowd scarfing BBQ, the old timers gathered around the fire pit in the front yard. I loved the vibe of this little haven, enjoying the ability to talk with the purveyors of the wares I was about to purchase. We met an alpaca farmer selling her wool wares, which were sourced from her 200+ alpaca farm 5 minutes away (which we were invited to visit). We browsed gifts at Berlin Home Goods being made in the back room as we shopped.
TIP 7: Shut up and drive. The Natchez Trace Parkway is a joy to explore. Originally formed by the footpaths of prehistoric animals and then trade routes of Native Americans, it is now a trip through history. Beautiful vistas, old tobacco barns and other vestiges of the route’s original function, and a variety of wildlife are cause for frequent road-side stops- drive is a destination in itself.
TIP 8: Take a chance. Nashville Uncorked– every Saturday at the Natchez Hills Vineyard, 90 minutes out of town. On a whim, I bought tickets the morning of this relatively new weekly concert series. Pulling into the empty parking lot did not seem promising, but the tasting room provided a bottle of surprisingly deep merlot for us to bring into the concert space. After the included dinner, we retired to the elevated VIP seating- a couch on stage, where we could look down on the round table style jam session about to occur. Jack and Diane, Bill Whyte, Lisa Shaffer, and Steve Dean were on the roster, taking turns performing their own hits, and harmonizing with each other on all. The living room style performances made for a truly magical experience, and by candelight, I cried at the beauty of it all. Added bonus? They were filming the evening for a TV pilot, so we will have the opportunity to relive the evening whenever we want.
TIP 9: Overeating is just exercise for your stomach. Sunday breakfast at Monell’s is extreme family-style eating . We snagged the last two spots for breakfast- and at Monell’s, though they stop serving at 11, if they fill up that last table before then, you’re out of luck. We joined a very nice family who had just come from church, three generations joining for a meal at the end of a busy week. Passing large bowls of fried chicken, cheese grits, pancakes, biscuits, roasted potatoes, apples…with each pass becoming part of the family. With wasted bone-covered platters, grease dripping from our chins, sleeves rolled up past the elbows, and smiles plastered on our faces, we communally sighed with satisfaction.
TIP 10: Sundays are dry. Since the smaller George Dickel distillery closes on Sundays (along with every other vendor of liquor), off we drove to Lynchburg for Jack Daniels, offering tours 7 days a week, but no samples to chase it with. The smell of bubbling brew furiously farting alcohol in the massive vats will make you forget you ever liked the stuff, anyway. The small downtown was open for business, selling a wide variety of tat with the JD logo on it. Finding nothing of value but a whiskey cake, we made our singular purchase and went on our way.
A mile down the road, a small sign advertising “ Lynchburg Candy Company” called to me, so I popped a U turn down the dirt road. Another small sign pulled us into a private driveway, parking in front of what appeared to be a small trailer. Billy Thomas, Founder and President of Lynchburg Cake and Candy company opened the door. Billy had started the company after retiring from his accounting job, honoring his mom’s whiskey-cake recipe with a legacy and small side gig. Before he knew it, he was on “the View”, Paula Deen’s sons had recognized his business, and his production had tripled.
Billy showed off the insides of his oven and stockroom like they were children, extremely proud of the high standards of cleanliness. He signed our whiskey cakes on our way out, and his pride in product made this stop a rare treasure.
The afternoon of prohibition led us to Silo restaurant, for relief from the day’s abstention- farm-to-fork food straight from local farmers’ bounty, liquor menu overflowing with local bourbons and ryes, and the service present and pleasant. Both meal and trip were so fulfilling, we checked out some local real estate in the area while still at the dinner table….
We snuck one final meal in before flying out the following afternoon- breakfast at the new Puckett’s Grocery in downtown. “The Southern Stack” provided pulled pork, sweet potato pancakes, fried apples and hash browns, all crowned with a single fried egg. Par for the course, the food was ridiculous, but the charm of Puckett’s original location largely lies in the people that fuel and frequent it. Still, the food, music, and overall soul of this city transported and restored me in ways that four days away rarely do. That little house for sale on the water was pretty cute..
Find out how we booked this last minute vacation for pennies on the dollar in our post Nashville Travel Hacked