Hello, Nashville newcomers. So you're here for a few days—or at least until Sens. McCain and Obama shake hands and head for their limos—and hungry for local color as well as chow. Mind if we sidle up to you like a Eurotrash hooker and make you a proposition?
Everybody's gotta eat, right? Chances are you've been told to hit Pancake Pantry or the Loveless Cafe for breakfast, Rotier's, Brown's Diner or Swett's for lunch, and Jimmy Kelly's for dinner. Here are a few other places you should try, either as great food, great convenience, a great story, or a quintessential screw-the-guidebook Nashville experience.
Pre-debate breakfast: If you're up early and want some downhome grub before the rest of the city's stirring, hit Silver Sands (937 Locklayer St., 742-1652) on a sleepy side street off Jefferson near the Bicentennial Mall for a quick buffet-line heaping of grits, country ham, biscuits, home-fried potatoes and sausage starting around 5 a.m. Don't rise quite that early, but need to stay close to Belmont? Try Fido, Bongo Java's Hillsboro Village outpost, just a few blocks from its Belmont-area sister restaurant: same coffee, somewhat more variety in earthy-crunchy breakfast specials, slightly more business-class clientele.
Pre-debate lunch: Cash-strapped protesters, student activists, refuel your rage against the machine at Baja Burrito, where you can get a made-to-order veggie burrito the girth of a Coke can with chips, fruit tea and free salsa for $7. Of course, you might want to try Nashville's regional staple, the meat-and-three. The famous Arnold's Country Kitchen (605 8th Ave. S., 256-4455) is close by, serving cafeteria-line helpings of roast beef, meat loaf, fried green tomatoes, turnip greens and other soul-food classics under the watchful eyes of a framed gallery of Opry stars, local pols and visiting celebrities. Expect to stand in line (and maybe stand, since tables fill quickly) unless you arrive before 11:45 a.m. or after 1. The newly opened At the Table (907 12th Ave. S., 242-0077) has less local color in the decor, but it's an excellent Plan B if Arnold's is full.
If you've got time to unwind, pop in Savarino's Cucina (2121 Belcourt Ave., 460-9878) a few blocks off the debate site in Hillsboro Village, especially if you're homesick for the cuisine, cookies and combative chatter of Little Italy. You can't go wrong with any of the sandwiches on the menu named for local celebrities, some of whom will undoubtedly castigate you for not selecting theirs. If time is of the essence but you've already had your fill of delivered Jimmy John's sandwiches and pizza, try the buffet lines at Hillsboro's Cuisine of India or West End's Bombay Palace, where $10 buys you some of the city's best Indian food and a mango lasse, or Cummins Station's Wild Wasabi (209 10th Ave. S., 251-1441), home to all-you-can-eat sushi as well as steam table and hibachi specials.
Pre-debate dinner: Cleveland Pete swears by the fish and chips at Dan McGuinness just off Music Row on Demonbreun, if you need to stay close by. If you can afford the time, a bit more money and a 10-minute drive down 8th Avenue to Germantown, reward yourself with chef Tandy Wilson's wood-fired pizzas and inspired Italian dishes at City House, perhaps the city's hottest new restaurant of the moment. Just barely have time to wolf something down? Hillsboro fixture Pizza Perfect will serve you two New York-style slices on the spot for $5 within walking distance of the Belmont campus.
Post-debate snack, coffee, whatever: Randy Rayburn's Sunset Grill is the city's late-night fine-dining hang and a place for unparalleled people-watching. Its late menu satisfies the peckish until midnight Mondays and Tuesdays; if you're going just for debate dissection, you might proceed straight to the excellent desserts. A few blocks the other direction from Belmont, MafiaOza's serves pizza and pastas until 3 a.m. on Tuesday nights.
As for the next day...what's your hurry? There's hot chicken to be had at Prince's, hot fish sandwiches at East Side Fish, first-rate pork barbecue at Martin's in Nolensville—and the only matter up for debate is which to try first. And in this debate, everyone's a winner.
UPDATE: Commenters have wisely pointed out that City House is in fact closed on Tuesdays. It's worth sticking around for Wednesday, though.