Great, you're thinking — another article where a relocated celebrity shows an out-of-towner the same five restaurants everybody's covered to death. But this piece by Andrew Knowlton in the February Bon Appetit stands out for several reasons (not least of which is the nimble, colorful but never condescending writing). First, his guide is The Black Keys singer-guitarist Dan Auerbach, who proves he's as knowledgeable about his adopted hometown's specialties as he is about vintage gear and obscure garage-soul sides.
Second, Knowlton's flat-out love letter to Nashville's restaurant explosion manages something few such pieces ever do: It ties what's going on here in local food not just to the city's creative energy in other areas — temple of denim Imogene + Willie is one reference point — but to the "Southern food revolution" spreading like kudzu tendrils across the country. I've never seen it put better or more succinctly:
Suddenly, New Yorkers were eating grits (and loving it). Critics were talking about biscuits and fried chicken like they were blinis and caviar. Nose-to-tail eating, canning, curing, bourbon—things that have been part of the South's culinary traditions for centuries—were now obsessed over from coast to coast. Being Southern and eating Southern were cool; the restaurants and ingredients down South are better than ever. And nowhere was this more apparent, I'd heard, than in Nashville.
OK, so Birmingham, Atlanta and Charleston might have something to say about that. (We apologize to our sister cities if they're collateral damage in a war of perception, even as we eagerly scramble over their bodies.) But the examples of Nashville's finest that Knowlton cites, while familiar to Bites readers, are entirely on point:
• Martin's Bar-B-Que Joint: "For lunch one day, Auerbach and I drive a half hour to Martin's Bar-B-Que Joint in Nolensville, where pitmaster and chef Patrick Martin pulls what locals call 'redneck spaghetti,' the long strands of meat from the belly of a 200-pound pig that's been cooked low and slow for 24 hours. No matter how you order it—on a slider, straight-up purist style, or on a cornbread pancake topped with sweet BBQ sauce and coleslaw (called a 'redneck taco' on the menu)—it's barbecue so addictive that states should regulate it."
• Catbird Seat: "A few hours later, I'm back downtown for dinner at the Catbird Seat, run by Benjamin Goldberg and chefs Erik Anderson and Josh Habiger. With its 20-seat chefs' counter, set menu, and technique-driven food, the endearingly earnest spot pulls off the kind of fine dining that you'd expect to find in New York or even Copenhagen. If you're lucky you'll be served a crispy piece of chili-dusted chicken skin as an amuse-bouche, their take on hot chicken. The food is 180 degrees from Patrick Martin's, but somehow it's part of the same movement—and the same moment."
It's not just any man who can sign up for a seven-course meal after an afternoon with Patrick Martin. Who's this guy think he is, Adam Richman? But the most glowing terms are reserved for City House and its Jedi master of pork Tandy Wilson:
On any given night, Wilson's place, which is hidden in a residential area, is filled with Nashville's elite: politicians, artists, chefs, and musicians. "If I'm not touring," says Auerbach, "I'm probably there eating the octopus with butter beans, the North Carolina mussels with linguine, and the belly-ham pizza."
You'll want to check out the whole thing, including the shout-outs to Tyler Brown at Capitol Grille and Chicken Liver Thursdays at Arnold's. You'll want to suggest your own tips (which you can do in the comments thread below). You'll also be left with nagging, unanswered questions: Who's got "the best pho," as Knowlton claims Auerbach knows? Who makes that " 'proper' cortado?" What the hell's a cortado? (Answer: coffee cut with warm milk, and I bet you anything Rachel Lehman at Crema could mix one up.)
Until we hear from Knowlton on these matters, I'm going to start parsing the lyrics on El Camino for clues. I got a love that keeps me waiting, and it's breakfast, lunch and dinner.
H/T: the mighty Chris Chamberlain.