Monday, July 30, 2012

Let Music City Bites and Sites Food Tour Take You Around Downtown

Posted By on Mon, Jul 30, 2012 at 8:06 AM

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Ellen Sevier is a native Nashvillian who can track her lineage back to her great-great-great whatever John Sevier, the first governor of the state. She has lived here for most of her life except for a brief interregnum in Seattle, where she learned to love coffee and hate rain. Something else she discovered while living in the Emerald City was the proliferation of food tours, usually walking excursions that combined eating, drinking and a little bit of a history lesson.

After doing some research, she discovered that her hometown was not overrun with these sort of tours and that there might be a chance to get in the business. Returning to Nashville after a few years away, Sevier was struck by how far the restaurant scene had come, especially in the downtown core where she remembered the Old Spaghetti Factory as being a destination dining location in her youth. Thus Music City Bites and Sites was born.

This "food and cultural" tour is designed for both tourists and locals alike, with stops at some of your favorite watering holes and a few you might not have experienced yet. I tagged along with a Saturday tour a few weeks back during some torrential rainstorms, and Sevier's engaging personality and enthusiastic attitude kept the atmosphere sunny for our small group. It was fun to see downtown through the eyes of Brian and Jen, two visitors from Philadelphia in town to visit family, as they hungrily gobbled up the history and cuisine of Nashville.

The tour kicked off in Butler's Run, the alleyway between First and Second avenues in the middle of the tourist zone. After a brief orientation and the offer of ponchos, we visited Pralines by Leon, a shop I've walked by for years but never entered. That has been a dumb thing to miss. Sampling several different pralines and other confections along with the offer of a bracing cup of coffee was a great way to get our motors running at 10:30 in the morning.

Our group was slightly detoured by the ankle-deep water running down Second and by the fences that blocked off the Soul Food Festival that happened to be going on by the river. Undeterred, Sevier rerouted our path and gave Jen and Brian a brief history of Nashville's founding and downtown's role as a commercial center. We ducked out of the rain and into one of my favorite haunts, The National Underground.

This venue represented the non-country music scene portion of the tour and featured a slider version of what I contend is one of the best burgers in town. The Philadelphians also raved about our small sample of Dos Perros from Yazoo Brewing Co., which was a great accompaniment to the burger.

Next on the itinerary was Past Perfect, which was surprisingly a little bit busy for lunchtime on a rainy Saturday. One of the benefits of taking the tour is that Sevier prearranges all the food and beverages with the business owners, so everything is waiting for you as you eat and drink on a fairly tight schedule. We enjoyed a small app of chips and spinach-artichoke queso and sampled the restaurant's Perfect Mule, a tasty cocktail made from their ginger-infused vodka. We also heard some interesting stories about how the owners of Past Perfect are convinced that their building is haunted.

After stop No. 3, there was a pretty long gap until we ate again as Sevier gave an architectural tour of the Schermerhorn Symphony Center, the Country Music Hall of Fame and other SoBro landmarks. Even having lived in Nashville for most of my life, I was surprised by how many new factoids that I learned on the tour. The whole trip involves about two miles of walking, so that helped to burn off the cheese dip.

Because of the rigorous schedule, there's not really time to shop on the tour, but all participants receive a route map with discounts at the various venues if you want to return afterward for food or memorabilia. I hadn't visited the alley between Tootsie's and the Ryman since it got a recent makeover, so it was interesting to see how it has been dressed up.

Our cadre made our way down to Hatch Show Print for the only nonfood stop of the trip. Brian and Jen were fascinated by the old shop, especially since Jen was a printmaker in college. I know they came back later to use that 10 percent discount later to buy a "Triple Johnny" print.

The next stop was at a venue I wouldn't have considered for a tour highlighting "Nashville" cuisine, San Antonio Taco Co. In turned out not to be as big of a stretch as I thought, and Sevier wove the history of how omnipresent Satco has been for many of us, especially Vandy grads. Brian and Jen eagerly wolfed down their chicken fajitas, which I must say seemed much larger than the ones I get when I order on my own. Music City Bites and Sites bonus!

Two hours had fairly raced by at this point, and it was time to make our way to our last stop. The tour started with sweets, so it was appropriate that we ended the same way with a visit to Rocket Fizz, which bills itself as "a wonderland of soda pop and candy." The new business, which is located caddy-corner across the street from Hooters on Second is a visual explosion with shelves stacked high with the sugary treats of your youth. Our group had a private tasting upstairs of three of their distinctive soda flavors and some of Nashville's prototypical confectionery treat, GooGoo Clusters.

Regretfully, it was then time for our group to part. At the outset, Sevier had promised us we would accomplish three goals: We would learn something, we would eat some great food and we would have a lot of fun. She succeeded on all counts. I experienced my own hometown through the eyes of visitors and with the input of a very knowledgeable tour guide. Even though we ate small bites and did all that walking, I was certainly full at the end of the trip. And the experience was a blast!

I would wholeheartedly recommend this experience to any friends or family you have coming in to visit, and I certainly suggest that you join them for the tour. The Music City Bites and Sites tour costs $45 and leaves every day Wednesday through Saturday at 10:30 a.m. Tickets are available through Zerve, and more information is available at Sevier's website.

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