When it comes to destination dining, Margot is where you want to set your compass. As much as residents in the restaurant’s East Nashville neighborhood would like to keep this jewel to themselves, they would have to secure the perimeter of Five Points to stem the flow of devotees who stream over the river from points near and far to taste Provence and Tuscany in this charming, renovated brick building. From the open kitchen on the first level, intoxicating scents waft through the first-floor dining room, over to the half-moon bar, up to the mezzanine and out to the enclosed patio. Chef/co-owner Margot McCormack sets the bar high, changing her menu nightly based on what comes freshest to the kitchen door that morning. Business partner Jay Fein is in charge of the French/Italian/German wine list, and servers offer informed assistance. Margot’s Sunday brunch—to order, not a buffet—is all the reason many need to get out of bed early and beat the crowds.
Margot McCormack of Margot Café renown strikes another chord with Marché Artisan Foods, a gorgeous lunch-and-grocery spot that could have been plucked from the high-rent sidewalks of New York or London and set down in the alley behind Margot Café. Floor-to-ceiling windows douse the dining room with sun, which gently bounces from marble tabletops to potted palms, to glasses of Perrier, flutes of bubbly and bottles of Orangina. In this light, a palette of edible colors—salmon pink, beet purple, arugula green—splashes across the canvases of oversized white plates. With regional products and French- and Italian-inspired flavors consistent with the big-sister restaurant next door, Marché offers a lighter opportunity to explore McCormack’s creative and vegetarian-friendly style—during the day. A simple breakfast roster includes breads, pastries, cheeses, cereals and French toast, while lunch revolves around soups, salads, omelets and sandwiches, with an occasional quiche or crêpe thrown in. Like at Margot, the menu changes with the chef’s whim and the availability of seasonal products.
Chef-owner Holden-Bache brings his worldly culinary resume to bear on hometown fare, treating locally sourced ingredients with techniques sourced from the Old and New World. Think skillet cornbread and baguettes. Or crawfish-andouille Boudin balls with Alabama white sauce. Or French-inspired pâté made with Benton’s bacon fat, presented in a canning jar, with the overturned lid filled with smoked peach preserves. The result is a repertoire that’s as balanced in style as it is in content, with counterpoints of rustic and refined, sweet and savory, crisp and custardy conspiring to create a consistently excellent meal.
Columbus, Ohio-based Jeni’s should be a model for how a national chain with an artisanal rep enters a local market: with high standards, excellent customer service and an admirable emphasis on area ingredients without making a Portlandia routine out of it. The creamy texture and bright, subtle, inventive flavors — a Bangkok Peanut with a wicked Sriracha kick, a Backyard Mint that gives off a summery whiff of freshly mowed menthol a few yards over — provide what you pay for. If the $12 a pint is a dealbreaker, try a couple scoops for $6. And they give free samples!
Holland House is first and foremost an “epicurean cocktail lounge,” with more than 50 classic and contemporary cocktails for the quaffing. From a rye Manhattan with house-made maraschino cherries to a “Village Reserve” bourbon infused with bacon and Olive & Sinclair chocolate from nearby Riverside Village, the choices can be overwhelming. But there’s plenty of reason to seek refuge in this East Side watering hole, even if you’re on the wagon. Edible enticements lean toward sophisticated bar snacks, such as house-made potato chips drizzled with truffle oil; sliced radishes with butter and salts; and “lamb wings,” a.k.a. flour-dusted and pan-fried chops, served with charred corn-and-soybean succotash, creamed kale and tangy hot sauce reminiscent of Buffalo chicken.
With healthy havens in East Nashville and Belmont, this no-nonsense juice bar whirls vegetables and fruits into an array of smoothies and drinks with invigorating names such as a Carrot Zinger and Purple Hue, all of which can be goosed with a shot of wheatgrass or other enhancers. The East Nashville store fortifies its juicy fare with a list of wraps.
The royalty of Nashville’s hot chicken world, Prince’s was crowned by Gourmet magazine’s annual “Best American Restaurants” issue as one of four don’t-miss dining experiences in Nashville. Everyone from blue-collar working stiffs to working girls to white-shirted bluebloods lines up at the little ordering window inside for a chicken sandwich. It comes in four varieties: mild, medium, hot or, for the truly reckless, extra hot. All sandwiches come on two slices of white bread with pickles. Douse the flames with a beverage from the soda machine, or a side of the cooling coleslaw. Whatever the case, do not drive or get your fingers anywhere near your eyes while eating hot chicken. Oh, and delay travel plans for at least 24 hours. The baked beans also come highly recommended.
If you want distinctive Mexican food, Mas Tacos Por Favor is where you need to be. They have frustratingly short hours — 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Monday-Tuesday, 11 a.m.-8 p.m. Wednesday-Friday and 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturday — but that’s probably because the small space (and even smaller kitchen) sells out quickly due to long lines of people ordering four or five tacos at a time along with big bowls of chilaquiles and pozole verde, tamales and Mexican street corn (Dan Auerbach of The Black Keys is sometimes one of those people). And don’t leave without getting a plate of fried plantains, too.