Best of Nashville Food & Drink 

Our writers pick the best of Nashville's food and drink for 2007.

BEST ALL-PURPOSE RESTAURANT: RADIUS10

With its gorgeous one-two punch of artistic food in a playful, industrially sleek environment, Radius10 was a contender in just about any dining category we could think of this year: best lunch, best happy hour, best atmosphere, best place to impress out-of-towners, best reason to move to the Gulch...you name it. Chef Jason Brumm’s bacon-and-lobster pizza can hold its own against any pie in town, and pastry chef Ray Luther just might take the dessert title with his revamped menu that includes artisan chocolates—in combinations such as lemon-basil and lavender-honey—flown in from Oregon. Hell, Radius10 almost bested Baja Burrito in the fish taco category. Now in its second year, Radius10 delivers all-around style and substance to The Gulch. The combination is a knockout. —CARRINGTON FOX

BEST CHEF: WILL UHLHORN, F. SCOTT’S

In the 20 years since it opened, F. Scott’s Restaurant has fielded an impressive lineup of superb, standard-busting chefs. Anita Hartell, Josh Weekley, Louise Branch, Margot McCormack and Jason McConnell all have passed through the Green Hills kitchen, and with the exception of Branch, they all went on to open their own Nashville restaurants (Mambu, Rack Room, Margot Café and Red Pony, respectively). That’s an impressive graduation rate, but one that co-proprietors Elise Loehr and Wendy Burch, who bought the restaurant four years ago, must hope doesn’t repeat itself anytime soon. With his first menu in September 2005, executive chef Will Uhlhorn announced his personal culinary profile: contemporary French-American food that marries classic technique, irreproachable quality, seasonal product, regional sources and provocative creative expression. (Not to mention his unabashed fondness for all-things pig, exceeded only by his irrational obsession with the Boston Red Sox.) With each new menu—it’s rewritten every three months—Uhlhorn again reveals his stellar gift for composing intriguing plates of pristine flavors and artful presentation. He not only has met the high standards set by F. Scott’s noteworthy epicurean lineage, he has exceeded them, and continues to raise the bar, night after night, season by season. —KAY WEST

BEST NEW BURGER: 12 SOUTH TAPROOM

Ordinarily I would oppose a $10 hamburger on principle—but principle doesn’t really factor into eating the ground flesh of a ruminant force-fed cheap corn until its life comes to a merciful end. So I ordered mine with cheese and bacon. And man alive, was it good: crusty around the edges peeking out from the bun, juicy in the center, beefy and toothsome as steak. Friend cow, you died not in vain. I can’t wait to meet your cousins. —JIM RIDLEY

BEST OLD BURGER: BOBBIE’S DAIRY DIP

All apologies to partisans of Rotier’s or Brown’s Diner, but a first-rate cheeseburger plus priceless Americana (and no smoke) gives this Charlotte Avenue fixture the edge. A change in ownership hasn’t changed Bobbie’s stacked Black Angus burgers one pickle slice, and little else about the drive-in seems to have altered since it opened in 1951: you expect bobby-soxers in hot rods to screech up to the counter as the sun sets over Wendell Smith’s Liquors and Buddy Holly blares from the outdoor speakers. (Thanks to the incessant ’50s music, our 3-year-old startled us with the words to “Duke of Earl.”) One welcome addition, though: Bobbie’s now accepts debit cards. The times they are a-changin’. —JIM RIDLEY

BEST MARRIAGE OF NAME AND PRODUCT: I DREAM OF WEENIE

Hot dogs may be the furthest thing from your gastronomically sophisticated mind, but one glimpse of the semi-mobile, bright-yellow VW bus with the flirty sign “I Dream of Weenie” and, faster than Barbara Eden can cross her arms and nod her head, you’ll have a Kraut Weenie in your hand. Or maybe a Dill Weenie or a Chili Cheese Weenie. There are seven to choose from and at least one daily special. Red-meat-phobes and vegetarians won’t feel left out—each version is available on a turkey or tofu dog (no tofurkey yet). Though some may snigger at the sexual connotation, the name actually came to Bret McFadyen in a dream, or so his wife Meg swears. Securing part of the grassed lot beside the couple’s Art & Invention Gallery in East Nashville, Bret put the vintage yellow van on blocks, installed a galley kitchen inside, screened the windows, added a counter and small porch out front (festooned with hot dog planters) and recruited avid collector of hot dog memorabilia Alisa Martin as partner and Weenie Jeanie. Permanent seating is prohibited by one of Nashville’s many bizarre zoning laws, so bring your own blanket or chair. —KAY WEST

BEST THING TO HAPPEN TO NASHVILLE SINCE MARGOT CAFÉ: MARCHÉ

Last November, I was on the fence about whether to buy a house in East Nashville. There were a few great dinner options in the neighborhood, but very little for lunch or breakfast. My first meal at Marché was the deal closer, and I haven’t looked back. Most of my friends are cringing right now, saying, “Criminy! Would you shut up already about Marché!” Admittedly, I’m somewhat obsessed with the place—but only because it is hands-down my favorite restaurant in town. It’s like the ultimate lover: reliable (I’ve yet to have a bad meal there), endlessly fascinating (the menu changes regularly) and willing to indulge any desire, wholesome (Nicoise salad, vegetable tartine) or naughty (croissant French toast, flatiron steak sandwich, chocolate pot du créme). And a sexy French accent! I think I even prefer Marché to its more elegant big sister, Margot, if for no other reason than it’s a bit more affordable (and I can eat breakfast and lunch there to boot). A tout à l’heure, mon amour! —JACK SILVERMAN

BEST NEW CONCEPT: FLYTE WORLD DINING AND WINE

Shunning the Gulch and its skyrocketing real estate, Scott Atkinson and Scott Sears opened Flyte on Oct. 13, 2006, at the corner of Eighth and Division, equidistant from Frugal McDoogal and an adult bookstore. The extensive wine list separates Old World (France, Germany, Italy, Spain) from New World (Argentina, Australia, New Zealand, USA) in red and white categories. Flights of wine are a welcome and standard practice—three small pours that allow a personal tasting at a very affordable price. The first menus announced specific culinary destinations: Cuba (lemon-roasted mahi-mahi with fried plantains), Scandinavia (pan-seared salmon with beet-kumquat salad), Northern France (Painted Hills rib eye, whipped Yukon potatoes with truffle shavings and earthy sautéed oyster mushrooms) and back home to rabbit potpie with vegetable ragout, pistachios and pie crumble. Recently, plates are more melting pots of various regions, as well as laboratories for gastro-science. Kitchen pilot Bobby Benjamin is taking diners on an epicurean loop-de-loop. —KAY WEST

BEST RESTAURANT MAKEOVER: MIDTOWN CAFÉ

Facing the specter of middle age in the life cycle of a restaurant, Midtown Café decided to go gray. In 2006, owner Randy Rayburn spent 75 grand on an overhaul of the dining room, including a sleek, muted palette of gray walls, black linens and dark carpet. He also poured $100,000 into cooking equipment, then lured chef Paul Ent into the Hobbit-sized kitchen. For the last year, Ent and sous chef Richard Radford have been delivering elegant food with a Southern flair that is some of the best and prettiest in town. Items like quail with celeriac salad and salmon pastrami with hearts of palm update a menu that was formerly sauced with French-inspired classics. But don’t panic—Rayburn knows his audience—he’s not touching that lemon-artichoke soup. —CARRINGTON FOX

BEST KOREAN: SEOUL GARDEN

My sister-in-law first introduced me to Korean BBQ in Seattle in the mid-’90s, and since then my heart has fluttered on the rare occasions a new Korean place opened in Nashville. This eatery tucked away in a strip mall behind a Nolensville Road Walgreen’s is the first to match the excellence of that initial meal in Seattle: it became one of my favorite restaurants practically on arrival. Go with as many friends as you can comfortably fit around a table—you’ll have fun sampling the banchan (endlessly refilled little portions of kimchee, fish cake and other morsels) or ordering a meal grilled at your table over a stainless-steel tabletop hibachi. (Fold the meat with rice and pickle in a lettuce frond, then pop the bundle in your mouth while the slivered pork, chicken or beef still has the kiss of fire.) My colleagues and I will return just to settle a matter we’re still debating: is bibimbap (a stew-like dish served in a deep stone bowl) better hot, where the rice develops a toasty crust, or cool? Back in two hours, boss. —JIM RIDLEY

BEST NEIGHBORHOOD RESTAURANT: PM

Ask the Belmont crowd about PM—the spin-off of Patti Myint’s International Market owned by her son Arnold Myint—and they’ll get about as bubbly as Myint himself talking about his beloved neighborhood. Having grown up roller-skating in the aisles of his parents’ market, Myint moved to the culinary big leagues, training in New York under marquee names such as Jean Georges Vongerichten before coming home to expand the nascent PM. Under Arnold’s deft culinary hand, the unassuming bungalow has expanded its repertoire to deliver surprisingly adult food to its college-age hipster crowd. Students pour onto the patio for lunch between classes and for happy hour and dinner when the schoolwork is done. But Myint’s sushi and other elegantly casual Asian-inspired dishes—such as brown-butter halibut, seared tuna loin and kaffir-dusted duck curry—draw from beyond the campus sidewalks. Families and foodies are stopping in to see what all the fuss is about. If they walk, there’s often a rickshaw to drive them home after they eat. —CARRINGTON FOX

BEST RESTAURATEUR: RANDY RAYBURN

He is everywhere. He knows everyone. And he knows what they like to eat and drink. Randy Rayburn’s always got his finger on the pulse and his nose to the grindstone, as evidenced by his troika of perennially popular restaurants—Sunset Grill, Midtown Café and Cabana. Not only does Rayburn feed his clients, he feeds his city. Look no further than the countless philanthropic events that his restaurants cater—especially for Nashville’s Table and Second Harvest—or the boards and committees on which he serves, including the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce. Rayburn dedicates 1 percent of restaurant sales to community organizations. This year he was up to his lungs in smoke-free legislation, advocating for a law that would put restaurants on equal ground with bars when it comes to banning smoking in the workplace. Sure restaurants are about the food, but Rayburn brings a lot more to the table than just Tennessee Sliders, Sonoma Salad and lemon-artichoke soup. —CARRINGTON FOX

BEST NEW COFFEE ROASTER: DREW’S BREWS

Nashville’s locally roasted coffee options have grown significantly over the last decade, but there’s a new joe in town that’s been getting quite the, er, buzz. Drew Park started Drew’s Brews on New Year’s Day 2007, after honing his skills for six years at Bongo Java. Along with his deputy roaster Mason Vickery (whom you may have seen playing lonesome lap steel with Ole Mossy Face), Park makes beans that have been popping up all over town. He’s currently got about 30 local accounts, from small law firms to large industrial warehouses, and you may have unknowingly sampled his stout blends at Family Wash, The Mystic Coffee Shop, Sip, Sam & Zoe’s or Marché, all of which also offer Drew’s beans for retail sale. Or check out drewsbrewscoffee.com, where you can order online and have it delivered to your door for a $4 shipping charge, no matter how large the order. (Hey, if you order, like, a thousand pounds, you could totally make him regret that! I dare ya!) —JACK SILVERMAN

BEST PLACE TO EAT FRIED PICKLES: THE DECK AT RIVERVIEW RESTAURANT IN ASHLAND CITY

I grew up in Boston, so I’m new to the “everything’s better fried” rule. When I saw fried dill pickles on the Riverview menu, I thought I’d read it wrong. But I didn’t, and whoa, are they good. And you can eat them with hand-battered fried catfish, fried shrimp, fried hush puppies, fried—you get the idea. All while sipping cold beer or sweet tea on a deck overlooking the Cumberland River. The food is not fancy, nor is it all fried, but it’s fresh, well prepared and reasonably priced. There are even green veggies for the stubbornly responsible among you. Best of all, it’s right on the riverbank. And if you want to make a day of it, Blue Heron nature cruises leave from the small dock just steps down from the deck. —LISA ROBBINS

BEST RESTAURANT TO CELEBRATE A SPECIAL OCCASION: CAPITOL GRILLE

I’ve celebrated special occasions everywhere from Chuck E. Cheese’s to the Hotel du Paris in Monte Carlo, but I’ve celebrated more special occasions in the Capitol Grille at the Hermitage Hotel than anywhere else in Nashville, and that makes me a member of a large club of locals who book a table at the Capitol Grille to mark a milestone—birthday, graduation, promotion, engagement, wedding and anniversary. The restaurant in the basement of the nearly century-old hotel is imbued with history and defined by grace and elegance, yet remains warm and welcoming, cosseting diners with magnificent murals, deep carpets, plush furnishings and fine linens, silver, crystal and china. The kitchen—now under the direction of executive chef Tyler Brown—is sure and deft, building a menu that honors traditional Southern cuisine with four-star flourish and flair, and young pastry chef Andrew Manchester creates exquisite grand finales. —KAY WEST

BEST OLD FAITHFUL: KALAMATA’S

Looking for lunch in Green Hills? Need a quick dinner before a movie? Takeout? Kid food? Healthy? Delicious? Different? Kalamata’s fits the bill for whatever you need. Steadily becoming the lunchroom for anyone who works or plays along the Hillsboro Road corridor, Kalamata’s is as close to being all things to everybody as a place that small can be. It’s even a surprisingly sexy little dinner spot—just ask the folks who bring their expensive bottles of wine to accompany their dinner on plastic plates. Maher Fawaz delivers a consistently fresh menu of Middle Eastern cuisine—gyros, Greek salad, lamb kebabs, baklava. The environment is so unself-conscious and the price point so affordable that Kalamata’s catches you off guard with elegant dishes such as seared tuna with mango over greens or mahi-mahi with tomato and garbanzo beans. If you’re a first-timer, don’t worry about placing a bad order. Maher will tell you if he doesn’t approve, and he’ll steer you in the right direction. He just wants you to love his food. And you will. —CARRINGTON FOX

BEST KID’S MENU: BRICKTOP’S

Good luck finding a better meal for 5 bucks. Kids can choose between some seriously good mac-and-cheese, grilled cheese, corn dogs and chicken tenders, and Bricktop’s ups the ante by including a drink and dessert that are actually fun and delicious. Martinelli’s apple juice in the apple-shaped bottle goes over well with the little ones, and the generous scoop of vanilla ice cream with hot chocolate sauce on the side has been known to incite spoon fights between kids and their parents, who suddenly realize they’ve been out-ordered by toddlers. For a grown-up restaurant and bar—and Bricktop’s is about as clubby as they come—this place offers one of the best compromises around for families. But don’t worry, if you just want to curl up with a Palm Beach salad and a martini, the layout and acoustics at Bricktop’s can sufficiently insulate you from the chicken finger set. —CARRINGTON FOX

BEST NEW NEIGHBORHOOD RESTAURANT: EASTLAND CAFÉ

Though they quietly reside in a Brentwood subdivision with their three young children, Yvette and Willy Thomas are noted figures in Nashville’s urban neighborhood revival movement. Their Park Café—along with Caffe Nonna, which preceded it by two years—made scrappy Sylvan Park an unlikely dining destination. While East Nashville’s Five Points is practically bursting at the seams with food and drink choices, the Thomases ventured further into 37206 and took over Chapel Bistro, which had struggled to establish consistency in clientele and personnel. Though some in the smugly territorial area griped about the Westside carpetbaggers, the new owners quietly went about their business, sinking tens of thousands of dollars into repairing the building, refurbishing the kitchen and redecorating the dining room. With new executive chef Hal Holden-Bache and sous chef Nathan Wells, Willy turned away from the layered complexities of Park Café toward simpler American fare with some international flavor. In October 2006, the Thomases revealed a textbook example of the perfect neighborhood restaurant—inviting, warm and comfortable with an affordable menu of good food served by familiar, friendly faces. And while Eastland’s parking lot regularly fills with cars from across the river, plenty of folks arrive by foot. Yvette and Willy, your East Nashville Neighborhood Appreciation Certificate is ready for pickup. —KAY WEST

BEST BOUTIQUE GROCERY: TURNIP TRUCK

Life without the Turnip Truck wouldn’t be worth living. This small natural foods store near Five Points offers an ever-varying selection of locally grown organic fruits and veggies and carefully selected grocery items. Like the best buyers at the most trendsetting fashion boutiques, the staff at the Double T selects only the best items for its shelves. Everything from frozen chanterelle mushroom ravioli to locally made farm cheeses to the best hummus you’ve ever had (no, really: bring a tub of Bobbi’s Hummus to your next party and watch your social stock skyrocket) is offered up at fair prices in a clean and orderly environment. The prepared foods, which change daily, include everything from fresh sandwiches to curry chicken salad with black cherries to spicy Asian snap pea salad to homemade soups. (The split pea with lemon is a personal favorite.) Plus, with so much locally produced food on the shelves, you’re not just helping your stomach, but your community too. —LEE STABERT

BEST PARTY IN YOUR MOUTH: FAT STRAW

Bubble tea, a beverage originated in Taiwan, has largely been ignored by Nashvillians, who prefer their tea sweet and minus bubbles, thank you very much. With the opening of Fat Straw in the bustling Edgehill Villa compound, transplanted Californians (and betrothed couple) Monica Miaou and Scot Chang hope to popularize bubble tea through eye-catching graphics, engaging packaging and fun presentation. The whimsical little store features bright splashes of color and quirky furnishings, while a good supply of trendy magazines encourage lingering. Begin by choosing green (my recommendation) or black tea as the base. Then select one of the flavors, which include strawberry, blueberry, passion fruit, mango, avocado and melon. Gummy balls of tapioca or jelly are added to the mix, which is then shaken to a creamy consistency in a cute, red machine. The top of the cup is sealed with cellophane—you pierce it with, yes, a fat straw, designed to allow both the refreshing beverage and the bubbles to reach your mouth. It’s an acquired taste that some people never acquire, but if you have an oral fixation, it might just be your, um, cup of tea. —KAY WEST

BEST SALAD: BRICKTOP’S PALM BEACH

Like one of those sculptures in a jar with layers of colored sand depicting a sunset, the ocean and some seagulls, Bricktop’s Palm Beach salad is a work of art—just not so cheesy. A colorful tower of avocado, jumbo lump crabmeat, diced tomatoes, shrimp and egg, garnished with mâche, the Palm Beach takes the sting out of eating salad when everyone else is tucking into steak frites and prime rib. If it seems a little too healthy for you, ask for a side of deviled eggs and a couple of rashers of Bricktop’s sugar bacon. —CARRINGTON FOX

BEST REASON TO CROSS THE COUNTY LINE: RED PONY

Chef Jason McConnell has created a dining destination on Franklin’s Main Street, with globally inspired cuisine in a rustically sumptuous dining room and bar. At dark wood tables, under a gorgeous portrait of a red pony, McConnell serves equal parts big city and horse country. His playful and artfully executed menu includes the likes of king crab lettuce wraps and panzanella with salmon and artichokes. If it’s not on the menu, encourage him to bring back the flatbread with arugula and fig jam. The combination of peppery greens and sweet fruit was as unexpected and refreshing as McConnell’s adventurous repertoire just a block from Franklin’s sleepy historic square. His next project, Sol—a contemporary Mexican concept serving moles made from scratch, guacamole prepared tableside and margaritas made with fresh-squeezed limes—is slated to open in November. —CARRINGTON FOX

BEST NEW MILK SHAKE: PIED PIPER CREAMERY’S “SOME LIKE IT HOT”

Hot pepper in a milk shake? If enough people try the Some Like It Hot shake at Jenny Piper’s delightful ice cream parlor in Five Points, cayenne could be the new caramel. (We’ve already got someone at the Scene’s food blog Bites handicapping it as the next M&M flavor.) The second the cold chocolate ice cream leaves your tongue, the heat kicks in: the mix of warm and cool is remarkably sensuous. On second thought, forget the shake: just spoon-feed it to your lover, one sinful little bite at a time—and prepare for kisses with an undertaste of fire. —JIM RIDLEY

BEST OLD MILK SHAKE: ELLISTON PLACE SODA SHOP’S CHOCOLATE SHAKE

Time stands still at this Rock Block legend, a bulwark of Fabulous Fifties decor down to the Formica countertops, scuffed tile and individual booth jukeboxes (not working, alas). Slinging shakes since 1939, it’s so famous, in fact, that it’s somewhat taken for granted by locals—but every Nashvillian owes it to himself and his sense of posterity to have an Elliston Place chocolate shake at least once in his life. Belly up to the long counter, cop a squat on a vinyl stool and let the frosted steel tumbler and thick soda glass work their magic. Don’t blame us, though, if you walk outside and find that Britain’s just preparing to tussle with Hitler. —JIM RIDLEY

BEST BUTTER: GENIE’S PERSIAN PALACE

Well, honestly, I don’t know if Genie’s has the best butter, but the all-you-can-eat buffet at Genie’s Persian Palace has homemade butter. A fresh bowl of creamy curds sits alongside all the glorious fesenjan, khoreshts and other Iranian delicacies that Mo Karimy—of Fat Mo’s fame—cooks up on a daily basis in his tiny Moores Lane store. Mo and wife Shiva will welcome you with open arms and, if you’re lucky, a tour of the buffet and desserts, including baklava and rollette, a French-style cake like a jelly roll filled with cream. The Karimys have opened a second, larger store on Murfreesboro Road, but the butter’s not always homemade. —CARRINGTON FOX

BEST FISH TACO: BAJA BURRITO

Others have tried, but no one has produced a fish taco to rival the perfect study in contrast that comes from the busy assembly line at Baja Burrito. It’s hot (cubes of white fish straight from the deep-fryer). It’s cold (creamy sauce). The corn tortilla is soft. The slaw is crisp. The fish is sweet. The lime is tangy. One is an epiphany. Two are a tease. Three are perfect, and with a combo of chips and a drink, ring in at just around $7, an ideal lunch on the patio or in the bustling lunchroom. Fish tacos don’t travel well—they tend to get a little soggy—but who can wait ’til they’re home anyway? —CARRINGTON FOX

BEST NEW BARBECUE: MARTIN’S BAR-B-QUE JOINT

The walls of this amazing Nolensville barbecue restaurant are decked with license plates—and if they’re as steeped in heavenly smoke as everything else in the room, I’ll gladly gnaw on ’em. The folks at Martin’s are hardcore about the intensive pit duty that real barbecue requires, and that’s why theirs has a to-the-bone flavor every other BBQ joint in town should envy. Add to that killer ribs, hand-cut fries and pillow-soft corncakes the size of Frisbees, and you’ve got a new can’t-miss place to entertain out-of-towners. Considering that barbecue nuts have been known to make two-hour drives for ’cue that’s not as good as Patrick Martin’s, the 15 or 20 minutes you’ll spend heading out Nolensville Road will be amply rewarded. And read Martin’s blog (martinsbbq.blogspot.com) for an incredibly candid and detailed account of the running of a restaurant. —JIM RIDLEY

BEST-KEPT SECRET: PARCO CAFÉ

Mr. and Mrs. Fu, who own and operate the subterranean restaurant in Printers Alley, only barely seem to want customers. Parco’s hours shift every now and then, and the Fus frequently close the place down for prolonged periods, when they travel to Asia for Mr. Fu to teach his impressive pastry skills. Down in the unlikely grotto of a culinary haven, Mr. Fu delivers exquisite fusions of Asian and European cuisine such as tea-smoked sea bass, pan-seared and finished with a Pernod sauce, and lamb with baby bok choy, roasted peach and a passion-fruit sauce. But what really lures people into the delicious depths of Parco is Mr. Fu’s desserts, arrayed splendidly in a glass case in the front of the dining room, like treasures in a hidden cave. Call 259-7863 for reservations. You never know where the Fus might be or if they’re receiving guests. —CARRINGTON FOX

BEST PLACE TO TAKE THE FAMIGLIA: ITALIAN MARKET

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