Best of Nashville Goods & Services 

Our writers pick the best of Nashville's goods and services for 2007.

BEST PLACE TO GET A BIRTHDAY CAKE: SWEET 16TH

It’s so simple to go the easy route with birthday cake—white frosting, dried-out cake and more high-fructose corn syrup than your already over-caffeinated system can handle—but if you push a little harder, you can make one of adulthood’s rare cake-eating opportunities truly special. After almost two years of working in an office, with countless bland, that-was-so-not-worth-the-extra-10-minutes-on-the-treadmill confections thoughtlessly wolfed down, my cake standards have suffered. But there are moments when you realize the enormous potential within eggs, butter, flour, sugar and an intoxicating amount of fudgy chocolate. A couple months ago I tasted the best birthday cake I have ever had in my life. I talked about it the rest of the night. I talked about it the rest of the week. I got myself invited over for dinner the next day so I could eat more of it. It was from Sweet 16th in East Nashville—moist, fudgy, classic and oh-so-friggin’-worth-it. This independently owned bakery also serves up excellent cookies, pastries, breakfast scones, frittatas and even the occasional tomato tart. —LEE STABERT

BEST SHOP FOR EAST SIDE PRIDE GEAR: ALEGRIA GIFTS

Anyone who reads the Scene (or any of its blogs) regularly knows that East Nashvillians take their home turf seriously. If you’re looking to shout out loud, “I’m East and I’m proud!” then you need to check out Alegria Gifts. From a wide collection of East Nashville bumper stickers—“My other home is in Belle Meade,” “Way better than Smyrna,” “Nashville’s left brain,” “Over the river and through the hood” and more—to East-themed T-shirts, to jewelry and art created by locals, Alegria’s got you covered. And if you’re considering moving to the area, few people know more about the neighborhood than proprietor Bil Breyer, also a fixture in the area’s merchant association. But just as an old New York billboard read, “You don’t have to be Jewish to love Levy’s real Jewish Rye,” you don’t have to be an East Sider to love Alegria, where you’ll also find Hobo International handbags, Lou Zeldis jewelry, Brazil’s Havaianas sandals (the favorite flip-flops of America’s favorite former East Nashvillian, Oprah Winfrey) and Breyer’s own hand-cut, -dyed and –finished leather cuffs. —JACK SILVERMAN

BEST PLACE TO SHOP FOR SOCIALLY CONSCIOUS GIFTS: TEN THOUSAND VILLAGES

OK, so it’s a retail chain, but this is one we can enthusiastically get behind. There’s something here for any occasion: baby, holiday, birthday, Mother’s Day, anniversary gifts—there’s always a silky, sequined, woven or otherwise memorable bobble to be found. And the best part is that everything is handmade by one of 100 artisan groups in more than 30 countries, where Ten Thousand Villages works to bring shoppers “fair trade” goods. “We build long-term relationships with artisans that are based on mutual understanding and respect,” the website says. “Fair trade enables artisans to earn a fair wage and provides the opportunity for a better quality of life.” So every time you spend your cash at Ten Thousand Villages, you can realize that you’ve just helped an African mother or a young Latin American father feed their children. Go to tenthousandvillages.com to volunteer or even to create a gift registry. —LIZ GARRIGAN

BEST NEW WINE STORE: WOODLAND WINE MERCHANT

The employees at Woodland Wine Merchant are quick to offer their expertise to customers poring over the shop’s diverse selection. It’s a nice gesture, but usually unnecessary, thanks to the detailed descriptions the staff has thoughtfully penned and posted beside every bottle of wine on their shelves. Housed in a former bank at the corner of 10th and Woodland, the store opened in July with a focus on offering unique wines at a great value, along with a wealth of information about each product. The sleek, minimal decor in the shop keeps the spotlight on the wine, making for a pleasant shopping experience. For those who just can’t decide, knowledgeable staffers are ready and willing to make a suggestion in any price range. The store also carries a variety of high-alcohol beers and liquors to meet all your libation needs. And before you leave, sign up for weekly email updates to receive word of wine tastings and other events. —SARAH KELLEY

BEST THRIFT STORE TO SCORE USED VINYL: THRIFT SMART

Flipping through stacks of unorganized long-players and 45s with tattered or no sleeves is tedious for most people, and that reason alone justifies the worth in doing so. Since many people don’t have the patience to sift through stacks of old Christmas compilations and the Oak Ridge Boys, that leaves that dollar copy of Queen’s A Night at the Opera just waiting to be found. Great country 45s sit and collect dust in thrift shops all around the city, but not every venture delivers the goods. However, the most frequent provider of the sweet finds has been Thrift Smart on Nolensville Pike, which has yielded to my collection the above mentioned Queen record, countless 45s (including “Louisiana Woman, Mississippi Man” by Loretta Lynn and Conway Twitty—probably the best country song I’ve ever heard), Coltrane, Neil Diamond, various compilations of ethnic music and plenty of guilty pleasures. You won’t always find something worthwhile, but most everything is under a dollar, so you can mostly indulge in the urge to buy something for the sake of buying something—even if it does suck. —MATT SULLIVAN

BEST PLACE TO BUY ICE CREAM, USED BOOKS, JEWELRY AND KIDDIE COUTURE ALL AT ONCE: PIED PIPER CREAMERY AND V FLORAL & GIFTS

Yes, yes, the ice cream is made on site and totally fabulous, but Pied Piper Creamery on 11th Street in East Nashville satisfies my inner shopaholic even more than my sweet tooth. The used book selection is a chick-lit fan’s dream, and your kids will enjoy paging through the children’s bookshelves while they eat their Cherry Springer cones. Other rooms in the Pied Piper’s rockin’ renovated house, which it shares with V Floral & Gift, feature cool jewelry, hip kid fashions and home decor. The last time I visited the Pied Piper, I left with three “diamond” bracelets. So much for Maggie Moo’s. —LINDSAY FERRIER

BEST PLACE FOR CHICK GIFTS: TWO ELLE

If in some future life I’m granted the form of Anna Karina and unlimited credit, the first thing I’m going to do—after spending several appraising hours in front of a mirror—is hit this playfully chic 12 South boutique. Form-flattering yet fun is the principle behind the “creatively casual” clothes at transplanted New Yorker Rachel Lowe’s cheery shop, the exclusive local home to hot brands such as Built by Wendy, Cheap Monday, Le Tigre and Lowe’s beloved Converse by John Varvatos. “I missed my background in fashion,” says Lowe, who opened Two Elle last April in her “spare time” while attending Vanderbilt Law School. (Yeah, that was pretty much my reaction too.) The clientele skews toward early 20s, women-of-Pitchfork division, but between a $3 CBGB dark-chocolate espresso bar and a $500 Cynthia Rowley handbag, you’re bound to find something to charm your significant other. And if you don’t trust your own fashion sense enough to buy a $175 pair of Converse indigo chuck jeans without prior approval—I wouldn’t—just give a gift certificate. Your girl might get just as much of a kick (or more) from soaking in the shop’s ambiance, listening to Harry Nilsson or the Legally Blonde Broadway cast album while rifling through a Cindy Sherman photo book or trying on distressed cadet caps. Ask for Marielle Lovecchio, perhaps the first boutique assistant ever who didn’t treat me like a vagrant who somehow stumbled past security. —JIM RIDLEY

BEST PLACE TO SCAVENGE AND FEEL GOOD ABOUT IT: HABITAT HOMESTORE

At no place is the adage about one man’s trash and another man’s treasure more viable than at Habitat HomeStore, where that lead-paint-licked eyesore that you want out of your garage but can’t in good conscience smuggle into the landfill is just what I’ve been wanting in my living room. There is, after all, no accounting for taste. A fund raiser for Habitat for Humanity, the HomeStore is actually two stores. The location at 1001 Eighth Ave. stocks home and office furnishings, home decor and housewares, such as wallpaper, lighting fixtures and window treatments. The 908 Division St. store specializes in building materials and supplies, cabinets and major appliances. If you’ve got “trash,” call Habitat and ask about free demolition and pickup. If you’re looking for treasure, stop by often, as the inventory changes constantly. You might even find a car or a boat. The prices range from cheap to absurdly cheap, so you can bet that if it’s good, it won’t stay around long. And once it’s in my living room, it’s too late. —CARRINGTON FOX

BEST NEW BIKE SHOP: EASTSIDE CYCLES

Bike shops can be intimidating for novice cyclists, with hardcore racers or extreme mountain-bikers exchanging war stories about hammering up steep hills or going over their handlebars on rough terrain. But at Eastside Cycles, even the lamest “I rode around the block three times last week” story is a welcome anecdote. The family-owned operation repairs, sells and rents bicycles from its store, which opened in East Nashville’s Five Points district in May. Owners Scott deShon and Francie Hunt, who are married, both are expert mountain-bike racers, although their store caters as much to casual riders as it does to vein-popping racing types. So whether you ride a $5,000 Italian road bike or a hunk of junk you scored off Craigslist, the crew at Eastside Cycles is eager to serve. Shop employees also lead weekly rides throughout East Nashville, including a Friday evening “bar ride,” stopping off at local watering holes, and a comfortably paced “recovery ride” on Monday afternoon. —SARAH KELLEY

BEST PLACE TO PATCH A FLAT: TIDWELL’S TIRE BARN

Somewhere between Deliverance and David Lynch is Tidwell’s Tire Barn, with locations on Charlotte and Dickerson Pike. You’ll go for the $4.90 tire patch, but you’ll return for the carnie-like atmosphere. Prepare to be greeted by employees whose preferred methods of communication consist of grunts and hand gestures; if you’re lucky, you’ll get to hand your fiver to a man with a parrot sitting on his shoulder. Oh, and don’t forget to tip your tire patcher. At these prices, the dude deserves a few extra dollars. —LINDSAY FERRIER

BEST STORE FOR USED BOOKS: MEGA USED BOOKS AND MEDIA

Atmosphere, selection and pricing: those are the three factors by which you judge used bookstores, and Eighth Avenue’s Mega succeeds on all three points. Aisles are wide enough to maneuver for in-depth browsing, and the store layout is sensible and manageable. Books are still the dominant focus of the space, keeping the CD and DVD departments in check and providing a healthy turnover in newer titles. On average, you can gather enough reading material for several lazy afternoons (or one six-hour bus ride) for less than $14. Factor in an extensive children’s book section and a truly remarkable section of social issues texts, and you have the place to go for quality used books. What The Book Worm is to Hermitage, what The Book Attic is to Rivergate, that’s what Mega is for Nashville proper. —JASON SHAWHAN

BEST HOME-PROJECT CONTRACTOR: CRIMMINS CONSTRUCTION

Confession: I haven’t tried every contracting firm in Nashville, though I’ve certainly been burned by a few. And I’m never going to try another one, now that Chris Crimmins has entered my life. The boyish Crimmins leads a work crew—anchored by project manager Eric Smith and lead carpenter Andy Neel—that looks and acts like a church softball team: they’re actually skilled artisans who specialize in professional remodeling, historic renovation and hand-tooled furniture. The results alone recommend them—examples can be found at crimminsconstructionllc.com—but their attention to detail, old-fashion pride in their work and unflappable attitude seal the deal. Crimmins didn’t bat an eye at my wife’s exacting specifications for a complicated bedroom build-in: he just got it done, and didn’t stop until the floor gleamed and the lines were dead flush with the wall—no small trick in our 1920 German-expressionist funhouse of a home. The clincher: they’re just good people—including Crimmins’ wife Mary, who serves as (literally) in-house marketer. Some craftsmen might get annoyed when a 3-year-old wannabe pirate barges in on them brandishing a plastic sword. Neel, a father of two, just greeted ours with a lusty “Yarrr!” Contact them at 469-1813. —JIM RIDLEY

BEST PLACE FOR GUY GIFTS: FRIEDMAN’S ARMY-NAVY OUTDOORS

It sounds like the perfect place to purchase a birthday gift for the man in your life—if that man is R. Lee Ermey. But this 21st Avenue emporium of weapons, work clothes and survivalist essentials can reduce the most sober adult to a 10-year-old kid playing GI Joe, from an entire wall of Carhart work dungarees (“A hammer loop—cool!”) to row after row of canteens, grenade canisters (empty, thank God) and helmets. A snarling mounted boar’s head with sunglasses overlooks the domain of Pat Curtis, who’s been working at the store for 27 years. “I’ve seen [customers] go from daddies to grandfathers,” Curtis says, laughing, noting that camouflage never goes out of style. Since 1972, the store has been housed in a former Kroger built under a Masonic lodge; if you need a surefire gift, ladies, owner Frank Friedman says you can’t go wrong with a pocketknife. “Men like knives,” says Friedman, whose father Harry opened the first Friedman’s in 1950. Beyond that, you’ll find all the ingredients here for a romantic evening, Red Dawn-style: thermal underwear, a fake plastic owl, a Mossberg bolt-action .270, and thou. —JIM RIDLEY

BEST APPLIANCE REPAIR: KENDALL’S APPLIANCE REPAIR

Having a broken refrigerator sucks: no ice, white wine that’s slightly warm, not to mention all that food just itching to start growing hair. So, when your fridge is broken, you want to make it not broken as soon as possible—that’s where Kendall’s Appliance Repair comes in. Recommended by numerous posters on the handy East Nashville Listserv, David Kendall specializes in washers and dryers, but let him know what your problem is and he’ll do his best to get over there and make it go away. Not only did Mr. Kendall fix my fridge, he showed me what had gone wrong and gave me the heads-up on what other problems I might expect from a 21-year-old appliance—besides heavy drinking and bucking of authority. The full visit and repair cost under 50 bucks. You can’t beat that with a stick. —LEE STABERT

BEST FLIER DESIGN THAT ISN’T HATCH SHOW PRINT: GRAND PALACE

Hatch Show Prints are indisputably cool: the vintage design, the blocky letters and the old-world charm of the posters turned out by this letterpress formed in 1879 are instantly recognizable. But some giants can block out the sun, so if Hatch’s work seems too ubiquitous, try the posters designed by Murfreesboro’s Grand Palace, which serves as a record store, recording studio and screen-printing shop. The Palace is to local rock what Hatch was to trad-country, and the whimsical and sometimes odd posters evoke just what they ought to: a life spent at rock shows, listening to records and scrounging up weird, iconic images for the old-school art of making zines and fliers. See the Velcro Stars promo poster for their Grimey’s in-store—it has a stunningly slick comic-book noir aesthetic that likely beats anything you can make in MS Paint and print out on your home computer. —TRACY MOORE

BEST PLACE TO BUY QUINCEANERA SUPPLIES: LA ILUSION BRIDAL SHOP

If you’re a pre-teen Latina, you’ve probably been looking forward to your quinceañera party pretty much since birth. It’s akin to a sweet 16, it just happens one year early—quince means 15 in Spanish—and the motif is wedding-meets-first communion. The birthday girl wears a billowy, white dress with tiara, has a ceremonial dance with her father and receives a specially decorated pillow on which to kneel during the ceremony. She’ll also get a symbolic “last doll,” and a commemorative Bible, often white in color. This party requires some hard-to-find specialty items and La Ilusion Bridal Shop on Nolensville Road has ’em. Everything from dresses and white lace gloves to special quinceañera-themed presents are crammed into this little gem of a store. La Ilusion even has elaborate layer cake designs. Of course, they’re mostly vanilla—it wouldn’t do to stain a new dress. —P.J. TOBIA

BEST PLACE TO BUY LOCALLY MADE CLOTHING: LOCAL HONEY

One of the paradoxes of fashion in Nashville is that even as you long for bigger and better clothiers (looking at you, H&M), you value the out-of-the-way shopping trips to larger cities that guarantee no one else can cop your style. But if the rumors are true and Green Hills Mall will soon host the youthful faux vintage offerings of Urban Outfitters, you won’t be able to throw a wedge heel in this town without hitting someone in a Free People dress. That’s why the handmade rack at 12 South vintage store Local Honey is so kicking, not only because it’s proof that Nashville may be on its way toward a sustainable fashion scene that doesn’t lose its best and brightest to the coasts, but also because it features one-of-a-kind items. Currently there are around eight designers who keep the rack overflowing—Hana Hatori, Helen Stevens (Rae Clothing), George Bray (Frankie & Gigi), as well as store owner Shea Steele’s own line, to name a few—though Steele has plans for expansion and the addition of 10 more designers soon. Priced from $18 to $65, these brightly colored jumpers, simple jersey knit dresses and a handful of altered creations, such as Steele’s own dresses made from bikini tops or leotards sewn to skirts, won’t set you back quite as much as a trip to the mall, and, of course, you’ll know you’re not just a hapless fashion lemming. —TRACY MOORE

BEST AUTO MECHANIC: OLLIE, OIL CHANGE PLUS

When we were given an outrageous car repair estimate a few years ago, we took our brokenmobile to Ollie Ozden at Oil Change Plus on Charlotte Pike, who fixed it up good as new at a fraction of the other guy’s estimate. We’ve been taking our cars to him ever since, and he’s always given us the real deal on what’s wrong, not to mention a real deal on the bill. Business always seems to be booming at Oil Change Plus; it’s not hard to guess why. —LINDSAY FERRIER

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