Food & Drink - Our Choices 

What we chose

What we chose

Best Meat Loaf:

Tin Angel

For many people, the thought of meat loaf conjures up memories of a cafeteria line and a slab of molded ground beef topped with some sort of ungodly ketchup concoction. Understandably, it’s the sort of thing that could make your fear the dish for years to come. Tin Angel’s loaf, however, is an entirely different mound of beef: There’s no ketchup to be found anywhere in the recipe, and it’s served with the kind of flavorful gravy you can put on top of just about anything—like the Tin Angel’s equally delicious bleu cheese mashed potatoes. (JMarx)

Best Oddball Drink:

“The JFK,” Bourbon Street Blues & Boogie Bar

This category required some research. There was the “YMCA,” a vodka-fruit shooter at Joe D’s Hot Chicken Club. There was the Gold Rush’s “Screaming Nazi,” a death-dealing toxin described by our undercover agent as “a swig of Robitussin with a chaser of Mentos.” And a special flattery-will-get-you-everywhere award goes to the “John Bridges Martini” at Cafe 123. But for overall concept and presentation, the award goes to Bourbon Street’s JFK. Like the man himself, the drink is shrouded in mystery. All we know is, it’s a couple of shots of indeterminate origin, downed with a head snap back and to the left. More than one bartender may be involved. (JR)

Best Chef:

Guillermo “Willie” Thomas

His reputation apparently preceded him. The Capitol Grille in the basement of the newly renovated Hermitage Hotel had hardly warmed up its ovens when Esquire magazine named the place one of the country’s 25 best new restaurants. The man under the toque, Willie Thomas, came to us from Cape Cod and breathed new life into Nashville’s oldest hotel dining room. (BD)

Best Wine Steward:

Hoyt Hill, The Wild Boar

Hoyt Hill is Mr. Wine. He cares passionately not just about the wine but all the wine accoutrements. Dispensing knowledge about service stemware and storage, he has taught many of those currently decanting in some of Nashville’s tonier establishments. Better yet, when charity calls, his expertise is readily available. (KW)

Best Restaurant Name:

Ed’s Fish & Pizza House

Ed’s is at 1801 D.B. Todd Blvd., close by the Fisk campus. It’s open 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Mondays through Wednesdays, until 11 p.m. on Thursdays, and until 4 a.m. on Friday and Saturday nights. You just never know when you’ll get a craving for that special satisfaction you only get from pepperoni and catfish. (KW)

Best Place to Eat at 4 a.m.:

Mary’s Old-Fashioned Barbecue Pit

Outside of the Waffle House—and not counting the microwave at Circle K convenience stores—Mary’s, open 24 hours a day, is one of the few places in Nashville where you can get a real meal at 4 a.m. It depends on what you’re in the mood for: fried eggs, bacon and toast, with easy access to an interstate, or barbecue pork on white bread in the heart of Jefferson Street. If you don’t know Mary’s, there ain’t no way you’re gonna know Nashville. (KW)

Best Restaurant Bread:

Jimmy Kelly’s Corncakes

Not so much a bread as a beneficence, Jimmy Kelly’s legendary corncakes are as much a draw to this Nashville institution as the martinis, the filets and the veteran waiters. Brought to the table steaming hot, the corncakes seduce even the most diligent and dedicated dieter, and they’ve ruined many an appetite before the main course has even made it out of the kitchen. (KW)

Best Cheese Shop:

The Corner Market

Actually, there is no cheese shop in Nashville. But The Corner Market’s expert cheese buyer stocks their small case with a wide, wide world of fromage. The helpful staff is well-informed so that you don’t just have to stand there and stare helplessly at the selections. They may not sell the only fresh mozzarrella in town, but it’s reliably the best. (KW)

Best Meat Counter:

Kroger, Green Hills

Only the most committed vegetarian could roll her cart past the fresh meat case at the Green Hills Kroger and not stop to lust after the bright red, glistening slabs o’ beef, not to mention the pretty cuts of veal, lamb, pork, chicken and the fat links of Italian sausage. Call ahead and they’ll have your order wrapped, priced and ready. (KW)

Best Non-Kosher Sandwich:

The “Special Sandwich,” Nick’s Italian Deli

Don’t be bashful. If you eat at Nick’s, you are going to get tomato sauce on your chin, a meatball is going to fall in your lap, and this huge sandwich is going to cause you some oversize problems. Ingredients include: ham, salami, pepperoni, provolone, mozzarella, onions, peppers (hot or sweet), oil and vinegar (if you want), mustard and mayo (oh, go ahead), all of them hand-stuffed into a chewy roll about as long and thick as your forearm. At Nick’s tiny eatery on Fifth Avenue North, the national colors of Italy are on display, and the waitstaff wasn’t born too far from the Hudson River. The sandwiches are something of which any cucina could be proud. (BD)

Best Cheap Restaurant:

Monell’s

Brand-new and located in the hinterlands of Germantown, Monell’s is drawing a full house for help-yourself, pass-the-peas lunch and dinner. More than one Nashvillian is blaming Monell’s for a recent weight gain. The guilty parties could be the bottomless baskets of fried chicken and catfish, the platters of country-fried steak, and thick slabs of meat loaf. Or maybe the sweet potato casserole, the yeast rolls, the sweet tea and the pineapple cake. Eat until you’re full—or fat—for less than $8 per person. (KW)

Best Plate Of Veggies:

Jules Dining Hall & Bar Car

Jules Leib can take a head of cabbage, a stalk of broccoli, a carrot stick and a rib of celery and turn it into a feast. By no means are vegetables the only things she does at Jules Dining Hall and Barcar—there’s plenty on the menu to keep carnivores purring—but she is a vegetarian’s best friend. (KW)

Best Indian Food:

Sitar

Why should Madison have all the naan? For more than two years, devotees of Indian food made the trek north on I-65 to Sitar, ignobly located in a strip center in the shadow of Rivergate Mall. Largely ignored by Sumner County locals, Sitar finally brought the mountain to Mohammed and moved to friendlier digs on 21st Avenue North. (KW)

Best Hot Chicken:

Prince’s Hot Chicken Shack

Some swear by it; others swear at it. Yet all who have dared to challenge it agree that Prince’s is indisputably the most blistering chicken they have ever experienced. Baptized in a cayenne pepper brew—not merely sprinkled but fully immersed, the old-fashioned way—your choice of a wing or a breast thoroughly grease-soaks the white bread wrapped around it. After the first tentative bite, you’ll visualize the H-bomb’s white flash over Bikini Atoll. Prince’s makes young men dream dreams, and old ones roar, “Have MERCY!” (RH)

Best Restaurant to Take Out-of-Towners To:

Sunset Grill

Reliable and superlative in every way—from food to service—Sunset Grill also offers the best possibility of a celebrity sighting. Thanks to its proximity to Music Row and to Randy Rayburn’s easy familiarity with the rich and famous, Sunset Grill’s weekday lunch and dinners are usually studded with well-known faces. Special du jour? How about Garth, Alan and Reba on the patio, Harlan Howard in the back, and The Mavericks at the bar? (KW)

Best Onion Rings:

Sonic

Whenever someone orders tempura vegetables, he thinks he’s getting a nutritious alternative to deep-fried meats. What he’s really getting is the thinking man’s onion ring. So if you’re determined to clog every passage in your pulmonary system, hie thee hence to Sonic, where $1.18 (tax included) brings you a small paper sack filled with thick Saturn’s rings of onion encased in crunchy crust. A major plus: The first bite doesn’t yank the whole slimy onion strip out of the crust. (JR)

Best Way to Abuse Caffeine:

Vanilla Cappuccino, Owl’s Nest Coffeehouse

Yes, friends, Annie (not her real name) was once like you or me—until the fateful day she wandered into the Owl’s Nest just off Elliston Place. “Try this,” leered the flesh peddler behind the counter. He handed her a tall glass brimming with sweet foam. She looked at the sign on the wall. “A cup of candy,” it read. She put the glass to her lips and drank deeply. “It tastes like a melted Milky Way,” she said, her innocence draining with each greedy sip. Her once clear eyes became spiraling hypnotic pinwheels. Today, Annie sits alone at that table in the corner, surrounded by empty glasses and forgotten dreams. We shudder to think what’ll happen when she starts drinking doubles. (JR)

Best Restaurant That’s Never Crowded:

Royal Thai

Here we go, shooting ourselves in the foot again. Here we are, telling you how easy it is to get a seat at Royal Thai—on Commerce Street, no less. Serves us right if the khaeng keow-warn sells out. Just consider this a warning: If we get there, can’t find a table, and discover the last piece of deep-fried snapper in three-flavor sauce on your plate, prepare to use those chopsticks as weapons. (JR)

Best Soul Food in Murfreesboro:

The Kleer-Vu

Served cafeteria-style in a concrete-block building at the corner of Highland and Sevier, the Kleer-Vu’s meat loaf, macaroni and fresh greens provide year-round comfort to downtown Murfreesboreans. A couple of the Kleer-Vu’s renowned corncakes, a mound of chicken and dressing, and a slab of its heavenly peach cobbler are a cure for even this winter’s blues. Say hi to Rebecca. (JR)

Best Restaurant Seats:

Boswell’s Harley-Davidson Grill

Illusion: You’re straddling a high-powered hog with the wind in your face, taking curves on a hairpin at 90 mph. Reality: You’re sitting on the motorcycle-seat stools at the counter of Boswell’s on Fesslers Lane, wolfing down biker-sized portions of catfish stakes and slugging back some of Nashville’s best chocolate shakes. After you’ve polished off enough slaw and hush puppies to choke the baddest angel of hell, dismount from your stool, hitch up your pants, and waddle back to your day job, air-guitaring Steppenwolf all the way. (JR)

Best Pecan Pie:

Arnold’s

Don’t even ask Yankees about pecan pie. If they can’t grasp the concept of a chess pie, they’ll be totally bumfuzzled by the notion of pecans suspended in a tar-baby of sugary goo. However, if you feel tolerant enough to provide an education, take ’em to Arnold’s on Eighth Avenue South, where the pecan pie is gooey, chocolaty and sprinkled with coconut for a few extra fat grams. (JR)

Best-Kept Local Secret:

Dragon Garden

Hidden in the crook of the L-shaped strip mall on West End that includes Mozzarella’s and Bean Central, Dragon Garden consistently offers some of the best, fastest and freshest Chinese takeout in town. There’s no dining room, but you’ll only have to wait a few minutes for your order. The succulent vegetable moo shu will easily feed two. Bonus points for those cute little takeout boxes and some of the sturdiest chopsticks in town. (JR)

Best Slacker Waitstaff:

12th & Porter

Nashvillians have come to expect bad service at 12th & Porter. It’s part of the experience. There are a few good servers on the staff, but none of them is there to please you. These twentysomethings are only there to make ends meet until they make it big as an artist, writer, musician, actor or other creative-type person. There is more meaning to life than serving a hot plate of Pasta Ya Ya. (GG)

Best Meal When You Have a Cold:

Chicken Salad Sandwich, Veggie Soup and a Cherry Coke From Vandyland

Should you feed a cold and starve a fever, or vice versa? Who cares? When you’ve got the blahs, nothing picks you up like this standard order at Vandyland. The chicken salad sandwich, with its big chunks of chicken and a hint of relish, is just like the kind your grandmother used to make. The bowl of vegetable soup fills you with warmth, clears your head and soothes your throat. The cherry Coke is deliciously tart. Forget Nyquil. All is right with the world. (MJ)

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