Food & Drink 

Best Bagel: Alpine Bagels & Brews When a Jewish medical student from New York City came to Tullahoma to spend Thanksgiving with his roommate’s Baptist family, the New Yorker brought with him a bag of freshly baked bagels, which he suggested be served at breakfast the next morning. Biting into one, the patriarch of the Southern family chewed and chewed. Swallowing his first-ever bite of bagel, he politely asked, “Does everybody in New York City like their donuts so hard?” The crusty exterior of a bagel is achieved through a process that includes boiling and baking the hand-shaped circle of dough. Outside of large northeastern cities, few bagel-makers perform the hand-shaping or boiling steps, and their product is scornfully described by my New York friend, Jayne, as “bread with holes.” Though Alpine Bagel got its start in the Colorado Rockies, its bagels are as close as you will get in Nashville to the real deal: shaped, boiled and baked. Alpine offers more than a dozen varieties—the banana walnut and chocolate chip make purists moan oy vey—but slap a smear of cream cheese on the poppy seed, and you’ll think you’re on the Lower East Side of Manhattan.

—Kay West

Best Cheeseburger: Melrose Lanes If you look up “perfect” in the dictionary, you ought to find a picture of the bacon cheeseburger from The Melrose Lanes: a juicy, expertly charred patty, topped with crisp bacon, garden-fresh tomatoes and molten cheese, served between two thick slices of Texas toast. It’s all for the perfect price of $2.75. The secret ingredient in the biblically proportioned sandwich, however, comes from short-order artist Bessie. Walker, who’s manned the snack bar at the Berry Hill bowling alley for the past 15 years. “I put my love in these cheeseburgers,” says Bessie. “I enjoy cooking and try to serve people the way I’d serve myself.”

—Paul Griffith

Best Pizza (chain): Mellow Mushroom Mellow Mushroom’s target audience is within walking distance, right across 21st Avenue from the sprawling Vanderbilt Campus. The casual pizzeria and watering hole was founded in 1974 in Atlanta on the Georgia Tech campus by two savvy college students. No dummies, the founders introduced their curriculum in other student-heavy communities, offering a course that makes the grade in more than 50 locations: 1/2 off draft days, $10 buckets of beers, live music nights and a student-friendly menu of pizzas and hoagies. If you’re carbo-loading, you can’t go wrong here. The sauce, cheese and topping center of the pies are encircled by a two-inch-thick border of puffy, chewy crust made from slightly sweet spring-water dough. Nearly 30 toppings are available to build your own ’za, including tempeh and tofu. Or just choose a specialty pie off the menu. The same dough is used for the signature soft pretzels—garlic butter or honey basted. The hippie-dippy-trippy decor was right on in the early ’70s and is now a kitschy trip down memory lane for aging boomers and a history lesson for the college crowd.

—Kay West

Best Pizza (non-chain): Pizza Perfect/ Manny’s These two Nashville pie institutions are as different as night and day—literally. Keeping roughly the same daytime hours as its home, the downtown Arcade, Manny’s House of Pizza closes in early evening, while the Pizza Perfect on 21st near Vanderbilt shuts its doors at the witching hour. Both serve variants on the classic New York slice, a feat of culinary engineering flexible enough to fold lengthwise yet strong enough to support pepperoni, extra cheese and a fistful of black olives. The secret: a thin but durable crust that almost nobody else in town gets right. Now if one of them would kindly volunteer to take the graveyard shift from midnight to 8 a.m....

—Jim Ridley

Best Catfish: Catfish Kitchen You can take the bottom feeder out of the bottom, but you can’t take the bottom out of the bottom feeder. Catfish Kitchen knows that and would never mess up the lowly catfish with some high-falutin’ recipe. (They will broil it, if you insist, but I wouldn’t want to hear what they’re saying about you in the kitchen.) The best way to cook catfish is to fry it a ’til it purrs, and no place does it better in this catfish-lovin’ part of the country than this family-owned roadside restaurant in Burns, Tenn. They’ll do it plain, or they’ll do it spicy. You can get it by the order or all-you-can-eat. But whichever way, you’ll get it with the sides we know and love: French fries, cole slaw (vinegar or mayo-based), hush puppies and steaming bowls of white beans. (Pass the hot sauce please.) For a little fowl play, stop by on Tuesday or Wednesday nights for all-you-can-eat quail: cut-up, battered, deep-fried and served with mashed potatoes, gravy and biscuits. Bring your own cold beer or do like the locals do and wash it all down with sweet tea. The Kitchen is about 35 minutes west of Nashville on Highway 70. Just look for the giant fiberglass catfish suspended over the parking lot.

—Kay West

Best Barbecue: Judge Beans Beef brisket—poked, stoked and smoked—is as rare hereabouts as pulled pork is in El Paso. Lucky for us, Judge Beans is now in session on Wedgewood, just a cow skull’s throw from the Fairgrounds. The aroma from owner Aubrey Bean’s parking-lot smoker is enough to make a carnivore weak-kneed. Until about 3 p.m. every weekday, it pumps out an impressive assortment of ribs, wings, elbows and whatever lucky critter’s body parts happen to fall inside. As tangy and smoke-steeped as the brisket is, the main attraction may be the Shrimp Diablo, an unlikely marriage of shrimp and jalapeno pepper, bound in holy wedlock by bacon and Monterey Jack cheese. Don’t ask, just order, and find yourself stabbing away your lunchmates’ hands with toothpicks. As heretical as this sounds, the second-best brisket may be found at Famous Dave’s in Hermitage, a chain that sure don’t taste like one. See also the hot wings at the venerable all-nite Mary’s on Jefferson and the chopped pork at Corky’s in Brentwood.

—Jim Ridley

Best Ribs: Neely’s Bar-B-Que Memphis claims its fame as the birthplace of the blues, but the gritty city on the Mississippi has also made a name for itself in the wide world of barbecue lovers. One of those names is Neely, a Memphis family known in those parts for ’cue, wings, grease-stained brown paper sacks of home-made, deep-fried pork rinds, and pork and beef ribs. A couple of years ago, son Tony Neely was dispatched to Nashville and opened a small eat-in/take-out store on Nolensville Road. Now Music City is singing the praises of the meaty, tender, perfectly seasoned and smoked, spicy-sweet sauce slathered slabs of goodness.

—Kay West

Best Wings: Richie’s Hot ’N’ Spicy Kastle If a man’s home is his castle, then these hot-and-sweet chicken wings are Bopo Richard’s—aka Richie’s—family jewels. The Nigerian immigrant might seem an unlikely expert on this finger-food treat, which allegedly originated in Buffalo, but he knows what he’s doing even though he won’t offer any more clue than this: “I turn up the heat then add a little sweet to cool it down.” Richie also cooks up a burger fit for a king. He marinates his beef first in his own special sauce, shakes it up with a dose of white pepper, then hand-pounds and shapes a quarter-pound patty to sizzle up on the flat grill. The small eat-in/take-out restaurant is tucked into an out-of-the-way strip center on Old Hickory Boulevard West in Madison, but the sign out front is hard to overlook: “Good Food, Good Taste, A Unique Kind of Fast Food/Dine In Restaurant.”

—Kay West

Best Hot Chicken: Wilma Kaye’s With all due respect to Prince’s and Mr. Boo’s, both of which provide superb renditions of this fiery fowl tradition peculiar to Nashville, Wilma Kaye’s refines the art further, thanks chiefly to two innovations: A frying technique results in a relatively grease-free leg or breast, and the injection of a broth mixture into the chicken makes it unusually moist and flavorful. There’s only one level of hotness: significant without being devastating, it’s comparable to Prince’s “medium.” Be sure to get a peach pie with homemade ice cream to put out the flames. For the adventurous, visit all three of the aforementioned piquant poultry purveyors and decide for yourself. (Word to the wise: Allow several days between.)

—Jack Silverman

Best Sub Sandwich: Jersey Mike’s Transplanted east coast Yankees have had their hopes dashed time and time again by stores that promise “sub sandwiches”—the generic name for what we know as “hoagies”—only to deliver a stinker sinker of bologna, American cheese and (horrors) mayonnaise on a roll the texture of Bunny bread. Truth be told, it’s the bread, stupid. A good hoagie begins and ends with the roll—a crusty exterior and soft, chewy interior is key. And for inexplicable reasons, the defining hoagie roll gets lost in translation once it crosses the Mason-Dixon. But Jersey Mike’s comes this close to superceding the geographical inhibitor. “Jersey” at least lends credence and promise to the premise. The words prosciuttini, cappacola, pepperoni and provolone on the menu are always encouraging; and the sight on the prep counter of shakers of dried Italian herbs and squeeze bottles of oil and vinegar is quite reassuring. Jersey Mike’s is no Sarcone’s Deli, but it offers a sub-stantial sub-stitute and is the next best thing to being up there.

—Kay West

Best Delicatessen: Goldie’s Oy vey. With no offense intended to all of my Lexus-driving, Palm-piloted, deal-brokering, super-schmoozer friends with cell phones surgically attached to their ears who power lunch weekly at Noshville, an excellent restaurant with a snappy decor and stylish staff, I am naming Goldie’s the Best Delicatessen in town. In the truest sense of the word, it may be the only delicatessen in town. Like quintessential N.Y. delis, it is narrow and dark, cramped and loud, with an intoxicating perfume of pickles, rye, smoked fish, boiled chicken and spicy mustard. They’ve got your Jewish mother classics like matzah ball soup, brisket, stuffed cabbage, pot roast, chopped liver, latkes, blintzes, kugel, knishes, herring, whitefish and nova. They’ve got your sandwich standards like corned beef, pastrami, hard salami, Rueben, roast turkey (sized manageable Nashville to monstrous New York). There’s cheesecake and rugalech, of course, and fresh-sliced meats and salads sold by the pound. When deli-hungry Jews pose the question—“Do you want to do deli?”—the answer is Goldie’s.

—Kay West

Best Place to Buy Bread: Provence Breads & Cafe Provence was not the first venture in Nashville to up the bread bar—that distinction belongs to Bread & Company, which introduced the idea of artisan breads to Nashvillians who had grown up on yeast rolls and biscuits. But led by co-founder, co-owner and confessed breadophile Terry Carr-Hall, Provence raised the bar to sublime standards. Before opening the original Hillsboro Villlage store, he spent six weeks studying the art at Ecole de Boulangerie in Aurillac, France, scraping up every last crumb of knowledge and technique. The lessons paid off. From the moment Provence opened its doors in March 1996, a bread line in front of the wooden shelves has formed, full of folks hungry for a loaf of sourdough, country French, Tuscan, Pagnotta or the crackling crisp baguettes. Always striving for bread Nirvana, Provence moved its baking and pastry operations two years ago to an 8,000-square-foot facility in the Gulch, where breads are baked day and night in an imported Pavailler French brick oven. The original location and the cafe in the downtown public library also offer foods that go on or with bread: soups, salads, a selection of fine cheeses, spreads and sandwiches.

—Kay West

Best Milk shake: Bobbie’s Dairy Dip The best thing that ever happened to this drive-in burger joint, beloved by generations of Music City children, is new owner Claire Mullally (an indefatigably cheerful host, but a stickler for details and quality control). That extends to her ice cream, specially ordered with a high butter-fat content that yields a custardy texture. It gives her milk shakes the consistency of pudding, and when that last gulp has been slurped from the cup, it leaves the tongue and roof of the mouth blissfully coated. Try either the chocolate or orangey Dreamsicle shake, or scandalize your fellow patrons by ordering them mixed. (It’s sort of a de-yuppified Starbucks Mocha Valencia.) Then watch night fall over Wendell Smith’s neon-flooded empire across the street and wonder if the clock somehow slipped back 40 years between sips.

—Jim Ridley

Best Dessert: Parco Cafe Fans of this Farmers Market lunch counter—of which there are many—know that everything owners Chun and Tsuo Fu prepare is excellent. But it’s with the desserts that Mr. Fu really gets to exercise his creativity, so much so that customers can regularly be seen staring wide-eyed at the display case containing those impeccably crafted confections. His fresh-fruit cake, light and fluffy with layers of strawberry, mango, kiwi and berries, is by now something of an old standby. And on weekends, the strawberry-banana crepes, with their rich, creamy filling, sometimes sell out before the lunch rush has even hit. Meanwhile, regulars have been charting the arrival of new delights on an almost weekly basis, each more unusual—but just as delicious—as the last: the flaky honey-date tart (the perfect breakfast pastry); the delicate lavender panna cotta; the dense and intense chocolate truffle cheesecake; the delightful pistachio cannoli. Any of these tastes great after a sandwich or with a cup of espresso, which the Fus make with the same careful attention that they devote to their desserts.

—Jonathan Marx

Best Creative Interpretation of a Dish: Tuna Salad at mAmbu Sometimes a classic only needs the simplest of presentations to come across at its most artful and tasteful. Thick, barely grilled strips of lightly spiced tuna set atop a bed of wild lettuce greens and brought to life by a spare dressing with hints of Asian flavor: It seems uncomplicated, but perfection is like that.

—Michael McCall

Best Bakery: Savarino Italian Pastry It’s a bit of a haul out Nolensville Road to Corrado Savarino’s store, but it’s worth every near fender-bender you’ll experience to get there. Savarino’s goods are of the sort common to Italian neighborhoods in New York, Boston and Providence. But in Nashville, they’d be impossible to find were it not for this expert baker’s decision to relocate from Brooklyn last year, family in tow. There are several cases’ worth of pastries and cookies, all unique specialties: the crunchy, nutty bruti ma buoni, the colorful seven-layer cookies, the plentiful varieties of biscotti. But the reason why Savarino gets the nod for best bakery is that his expertise extends to beautifully executed, crowd-pleasing cakes, seasonal pastries integral to Italian holiday celebrations, and freshly baked loaves of bread—perfect for slapping on some fresh tomatoes, basil and mozzarella. The selection doesn’t stop there, either. Wife Maria makes pans of lasagna, chicken marsala and other Italian dishes, all delicious and packed up ready for takeout. Sure, Provence may be many Nashvillians’ baker of choice, thanks to pricey artisan breads and precious pastries, but I prefer Savarino because it’s a family operation, full of the warmth, friendliness and robust conversation that comes from husband, wife and kids all working together and helping each other out.

—Jonathan Marx

Best Place to Buy Produce: Farmers Market Though some vendors rely too heavily on corporate-grown, chemically enhanced produce trucked in from states miles and miles away, there is no better or more central place to take advantage of Middle Tennessee’s long and varied growing season (as long as you stick to shopping seasonally). From pumpkins to peaches, from greens to beans, from potatoes to tomatoes, buy ’em as they pick ’em and you can’t do better. Vendors located inside the market offer an international mix of products and produce—lemongrass, bok choy, long beans, tomatillos, hot peppers, papaya and yuca—for those cooking globally.

—Kay West

Best Health Food Store: Turnip Truck Most media stories about the rise of East Nashville focus on restaurants, nightclubs and coffeehouses—all fine additions to the neighborhood, to be sure. But the biggest improvement in the day-to-day lives of those who reside here came with the arrival of the Turnip Truck, a locally owned market emphasizing organic nourishment in its many forms. Over the years, the most persistent gripe among those living from the Riverfront to Eastwood has been the shoddy quality and non-responsive management of major grocery stores, which never seemed to receive the upgrades and product overhauls that chain grocers in other parts of town enjoyed. The Turnip Truck operates in exactly the opposite fashion. The market emphasizes regionally grown produce. It’s constantly evolving in response to requests from customers. And the staff is friendly, committed and efficient. Customers are easily in and out in the same amount of time they would have spent waiting in the checkout line at the nearest Kroger.

—Michael McCall

Best Specialty/Gourmet Food Store: K&S Global Market What is gourmet depends on the tongue of the gourmand, and one man’s specialty is another’s oddity. Chacun a son gout, as the French say. K&S Market occupies the cavernous space formerly held by Service Merchandise on Nolensville Road. Instead of blenders, electronics, jewelry and power tools, K&S is brimming with treats of an edible variety—every big and little thing anyone would need to make a Vietnamese, Chinese, Thai, Korean, Japanese, Mexican, Central American or Indian meal. More than shopping, a visit to K&S offers a trip around the world to the culinary traveler, and its aisles are roamed by many of Nashville’s most creative chefs. The produce department is stocked with exotic fruits, vegetables and herbs. Miles of shelves are stacked high with multi-lingual labeled cans, bags and boxes. You will be shocked and amazed by the animal body parts that some cultures consider a delicacy. The big tubs of water, where frisky fish swim about ignorant of their ultimate fate, give new meaning to the word “fresh.”

—Kay West

Best Restaurant in Brentwood/Franklin: Saffire Scott Alderson made a sizzling Nashville debut as the cooking half of the dynamic duo that opened Nashville’s hot-as-fire 6º restaurant in The Gulch in December, 2001. Unfortunately, when 6º flamed out a mere nine months later, it looked like the frightfully talented Alderson might crash and burn as well. Instead, he chilled out for a few months and then triumphantly re-emerged in April 2002, when he teamed up with Tom Morales (owner of the time-tested and nationally recognized TomKats catering company). Tragically for resolutely inner-loop Nashvillians, his resurrection has taken place in a cozy brick-walled corner of The Factory at Franklin. Saffire gives starving foodies in Williamson County reason to gloat, while providing ample reason for Davidson Countians to make the 10-mile trek south down I-65. Alderson is a working-class cook with star chef chops and a robust, earthy appreciation of simple, seasonal and regional ingredients. His confidently creative food draws the culinarily sophisticated—who appreciate an exquisite ceviche, ice-cold raw oysters and the rarest seared tuna—while amply pleasing those who want their fish and chicken fried, their shrimp boiled, their grits creamy, their gumbo hearty, their meat on the plate with potatoes, and their macaroni with cheese. The vibe in the brick-walled room crackles with energy, particularly during one of Saffire’s quirky live entertainment nights.

—Kay West

Best Cheap Eats in Murfreesboro: International Grocery Some of the best noodle dishes in town, none costing more than $6.50, greet the patron who walks through the well-lit back entrance of this grocery, at 1622 Bradyville Pike, which mainly caters to its Laotian neighborhood. Though there are only nine items on the menu, each is distinctive, and the permutations are seemingly infinite. One can order not only the pad thai, fried rice and fine-spun rice noodles, but also the rarer pad saew (thicker noodles that come fast off the wok with a pleasantly light smokiness) and lat na (sort of a Southeast Asian cousin of stroganoff, albeit a touch soupier, with greener veggies cooked to a just-snapping texture). Most dishes are available with seafood, chicken, beef or a combination of meat and fish, to say nothing of the nine or more condiments that line the table edge fresh from the grocery’s shelves. Not that the fresh-tasting food and piquant sauces lack any flavor, but it’s just too much fun to experiment with the ground peanuts, pepper sauces, dehydrated onion and shrimp paste (sometimes two different varieties competing for attention).

—Bill Levine

Best Restaurant in Hendersonville/ Goodlettsville: Chef’s Market Cafe & Take Away What these two established but still growing communities north of Nashville lack in contemporary, upscale dining is made up for by the abundance of good tastes delivered by Jim and Cheryl Hagey, a husband and wife team who own this charming, multi-service restaurant. Cheryl, an interior designer, transformed a former dress shop into a warm and inviting open space with defined and cozy areas, including sit-down dining; a small European-style cafe for coffee, drinks and dessert; free-standing displays of unique gifts and specialty food items; and a thriving catering company. Jim, a food industry veteran, has successfully achieved his goal of providing “gourmet comfort food at reasonable prices” with a menu that balances classic and creative with fresh, quality ingredients. There are chicken salad and Thai tuna salad; fresh fruit salad and berry salad with cinnamon balsamic dressing; cole slaw and jicama slaw; turkey wrap and three-grain wrap; green bean casserole and sesame green beans; hamburger and grilled flank steak with ancho barbecue sauce. Though the menu delivers big city surprises, the service is small-town friendly. You can take everything they make to go—but why leave when Chef’s Market is such a delightful place to stay?

—Kay West

Best Restaurant in Nashville: The Palm The question I am asked most frequently and annoyingly as a restaurant critic is, “What is the best restaurant in Nashville?” Wild Boar is the only Four-Star, Four-Diamond restaurant in Nashville, and it’s one of only 89 restaurants in the world to receive Wine Spectator’s Grand Award for 2003. But considering that Wild Boar serves the select few, who don’t think twice about paying $14.25 for an appetizer or balk at $100 bottles of wine, I’ll direct my reply to the audience who flies coach. Nashville is blessed, now more than ever, with excellent, chef-driven or owned independent restaurants—from Margot to mAmbu—and they should be supported on a regular basis by Nashville diners. Choosing The Palm, technically a chain restaurant, as Nashville’s Best Restaurant will disappoint my Lone Ranger friends. But based on my own experience (and after dozens of conversations with people familiar with this restaurant—from one visit ever or one visit a week), I have to go with this dining institution, 77 years old and still humming with energy, infused with pride in its product, and marked by a genuine dedication to impeccable service. Arrive in a Rolls Royce or a VW, attired in evening wear or Dockers, with celebrity clients or children in grass-stained soccer uniforms, and the treatment your entire party receives—from valet parkers to host or hostess to bartender to busboy to server—will not vary. Nashville’s Palm is the 21st opened by this family owned concern, and while it adheres to the standards set in place since 1926, it distinctly and unmistakably reflects its local address, thanks to the savvy staff (most of whom have been on board since opening day), the trademark caricatures of local celebrities and personalities that adorn the walls, and the familiar faces in the bar and dining room. The food is of consistent quality in product and execution, and it is so generously proportioned that sharing is standard practice. When the legislature is in session and the Predators are playing at home, the bar is jammed with cigar-smoking, martini-drinking politicians and lobbyists, shoulder to shoulder with jersey-wearing, beer-drinking hockey fans with tickets to the game in the back pocket of their blue jeans. Nashville’s Palm delivers a juicy slice of the best of the Big Apple, but it is unmistakably Music City’s own.

—Kay West

Best Chinese Restaurant: China Chef The best Chinese owned restaurant is Parco Cafe in the Farmers Market. But if you want egg rolls, won ton soup and Happy Family, you’ll have to go elsewhere because Tsuo and Chun Fu’s tiny eatery specializes in individually brewed coffees, teas, unique sandwiches, salads, and astounding pastries and desserts created by Mr. Fu. The couple is painfully aware of the lack of genuine Chinese food in Middle Tennessee and recently steered me to China Chef, owned and operated in the Hickory Hollow area by chef Chia Wang, his wife Susan and their son John. Though China Chef looks like a duck (it has been a Chinese restaurant through several ownership changes) and quacks like a duck (at least on its regular menu), savvy Chinese food aficionados know to turn immediately to the brief but growing “Special Chinese Menu” hiding in the bottom right corner. There they will find, well, duck for one thing—Peking Duck that is of a superior quality and preparation to any other place that carries it locally. China Chef’s lucky duck is white Peking Duck ordered from Atlanta that undergoes a two-day preparation to ready it for its lovely presentation as fanned slices of surprisingly non-fatty duck meat, garnished with a crown of julienned scallions and carrots (cut into flowers). Other standouts from the Special menu are the grouper filet, steamed with lemongrass and ginger, the five-flavored eggplant, the sauteed hot and sour squid, and the beef flank noodle soup.

—Kay West

Best Middle Eastern Restaurant: Istanbul Cafe As vibrant an addition to the Woodbine area as the Persian restaurant House of Kabob nearby, Nashville’s first Turkish eatery remains one of the city’s happiest surprises: a nondescript storefront that harbors invigorating, unpretentious and utterly life-affirming delicacies within. First-timers should start with doner (chopped, marinated sirloin steak wrapped in pita or ladled over fragrant rice) or with the flattened, grilled Cornish hen or chicken kabobs. Then come back Tuesday, Wednesday or Saturday night for lahmacun, a.k.a. Turkish pizza (a crispy golden flatbread spread with ground beef and zingy pepper paste), of which owners Memet Arslan and Mehmet Sadioglu are justly proud. Finish with a stout Turkish coffee, dark and dense as sorghum, and a seker pare, an almond-topped sugar cookie soaked to its last crumb in sweet syrup. End the meal savoring the complex, lingering tingle of earthy spices, which are somehow enhanced by the clatter of Turkish cop shows and soccer matches on the corner TV.

—Jim Ridley

Best Mexican Restaurant: La Espuela La Espuela’s proprietor and sole chef, Pompilia Compian, honed her culinary skills in the family kitchen. Her husband Eusebio’s favorite dishes make up the menu at La Espuela (“He’s so picky!”), which is located in a converted home on White Bridge Road. “I put all my heart in every dish I cook,” says Pompilia, who opened the family restaurant about a year ago. All the standard fare is here—the tamales are so light they practically float off the plate—but so are distinctive dishes such as Arroz La Espuela (paella with beef, chicken, pork, shrimp and sausage) and Carne a la Milanesa (a Mexican version of chicken-fried steak). Don’t leave without trying one of Pompilia’s horchatas: Most restaurants use a drink mix to make this clove-spiced, rice-based beverage, but hers is lovingly created from scratch.

—>Paul Griffith

Best Italian Restaurant: Basante’s Who would have thought that the finest Italian cuisine in the city would be served in a Days Inn dining room? Today’s Basante’s on West End Avenue looks a lot spiffier than it did in its early days, but some of its loyal clientele nonetheless now prefer to eat at the Basante’s spin-off in Green Hills. (Sniff.) I myself am a West End regular. Any of the sauteed fish dishes are astonishing. The veal or chicken picatta dishes are perfect. The stuffed raviolis are superb. Simple things—like the hard-crusted bread or the salmon cakes appetizer—are as good as they come. They also stuff a martini olive with blue cheese if you ask them.

—Bruce Dobie

Best Japanese Restaurant: Koreana A Japanese restaurant named Koreana? Someone must have been eating too much kimchi—yet another bone of contention between these Far Eastern neighbors and century-old feuders. The peppery, pungent, pickled cabbage is a staple on tables in Korea, which is angry about Japan’s “speeded up” kimchi-making methods. Happily for Nashvillians, the owners of Madison’s Koreana, a Korean and Japanese restaurant, set aside their differences to offer classic dishes from both countries in a stab at establishing international harmony. (We assume the kimchi is made the old-fashioned way by Koreans.) Customers walk right into a sushi bar from the front door but can turn left to a dining room for tables with built-in cooking elements for tabletop grilling common to Korean restaurants. There are miso and osumashi (Japanese soups) and more than a dozen of the meal-portioned soup bowls with meats, fish, noodles, rice cakes and dumplings, all common to Korean cooking. There are beef negimaki (Japan) and bulgogi (Korean marinated beef). There are tempura (Japan) and bibimbap (Korea). Diners are the true beneficiaries of this diplomacy; one bite of the haemool pajun (an omelet shaped dish made of ground mung beans, seafood, chopped scallion and grated vegetables) or the sauteed squid in spicy red sauce, and you will be speaking—or at least eating—in tongues.

—Kay West

Best Sushi Bar: Samurai sushi Sushi options in Nashville are multiplying faster than rabbits listening to Al Green. Many are quite worthy, but Samurai on Elliston Place stands out from the rest. All of the sushi at Samurai is first-rate, but it’s the “World Special” rolls that have Nashville foodies waiting in line. Choo’s imaginative creations blend ingredients exotic to the Music City sushi world—mango, strawberries, kiwi, pine nuts and such—with various combinations of raw and cooked fish, resulting in masterpieces like the Volcano Roll, Hawaiian Roll, Dragon Roll and the extremely popular Choo Choo Roll. The casual, intimate eatery only seats 25 or 30, and some of those seats will inevitably be filled by the Choo Choo Club—rabid, almost cultish regulars, some of whom eat there two or three times a week.

—Jack Silverman

Best Thai Restaurant: Jasmine Jasmine is in Cool Springs—that south-of-Nashville sprawling retail organism. But it is close enough to the interstate that you technically don’t have to drive into the commercial maw. Whatever anxiety you may endure will be well worth it once you enter the soothing environ of this temple of subtlety, calm and refined taste. You will be graciously seated at a courteously spaced table set with linen and handed a menu that is at once familiar to fans of Thai food and full of delightful surprises. Suave yet boyish chef/owner Bobby Kornsuwan has a rock-solid résumé of experience with (and family ties to) most of Nashville’s Thai restaurants over nearly two decades. This experience proves itself in the flawless preparation of standards, such as red and green curries, hung ray curry, massaman curry, tom ka kai and, of course, pad Thai. But it is in Bobby’s Specialties that diners reap the benefits of his appreciation for classic cooking and his stint under French haute cuisine chef Emile LaBrousse. His fish and vegetable salads sparkle with clearly defined flavor and freshness, perfectly achieving the Thai flavor balance of hot, sour, salty and sweet. Crab cake appetizers, an adaptation of those he learned under LaBrousse, are jazzed up with Thai spices and served with sweet chili and hot mustard sauce. Go with a large party so you can pass and share the fish filet (sauteed with red curry paste and served with stir-fried string beans), marinated Cornish hen (served with sticky rice and spicy pureed mushrooms), and crispy shrimp (in a chili-tamarind sauce).

—Kay West

Best Chef: Kim Totzke, Yellow Porch/Wild Iris What a loaded question: Who is Nashville’s best chef? Though the evolution of the local dining scene has brought more acclaim to the men and women behind the menu, Nashville chefs for the most part still toil in near-anonymity outside the small corps of foodies who follow their comings and goings like sports fans follow daily transaction reports. I’ve had my eye on Kim Totzke since the early ’90s, when she began hanging out in creative Nashville kitchens like Cakewalk, Brasserie, Bound’ry and Dancing Bear. She aligned herself with some of Nashville’s most passionate and skilled cooks—Deb Paquette, Daniel Maggipinto and her great friend and massive talent, Corey Griffith. Word in the industry was that here was an emerging young talent, tough enough to take the heat in male-dominated kitchens but with the nurturing nature that is at the heart of every true chef. Her first solo slot was at Finezza, then the Bongo empire. In 2001, she was named executive chef of one of Nashville’s best kept restaurant secrets, The Yellow Porch, and was attracted to its culinary philosophy of creative, quality food with a devotion to fresh, regionally grown ingredients. Not long afterward, she was also named executive chef of Katie and Gep Nelson’s second restaurant, Maryland Farms’ Wild Iris. Then she revamped the menu of their Brentwood sports bar, Cross Corner. Now, this seasoned but still effervescent chef is mentoring the next generation of young chefs. The woman is a maestro of multi-tasking, runs a tight ship, cusses like a sailor—in at least two languages—and is, on any given day, the best chef in Nashville.

—Kay West

Best New Restaurant: Chapel Bistro Going to a new restaurant is like opening a mysterious, wrapped package—it provokes curiosity, anticipation, excitement and hope for something surprising, unexpected and wonderful inside. Chapel Bistro was that perfect package for me this year. The givers of this gift are Fred Grgich, Nashville’s premiere neighborhood restaurant designer and developer, and chef Ted Prater, whose generosity is as boundless as his potential and passion. Chapel Bistro is the harmonious and complementary convergence of room, food and service that are essential elements for the entire dining package. The old building has been beautifully restored and refurbished. The dining room is at once cozy, lively, vibrant and sophisticated. The view into the energy-filled kitchen heightens a diner’s anticipation. Service is informed, efficient and confident. But the heart of this package is in the food, and Prater doesn’t miss a beat. He is not tempted, as many young chefs are, to hot dog his entire bag of tricks on complicated dishes of obscure and unfamiliar ingredients. He simply uses the best of what is available and adheres to the guiding food principal of balance in taste and texture. Chapel Bistro is the gift that keeps on giving satisfied memories that beckon one back to unwrap the package again and again.

—Kay West

Best New Ethnic Restaurant: Anatolia Diners don’t normally expect serenity and classiness in strip mall restaurants. So Anatolia, the new Turkish eatery in the White Bridge shopping center (next to Dalt’s), is a pleasant discovery. Middle Eastern rugs, tapestries and other exotics adorn the walls of this cleanly furnished, uncluttered dining room, where the service is friendly and well-informed. Selections include offerings of hummus, eggplant delights, shish kabobs and utterly scrumptious coffee and desserts. It’s worth noting that Anatolia does the Turkish staple—rice—extremely well. If you were thinking of going to O’Charley’s for dinner tonight, you may not be the kind of diner who’d appreciate this fortunate addition to Nashville’s foodscape. But if an iceberg lettuce wedge isn’t your idea of culinary vision, give this place a try.

—Liz Murray Garrigan

Best (Most Original) Menu: Zola When I am showering, or waiting for a traffic light to change, or running, or lying in bed at night unable to sleep, I make mental to-do lists. I think about unpaid bills, leaky plumbing and if I should include my recent trip to Off-Broadway Show Warehouse in my confessional accounting of sins on Sunday. I’ll bet Deb Paquette (chef/owner of Zola, longtime mentor to aspiring local chefs and Nashville’s most revered food goddess) isn’t thinking about such mundane things as dentist appointments and malfunctioning sump pumps in her unstructured time. She is probably thinking, “Why don’t I sear the shrimp in Turkish spices with pineapple, coconut and almonds, put them in a scooped-out banana half, then drizzle it all with mango butter?” “I wonder how blackberries and ancho peppers would work together?” “What can I do with those beets? I could fry them with pecans, throw in some goat cheese, dried figs and bacon, and toss it all up with a maple, Tabasco vinaigrette.” “Hmmm, pistachio salmon with Key lime couscous flan, pineapple ginger sauce, mango salsa and okra. That could work...” Dinner at Zola is the most exotic culinary journey anyone can book out of Nashville. All you have to do is take a seat at the table, open your mouth and say, mmmmmm.

—Kay West

Best Outdoor Seating in a Restaurant: Margot Cafe and Bar What makes it great is the roof. In the middle of July, my wife and I showed up at Margot and, upon learning the inside was full, sat down at an outside table, fully expecting to fry. We were pleasantly surprised when an East Nashville breeze blew through the outdoor eating area, and the shelter shielded us from the worst of summer. While hipsters crowded into the Slow Bar across the street, and dragsters roared through Five Points, we ate appetizers and drank light, white wine. We told the sitter we’d be late.

—Bruce Dobie

Best Late Night Eats: Alley Cat It’s not open the latest—that would be Waffle House (in a pinch) or Mary’s Old Fashioned Pit Barbecue, a worthy contender and serving till 5 a.m. on weekends. It’s not the place to see and be seen—that would be Sunset. It’s not the most extensive late-night menu—that would probably be Bound’ry. But East Nashvillians clocking off the late shift or struck by a raging case of the munchies at midnight (simultaneous with the revelation of Mother Hubbard cupboards) are making the midnight foodie call to Alley Cat. The kitchen at this neighborhood hot spot stays open and busy until 1 a.m., which might be the very moment that you decide their fried avocado (a ridiculously tasty fat bomb) will hit the spot. Or maybe you’d prefer the fried jalapeno corn cakes (an edible security blanket with a kick). There is no late night menu, but the same five apps, soup, chili and four entrées are available from opening until closing, which simplifies the ordering process at the tail end of a bar crawl.

—Kay West

Best Vegetarian Menu: Grins For a very dry spell, following the domino-effect demises of Laughing Man, Slice of Life and Country Life, there simply was no meatless menu in Nashville. Vegetarians were challenged to find something that adhered to their personal eating policy from restaurants that dismissed them as weirdos or irrelevant to their bottom line. With the opening of Grins, a veggie-kosher restaurant on the Vanderbilt campus, vegetarians and their more stringent siblings—vegans—lifted their glasses in a soy milk toast. Chef Michele Watkins Knaus cooks up fare that validates vegetarians while satisfying all but the most committed carnivore. Every day the small cafe has three or four sandwiches and wraps, side salads, the daily panini and a few hot entrées. Knaus’ vegan chocolate cookies are a local sensation. Vegetarians out for dinner can be confident that Kim Totzke at Yellow Porch won’t desert them either, although the Porch is partial to surf and turf as well. A recent menu offered a mushroom ravioli in a sun-dried tomato, pinenut and roasted artichoke cream starter; a port-poached mission fig salad with baby greens, walnuts, feta and balsamic vinaigrette; and the entrée, a hot Greek salad of baked polenta, roasted eggplant, portabella and artichokes over baby spinach, finished with tomatoes, kalamata olives, balsamic and feta. Enough to make you give up the cow.

—Kay West

Best Gumbo: Patrick’s This gumbo is thick, almost like a stew, emerging from a darkened roux the color of chocolate. I had a bowl of it recently on a hot day while sitting outside on the deck at Patrick’s, and I was a limp rag when I finished. Patrick’s gumbo contains the perfect proportion of sausage to white meat. There’s not too much rice. And in one of the more interesting developments I can report, I could swear there was a little bit of tomato in my gumbo—which I loved. I used to eat gumbo every Friday in public schools in Louisiana, so I know whereof I speak. If gumbo doesn’t get you excited, try the juicy smoked pork loin po’boy. Or the liver boudin. The list goes on and on.

—Bruce Dobie

Best Sunday Brunch: Red Wagon The casual buzz of the artsy East Nashville community, the sunlight filtering into the Victorian house’s airy spacious rooms and the smell of freshly prepared food make Red Wagon the destination of choice for brunchers in the know. Keep your buffets—I’ll take a freshly prepared goat cheese, spinach and red pepper omelet, or maybe the chilequiles (eggs scrambled with chorizo and cheese), any day. Most brunch spots seem to overlook the importance of one of the key breakfast ingredients: the potato. Owners Meg Giuffrida and Paul Burch oven-roast theirs to a delightful, lightly browned finish. And October is the perfect time for dining al fresco on the lovely wraparound porch.

—Jack Silverman

Best Seafood (non-chain): Saffire For years, Josh Weekley was acknowledged among his peers and fans as King of the Sea. He proudly wore his crown in some of Nashville’s most upscale restaurants, which spared no expense in getting the freshest product from boat to broiler. Weekley departed his most recent port, Atlantis, some months ago and was last seen sailing off into the sunset, rod and reel in hand. Saffire, with Scott Alderson at the wheel, ascends to the throne, though Alderson is more likely to be wearing a do-rag than a crown when he’s in the kitchen. His confident and informed approach to seafood is basic or creative, depending on the catch. Oysters are served raw on the half-shell with mirin mignonette, or fried with a turnip mash and roasted tomato-crawfish butter. In-season crawfish get the spicy Cajun boil treatment. Shrimp are Creole steamed. Alderson performs magic on conch, tenderizing the chewy mollusk in a citrus, mango, poblano and cilantro ceviche. He can do fancy fish—Atlantic salmon with Vidalia onion glaze, grilled veggie kabob and sweet lemon butter—or get down and dirty with a fish fry, grits and country green beans. Alderson doesn’t blow off carnivores, but given his druthers, he’d rather be fishing.

—Kay West

Best Steakhouse: Ruth’s Chris My brother does a great imitation of a Ruth’s Chris steak. One day he and I found ourselves on a very long trail in the woods, and all he could think about was eating a steak afterward at Ruth’s Chris. “They cook the steaks in a lot of butter and at incredible heat,” he said. “When they come to the table it sounds like ssspppppssssshhhhhh.” It was an incredible sizzling sound, which is exactly how the steaks do sound when they arrive at your table. Sure, Ruth’s Chris is a chain, but it carries this distinction: It began in Louisiana, and even chain food in the Bayou State is good.

—Bruce Dobie

Best Tapas Restaurant: Mirror Nearly three years ago, a couple of crazy kids came to Nashville from Miami with the kooky idea of opening a hip, edgy, inclusive restaurant in a conservative, small big city. They found a location in an emerging hip, edgy, diverse neighborhood (12 South), and in July 2001, they opened Mirror. Raised eyebrows greeted the shards of mirror on the wall, the live grass underfoot (in two raised corners of the room) and the small, live (apparently inedible) fish swimming about in little fishbowls on every table. But it was their menu that created the most confusion and controversy. Tapas? Que estan tapas? They explained: Tapas are Spanish in origin, small tastings of two- to three-bite size, ranging from simple to sophisticated. It was a great idea that got slapped upside its head by the reality of Southern dining habits: Bigger is better. Colleen and Michael DeGregory quickly regrouped, keeping the tapas but adding more traditional small plates and big plates. Customers, seduced by the amazing culinary talents of Mr. DeGregory and the alluring beauty and personality of the Mrs., were hooked. These days, many people come to Mirror just for tapas—like meatballs with soy-mustard dipping sauce, grilled flank steak skewers and crispy prosciutto-wrapped Cipollini onions. The blue cheese polenta fries (a deal at $2) have gained national fame on The Food Network, and Mirror reflected well on Nashville as part of a glowing piece on 12 South in the New York Times “Sophisticated Traveler” magazine.

—Kay West

Best All You Can Eat Deal: Taste of India My ideal midday goes this way: I head to the YMCA around noon and work up a vast appetite in the process. On my way back to work, I walk in Taste of India on nearby Church Street, and with that distinctive Indian smell making my head swoon, I head straight to the buffet line. I start with fresh cucumbers and tomatoes, on which I pour a sweet yogurt dressing, then I start dishing out the dal (lentils), naan (bread), bhindi masala (okra), rice, potatoes and whatever else they have, before nabbing a couple of pieces of tandoori (yogurt-marinated chicken). I usually fly through that first heap of mess pretty quickly, and then I load up on another half plate. I’m in and out in no more than 20 minutes, max. All for $7.95, Sprite included.

—Bruce Dobie

Best Fusion Restaurant: Coco Loco In foodie terms, fusion food marries elements of one cuisine with elements of another. It was a revolutionary trend that has evolved, over time, into a fairly standard practice. Several Nashville chefs are notable for their matchmaking skills, among them mAmbu’s Corey Griffith, Park Cafe’s Willie Thomas and Red Wagon’s Meg Giuffrida. Coco Loco cuisine isn’t technically fusion food, but the restaurant offers common ground for foods of several different countries with an emphasis on Cuba and Puerto Rico—which get separate but equal billing. Tostones rellenos de camarones (a large shrimp inserted into a split length of plantain, then deep-fried), is Puerto Rican beach food. And, of course, there’s the street food of Havana (a ham-pork-cheese-mustard-pickle pressed Cuban sandwich). Take your meat-and-potatoes Cuban-style with the boniato relleno de ropa vieja (a bowl of buttered, mashed sweet potatoes topped with shredded, spicy flank steak), or like the Puerto Ricans with mofongo (cooked and mashed plantain, mixed with chicken broth for a creamy texture, topped with either pork chunks or shrimp).

—Kay West

Best Meat-And-Three: Star Cafe Who’s to say, really, which local greasy spoon is best at cooking its veggies to unrecognizability, oversalting them and serving them up to eager diners in search of comfort food? We love our Sylvan Park, our Pie Wagon and our Swett’s. But there’s something special about Star Cafe, whose location outside the I-440 beltway in Nashville’s rural north means it doesn’t get the attention it deserves. This restaurant, at the corner of Old Hickory Boulevard and White’s Creek Pike, has the feel of the fictional Whistlestop Cafe (of Fried Green Tomatoes fame) and the Bluebird all in one. Diners get their pintos with a dose of local music talent. There’s entertainment on Friday and Saturday nights with an open-mic night every third Thursday of the month. Nearly two years ago, this homey little spot with mismatched tables and a cozy feel replaced a train wreck of a barbecue joint that was an eyesore to boot. Now, locals who don’t want to take a trip into “town” have a place to go get some victuals—and support up-and-coming artists in the process. It’s worth a field trip too. Rising stars Dierks Bentley and Jennifer Hanson have played here, among many others. Owner Sally Findley’s motto: “Life’s too short for bad food.”

—Liz Murray Garrigan

Best Breakfast: Noshville If the jet black java doesn’t wake you up, the portions certainly will. The eye-popping servings occupy a plate from bow to stern, and when you order milk, there’s no such thing as a small. It comes in something approaching a bucket. If you’re the least bit into corn beef hash, do not hesitate to order it at Noshville, along with some potatoes, a couple of fried eggs over easy, wheat toast and a sliced tomato or two. Skip lunch.

—Bruce Dobie

Best Place for a Romantic Dinner: Mad Platter I’m no expert, but in my view of couplings there’s lust and there’s romance. Each has its unique attractions and rewards, though by its very properties, the former typically has a shorter shelf life than the latter. Lust blazes; romance warms. Lust boils; romance simmers. Lust overpowers; romance seduces. In those first heady days and weeks of attraction, lust can be ignited over an order of tater tots and a cherry lime-aid at a Sonic Drive-In. Romance, on the other hand, requires a more sensuous ambiance for stoking the fire. Though many restaurants in Nashville have done an admirable job within the limitations of their locations or buildings, I have a hard time getting in the mood under an acoustic tile ceiling in a perfect square of enclosed drywall and aluminum-framed windows with a view of the parking lot fronting a strip center. Give me cracked plaster walls that reach up to pressed tin ceilings high overhead; squeaking, uneven hardwood floors; tall wooden-framed windows with a view through thick glass of brick sidewalks; century-old townhouses and neighborhood residents out for a walk; soft candlelight; antique tables; sexy music; the soft murmur of intimate conversations; a glass of good wine; and a rosemary-scented rack of lamb. Give me the Mad Platter, and chances are good that a romantic dinner will segue into a lusty night.

—Kay West

Best Place for Power Lunch: Sunset Grill Like heavyweight boxers in Nashville’s power arena, Sunset Grill and the Palm duke it out on a daily basis for the championship belt. On Monday, Governor Bredesen and members of his cabinet are chatting up a multimillion-dollar corporate relocation prospect at Sunset; meanwhile, Senator Bill Frist is talking big money in the first booth of The Palm with the head of the state Republican party. On Tuesday, Tony Brown, Joe Galante, Wayne Halper and Mark Wright are sitting under their caricatures at The Palm. Wednesday, Brown is lunching with Vince Gill, Galante with Kenny Chesney, Halper with Jessica Andrews, and Wright with Kix Brooks and Ronnie Dunn at strategic locations in Sunset’s main dining room. Randy Rayburn of Sunset and Charlene Walker at The Palm are the savviest ringmasters in town, with an uncanny ability to remember names, positions, allegiances and feuds. They keep a steady finger on the pulse of their patients with one ear to the ground for gossip, and most importantly, a tight lip when it comes to the secrets and insider info they overhear. There is rarely a knockout punch in this battle. When the bell rings, it is almost always declared a draw. Yet, if a winner must be declared, extra points go to Sunset, which has maintained its position as the premiere place to strut your stuff, talk the talk, walk the walk, set the stage and seal the deal for more than a decade. The nationally known Palm is a well-financed and superbly conditioned contender, but the scrappy, locally owned Sunset keeps the belt for now.

—Kay West

Best Tourist Trap Restaurant: Pancake Pantry What is it with tourists who make checklists of all the unique attractions their target city offers, but when hunger pains strike, they head to the closest Hard Rock, Planet Hollywood, P.F. Chang’s or Cheesecake Factory—each virtually indistinguishable from the Hard Rock, Planet Hollywood, P.F. Chang’s or Cheesecake Factory in the city they visited last summer? For years, Loveless Cafe was the mecca for visitors (including Martha Stewart, Paul McCartney and Jay Leno) with a hunger for a taste of something unique to our city. Sadly, the Loveless’ famed fried chicken and country ham ain’t what they used to be. Locals expecting a visit from Aunt Mary Sue and Uncle Bobby can save themselves the 30-minute drive, though not necessarily the wait, by putting Pancake Pantry on the “eat here” list. A Nashville tradition for buttermilk pancake breakfasts for more than 40 years, this Hillsboro Village landmark welcomes its fair share of celebrities. Garth Brooks will hold out for a spot in veteran waitress Joyce Stubblefield’s station, though Vince Gill takes the first available. You will too after cooling your heels in the ever-present line; if it’s snaking down 21st Avenue, count on 45 minutes.

—Kay West

Best TakeOut: Wolfgang Puck Express When it comes to celebrity chefs, Wolfgang Puck is one of the most celebrated—thanks to a crop of fine restaurants, cookbooks, a nationally syndicated cooking column and numerous television appearances, notably on Food Network. That was about the closest Middle Tennesseeans could get to Wolfy until this year, when Ted Moat, celebrated in his own right for building the Logan’s Roadhouse restaurant chain, opened a franchise of Wolfgang Puck Express in Cool Springs. Express defines itself in the rapidly growing “fast-casual” segment of the dining industry, but it defies categorization with a menu that raises the bar on its competitors. The menu, signed by Puck himself, exhorts customers to Live! Love! Eat! and features many of his signature pizzas, pastas, salads, soups and sandwiches, all familiar to cooking show groupies. The room, a huge, flowing space of contemporary design with an exhibition kitchen and servers clad in stylish outfits, seats 125. But if you’re in a hurry, takeout is quickly and efficiently executed in sturdy, basic-black take-out containers. Have a glass of wine at the counter while you wait for your Chinois Chicken Salad, Four Cheese Pizza or Rosemary Rotisserie Chicken.

—Kay West

Best Restaurant Bar for Dining: Sperry’s To one’s left is the dining room; to one’s right, where all the laughter is coming from, is the bar. It’s dark with no windows, and there’s a fireplace in one corner, to which, in winter months, some couple have repaired for a long talk. Sperry’s has an edge of the frayed Southern aristocracy to it, although I love its ecumenical outlook: While there is an obligatory drawing of Robert E. Lee on one wall, there’s also a portrait of Ulysses S. Grant not too far away. How advanced.

—Bruce Dobie

Best Restaurant With A View: Frist Center Cafe After getting an eyeful of the spectacular architecture in this art deco, historic post office-turned-premier visual arts center and soaking in the major national and international exhibitions (and outstanding work by regional and local artists), the Frist Center Cafe seamlessly continues the aesthetic feast: It offers a gorgeous space of soaring height with walls of floor-to-ceiling windows that frame a marble patio and well-tended lawn containing massive sculptures. The palette turns to palate in the cases filled with bright fresh salads, sandwiches on artisan bread, heaps of golden homemade potato chips, colorful pizzas and artful desserts.

—Kay West

Best Restaurant/Bar to Lay Low: Opryland Hotel Cheers defined the appeal of neighborhood bars in big, anonymous cities as the places where “everybody knows your name.” As much as we aspire to illusions of cosmopolitanism, Nashville is more of a big small town, or a small big city, than a big city. Chances are, wherever you go, someone will know not only your name but your mama’s name, your spouse’s name, your dog’s name, where you went to school, where you go to church, who did your breasts and your children’s pediatrician. Where’s a low-layer to go? How about the place where no one who lives in Nashville would be caught dead? Chances are pretty damned good you won’t get caught at all at the Opryland Hotel, home of six restaurants and bars: Old Hickory Steakhouse, Rusty’s Sports Bar & Grill, Cascades Restaurant, Rachel’s, Findley’s Irish Pub and Ristorante Volare. There’s always the risk you might run into a fraternity brother in town for a convention, who just happens to be married to your wife’s sorority sister, so have a logical explanation on the tip of your tongue and keep the PDA to a minimum. If things progress over pork chops, there are about 15,000 rooms within walking distance.

—Kay West

Best Coffeehouse: Fido Fido has all the friendly ambiance, familiarity and comfort zones of the corner tavern, minus the beer and cigarette smoke. One-third of Bob Bernstein’s trilogy of neighborhood coffee shops, this former pet store in Hillsboro Village is well-established in its popularity, assertive in its quirkiness, confident of its coffee superiority and deservedly proud of its fresh, creative menu of breakfast, lunch and dinner fare by chef John Stephenson. Though first-timers may feel a little like outsiders among the hard-core regulars who assemble here morning, noon and night (a laid-back cast of Vandy students, Music Rowers, artists, writers and neighborhood residents), it won’t take more than a visit or two before the savvy counter staff know your blend and your bagel bomb.

—Kay West

Best Margarita: La Terraza/Rosepepper Cantina Lime, salt, a summery sugar tang and the sweet kick-in-the-teeth of tequila make the margarita almost essential with Southwestern or Mexican dishes. At East Nashville’s Rosepepper Cantina, an impressive array of 33 different tequilas makes for an astronomical number of combinations. Save yourself a math headache and go straight for the expensive top-shelf Patron gold splashed with Grand Marnier ($9.25), smooth and lethal as Pam Grier. La Terraza’s top-shelf is three bucks cheaper and not as fancy, but when it’s complementing the greasy glory of a sizzling grilled alambres platter (basically fajitas doused with cheese and crispy curls of bacon fat), it might as well be liquid gold.

—Jim Ridley

Best Neighborhood Pub: The Red Door Saloon What a geographically polarizing category. Doesn’t best neighborhood pub depend on your neighborhood? Nashville neighborhoods are full of watering holes: East Nashvillians claim Family Wash or Alley Cat; Belle Meade bellies up to the bar at Sperry’s; Sylvan Parkers hunker down at McCabe Pub; Green Hillsians fill their tanks at The Box Seat or Corner Pub; in Hillsboro Village it’s the Villager, Sam’s, Jackson’s, Easy’s or Bosco’s; and 12-Southers zigzag between Mirror and the newly-opened MafiaOza’s. But if you’re in the mood for a change of scenery, exit your zip code and head to The Red Door Saloon, tucked behind the trees on Division Street on the outer border of Music Row. The shaded deck is a loud and lively hang during warm weather, and the narrow main room (with its long, glossy L-shaped bar) is always packed with table-hopping rowdy revelers. Owners Ric Clarke and Kelly Jones are bikers, and a stable of easy riders can be found parked outside and in. The Saloon’s signature drink is pineapple-infused vodka that ferments to hazardous levels in a two-foot tall jar, served on the rocks with a toxic chunk of fresh pineapple. Girls and boys love the tight white T-shirts for sale that advise: Drink ’Til He’s Cute. Clarke and Jones will soon be opening Red Door Saloon East at 11th and Forrest Streets in East Nashville.

—Kay West

Best Bar For People Watching: Tribe No other bar in Nashville feels like it was designed for a Brian DePalma film. The lounge, a raised seating area and the bar are nestled comfortably amidst one another, enabling the voyeuristically inclined to vibe on all three of the sections. Tribe’s clientele is a fascinating mix of gay, straight and delicious: all shapes and sizes thronging to the blessedly stiff drinks and the infinite thump-and-clap of the music—which is best served up on Wednesdays by Nashville club culture vanguard Russell Yarborough (master of the intricate video mix) and on Saturdays by city institution Ron Slomowicz. The videos in the background are pleasant enough, but the people are where the intrigue is.

—Jason Shawhan

Best Brew Pub: Boscos Nashville’s got a handful of serviceable brew pubs, all of which serve fine house-brewed beers. But beer tastes best (to me) with food, which is one of the things that distinguishes Boscos. Its menu of apps, salads, sandwiches and pizzas is laudably consistent, not to mention the perfect accompaniment for the beverages coming out of the tap. And make no mistake, the beer at Boscos is good, whether it’s the always available Famous Flaming Stone variety or one of the freshly tapped cask-conditioned ales—the kind of things you’d find at a British pub but not too many places stateside.

—Jonathan Marx

Best Selection of Beers on Tap: Flying Saucer It’s true that Broadway Brewhouse has a pretty vast selection of beers on tap as well, and I’d be hard-pressed to compare which of these two perfectly appealing establishments actually has the best or the biggest selection. The thing about the beverage menu at Flying Saucer is that it’s big enough and broad enough to offer something new each time I go there, and the globe-spanning offerings range from comfortably familiar to appealingly exotic. Beyond that, the feel of the room with its high ceilings and comfy, airy porch just lends itself to sitting back with a cold drink and good friends.

—Jonathan Marx

Best Martini: Chapel Bistro A martini is not just gin and vermouth. It is the beautiful glass in which it is drunk. It is the spear through the olives. It is what you’re wearing. It is the bar itself, the lighting, the voices clattering all around you. I like the bar at Chapel Bistro. And one night there, a very nice bartendress offered to stuff one olive with anchovies and another with blue cheese. It was a kind gesture, and when the perfectly mixed beverage was set before me, everything came together just so. Therefore, I had another.

—Bruce Dobie

Best Wine/Liquor Store: Midtown Wine & Spirits A prime example of the adage that it’s not about size but about what you do with what you have, Midtown has turned its cramped building into a connoisseur’s delight. Its specialty is obvious as soon as you walk in: Wine crates fill every available space, stacked and crammed, so that there’s not room for more than one person to pass through the aisles. Unlike most small stores, which concentrate on popular name brands that turn over quickly, Midtown caters to those who love special finds and one-of-a-kind items—whether it’s a hard-to-find boutique wine or a small-case specialty from the world’s vineyards. Owner Paul Patel’s soft-spoken manner doesn’t hide his passion for what he sells, and even the youngest, greenest members of the staff share his enthusiasm. The store’s desire to provide special finds extends beyond wine. Despite limited shelves, you can find everything from rare rye whiskey to an unusual bottle of brandy. The neighboring Midtown beer store is similarly packed with quality microbrews and imports. The store’s welcome expansion, now in its finishing stages, will only provide Patel with a larger playground—and one that will continue to surprise and delight his loyal customer base.

—Michael McCall

Best Knowledgeable Service in a Wine/Liquor Store: Josh Fowler, Wine Shop at Green Hills During his three-year tenure, Fowler has made The Wine Shop the go-to place for those who, be they expert or ignorant, truly enjoy wine. He and his crew are particularly adept at answering questions of the “I’m planning this romantic dinner...” variety. Fowler, a master sommelier, is currently big on the 2000 Bordeauxs (“the best since 1961”) and Caymus Vineyard’s 2001 Cabernet Sauvignon.

—Paul Griffith

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