Food And Drink 

Best Restaurant Deck with a View: La Fiesta Mexicana on fourth Avenue Could it be the string of white rope lighting that lines the spacious wooden deck? The fact that you're well above street level, where the car exhaust of Fourth Avenue won't commingle with your cold beer and queso? Far enough away from the neon and noise of Lower Broad, yet close enough should you choose to head on over to Robert's Western Wear, La Fiesta Mexicana is the type of restaurant that just feels comfortable, thanks to a friendly staff and plentiful tables. If you come after dark on a clear black night, you'll also see a highlighted Nashville skyline that is something to be proud of: the Batman Building, the L & C Tower, the Ryman Auditorium. No one is forgotten, everyone is there—so order that second (or third, or fourth) round. Lacey Galbraith

Best Frozen Treat: Las Paletas By now, most West Nashvillians are well acquainted with Las Paletas, the Mexican popsicle shop on 12th Avenue South, across from Sevier Park. But with each passing year, as more folks discover this place, often bringing flocks of children in tow, its simple menu of frozen treats gets bigger, better and more wide-ranging. Visitors can expect the usual flavors of lime, strawberry, banana, chocolate and the like, along with traditional Mexican offerings like hibiscus and tamarind, which are no less satisfying for their relative unfamiliarity to most American palates. But it's the store's trademark innovations that make every visit a new adventure. Some of these flavor combinations—chocolate with chili pepper, yogurt with dried fruit and nuts—are by now well known to loyal customers. But even the most regular visitor will find something different to try each time: maybe the creamy apple-spice variation, or avocado, or plum. Las Paletas may no longer be a novelty to many Nashvillians, but that's a good thing. Instead, this spare but welcoming storefront is becoming a beloved institution. Jonathan Marx

Best Coffeehouse for Twenty-somethings: Fido Everyone has a favorite neighborhood coffee shop that they believe to be the best in the world. But even my out-of-town guests think Fido is better than the coffeehouses back home. Since Fido is only one of Bob Bernstein's three local coffee shops, with the same food and drinks as his Bongo Java and BJRC, what makes this former pet store stand out as the best? The atmosphere. Whenever I walk up the steps of Bongo Java, I get the feeling people are staring at me. But Fido is so big, and everyone so involved in their lattes, lively discussions and dissertation research, that the room seems much more inviting. The oversized tables and booths allow customers to take up as much room as they need. Laptops pepper the room, and the employees play entire Belle & Sebastian or Wilco albums to please the iPod-impaired. Any place close to Vanderbilt and Belmont that can retain its own character deserves an award—even without those "Milk Bone" lattes that will make you roll over and howl. Claire Suddath

Best Drive-Thru Breakfast: Sam and Zoe's Coffeehouse Wedged behind Baja Burrito in Berry Hill, Sam and Zoe's offers an excellent alterna-Egg McMuffin for drive-thru loyalists looking to eat healthier on the go. They open around 7 a.m. most days, giving you the pleasure of being served a cup of their delicious half-Guatemalan/half-Sumatran house blend and a honey-wheat bagel by offbeat twenty-somethings—who, if you're deemed cool enough, might just slip in a band flyer with your change. There's no 30-second guarantee for your wait, but the eggs are real. Tracy Moore

Best Freaky BBQ Specialty: Shrimp Diablo, Judge Bean's Lemme get this straight, you ask: you want me to go into a rough-hewn barbecue joint off Wedgewood Avenue, belly up to the bar, and order...shrimp? Toothpicked with cheese into a jalapeño? Wrapped in bacon? Why don't I just skip the meal and go straight to the scalding diarrhea? Because, wonder of wonders, this who'd-a'thunk-it delicacy is a little miracle of counterintuition. The shrimp plumps up pink and pretty in the smoker, the jalapeno turns pleasingly soft, the cheese gets just this side of gummy, and the bacon...oh, the bacon. Who knew such a little strip of fat could absorb so much smoky flavor? The toothpicks aren't there for show: they're useful for stabbing away the grabby hands of lunch companions. Jim Ridley

Best Way to recruit Vegetarians: Delvin Farms Co-Op When my wife, Lisa, declared last spring that we were going to start getting a weekly box of organic vegetables from a local farming cooperative, I was skeptical. I don't much care for vegetables, although I realize I should eat more of them. Now I was not only going to be assaulted with broccoli, radishes, eggplant and something called "kale," it was all going to be "organic," which I found troubling. I like stuff that kills the little beasties that infest my food. But I've got to say, the folks at Delvin Farms do it right. The food is fresh, and it really does taste better than the stuff you get at the supermarket. The price isn't bad either: just $560 for six months worth of food. As a bonus, members get treated to a harvest-season party at the farm: kids can go on a hayride and even take a pumpkin from the pumpkin patch. I'm still partial to getting my veggies from a store-bought jar of salsa, but if I've got to have bits of zucchini hidden in my brownies, I'd rather get them from Delvin Farms than Kroger. Delvin Farms is located at 6290 McDaniel Road, College Grove (395-4566). Roger Abramson

Best Sweet-Tooth Satisfaction: Sweet 16th, A Bakery If you just have to have something sweet, something chocolaty, something small enough to pop into your mouth but big enough to satisfy a desperate craving, get thyself to Sweet 16th, A Bakery. Walk right into this brand-new, old-fashioned corner bakery at North 16th Street and Ordway in East Nashville and ask for a Mama-rangue, a scrumptious nugget of chocolate meringue and toffee. That should do it, but you'll probably end up seeing someone you know, or chatting with owners/bakers Ellen and Dan Einstein, who inevitably know someone you know, and next thing you know, you're buying a cup of Bongo Java coffee and a scone, and sitting down at one of the two tables or at the bar against the window onto 16th. On your way out, you decide to pick up some biscotti to take back to the office, and cupcakes for the kids at home, and oh, maybe one more Mama-rangue for the road. Kay West

Best New Restaurant/Best Restaurant: tayst Choosing the Best New Restaurant in Nashville used to be a fairly easy task, considering the infrequency with which they opened, but the last five years have seen a wave of debuts, and the quantity and quality of options have increased tremendously. Choosing the Best Restaurant has always been a daunting task; I am fond of so many, for a host of reasons, that asking me to pick just one seems almost cruel. Never before has my Best New Restaurant also been my Best Restaurant, an accomplishment not unlike the NBA's Rookie of the Year also winning Most Valuable Player. But, pondering the many possibilities—and Nashville is blessed to have many viable and worthy contenders for each title—when I narrowed it down, one restaurant rose to the top of both categories again and again. The folks behind tayst did absolutely no lobbying, employed no PR agencies, took out no ads, sent no emissaries. They simply—as they have from the moment that Dan Morrissey and Jeremy Barlow took over the squat, understated building at the quiet corner of 21st Avenue South and Bernard late last fall—went about creating a setting for people to gather, be treated exceptionally well, relax in warm, embracing ambiance, and enjoy reliably consistent and quite remarkable food and wine. The space itself is simple and tastefully decorated, sexy and smart with energy and unassuming confidence, brilliantly considered for flow, offering a sense of intimacy against a backdrop of conviviality. Morrissey masterfully runs the front of the house with refined expertise, overseeing a wait staff of consummate professionals; Barlow is the wizard behind the doors to the kitchen, creating delectable dishes that have frequently made me almost dizzy with pleasure. And, leaving no stone unturned in the total dining experience, they enlisted Steve Boyer as their bar/beverage manager, who informs and performs with grace, geniality and generosity. When tayst opened their doors for the first time on a cold winter night in mid-February, they did so with no announcement, a winsome modesty that effectively drew diners inside who understand that less is frequently more, and that a whisper speaks louder than a shout. Kay West

Best Chef: Sean Brock, Capitol Grille "The menu changes seasonally, but I will always have truffles, caviar, foie gras and lobster in some form. I love all of those." With that promise, I would follow Sean Brock, executive chef of the Capitol Grille in the Hermitage Hotel, anywhere (if I weren't afraid of being arrested for tadpoling). Just 26 years old, Brock's age belies his experience, which includes Johnson & Wales Culinary School, a couple of years under acclaimed chef Robert Carter at the Peninsula Grill in Charleston, then two years as sous chef at the Five Diamond Lemaire Restaurant in the Jefferson Hotel in Richmond, Va. When the owners of that hotel purchased and performed a $17 million restoration on Nashville's Hermitage Hotel, with the goal of making the historic landmark a Five Diamond property, it was young Brock they entrusted to run not only the Capitol Grille but to oversee room service and banquet dining for the entire hotel. Some might say that with that much capital, staples like foie gras and caviar in the pantry and a gifted staff passionately devoted to hands-on experience, anybody could turn out a four-star meal. But when the apparently tireless Brock explains the painstaking processes he employs to make the Meyer lemon coulis that accompanies the signature crab cakes—or the creation of the warm-foraged mushroom tart, or the execution of the lobster pot pie—it is clear he is not satisfied with doing what anyone could do. He is absolutely driven to meet the standards of his toughest critic: himself. And that is good news for anyone who sits down at his table. Kay West

Best Chef Without A Restaurant: Jimmy Phillips Jimmy Phillips not only enlisted in the Army when he was barely 20 years old and served in the Gulf War, he is also a veteran of a Randy Rayburn-owned kitchen. The military turned the boy into a man; the notoriously demanding restaurateur helped turn a cook into a chef when he shipped him from his post at Sunset Grill to take over the kitchen of Midtown Café, which Rayburn had purchased a couple years before. Phillips' assignment was clear: broaden the scope of the menu, recruit new diners, but don't scare off any veterans. The chef approached the task with focus, passion and expertise; he breathed new life into the complacent popular restaurant, which resulted in a measurable increase in business. Mission accomplished. Sometime in late 2003, Phillips and Rayburn parted ways, and for more than a year now Phillips has been a soldier of fortune, cooking spectacular dinners for private parties of two to 20 in clients' homes—which doesn't seem quite fair to the rest of us, does it now? Kay West

Best Food Movement: Slow Food The Slow Food movement was born in 1986 of a terrible moment when noted Italian food and wine writer Carlo Petrini was assaulted on the Spanish Steps in Rome's Piazza Di Spagna—by the nauseating odor of McDonald's burgers and fries. His visceral reaction to the kudzu-like worldwide proliferation of fast-food terrorists resulted in the founding of an organization that counts more than 65,000 members around the globe. Thanks to local foodie Cindy Wall and other like-minded lovers of fresh food, Nashville is now part of that movement. Last fall, a local convivium—Latin for social feast or banquet—was formed and announced its existence with an End of Harvest Supper at Martha's at the Plantation. In the year since, the charter group has grown considerably, presenting dinners at other restaurants around town, supporting other food events, and promoting local growers and purveyors. Take that, Mickey D. Kay West

Best Food Event: Generous Helpings In its second year as a fundraiser for Nashville's Table, this mega-tasting event benefits from the generosity of Nashville's independent restaurateurs, who show up to show off their signature dishes in support of the prepared and frozen-food rescue program. Guests can't even begin to sample the delights at more than 30 booths serving up everything from quail to bananas Foster. Generous Helpings 2004 is Thursday, Oct. 7, 5 to 8 p.m. at the Nashville Convention Center. For tickets visit www.NashvillesTable.org. Carrington Fox

Best Proposed Food Event: A Hot Chicken Festival Other than the traditional meat-and-three, Nashville's most indigenous—and curious—cuisine is hot chicken. If you haven't had it, it comes as advertised. The bird is fried in a batter that includes so much red pepper (and other unknown spices) that eating it essentially scours away the lining of your lower intestines. Even when you eat it on a cold day, even when you order the mild instead of the medium or hot (or God forbid, the extra hot), your forehead gushes sweat like a garden hose. The heat is unspeakably harsh. But hot chicken has a huge following here in Nashville—and not only that, its biggest promoter is Mayor Bill Purcell. On a recent lunch outing (see p. 41), Mayor Purcell ordered the hot breast at Prince's Hot Chicken off Dickerson Road—and in his cool, collected way, he didn't even break a sweat as he downed his bird. Others at the table—including myself, and I was only eating the medium—just wilted. So if Memphis has a barbecue festival, we should be able to put on a fine Hot Chicken festival. Tom Jurkovich, the mayor's top economic-development official, was recently throwing around this idea, and we concur. Bring on the heat. Bruce Dobie

Best New Neighborhood Restaurant: Germantown Café The Germantown Café sits so unobtrusively, so compatibly, so harmoniously, at the corner of Fifth Avenue North and Madison that it blends right into the street. When the café opened last October, it's a wonder the neighbors didn't bring casseroles and pies to welcome them to the 'hood. Instead, they filled the small room with a big view and tried their best to keep it all to themselves. The Germantowners, a tight-knit group, might have gotten away with it too—had they been able to resist bragging about it to their closest friends. Then that friend told another, who told another—and soon enough, mouth by delighted mouth, word spread around town. Now the streets of Germantown are filled with cars bearing unmistakable signs of West Nashville residency: MBA, Harpeth Hall, Sequoia and Seaside stickers. There goes the neighborhood. Kay West

Best Resurrection of an Institution: Loveless Café For more than 50 years, the Loveless Café on Highway 100 was a destination for generations of Nashvillians and a who's-who of visiting celebrities and dignitaries. Sadly, for the last decade, it had been mostly coasting on its reputation. As the restaurant and other buildings on the motel property slipped into disrepair, the kitchen turned out increasingly inferior renditions of its famous hams, jams, biscuits and fried chicken. Happily, Nashville native and caterer to the stars Tom Morales purchased the business and property late last year. With the assistance of history-loving architect Seab Tuck, he has put the love back in the Loveless. All prettied up—with a cheery addition on the back—the restaurant is once again serving up heaping platters of good old country cookin', and dishing out more memories for generations to come. Kay West

Best Makeover: Blue Bar & Rack Room Ever since the infamous Music Row booze-and-schmoozatorium Maude's shut down nearly 20 years ago, this small building at 1911 Broadway has operated under a pall of doom, perhaps the result of a spurned songwriter's evil spell. It didn't help that the blinding-white exterior of the building resembled a funeral home more than a restaurant. Trilogy and Casablanca were virtually DOA, and Atlantis, the most recent incarnation, was on life support the last year of its brief tenure. Mercifully, former Atlantis chef Josh Weekly and a trio of experienced nightlifers performed a miraculous personality transplant, and Atlantis resurfaced earlier this year with a bright new coat of red paint, a new name—Blue Bar & Rack Room—and a new lease on life. Fancy dining-room tables were replaced with billiard tables, serviced by a small front bar. In the rear, the big blue bar feeds into the new dining area, where Weekly dishes out seaworthy and earthy fare with flair: wood-grilled okra, wood-fired spicy shrimp, applewood-smoked beef brisket, grits-crusted oysters and blackened fish-of-the-day sandwich with fried pickles. Kay West

Best Option in the Cool Springs Chain Gang: Stoney River Legendary Steaks While Stoney River, the rich relative in the O'Charley's restaurant family, won't pull any Nashville steak-eaters out of their seats at The Palm, Morton's, Ruth's Chris, Fleming's or Jimmy Kelly's, it's the best that the Cool Springs compound has to offer. The multileveled wood and stone interior of Stoney River—meant to evoke a woodsy mountain lodge—is handsomely appointed, classy yet comfortable. A thoughtfully constructed wine list offers more than 60 vintages available by the glass, and the menu is similar in content to the typical upper-end steakhouse, as is the very successful execution of its prime product. When it stretches into unfamiliar territory—Oriental-style steamed sea bass, for example—it stumbles. But who goes to Cool Springs for culinary adventure? Stick to the tried and true, and you'll be a happy rafter at Stoney River. Kay West

Best Sandwich: Piranha's Bar and Grill If necessity is the mother of invention, I'd like to thank Pittsburgh's Primanti brothers, who fed long-haul truckers dropping their loads in the city's warehouse district where their popular diner was located. Needing to come up with something substantial and efficient to fuel the drivers, they piled meat, cheese, fries and slaw on a fat slice of bread, topped it with another, and Bubba was good to go. Thanks to native Pittsburgher Michael Hanlin, the sandwich made its way from Steel City to Music City, where it was re-named a Piranha. It is now the calling card for the Second Avenue bar and grill of the same name, which Hanlin owns with partner Kirk Evans. The most popular Piranha is the Titan Cheese Steak, but there are more than a dozen other options, any of which can handle a man-sized appetite no matter what he drives. Kay West

Best Hamburger/Best Potato Chips: Hair of the Dog This 12th Avenue South watering hole makes its hamburgers from pasture-fed beef raised by the Peaceful Pastures farm in Smith County; the burgers come out as drip-from-your-beard juicy as if they came off the backyard grill. The place goes an extra step by adding in homemade potato chips. Sliced thin and fried to achieve a balance of crispness and potato texture, they land somewhere between French fries and the best chips from a bag. Dave Maddox

Best Bison Burger: Ted's Montana Grill Admittedly, there's not much competition here. But unlike ongoing attempts to manufacture soy and tofu products and disguise them as dairy- or meat-based entrées, lean buffalo meat is a more natural fit for our nation's eating habits. The Arts & Crafts-style atmosphere of Ted's is likely to endure longer than the retro '50s diner craze: it bespeaks familiarity, even if there's a touch of Twin Peaks oddness to its Remingtonian nostalgia for a bygone West governed by genteel ranchers. At root, though, Ted's is an upscale burger and comfort-food joint that cares more about the quality of the fare than about what's fashionable. True, most Americans aren't prepared to confront the somewhat gamey overtones and slightly more sinewy texture of a bison burger au naturel, but Ted's variety of toppings, including one that features Maytag Farms bleu cheese, tend to complement rather than mask the High Plains flavor. An unadulterated product of a herd fed on grass, the bison meat is fresh-ground and cooked under a dome in a way that keeps it moist. If this is the bait for a healthier diet, it's deceptively easy to swallow. Bill Levine

Best Veggie Burger (tie): Parco Café and Houston's For a non-burger burger that looks rare, bloodied and downright like carcass, Houston's can't be beat. It contains not an ounce of anything that used to have a face, but certainly looks the part. Moreover, it's tasty. For a more nuanced version of an ideologically sensitive "burger," Parco Café's in the Farmers Market is the one to snarf. It could never be mistaken for the real thing—it tastes better. Liz Murray Garrigan

Best Gyro: Istanbul Café You know I love you, but somebody has to say it: You people who vote every year for Tabouli's in the Mediterranean category are on crack. Here we are with a half-dozen terrific Greek, Turkish and Persian restaurants, and y'all pick the one with a pizza buffet. Zorba please. If more people stopped by this knockout blue-collar Turkish joint, hidden in an unexceptional Nolensville Road storefront, we wouldn't be having this conversation. The gateway dish is that food-court staple the gyro, a sandwich of vertical-rotisseried ground lamb tucked in a pita-bread pocket. Istanbul gets it so right—the meat lightly crispened on the grill, nestled in a bed of lettuce and sweet onion; the bread fluffy and chewy, not cardboard-rigid—that you'll trust them on more adventurous dishes, from stuffed grape leaves to the spicy flatbread "pizza." Remember: that's Istanbul, not Constantinople. Jim Ridley

Best Muffuletta: Patrick's This is less a compliment than a cry for help. Without a doubt, the muffuletta appetizers at Patrick's, the Cajun restaurant located in a loud purple building only a stone's throw from the Musica roundabout, are among the most delicious sandwiches in town. They're listed on the menu as an appetizer, divided as they are into four quadrants for easy gobbling. The bread, the sandwich meats, the sauces—all are perfectly applied. Yet the last few times I've saddled up to the Patrick's bar and tried to order the muffuletta, they've pleaded an absence of "olive spread," which renders them temporarily unable to fill my order. Of course, this disturbs me, but it also makes the pursuit of said muffuletta—my desire, my passion, my slavish addiction—that much greater. Memo to Patrick: hustle up some olive spread fast, so I can get my muffuletta fix. Memo to reader: In the event they're out of the muffulettas, order either a bowl of the gumbo (which I listed in last year's "Best of Nashville" as the finest in the city) or try the smoked pork loin sandwich (which is heavenly). Bruce Dobie

Best Philly Cheese Steak: Penn Station God forbid you should wade into a purist battle over what constitutes a true Philly cheese steak: after listening to a half-hour schism between Cheez-Whiz apostles and provolone heretics, I'd rather argue with Trekkies over Kirk vs. Picard. I'm still not convinced anybody around here really knows how to make this elusive specialty—not like the jumbo artery-cloggers shown on the Food Network, anyway—but friends tell me this Cincinnati chain's steaks are the real deal. (For cheese-steak geek cred, it passed muster with my food-critic pal Dana Kopp Franklin and world-class foodie Mimi Manzler.) All I can say is that my sandwich was a spicy, juicy, dripping mess as thick as Bill Clinton's memoir—in short, just what I wanted. Go ahead, purists, fire when ready. I'll get my revenge when someone opens an outpost of the amazing Chicago dipped-sandwich joint Mr. Beef. Jim Ridley

Best Barbecue: Mary's Old Fashioned Barbeque Pit Drive down Jefferson Street, follow the smoke, and it's hard to miss Mary's. In a town not known for great 'Q, the dense, wafting smoke is a good sign. At Mary's, the ribs, fish sandwiches, bone-in chicken sandwiches (a logistical nightmare) and side dishes are all excellent, but what really sells is the chopped pork sandwich, which is lean, smoky and comes topped with a pickle and slathered with hot sauce. (Mild sauce is offered, but don't even think about it if you want the proper effect.) In fact, since Mary's is strictly a walk-up operation and the chopped shoulder is only $11.99/lb. (plus the cost of a loaf of white bread), you might as well skip the sandwich and just lay in a couple pounds for the weekend. Paul V. Griffith

Best Ribs: Neely's Bar-B-Que Eliminating the beef vs. pork battle only opens up a whole new debate in a pork-happy state like Tennessee: who has the best ribs, Memphis or Nashville? Tony Neely, member of the Bluff City's famous Neely barbecue family (and nephew of the founder of the acclaimed Interstate BBQ), came to Music City three years ago to settle the argument. His eponymous barbecue joint in Metro Center serves racks and racks of Memphis-style ribs to a growing legion of Nashville fans, as well as Titans players and coaching staff who work up an appetite at their neighboring training center and offices. Infused with smoky hickory flavor, cooked to melt-in-the-mouth tenderness and slathered with secret family recipe sauce, his ribs are so good they'll make you slap your mama. Just wash your hands first, or you'll find yourself in a heck of a mess. Kay West

Best Use of a Fry Basket: McDougal's Village Coop There are no sissy sauté pans in the compact kitchen of McDougal's Village Coop, the Hillsboro Village bar and restaurant that specializes in chicken fingers, buckets of cold bottled beer, televised sports and outdoor revelry on its expansive two-tiered deck. Brothers John and Tommy McDougal swiped the concept (a chicken-fingers-only menu tailored to college students) from the University of Georgia-based Guthrie's, but expanded the curriculum to include wings, fries, onion rings—and of course, beer. (Hey, it's practically on the Vandy campus, y'all.) Everything is fresh cut, hand-battered, fried to order and affordable, even if you don't tote a Commodore credit card. Kay West

Best Hot Chicken: Prince's Hot Chicken Shack There are contenders and pretenders to the throne, but after all these years, the king of hot chicken remains Prince's. The original Prince's was opened in pre-civil-rights downtown Nashville by two brothers; they had a unique take on segregated dining laws, requiring their sizable number of white customers to enter through the back door. These days, their great-niece, Andre Prince, is the keeper of the flame, tending the fire at a small storefront café that isn't exactly a shack but is hardly a castle. Nashville royalty and commoners get equal treatment; all wait their turn for the skillet-fried leg or breast quarters in a heat index that ranges from only slightly hot to a fires-of-hell burn. Kay West

Best Appetizer: tayst/Capitol Grille (tie) "You never get a second chance to make a first impression" is a good piece of advice when it comes to applying for a job or meeting future in-laws, but it's also a wise adage for restaurants. While technically an appetizer is a small serving of food served before the entrée to whet and excite the palate, I would be perfectly happy constructing an entire meal off the appetizer section at some of my favorite restaurants. Two starters that made exciting impressions on my palate this past year were the Capitol Grille's unimaginably rich Maine Lobster Pot Pie, and the robust beef short ribs and foie gras at tayst. (I was also wild for their steamed mussels with lobster chipotle sauce, but, sadly, they are not a menu staple.) Both give me no choice but to break one of my ironclad rules of dining: never order the same thing twice. Kay West

Best New (Old) Meat-and-three: Sylvan Park Melrose Who knew Melrose was in Sylvan Park? (Watch those Woodland-in-Waverly property values soar.) Oxymoronic name aside, this Franklin Road fount of home cookin' is a vast improvement over the old Dennison's it recently replaced: the cornmeal-battered catfish, old-school meat loaf, squash casserole and corn fritters will buck up any Southern boy who misses Mama. And oh, those pies. Mama who? Jim Ridley

Best Southern Regional Food: Martha's At The Plantation I know it borders on the sacrilegious to say so, but I have a hard time telling one meat-and-three's offerings from another. They all carry that cooked-to-death, fry-happy, over-fatted, over-salted aura that makes them so astoundingly popular they rival churches in their proliferation. Quite frankly, I'm just not a fan of that kind of cooking (nor its belly-bloating after-effects). So ship me back up North. But I'm not going above the Mason-Dixon line before I have a last meal of memory-making goodness at Martha's at the Plantation. There Martha Stamps celebrates the region's edible riches: her croquettes, buttermilk-batter fried chicken, crawfish cakes, cheese grits and tea punch are even better than her mama—and her mama's mama, and her mama's mama's mama—used to make. At Martha's, Stamps honors the history of her cooking culture: her menu may nurture with tradition, but it delights through innovation. Kay West

Best Hot Wings: Mojo Grill Ed Arace began perfecting his tangy, pan-sizzled Mojo Wings more than a dozen years ago at a long-gone Second Avenue restaurant. This one-of-a-kind concoction brought him a fan base that followed him through various restaurants, until he finally opened his own friendly walk-up counter attached to the Broadway Brewhouse—and named it after his famous dish. Take it from someone who knows: they get better every year—or maybe each batch is so moan-out-loud good it just seems that way. Michael McCall

Best Trip Back to the 1960s: The Factory Grill Located in the cafeteria of the erstwhile Aladdin factory, the Factory Grill offers standard-issue meat-and-three in a superlative setting for mental time travel. From the mint retro furniture and clocks to the portraits of bygone Aladdin management and the koi pond, an unsuspecting diner may just think she has slipped through the looking glass. A groovy oasis at 705 Murfreesboro Road. Carrington Fox

Best One-Plate Meal: Seafood Stew at Mambu Anyone who's tried to mix fresh fish and boiling broth realizes how hit-or-miss that task can be. So how does mAmbu manage it? Somehow, chef Corey Griffith manages to toss together chunks of the day's fresh catch with mussels and scallops in a spicy coconut stock, and consistently have it come out tender yet slightly different each time. Michael McCall

Best Fast Casual: Kalamata's "Fast casual" is the buzzword for the restaurant industry's fastest-growing sector. It refers to places that aren't exactly fast food—the lowest rung on the food ladder—but are not full-service either. To wit: customers place their order at a counter, pay, then either carry their food to the table or wait for an employee to bring it over. Fast casual counts a lot of chains in its category, places like Baja Fresh, Panera Grill, Moe's Southwestern Grill and Wild Noodles. Not being a fan of chain anythings and their cookie-cutter, corporate-run methodology, I'd chose Nashville's own versions of fast casual instead, among them Baja Burrito, Calypso Café, Cheeseburger Charlie's, Mojo Grill—or, when I get a hankering for Nashville's best hummus, Kalamata's in Green Hills. There is no corporation behind the counter at this warm and welcoming café that specializes in fresh, healthy foods with a Middle Eastern and Mediterranean bent. But co-owners/co-chefs Maher Fawaz and Beth Collins are savvier (and a heck of a lot more friendly) than any Fortune 500 CEO. The two—and their delectable menu—are the reason that people who go to Kalamata's for a quick bite end up sticking around. Kay West

Best Parking Lot Cuisine: Pupusaria Dona Rosa/ Mariscos Lopez #3 (tie) In addition to the countless Mexican restaurants that have opened in neighborhoods bordering the inner loop, mobile stands—the pop-ups of the dining industry—have positioned themselves in parking lots on the roads that define those neighborhoods: Murfreesboro Road, Charlotte Pike and especially Nolensville Road. While all have their merits and fans, two deserve to become destinations on your global eating adventures. Pupusaria Dona Rosa—in the parking lot of Zack's Express Mart at 5101 Nolensville Road—has a limited menu, but everything a fan of Salvadoran street food could ask for, especially the superb signature pupusas. Mariscos Lopez, a little further south on the other side of Nolensville Road (5414), specializes in Mexican fare—tacos, tostados and mariscos (seafood)—but delivers it with lively music, colorful strings of lights, smiling carhops, and a jubilant personality that distinguishes it from its siblings. Kay West

Best Upscale Ethnic: Anatolia Nashville's globe-curious diners have their pick of country cooking these days, from Africa to Peru, from Cuba to Iran. While their cuisines may be on either side of a great divide, what most have in common are humble settings in off-the-beaten-path ethnic neighborhoods. If you prefer to do your world traveling in first class rather than coach, Anatolia is for you. Huseyin and Harun Ustunkaya, the brothers who opened this lovely White Bridge Road jewel, grew up in the seaside city of Antalya in Anatolia, the northeastern portion of Turkey. They proudly call their hometown "a piece of heaven on earth," which also describes their restaurant. Modestly but elegantly decorated with items from home, the accoutrements are upscale, the service is impeccable, and the food—particularly the delicate baby lamb chops—is ethereal. Kay West

Best African Food: Soldeb Nigerian Restaurant Eating at home—yours or someone else's—is an important part of Nigerian culture: when you cook, you cook for your family and anyone else who might drop by. That seems to be owner Silifat McNish's philosophy at Soldeb, the restaurant she opened on Nolensville Road in March. A bare-bones operation (four tables, a lunch counter, a kitchen and a small entertainment center), Soldeb serves abundant quantities of pan-African fare, including favorites like jollof rice, ogbono soup and fufu lyan along with seared meats such as beef, chicken, goat and stripe (tripe). The home-cooked approach seems to be working; after a dodgy start, McNish and cook Ojo Adelfila are drawing an increasingly diverse crowd. Paul V. Griffith

Best Chinese Buffet: China Buffet on Lebanon Pike The words "best" and "buffet" never passed my lips until a couple of pepper-beef, triple-delight-loving children forced a hunt for a place all of us could enjoy. This year, our loyalty shifted after someone suggested this bustling Hermitage restaurant. After years of patronage to China Star in Madison, the kids accepted—begrudgingly at first, then enthusiastically—that they'd found a new favorite. Michael McCall

Best Fast-Food Chinese: Hunan Express on Gallatin Road That they serve the city's best under-$5 plate of kung pao chicken or broccoli with garlic sauce is only part of the attraction. The other reason my two tweens ask "How about Hunan?" every other night is the friendly greeting they, and everyone else who walks through the door, receive from owners Steve and Peggy Chern. In 11 years of single-handedly running a bustling business 10 hours a day, six days a week, the Cherns have welcomed customers as if never encountering a bad moment. The smiles and quips are as consistent as the tender chicken-on-a-stick and nicely balanced hot 'n' sour soup. And no matter how often Mr. Chern says "Lunch is ready!" or "Dinner is served!" he laughs just as loudly—and as genuinely—each time. Michael McCall

Best Cuban Restaurant: Back To Cuba Cafe Actually, it is the only Cuban restaurant in Nashville, and its long-anticipated opening this September was greeted with shouts of joy from the city's legions of Cuban-food fans. Alex Martinez, who with his wife owns the enduring Italian restaurant Mama Mia in the same strip center on Trousdale Drive, was finally coerced into opening an eatery that serves the foods of his native country. He has been rewarded with a steady stream of customers who flock to the café daily to order Cuban sandwiches, black beans and rice, croquettes, roast pork, chicken and rice, empanadas and flan. Kay West

Best Italian, Chain or Otherwise: Buca di Beppo No one is more skeptical or daunted by the notion of a trip out to Cool Springs than I am. It's a maze of unfriendly concrete, indistinguishable buildings and perilous anti-pedestrian thoroughfares. But there's a diamond in this sea of commercialism, melted cheese product and oversized cars. The margherita pizza at Buca di Beppo, a restaurant that's delightful despite its chain status, isn't as good as what you might find off Piazza Navona in Rome, but it's not far removed. There's no dried basil here, and the tomato sauces are as fresh as the wine is authentic. Buca's in-house reds are served chilled, true to the way immigrant Italians used to—and still—drink their vino rosso. Anyone with Italian family or in-laws can spot quality ravioli right away. You'll find it here. Reserve the Pope room for gatherings of 10 to 15 or so, and let his Holiness salivate over your eggplant parmegiana. Liz Murray Garrigan

Best Indian Food: Sri Ganesha Temple Somehow restaurant food in any culture comes across as a completely different animal from home cooking. The dishes people whip up at home rarely make it onto menus. Once a year, typically in August, Sri Ganesha Temple in Bellevue has a big India Festival at which they fill their assembly hall and parking lot with tables offering home-cooked dishes from every region of India represented in Nashville's substantial (and I would guess growing) Indian community. Last year's festival was packed, had too much food to choose from, and in the bargain featured music and dance performed by members of the community. The India Festival took the year off in 2004, meaning that aficionados of Indian food have something to look foward to in 2005. Dave Maddox

Best Hope for Achieving Peace in the Middle East: Mediterranean Cafe As anyone who's ever belonged to a contentious family knows, a good, filling dinner is the only way of reaching peace, usually because the combatants are too busy eating to say anything vicious. It also doesn't hurt to go against the wisdom of Atkins and serve lots of carbs, which tend to make everyone feel mellower. The Mediterranean Café's minty tabouli, home-baked pita, and piquant rice pilafs assist the peace process, but it's really the generous, inexpensive portions and the sharability of the platters that should make everyone feel benevolent and conciliatory, whether they're Music Row execs, Vandy students, or fans of Levantine food—all of whom seem to get along in the recently refurbished café, which still has shadowy hints of Rick's in Casablanca. The restaurant doesn't place itself under any single nationalistic rubric, but has a broad ecumenical appeal to all tastes, whether ethnic or dietary. Veggie burgers and falafel coexist with grilled lamb and kiffta, while stuffed grape leaves and baba ghanoush share the table with kebabs and grilled, marinated beef shawarma, a sort of Middle Eastern fajita. To close the deal, the once-dueling sides can share the peace pipe: hookahs filled with shisha, an apple-flavored tobacco. Bill Levine

Best Mexican Food: Las Americas Taqueria There was a time not too long ago when Nashvillians had only two choices for Latin American cuisine: El Chico and the oddly named La Fiesta of Mexican Food. Now, thankfully, our options are much more appetizing and wide-ranging. Of this increasingly crowded field, Las Americas is the one to beat. A step away from gloopy Tex-Mex fare, the restaurant specializes instead in lighter dishes from coastal Mexico and El Salvador. That's not to say that the food isn't hearty; the affordably priced pupusas (stuffed cornmeal cakes that are Las Americas' specialty) are a meal in themselves. Also recommended are the huevos rancheros, the chicken burrito big as a football, the tortas (po' boy-style sandwiches) and the campechena (a cocktail of shrimp, oysters and avocado). Linguistic differences can be an issue at Las Americas, but don't let that hold you back—the patient wait staff are used to gringos pointing at the menu and gesturing wildly. Paul V. Griffith

Best Brunch: Copper Kettle As they say about a lot of pleasures, this one is sinful. A fancier-than-most meat-and-three known for its weekday lunches, the Copper Kettle on Granny White serves a Sunday brunch that is unadulterated coma-inducing no-two-ways-about-it gluttony. Other restaurants may be larger and more elaborate, but for a place that's relatively small and only two years old, the spread is gorgeous—perhaps the most divine buffet in Nashville. It also draws a line out the door well before church services have ended. Though the menu changes weekly, you can generally count on owner-chefs Lana Robb and Sean Begin for eggs Benedict, omelets to order, cheese biscuits, and three types of Belgian waffles (including my eternal favorite, chocolate chip). The spread also includes smoked salmon, a carving station, endless trays of fruits and cheeses, and several different cakes and pies for dessert. It's all so gastronomically intimidating that I can't help but recall my father's eloquent words: "This meal has just about done me in." Ah, but what a way to go! Lacey Galbraith

Best Coffee Shop for the 35-and-Over Set: Frothy Monkey Don't get me wrong, we at the Scene love our neighborhood Portland Brew, where we gather every week to discuss whom we'll mock in the paper next. But after a certain point in life, mismatched chairs, ugly couches, grungy jeans and bad haircuts don't have the same charm. The new Frothy Monkey, just a few doors down from PB, feels perhaps a little too suburban, but the fine-lined couches, tropical plants in every corner and lamp lighting along the booths are refreshingly grown-up. It's a coffeehouse we can grow old in. Liz Murray Garrigan

Best Vegetarian Restaurant/Best Chocolate Chip Cookie Ever: Grins Wow, there are so many reasons to praise this eatery on Vanderbilt campus: Best Place to Eat Lunch, Best Kosher Restaurant, Best Take-Out, Friendliest Counter Staff, Coolest Chef, etc. But the most compelling reasons are these: in a town woefully lacking in any vegetarian restaurants, much less good ones, Grins distinguishes itself simply by serving great food, regardless of its animal-flesh content. Fresh and creative, the menu draws from the Moosewood culinary aesthetic: global but homey, hearty but healthy, inventive but never over-the-top. The daily specials and the panini sandwiches will keep a person plenty satisfied until dinnertime; for those wanting lighter fare, the salads and soups make resourceful use of simple but flavorful fruit and vegetable combinations that you'd never think of trying at home. Me, I typically go for the salads, largely because any meal at Grins should allow room for what I feel pretty certain is, in fact, the Best Chocolate Chip Cookie Ever. These enormous slabs, easily as big around as a compact disc (if not bigger), could pretty well make a meal on their own. The success of a chocolate chip cookie, I'd argue, depends on its density and consistency, and Grins' are thick, moist, chewy and hefty. And the closer you get to the center, the denser and chewier they get. These utterly satiating (not to mention filling) confections leave Christie Cookies looking like effete little wafers. And they don't even have any dairy—not that you'd ever notice. Jonathan Marx

Best Frozen Custard: Shake's With a lush, buttery texture somewhere between mousse and cheesecake, the voluptuous delicacy known as frozen custard remains relatively scarce in these parts. Custard addicts (or "custardheads") have been known to drive to Goodlettsville or even Murfreesboro to get their fix, transporting pints of the stuff like organ harvesters cradling a kidney. Visit this drive-thru dessert stand, a 21st-century update of a chrome '50s soda fountain, and you'll see why. Apart from shakes as rich as pudding and sundaes that pay homage to the Eisenhower-era hit parade (e.g. "The Big Bopper"), the big attraction is the Concrete: a cupful of frozen sin mixed with toppings ranging from chopped cherries to Heath bars. Shake's sits right next to a Valvoline service center off the I-65 exit heading toward Franklin on Highway 96. Come for the custard, stay for a lube job. Jim Ridley

Best Comfort Food: Shepherd's Pie, The Family Wash Chef Julia Helton at the Family Wash makes some amazing signature dishes, and there's a time for her roasted chicken, sauced pork chops, baked Brie and hummus, all of which are deeply satisfying. But there are times when you've just got to have a pie. Maybe you've just lost your publishing deal, your boyfriend or your job. Maybe it's the approaching holiday season. Whatever the source of your malaise, the shepherd's pie at the Wash is comfort food with a capital "C." Just like the genuine article from across the pond, the Wash pie starts with a mixture of ground beef and ground lamb. To that Helton adds fresh peas, carrots, onions, celery, herbs and some Yazoo Onward Stout beer (for the gravy). Served in the traditional foil tin, topped with mashed potatoes and sharp white cheddar cheese, the resulting golden-brown miracle is equivalent to four visits to the therapist's office. Paul V. Griffith

Best Grocery Store: The Turnip Truck Every day brings a changed look and delightful new smells to East Nashville's enterprising produce and organic-goods market. The samples and specials change not just with the seasons, but with the day's bounty. From juicy fresh dates to enormous elephant eggs (a plum/apricot hybrid), from fresh-picked basil to suggested hay-fever remedies, the little store's aesthetics constantly evolve because the stock is forever in flux. Moreover, the staff is informed and eager to assist—the opposite of what's found at the nearby Kroger's and Hill's—and the lines rarely stretch beyond two or three shoppers. Michael McCall

Best Alcoholic Beverage: Fuzzy Navels, Melrose Lanes Lounge For a combination of atmosphere and strongly mixed drink, it's hard to beat the Fuzzy Navels at the Melrose Lanes Lounge. Sweet and stout in just the right proportions, then served in ample portions, this is a wonderful secret for those who just don't dig beer all the time. Bowling optional. Jason Shawhan

Best Convenience Store: JJ's Market Selection and convenience are essential when it comes to good snackery, and JJ's Market on Broadway is peerless in both respects. Global in terms of selection and service, this pleasant neighborhood store offers up ornate coffee drinks, imported magazines, and comprehensive snacks of uncertain origin and unbridled deliciousness. The fact that a place centrally located in the city can provide both Boone's Orange Hurricane and Crawtator potato chips—well, that's just a blessing. Jason Shawhan

Best International Market: K&S World Market It's fitting that K&S Market is located in what used to be the Service Merchandise on Nolensville Road, once an anchor location for the fading department-store chain. With sections dedicated to Korean, Indian, Japanese, Mexican and Chinese specialties, K&S is a much more useful neighbor, given the area's rich ethnic diversity. The market has been open approximately three years, and its selection is positively mind-blowing. Along with farm-fresh versions of standard supermarket fare, K&S is the place to go for bamboo tips, fresh nopal cactus, live catfish and blue crab—not to mention Lao sausage and skirt steak. And that's just for starters. The Market also has Asian video rentals, a bakery and a "Beerworld" that includes Dutch and Russian varieties alongside the more recognizable Mexican and Asian brews. Paul V. Griffith

Best New Ethnic Market: Aleksey's Market Large Hispanic and Asian markets, which also devote ample shelf space to Middle Eastern products, are nearly as ubiquitous as Kroger stores. But there is only one place to find whortleberry juice in all of Nashville. That is Aleksey's Market, which not only stocks Russian and Eastern European staples and delicacies but has become a home away from home for immigrants from those regions. Thank Alexei Khimenko, a Moscow native and former Nashville Ballet dancer who opened the market when he retired his ballet slippers. While the appeal of whortleberry juice may be restricted to Russians alone, Aleksey's has plenty to offer curious American customers: a tremendous assortment of pickles, canned sardines, herring, sweets, conventional and unusual fresh cheeses that plead for sampling, a tempting display of smoked fish, and an extensive selection of that aphrodisiacal Russian specialty, caviar. Kay West

Best Compensation for the Lack of a Wild Oats in Murfreesboro: The Vegetable Garden Approaching the Vegetable Garden from town requires a U-turn onto a congested road. Worse, the parking is terrible, sometimes even further minimized by trucks unloading and a surplus of garden ceramics. But what it lacks in accessibility and chain-store sleekness is more than made up by the freshness and flavor of the produce. With the 'Boro's Farmers' Market offering only limited hours twice a week during the season, the Vegetable Garden is the only place to go for fruit and vegetables grown on farms less than a few hours away. How off-the-vine is it? I've often taken pity on the employees who need to inspect the summer tomatoes every 15 minutes or so for signs of bursting. The thin-skinned peaches aren't far behind, and the peppers blush in parti-colored tones on the ride home. The store's humble stock of hard goods pales by comparison to its corporate rivals, but it's usually priced competitively and covers all the basics. Besides, the juice bar here serves up homemade concoctions that have a pleasantly unplanned, unhomogenized taste to them—roughies rather than smoothies. Bill Levine

Best Reason to Drive to Brentwood: Fresh Market One of the highlights of ending up in Greenville, N.C., for the 2003 Cal Ripken Little League 11-year-old Regional Tournament was stumbling upon Fresh Market. The North Carolina-originated and family-owned 40-store chain of small markets does not carry prepackaged items, specializing in a wide selection of imported beers, cheeses, seafood, meat and produce from around the world. A large portion of the store is devoted to fresh-made carry-out items like sushi, sandwiches, salads, soups and entrées. (The North Carolina store also had a tremendous display of wines, but alas, not here in Tennessee.) All of it is presented in a European-style setting, artfully arranged, beautifully lit and even soundtracked with soft music. Though I am a little put out by the company decision to open in Williamson County as opposed to Nashville, I expect that once the Brentwood store opens 9 a.m. next Thursday in the former H.G. Hill's store on Franklin Road, my car will be able to make it there on autopilot within the week. Kay West

Best Caterer: TomKats Belle Meade, Music Row and corporate downtown do come together under one shared affection: they all realize that if you want to impress, you hire the same Nashville-based catering team that feeds movie stars on location from San Francisco to the Sahara Desert. At a recent two-day TV taping, the producers saved some pennies by hiring a cut-rate buffet-line specialist. They corrected themselves by the second shoot, and from the moment the sterno flames were lit, people on set came away raving about what TomKats served under the makeshift tent. Michael McCall

Best Wine Store: Midtown Wine & Spirits When Paul Patel closed his tiny wine-lovers' institution late last year and moved into an expansive brick-and-glass showcase with exceedingly more floor space, many devotees held their tannin-tainted breath: would a new store maintain the personal feel and heady atmosphere that made the original store such a singular sanctuary? Truth is, the brighter lights, bigger shelves and expanded aisles gave Midtown more room to continue what they do best: offer discerning customers hard-to-find, small-case reds that come in and quickly vanish. Buyer's tip: when they ask if they can help, they mean it, so take them up on it. Once they know what you like, you'll be rewarded with something special, over and over again. Michael McCall

Best Food Event: Tomato Art When Art & Invention Gallery owners Meg and Bret McFadyen decided to celebrate their love for the tomato with an exhibit of tomato art, they had no inkling that all of Nashville would come to the party. From that tiny seed of an idea sprouted an event that included pieces from more than 65 artists, a tomato decorating contest, human tomatoes, a tomato recipe competition that produced more than 30 delectable dishes, and a signing by noted Southern food writer Ronni Lundy of her glorious new book In Praise of Tomatoes. More than 800 people turned out for the late-summer opening party, in spite of the fact that the Titans were playing their first pre-season home game of the season at the Coliseum just blocks away. Flush with the surprising success of this tomatopalooza, Meg predicts great things for next year's crop: "I feel an East Nashville Tomato Festival coming on!" Kay West

Best Promise Fulfilled: Yazoo Brewing Co. Nashville ale aficionados took Linus and Lila Hall at their word when they promised to give the city its fifth microbrewery. Finally, Yazoo Brewing Co. opened its doors last October at the evocative "campus" of Marathon Village, 1200 Clinton Ave., and in scarcely a year's time the Halls have insinuated their clever ales into some 50 clubs, pubs and restaurants all over the midstate. Yazoo's own tap room, moreover, has become a favorite haunt for lovers of hand-crafted ales—despite unusual serving hours of 4 to 8 p.m. Thursdays and Fridays and 2 to 6 p.m. Saturdays. No village pub in Britain was ever so quaint, or so snug. For more information and directions, visit www.yazoobrew.com. Marc Stengel

Best Date Bar: Park Café OK, so it's more a fancy Sylvan Park restaurant than an out-and-out "bar." But the bar area, set apart from the main dining room, provides an intimate candlelit atmosphere perfect for a promising date, or just for a small group of friends who like to sip wine and talk in quiet voices. This is not the scene for people looking to hook up; there are plenty of places in Hillsboro Village or downtown if that's your cup of herpes. Instead, the friendly Park Café wait staff (combined with bartenders so knowledgeable they're almost freaky) turns their restaurant into a favorite place for Friday-night winding down, a place to be with those you know, or love, or maybe could love. For regulars, it's not so much an undiscovered hotspot as it is a personal secret. Claire Suddath

Best Dive Bar: B.B.'s Beer Barrel Formerly Pop's Place—and before that, Ma & Pa's—the Beer Barrel is now under the able stewardship of Pop's former manager, Jim "B.B." McKinney. Other than the name, not much seems to change at the Gallatin Road beer bar and short-order grill, which is known as "East Nashville's home away from home." Pool, electronic darts, pickled eggs and cable TV are the principal amusements, but the regular clientele are the bar's most entertaining feature. Good-natured and jovial, they'll leave you alone if you don't want to be bothered—but given anything that looks like an invitation to chat, they'll draw you in like you've been sitting on that barstool for years. Paul V. Griffith

Readers also liked…

Comments

Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

Recent Comments

Sign Up! For the Scene's email newsletters





* required

All contents © 1995-2015 City Press LLC, 210 12th Ave. S., Ste. 100, Nashville, TN 37203. (615) 244-7989.
All rights reserved. No part of this service may be reproduced in any form without the express written permission of City Press LLC,
except that an individual may download and/or forward articles via email to a reasonable number of recipients for personal, non-commercial purposes.
Powered by Foundation