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VOL. 44 | NO. 6 | Friday, February 7, 2020

Tourism even locals can sink their teeth into

Food tours offer tastes of top neighborhood restaurants

By Catherine Mayhew

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Locals are accustomed to seeing tour buses slowly wind their way through Nashville, the guide pointing out where Dolly records when she’s in town or where Tammy Wynette lived.

But who’s in that small group of determined people resolutely marching down Broadway with a slightly peckish look on their faces? It’s the food tour people. They don’t care where country music stars hang out. They only have one question: What’s on the menu?

Food tours are a great way for the food-obsessed to get a taste of a wide variety of restaurants, bakeries and sweet shops in just a few hours. It’s like a progressive dinner, with a number of stops featuring small plates of signature dishes.

Guides usually throw in a bit of history about the geography they’re covering. The only thing required of guests is a sense of adventure and comfortable shoes.

Nashville has several companies that offer food tours in various parts of town, led by knowledgeable guides who not only understand the food but the history of where you’ll be touring.

“I’m so fortunate to share the stories of Nashville every day,” says Karen-Lee Ryan, owner of Walk Eat Nashville. “I love to showcase the people who have made our food scene so dynamic. We typically have interaction with chefs and owners along the way. I want there to be a human connection.”

The restaurants featured on Ryan’s tours rotate regularly, and chefs are given the latitude to create their own offerings that may vary from one week to the next.

Walk Eat Nashville owner Karen-Lee Ryan talks to a group visiting the East Nashville area. Walk Eat Nashville also does tours in Midtown and SoBro.

-- Photos By Michelle Morrow | The Ledger

Debbie Warden, who owns Tastes of Nashville food tours, looks for menu items that are Nashville hallmarks to offer on her tours.

“First I research what my options are; look at their menus to see if there’s anything that would be a good fit for the tour. You want something that is unique to Nashville,” she says. “In The Gulch, you have two of the top foods in Nashville with barbecue and Nashville hot chicken. And there’s no place you can get bonuts except at Biscuit Love.”

While walking food tours are a favorite among visitors anxious to explore the city and the dynamic food scene, many locals also take advantage of being a tourist in their own hometown. “Locals tell me, ‘I’ve lived here my whole life and I learned more in three hours than I thought possible,” Ryan says.

So let’s get touring. And bring an umbrella. Tours proceed rain or shine.

Note: The food tour companies, along with the restaurants, predetermine what delicious bites you’ll get. The restaurant rundowns below just give you a taste of what’s on each menu, not what you may actually be served.

Local Tastes of Nashville

Local Tastes of Nashville offers two walking food tours, one in downtown and The Gulch ($52, 2 hours and 45 minutes) and the other in Germantown $52, two hours, 45 minutes).

The downtown tour starts at Union Station Hotel, worth a look in itself with its grand lobby and ornate architecture. After a stop at Carter’s restaurant inside the hotel, you’ll saunter down to The Gulch to sample local favorites at Biscuit Love, Peg Leg Porker, The Stock and Barrel and, depending on the day, either City Fire or Saint Anejo.

Restaurant Rundown:

Carter’s: A locally inspired menu includes riffs on Southern favorites like deviled eggs, pimento cheese and smoked wings.

Biscuit Love: As you’d suspect, biscuits are king here and they are the lightest, fluffiest around. The menu twists the biscuit into some unusual incarnations such as biscuit churros and bonuts, fried biscuit dough dipped in sugar and topped with lemon mascarpone.

Peg Leg Porker: Barbecue at its finest. And you’ve got to love a joint that also serves Kool-Aid pickles, fried pies and cream cheese and pepper jelly with saltines.

The Stock and Barrel: This burger palace serves beef locally sourced from Mitchell Family Farms in Blaine – northeast of Knoxville – on buns made from Flour Head Bakery in Knoxville. Bonus points for also offering Benton’s bacon, an East Tennessee classic now on menus nationwide.

City Fire: Expect eclectic American classics in this restaurant featuring a 475-degree wood stone oven. Hot honey chicken over French toast, bacon cinnamon rolls and creamy grits with shrimp are among the offerings.

Saint Anejo: This Mexican restaurant has all the classics and a few twists such as garlic chili shrimp queso, red snapper yuzu ceviche and short rib quesadillas.

Some of the food being sampled at Butcher & Bee on the second stop of the East Nashville Walk Eat Nashville walking food tour. Other tours include Midtown and SoBro.

The Germantown tour begins at the Nashville Farmers’ Market with your first bite at B&C BBQ. Then take a tour of the Bicentennial Mall and head to historic Germantown, the first Nashville neighborhood. The stops on the list, depending on the day, include The Cupcake Collection, Tempered Café and Chocolate, Butchertown Hall, SILO, Christie Cookies and Waldo’s Chicken.

Restaurant Rundown:

B&C BBQ: Expect traditional barbecue here with all the sides that normally hang around the edges such as macaroni and cheese, baked beans and coleslaw.

The Cupcake Collection: It calls itself a destination bakery, meaning you didn’t just stumble upon it. The cupcakes range from classics like chocolate and red velvet to café au lait, peanut butter mousse and pineapple upside down.

Tempered Café and Chocolate: Yes, it’s both a café and a candy store. Stop in for lunch and get an artisan sandwich such as the Paris (prosciutto, Gouda, creamed honey and Dijon mustard), then leave with a boxful of hand-crafted truffles.

Butchertown Hall: This beautifully curated restaurant is based on open hearth cooking and smoking inspired by Central Texas meat markets and the 19th century butcher shop in the neighborhood. The brisket is the stuff dreams are made of.

SILO: The seasonal Southern food here includes such unique offerings as chicken and collard greens egg rolls, skillet cornbread with roasted squash and chocolate peanut butter pie. You can even buy the cooks a round of beer for $20.

Christie Cookies: Only the finest cookies in all the world. Chewy, dense and packed with everything a cookie aspires to be.

Waldo’s Chicken: As the name suggests, this place is all about chicken either fried or fire-roasted.

Walk Eat Nashville

Choose from three areas for your tours. Walk Eat Nashville also promises some up-close interactions with chefs and owners of the restaurants you’ll visit. The rotating destinations are many and all of them promise to be delicious. And you might get a taste of menu items to come. “The Farm House, we ‘ve probably brought 200 groups in there,” says Ryan, “and they’ve never served the same thing.”

East Nashville (starting at $75, three hours): Unique local restaurants abound in East Nashville. Sprinkle in the neighborhood’s unique architecture and some fun historical facts for an entertaining afternoon.

Restaurant Rundown:

Walk Eat Nashville owner Karen-Lee Ryan talks to the group before entering Edley’s Bar-B-Que in East Nashville.

Butcher & Bee: This skews Mediterranean. Kind of. The whipped feta with fermented honey and black pepper is legendary. And the Israeli fried chicken with sumac, Persian lime and local honey is a nice riff on a Southern classic.

Bongo Java: It was Nashville’s first coffee house and still going strong.

Edley’s Bar-B-Que: Another revered Nashville barbecue joint, Edley’s offers the usual array of smoked meats and some fantastic sides including grits casserole and banana pudding. The nacho base is homemade potato chips, a nice twist.

Five Points Pizza: The pizza is great but here are two words you must utter when ordering: garlic knots. Buttery, garlicky deliciousness.

I Dream of Weenie: How can you not love a hot dog joint in a VW bus? You can go Plain Jane or amp up your dog with Tennessee chow chow, pimento cheese or hash browns (only at brunch).

Lockeland Table: This upscale eatery has a legion of die-hard fans who clamber for their Nashville hot crispy pig ears, pate in a jar and smoked bone marrow.

Marche Artisan Foods: French inspired, Marche offers tartines, crepes and pastries among its extensive menu.

Margot Café & Bar: Country French and Italian are the main themes of this revered menu, which changes daily. Recent offerings included marinated olives with fennel and orange, pizette grilled chicken and fettucine with duck ragout.

Professor Bailey’s Spicy Pimento Cheese: Pimento cheese for adults, along with pimento cheese biscuits and gougeres.

Sweet 16 Bakery: Go sweet with muffins, scones and Danish or savory with breakfast sandwiches and quiche.

The Soda Parlor: Choose from a variety of inventive milkshakes, floats and ice cream sandwiches.

The Turnip Truck: If it’s healthy, the Turnip Truck grocery has it and it’s always delicious.

Yeast Nashville: Home of the kolaches, a bounteous amount of dough encasing both sweet and savory fillings.

The Midtown (starting at $75, three hours) tour visits some of the city’s most iconic restaurants amid the creative neighborhood that surrounds Vanderbilt University.

Restaurant Rundown:

Mason’s: The menu in this Loew’s Vanderbilt restaurant covers the waterfront from charcuterie featuring regional meats and cheeses to whole trout and short ribs.

Tavern: The gastro pub food here runs the gamut from shareable plates of shishito peppers or Philly cheesesteak egg rolls to heartier burgers and sandwiches.

Midtown Café: This Nashville landmark is home to the famous lemon artichoke soup plus perennial favorites like chicken croquettes, Midtown meatloaf and crab cakes.

Union Common: Creative and approachable plates at Union Common include lobster sliders, salt-roasted baby beet salad and cheesecake beignets.

Gigi’s Cupcakes: The Broadway location is the original Gigi’s where you can often find Gigi baking cupcakes and serving customers.

Note: Elliston Place Soda Shop is normally on the tour but it is currently closed for renovations.

SoBro (Starting at $75, three hours) stands for south of Broadway and it’s a vibrant area marked by Nashville’s new convention center, the Schermerhorn Symphony Center, lots of major hotels, restaurants, bars and boutique shopping. Pair it with more centrally located downtown eateries for a tour that takes you through the heart of Nashville.

Each tour is a mixture of five savory and sweet offerings on a rotating schedule.

Restaurant Roundup:

Bakersfield: You might call this a boutique Mexican joint with short rib queso, a melanesa torta and an assortment of inventive tacos.

Black Rabbit: At this shared dish spot you’ll find downhome offerings like boiled peanuts, fried quail, brisket with potato cakes and dessert shots for a sweet boozy ending.

Capitol Grille: The granddaddy of elegant Nashville restaurants offers a Southern-inspired menu including black-eyed pea fritters, an amped up wedge salad, spicy shrimp and grits, and slab bacon collard greens.

D’Andrews Bakery: Sweet treats here include double butter croissants, a brioche fruit tart and a Pop Tart using pâte brisée with homemade fruit jam.

Deacon’s New South: More Southern treats such as chow-chow deviled eggs, shrimp or catfish po’boys and Kenny’s white Cheddar mac and cheese.

Ellington’s Mid Way: Those in the know go for cheese curds with green goddess dressing, pickle-fried chicken schnitzel and a pork belly BLT.

Etch: Chef Deb Paquette’s upscale menu includes lamb flatbread, Argentinian beef tenderloin, jerk shrimp and roasted cauliflower with truffled pea pesto.

The Farm House: This Nashville-centered, locally produced menu varies but may include pimento cheese beignets, a Southern poutine and biscuit panzanella.

Goo Goo Shop & Dessert Bar: Nashville’s original candy, the Goo Goo, is joined by a dessert bar featuring other sweet treats.

Green Pheasant: The Green Pheasant explores the parallels between Tennessee and Japan offering such dishes as izakaya potatoes (Japanese potato salad with salmon caviar), spicy crab noodles and luxurious American wagyu beef.

Husk: The setting high atop Rutledge Hill offers a view with classics such as Anson Mills Sea Island red pea hummus, Carolina mountain trout and the best fried chicken you will ever eat. The menu changes daily.

Kitchen Notes: Kitchen Notes also veers Southern with fried green tomatoes, she-crab soup, heirloom hoppin’ john and banana pudding.

Liberty Common: French-inspired dishes include steak frites, pain au chocolat and the ever-popular French onion soup.

Martin’s Bar-B-Que Joint: Martin’s specializes in whole hog smoking, and it’s hard to argue that any restaurant does it better.

Pancho & Lefty’s Cantina: Tacos, burritos and quesadillas are the stars of this modern take on Mexican street food.

Southernaire Market: Shop and eat at this grocery and butcher shop inspired by New Orleans and New York corner grocery markets.

Secret Food Tours

($79, 3-3 and a half hours)

Secret Food Tours zeros in on the 12 South neighborhood, home to many eclectic shops and restaurants. Exactly where you’ll be stopping is, well, a secret.

The company will promise you one large pulled pork taco, a half large hot chicken sandwich, a homemade dessert, Southern sides, whole hog pulled pork and a mystery Secret Dish. That’s plenty of food and devotees of the 12 South neighborhood could probably guess the restaurants involved but why spoil the fun?

Dabble Events

($65-$75, three hours)

Dabble offers a number of food tours spanning the city and some of them are done by van which allows guests to explore more of the city than you can accomplish on a walking tour. Among the neighborhoods visited either by walking or riding are downtown, Germantown and East Nashville.

Dabble doesn’t tell you exactly where you’ll visit, just provides general descriptions about the kind of food and drink you’ll experience.

As with all the food tours, expect guides who are knowledgeable both about the food and history of the neighborhoods you’ll be touring.

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