Growing up in the South, my idea of fine dining was pulled pork with heaps of barbecue sauce and a side of biscuits, hold the gravy—though I did smother them in butter and cover them with a generous helping of strawberry jam. It wasn't until I spread my wings and moved to New York—followed by lengthy stints living in Europe and San Francisco—that I really learned culinary diversity.
When I opted to move back to Tennessee five years ago, I'll admit: I was nervous. After four years in the Bay Area, I was used to being able to walk out of my front door in Pacific Heights and turn left for Burmese cuisine, right for Thai, or head straight up the street for a smorgasbord of organic, locally grown options at any of the restaurants that bordered my neighborhood supermarket.
Luckily, my return to my home state coincided with a boom in food and drink options, and there's never been a day I felt stifled by my choices—and I'm not even talking about hot chicken either.All photos courtesy of Camels & Chocolate unless otherwise noted.
There's the Farm House's Trey Cioccia, who is redefining the farm-to-table movement with elevated Southern fare, sourced locally and sustainably.
(Courtesy of Biscuit Love)
In the Gulch, Karl and Sarah Worley behind the wildly popular Biscuit Love restaurant have shown me there are about 1,000 different things you can do with a biscuit (though the bonut, a cross between a biscuit and a donut hole, may be their most genius creation yet).
South of Nashville, Bell Buckle's eponymous café keeps things simple—and dang good—with meat-and-threes and other downhome fare.
And a number of modern farmers like Lauren Palmer of Smyrna's Bloomsbury Farm are keeping the CSA movement alive and thriving in Middle Tennessee.
(Karen-Lee Ryan, Walk Eat Nashville)
One of my favorite ways to give out-of-towners a taste of my love for the diverse and prosperous food scene is to take them on a Walk Eat Nashville tour with former food writer Karen-Lee Ryan, who has made her passion for storytelling into a blossoming business. Lee's tours explore the fascinating individuals behind the food businesses and delve into how they're woven into Nashville's historical fabric.
The East Nashville walk, for example, gives an up-close look at the havoc tornadoes and fires left behind in the early 20th century among the Victorians of Historic Edgefield while introducing you to chefs like Margot McCormack of Marché Artisan Foods and Margot Café & Bar, who helped Five Points evolve into the burgeoning foodie destination it is today.
On the SoBro tour, you'll traverse Nashville's iconic Honky Tonk row—as well as peek inside the symphony and get a dose of musical history as you do—while tasting treats from the likes of Etch's Deb Paquette and Husk's Sean Brock.
In Midtown, Karen-Lee's walk blends Old Nashville with New, making stops at some of the city's most beloved icons like the 77-year-old Elliston Place Soda Shop, in addition to newcomers such as Mason's and Union Common.
On each tour, which is spread out over the course of three hours, you'll sample fare from six diverse restaurants—but take away much more than a full belly. Because thanks to Karen-Lee, and a number of other Nashville trailblazers, even a Tennessee native like myself is forever learning more about—in addition to coming to appreciate—her homeland in a completely new way she never thought possible before.