From Memphis I drove to Nashville for a somewhat unexpected detour. I had a day between leaving the capital of dry rub BBQ and a promise of a very comfortable stay in Atlanta. Memphis to Atlanta isn't very far, a short day's drive, and my original plan was to stop over for the night in Birmingham which lies equidistant between the two places. After the music of Memphis, I was drawn to see what the other dominate music culture of the South was like. Nashville is obviously the home of Country (capital "C") and right now it seems to be having its cultural moment. Its also not that much of a detour from Atlanta and I thought, why not giving a try.
The city is having its cultural moment and is buzzing with the young, creative, anti-corporate set which is busy reviving small cities all over the country with startups and culture. Nashville, like Austin and Portland before it, seems to have captured this zeitgeist with its strong local identity, cheaper cost of living, decent weather and appetite for good food. The city even has its own eponymous TV show, a sort of Dallas for the Country set. (I seriously recommend you check it out - its trashy, its soapy, the music is great, and its a wonderful way to go through a couple of glasses of wine). It also seems amazing to me that such a small state as Tennessee is home to two very strong, sometimes related, but really distinct musical identities. With all that in mind I thought I should check out this Austin-of-the-South.
I stayed in a B&B in Historic Edgefield, a neighborhood full of beautiful craftsman style houses, and, as I discovered later, one of the hip newly rejuvenated neighborhoods. There aren't many other options for places to stay in this part of town (though I suspect that will change) but I came across the Big Bungalow B&B on accident. (Not on Trip Advisor - what? right?) and I recommend it. It's cozy, the rooms are clean, and the owner is friendly. The breakfast leaves a little to be desired but if you don't like it, go out and buy yourself a coffee and pastry from the myriad of cool places nearby (Bongo Java Cafe is a nice spot).
The next day, before leaving for Atlanta, I headed to an early lunch at Arnold's. It came highly recommended from a local I had met the night before. I could go on another tangent here and tell you how lovely the people in Nashville are but I think I'd be at it for an entire blog post. I'll only say that I'm not a huge fan of being chatted up, but in Nashville, and really most of the South that I've experienced, its inevitable and strangely wonderful.
Arnold's was the culinary highlight of my entire trip in Tennessee. The food is good but, let's be clear, this isn't some esoterically cool joint, or a 3 star restaurant, it is simply a lovely, packed, friendly, delicious place to eat Southern food. The place is in the up and coming old warehouse district, just a little south of Downtown. Inside a brightly painted red and yellow one story building, are a bunch of cafeteria style tables and a buffet line. You stand and wait, grab a tray, and are then faced with a dizzying amount of southern dishes. Confusingly, your first choice is dessert. This may be the strangest way to organize a buffet or the smartest. If your first food item is a lovely display of different pies you can't help but grab one - I went for the Hot Pepper Chocolate Pie. It was a very good decision.
I was very clearly the only person in that line who hadn't eaten at Arnold's before and any hope I had of not being noticed was quickly dashed when the first person to serve me said loudly, "you aren't from here, are you?". He'd just spent 10 minutes shaking hands with the people in front of me and inquiring after their families, thanksgiving plans, weekends and here I was, a camera strapped to my chest and a very confused look on my face. That definitely made me blush, but after debating with the owners the best things to eat that day and why, a chat about Seattle and the greatness of Nashville, I sat down to enjoy the food piled high on my tray (including, importantly, pie).
The locals I sat next where told by the owner to be nice to me, they came to eat at Arnold's often, and after a nice chat, they recommended a wonderful coffee spot I could stop at on my way out of town. It was lovely but best of all they sold chocolate from a famous local chocolatier that I'd been looking for all day. If you go, make sure to get your hands on some Oliver and Sinclair Chocolate.
There is a lot more to do and see in Nashville than I had a chance to discover, so a visit back is definitely in the books. Next stop on the trip and this blog though, Atlanta and Asheville, NC.
Finally. I'm trying out a little experiment - click here if you want to access my google map of the sights, sounds, and tastes of Nashville that I shared above.