Tuesday, February 05, 2008

50 Things to Love about Nashville (Part I)

Plenty of you have written me, expressing something along the lines of, "Chris, a ton of your blogs are indirect indictments of Nashville," or "Chris, you write a lot of negative stuff about the city you live in," or "Chris, how many times a month do you actually shave?"

Interworld, I hear you loud and clear. Despite what my blogs might have you believe, I actually enjoy living in Nashville. There really are a ton of things about the city that make it a great, exciting place to live. Every city has its handful of unique treasures; Nashville certainly has hers. In fact, the two words I use most to describe Nashville are "pleasant" and "livable." I mean, what kind of masochist would spend the better part of six years in a place he viscerally hates?

Don't answer that.

In the interest of fairness, positivity, and me-not-having-to-look-over-my-shoulder-for-Toby-Keith-pretending-to-shoot-me-with-his-guitar, here now is my very own list of...

50 Things to Love about Nashville

A few ground-rules:
1) I'm only including things that are unique to Nashville. There are a lot of great restaurants here, for example, that are elsewhere around the state and region. You won't see those here.
2) I'm only including things that I've experienced myself. Sure, The Hermitage probably deserves to be on anyone's list, but I have yet to visit. I won't put it here.
3) These aren't really in any particular order--least not of ascending importance. I guess some of my favorites will come closer to the end, but my rankings here are largely random.

50) DaVinci's Pizza
Mafiozas and Pizza Perfect can step aside: this is my favorite pizza in Nashville, and my favorite atmosphere. Decent wine list, too. I go most during the warm weather months and camp out on the front porch.
Try: BBQ Chicken Pizza and the Snickers Pie

49) Hatch Show Prints
$15 can buy you practically any mint-condition vintage show poster you would ever want. Centrally-located downtown, impossible to miss, and one of Nashville's true treasures.

48) Cafe Coco
Making a negative into a positive here, this is Nashville's best (and, I think, only) food and beverage joint that's open 24/7. That says a lot about the Puritanical hours folks in the city keep (bed by sundown, everyone!), but don't let that detract from the quality of the Cafe. Affordable drinks, excellent late-night breakfast, and plenty of seating out back and on the front porch. It's Nashville's best--and only--solution to your late-night muchies.
Try: Any of the Breakfast Scramblers (and I don't even like breakfast food)

47) Green Hills Cinema, 7:15pm, Any Friday
For those of you from fairer cities with fairer women (I'm looking at you, Memphis and Birmingham), go to an early show at Green Hills any Friday to restore your faith in Nashville's fairer sex.

46) Family Wash
If East Nashville is the home-base of all hipster snobbery, then consider uber-hip restaurant/music room Family Wash its epicenter. Sure, its bartenders are cooler than you; sure, its bands are cooler than you. But the food's good, the atmosphere's relaxed, and the beer list (limited to high alcohol stuff because of a zoning issue) is great. Throw on the Chucks, order a pint, scowl from the corner booth, pretend not to like the music, and tell me you don't enjoy yourself. When in Rome, right?
Try: Pie and Pint Night - $10 for a beer and their trademark shepherd's pie

45) Southern Thrift
Of the two locations, the Charlotte Pike one has a much larger inventory. Go here for every t-shirt you'll ever need, and the occasional furniture steal.

44) Mercy Lounge's 8 Off 8
Every Monday, you can catch eight of Nashville's best artists in one of Nashville's premier venues for absolutely free. Usually sponsored by Movement Nashville, what was once a glorified open-mic is now a coveted gig for nascent musicians. A great set here for a large scenester crowd usually leads to bigger and better gigs.

43) Portland Brew's Blueberry Coffee
Of all the Nashville coffee-houses, Portland Brew is the most, um, er...it's quiet. It's just quiet. In fact, all three stores are quiet. They're filled with students and folks that work from home and one store even built cubicles for studying. What's more, I don't typically like fancy/weird/flavored coffee. I don't even like blueberries. But I swear to you, Portland's blueberry coffee is 12 ounces of liquid crack. It's condensed joy. And, of course, I live next-door to the only Portland Brew' that doesn't brew flavored coffee. Way to take that stand, East Nashville.

42) Percy Warner Park
Go West down (you guessed it) West End and you can't miss it: one of Nashville's biggest city parks. My favorite part is the north-eastern tip of the park, which is the most open, and has some of the best city-views of any place in Nashville.

41) Prince's Hot Chicken
This is a point of some contention. Some swear Prince's is the best chicken shack in the South. Others have been critical; one snob in particular called his order nothing but a "lean bird." I tried Prince's for my own self (a former roommate was an addict) and thought it tasted like chicken. Good chicken. Hot chicken. Mostly because I'm a spice-hog and a food-masochist. Hotter = better. But be warned: they're not lying, it's hot.
Try: The Medium, to start with.

40) Parking
Folks from smaller towns might complain about Nashville's traffic congestion and parking limitations, but for the size city it is, Nashville's parking situation is really as good as it gets. I've lived and worked in two of Nashville's most heavily-trafficked, densely-populated neighborhoods (Hillsboro and downtown) and never really had a problem finding a place to park at any given time of any average day. Worst case scenario, you pay $5 for all-night parking downtown. Not bad at all, and certainly not worthy of complaint.

39) Grimey's New & Preloved Music
Nashville's best and best-known independent record store. The Basement (Mike Grimes' other business venture, and awesome music venue) is actually the basement of this record store. You'll also catch everyone from Cory Branan to Garrison Starr performing in-store, promoting their latest record.

38) Rumours Wine Bar
Stalwart of the 12th South district, Rumours is the best place to have a glass of wine on a first date, when you're still pretending you're classy, and she's still pretending she likes you. Also, only a $10 corkage fee for anyone who wants to bring their own box of Boone's Farm.

37) Taste of Tokyo
Next door to Fido in the heart of Hillsboro Village, Taste of Tokyo has to be the most affordable sushi in town (though, admittedly, not the best sushi in town). Most rolls are $2-4, and all the entrees are well under $15. Even the saki and beer is reasonably priced. My favorite, though, is the family that owns and operates Taste of Tokyo--gracious, exuberant, and (at least a few of them) hilarious.
Try: Bento Box. Chicken teriyaki, rice, soup, salad, huge shrimp roll. $8.

36) Vanderbilt's campus
While Vanderbilt's student body probably doesn't deserve its reputation, its campus does. All due respect to Belmont and Lipscomb, but this is one of Nashville's most beautiful landmarks. From the expansive quads of central campus to the hallmark red-brick architecture, to the antebellum beauty of Peabody (all in the shadow of Nashville's skyline), one of America's best collegiate campuses sits right in the middle of Nashville.

35) Las Paletas
Gourmet popsicles? Gourmet popsicles. Here's a building with no sign, near Lipscomb, that sells gourmet popsicles. Why? Because they're cheap and they're freaking awesome, that's why. Especially for people (like me) who like ice-cream-related things, maybe a little too much, maybe despite their lactose intolerance. Maybe to the point of hospitalization.
Try: Cookie-dough popsicle. Peanut-butter chocolate's good, too.

34) Station Inn
While most of Nashville's trying hard to revamp, the Station Inn is wholly invested in doing what they've always done: giving Nashvile a great, old-style listening room for the city's best roots and bluegrass musicians. Whether it's the Coal Men, or the Steel Drivers, or Debbie & Doyle...it really doesn't matter who's playing. I promise, they're all good. If you really want a music experience unique to Nashville, run to the Station Inn, buy a Pabst tall-boy, and enjoy.

33) CAO
If you've ever used a urinal in Nashville, you've seen their ads: "Cuban Schmooban." What? Nevermind. CAO is Nashville's very own independent cigar franchise, and they're great at what they do. Buy one, taste one, but better yet: visit their HQ and ask for Mickey. He'd love to show you around.
Try: The Soprano. Classic dark, gangster-style smoke.

32) Baja Burrito
Burrito joint in the mold of Qdoba or Moe's, but unique to Nashville and worthy of mention. My favorite burrito in town (I'm quite the connoiseur), bar-none.
Try: Chicken burrito, their salsa verde, and their homemade fruit tea.

31) Opryland Hotel
In college, some friends and I had a Christmas tradition. Every December we'd take dates out to the Opryland Hotel to eat dinner, get a drink, walk around, look at the lights, hit up Godiva, etc. A few years later, I still make it out every year to see the spectacle and get in the holiday spirit.

30) Belmont musicians
Practically every facet of Nashville's music industry is currently dominated by Belmont alumns. Execs, engineers, producers, booking agents, songwriters, etc. But no group is more present--and outstanding--than Belmont's musicians. It's a virtual farm system for the industry's top session players, band members, and collaborators. As long as Belmont stays committed to drawing some of the South's most talented musicians, Nashville's music scene will thrive.

29) Sportsman's on Tuesdays
2-for-1 on all drinks. Beer, wine, well-liquor drinks. Sure, dozens of places have 2-for-1 on Tuesday. But not all places have the Vanderbilt college crowd dishing out tons of tips. Which means absolutely monumental pours. Huge back patio, cute girls, cheap drinks. Pop your collar and strap in.

28) Noshville
Yeah, I hate the name too, but this NYC-style deli is legit. It's relatively pricey, but if you're like me (and here's hoping you're not), you're always hunting for a truly great sandwich. Noshville's got plenty, and the portions are obscene.
Try: Pastrami sandwich, matza ball soup, cheesecake.

27) Nashville Scene
Back-issues practically line the floor of hipster coffeehouses, but don't hold that against them. Whether you're the biggest fangirl, snobbiest scenester, or just an average Joe checking the concert listings, the Scene is required reading for what's going on in Nashville's cultural world. And (believe it or not) a few columnists are doing some legitimately good work with their music reviews and band profiles.

26) China Dragon (2914 West End)
This section of West End is next to Vandy, and slammed with Chinese restaurants. At one point a few years ago, three restaurants occupied the same city block: China Dragon, China Garden, and Dragon Garden. Either they were all three owned by the same family, or they fought every night after work. Either way, my allegiances always laid with China Dragon--quick and friendly service, inexpensive, and they do my trademark order best.
Try: C26, The General Tso combo. (Pronounced "TEE-so," I believe)

What am I forgetting? Beg to differ? Think I'm an idiot? Fell asleep on your keyboard for the last 900 words because you live in Iowa? Leave me a comment and let me know!

In the meantime, look for Part II on Friday!

Down here in the city,


ross k. said...

I'll say "yes" to Station Inn, Café Coco, and Belmont musicians. I'm going to have to say "no" to the traffic & parking, Prince's Hot Chicken, Noshville, and Family Wash. The food and service must have gotten better since I went there, or else they would have to call it Bad Date Wash. That's not a bitter no, just a middlin' no. I do wonder that you consider the traffic & parking unworthy of all complaint, but I guess coming from Memphis, you're grateful for the drastically lowered car-theft rate. Zing!

There's still a Nashville Rage, right? And what about the Villager and the Red Door? And, um, the Pancake Pantry? Please don't be "over" it. I haven't had DaVinci's...my favorite pizza was on this sketchy corner of McGavock, up the road from your place. Some Italian name that ended with a vowel, I forget now.

Cricket said...

I went to Taste of Tokyo last week. Why have you never told me this place exists? You loose 3 points for that! Though you get 100 for making this list. Where is part II??

And hey, Ross K, the Wash is under new management and has a new chef, so yeah, it's better.

Chris Milam said...

Part II coming Monday...sorry for the delay, folks.

The Rage = local version of Spin, but even worse (if that's possible). I know you won't believe this, but I lived next door to the Villager for 2 years and never went. I kinda hate Red Door, but probably not for reasons specific to Red Door.

Nashville's traffic is maddening, and will never be on this list. But the parking situation actually is reasonable.

Noshville is like 3rd Eye Blind. I know I CAN'T POSSIBLY LIKE IT, but then I get the cheesecake (or hear "How's It Gonna Be") and it's hard to fight against.

ross k. said...

What I would like to see is Christopher Hitchens do a critical analysis of Third Eye Blind's lyrics, like if he took "Semi-Charmed Life" reely reely seriously and ripped the whole thing in the most sneering, heartless English way possible, with his lips pursed as though he had a lemon in his mouth. It wouldn't quite make Vanity Fair, but he could probably bump Chuck Klosterman from Esquire for a week, they print whatever's just slightly too high-brow for Maxim.

(Just having fun with my jerk web persona there, trying to sound ruthless. Esquire is really two or three notches above Maxim, not one.)

Post a Comment