Nashville-transplants Josh Habiger and Erik Anderson, 2012 Best New Chefs and chef-owners of The Catbird Seat, guide F&W through the city’s famous hot chicken and meat-and-three lunch spots and reveal where they eat and drink on days off. To view the 10 must-try plates in their city, click through to the slideshow here.
Classic Meat-and-Three: Arnold’s Country Kitchen
“This is a family-run cafeteria-style restaurant with five meats and 12 sides to choose from. They’re smart because the desserts are first in the line; if they put desserts at the end, you’d realize how much food you already have and wouldn’t get it. So you grab a piece of pie, then at the next station choose three sides and one protein, like meat loaf, tilapia, roast beef, or chicken and dumplings. For sides, I almost always get the mac and cheese and the turnip greens, which are good because they use a lot of pork fat,” says Habiger. Anderson’s must-get side is the tomato pie: “It’s just a really classic Southern baked pie with tomatoes, mayonnaise, cheese and basil. No one can make it as well. It’s never on the board and you have to ask for it.”
Hot Chicken: Prince’s Hot Chicken Shack
Says Anderson: “I love hot chicken. It’s really red from being doused in cayenne and it’s always served with Wonder Bread and dill pickles. After you eat the chicken, the bread that’s underneath it is probably the best part because it’s soaked with chicken grease and chile.”
Quirky Southern Joint: Monell’s Restaurant
“Here, it’s like eating Thanksgiving dinner without having to deal with your family. You go into an old house and all the tables are set for 10 or 12 and you sit with random people. Once there are enough people at the table they start bringing out the food. There’s lots of soul food like fried chicken, meat loaf, green bean casserole and biscuits. It’s kind of cool because you’re forced into a situation with people you wouldn’t otherwise know and are saying, ‘Hey, can you pass the sweet tea or lemonade,’” says Habiger. monellstn.com
Ingredient-Driven Italian: City House
“Chef-owner Tandy Wilson can cook octopus like nobody’s business,” says Habiger. Anderson agrees: “Tandy always changes the preparation; sometimes he serves it with cauliflower and chiles but it’s always crispy, salty and superdelicious. It’s a must-have.” cityhousenashville.com
Artisanal Mexican Popsicles: Las Paletas
“The homemade popsicles here are made from scratch with fresh ingredients like tamarind or lime and mint. It’s pretty awesome,” says Habiger.
Korean Go-To: So Gong Dong Tofu House
“This place serves really simple Korean food, but everything’s done perfectly,” says Anderson. Habiger likes the tofu and fish soups. “The soups come to your table super-hot and they crack in a raw egg that cooks in the broth. The light and crispy seafood pancakes are also really delicious.” nashvilletofuhouse.com
Pizza Lunch: Bella Nashville, in the Farmers’ Market
“Everything at this lunch-only pizza joint is made from scratch and the owner will run through the farmers’ market for the special ingredients of the day,” explains Habiger. “The owner makes a sourdough crust that’s really awesome,” adds Anderson. nashvillefarmersmarket.org
Vietnamese Hole-in-the-Wall: Interasian Market & Deli
“Go to this little Vietnamese market that has awesome banh mi sandwiches. They don’t sell them outright, you have to ask the kid at the front counter, who has to radio to his mom in the back and she’ll make you a sandwich that costs about $2. She makes her own pâté and pickles her own vegetables,” says Anderson.
DIY Tacos: El Amigo
“There is a taco shop in a converted gas station. It’s a funky little place to sit down and have some tacos. They have this giant oil-drum grill in the parking lot and for $10 they give you half of a charcoal-grilled chicken with rice, beans, salsa, avocado and tortillas. So you pull off the chicken and make your own tacos. It’s more food than two people could eat,” says Anderson.
Coffee Obsessives: Crema
“I am starting to be pretty discerning about coffee because of this place. They roast their own coffee and use a gram scale to weigh the dry ground espresso, then use the scale again to weigh the liquid volume of the brewed espresso to see if they got the perfect ratio for the perfect shot,” says Habiger. “I’ve traveled a lot and it’s not just one of my favorite coffee places in Nashville. It’s one of my favorite coffee places, period. I rarely order flavored coffee drinks but theirs are never overly sweet. They do a house coffee soda and one of my other favorite drinks is the Tom Cut with espresso, coconut milk, cardamom and kaffir lime leaves—shaken like a cocktail.” crema-coffee.com
Habiger’s Favorite Bars
Expert Cocktails: The Patterson House
“This is a great cocktail spot under the same ownership as The Catbird Seat. When I moved to Nashville I opened the Patterson House—that was my hiatus from cooking and then we opened the restaurant right above. I’ll come once every other week after work and they’re on point with New York’s best bars.” thepattersonnashville.com
Classic Daiquiris and Beer: No. 308
“Sometimes when you’re in a cocktail bar you really just want a beer and a shot but feel like a jerk for ordering them. Here, it’s the best of both worlds. The owners make awesome cocktails (I love the daiquiris), but if you want to have Pabst Blue Ribbon, you can have that too. Also, they have a house-made soda program so if you want a whiskey ginger, it’s topped off with ginger soda that they carbonate right in front of you.” bar308.com
Dive Bar: Dino’s Restaurant
“The bartenders here are also the cooks. There’s a little flat top griddle where they throw on the burgers as they’re pouring the beer. They make a really good burger that’s less than $3.”