48 hours in Nashville

Broadway (Photo by yours truly)

Broadway (Photo by yours truly)

If you haven’t been to Nashville, what are you waiting for? This is one of the bright spots in the American south. Friendly people, cheap drinks, fabulous food and a haven for all types of music – you can’t go wrong. 

I recently took my fifth trip to Nashville (or Nashvegas, as it’s also lovingly referred to) with 7 friends (yes I have 7 friends!) to see a Mumford & Sons concert. It started with food and booze and ended with food and booze, with a lot of laughs, music and sunshine in between.

Let’s get to it:

Accommodations

Map from visitmusiccity.com

Map from visitmusiccity.com

Usually I try to stay in a hotel, but lately Nashville is so overwhelmed with conferences, events and tourists it’s nearly impossible to find a room for under $300 a night. Enter VRBO. We found a great four bedroom townhome in Germantown for about $200 a person. Not bad right? And if you don’t know Germantown you will by the time I’m done with you. Great spot to lay your head and strap on the ole feed bag, as they say. Germantown is made up of 18 square blocks of real estate just north of downtown. We stayed on 5th Ave so we were smack dab in the middle of it all.

Lunch

We checked in to our place and got right to it. First stop? Food of course. We walked (yes, walked!) to Cochon Butcher on 1120 4th Avenue North. And yes, this is the same Cochon that is in New Orleans (I asked) – the OG butcher shop, sandwich counter and a wine bar that was inspired by old-world meat markets. Now I’ve been to both. Here we sucked down some craft beer, a meat platter, a cheese platter and a couple different gooey, cheesy, bacon-filled sandwiches. I’m pretty sure there’s nothing better than cheese and bacon.

Music

OK so the purpose of our trip was to catch Mumford & Sons at Bridgestone Arena. I’m a huge fan so this was a treat (check out my favorite M&S tunes here). Guest singers included Blake Mills, John Oates, T Bone Burnett and Big Kenny of Big & Rich. Quite the cast of characters. To be honest I can’t say anything about the quality of food we ate this night because it consisted of sucking down a pretzel and chicken finger at a sports bar while double fisting vodka sodas. Not exactly gourmet fare. But when you gotta get to a show, you gotta get to a show. 

Let’s move on to the next day. Nothing memorable happened after this. And by nothing memorable, I mean “nothing I can remember.”

Brunch

Butchertown Hall (photo from styleblueprint.com)

Butchertown Hall (photo from styleblueprint.com)

Ah, brunch. My favorite meal. Once again we walked to get our grub. This time to a place called Butchertown Hall on 1416 Fourth Avenue North in Germantown, a self-described “neighborhood joint” and “beer garden.” Gorgeous space with awesome back and side patios. We sat outside and ordered guac, queso and chips which were gone in about 2.4 minutes. Then most of us got coal-fired eggs – two eggs baked in a wood-fired oven with chorizo, cheese and avocado. Seriously. It tasted as great as it sounds.

And I can't forget to mention the Bloody Mary. This thing was described as having oak-roasted mary mix made in house with cucumber essence. Sound weird? It wasn’t – it might have been the best mary I’ve had. Get it ASAP.

Daytime Fun

After some hemming and hawing we decided to forego shops and strolling to take in what Nashville is known for: the honky tonk bars on Broadway. Our attempt to bar hop Friday night was thwarted by throngs of concert goers, so this was our chance to soak in some of the culture…that culture being day drinking brewskies and live country music. 

I’d like to bring up a touchy subject here if I may. Let’s call this a “sidebar.”

I don’t like country music. Never have. But things have happened to me as I’ve moved on in age: I’ve become more open-minded to those things I've always hated; things like tomatoes, kids, speaking up for myself and....yes, country music. And since we were coming to Nashville it seemed like the perfect time to dive in and learn a little so I could make a festive playlist for our trip. Big waste of time. Not ONE person would let me play it. I was traveling with a group of ardent country haters who didn’t have the expanded consciousness that I myself was experiencing. But - they’re loss is your gain! You can check it out that playlist here.

Anyway, back to it...

We spent some time at Honky Tonk Central – a three level extravaganza of live music, rednecks and cheap beer.  Honky tonk bars are a dime a dozen on Broadway – I end up in a different place every time I visit. Other favorites: The Stage, Legends Corner, Layla’s (I think I carved my name into the bathroom wall there last time), Bootleggers, and of course – the grandmammy of them all – Tootsie’s.

After a dozen or so songs (and beers) at HTC we headed out for some more civilized socializing at Acme Feed & Seed – a newish 3 level bar and restaurant with an amaaaaazing roof deck. Just as packed as anywhere else, but an awesome view and great people watching nonetheless. I think I was back on my all vodka soda diet at this point.

Dinner
Back to Germantown to freshen up, drink another round (or two) of drinks and then we were off to dinner. Turns out there were two fantastic options for restaurants that were on our “must try” list and again within walking distance: 5th and Taylor and Rolf and Daughters.

The interior of 5th and Taylor (photo from Nashville.eater.com)

The interior of 5th and Taylor (photo from Nashville.eater.com)

Rolf and Daughters was named one of the Best New Restaurant in America in 2013 by Bon Appetit Magazine. The other, 5th and Taylor, was recently opened by five-time James Beard nominee Chef Daniel Lindley. Can't go wrong with either right? Turns out, both had over an hour wait for a table (not surprising with a gang of 8 people) so just based on size of the bar, we went to 5th and Taylor to wait out a table…which ended up being a great choice. It was a huge warehouse space, with a 6,200 square foot interior plus an outdoor patio and bar that adds an additional 2,500 square feet to the total space. (I totally measured it.) 

After 3 bottles of wine plus a belly full of food, this was not surprisingly the end of our booze-soaked day/night. 

Sunday Brunch

No grass grows under our team when it comes to feeding time. Before we hit the road to travel back to real life, we decided to scope out Historic East Nashville for some food and sights. We didn’t find much in the way of sights, and our first stop into Marche Artisan Foods was frustrating (another hour wait), but fortunately we landed right at the doorstep of Margot Café & Bar – a quaint French cafe that was open for brunch with just a short wait. (ION - Margot is actually the parent restaurant to Marche.)

After fighting through a pocket of slow service (#firstworldproblems), we finally got to enjoy another delicious meal. Between all of us we had: steak and eggs, salted caramel French toast, asparagus and ham quiche and smoked salmon crepes. Are you drooling? It was a fantastic end to our gluttonous trip.

Conclusion

Get your butt to Nashville. If you've been once, go again. The honky tonk bars on Broadway (that's the "Nashvegas" part) are just the tip of the iceburg. Nashville is right up there with the likes of Charleston, Savannah, Austin and Atlanta for being known for its food, and based on what we experienced this weekend – that’s definitely getting stronger. There's also a fabulous botanical garden (Cheekwood), an historic plantation (Belle Meade), plenty of sports (the Titans and Predators to name a couple), shopping (The Gulch) and of course, music.

Yee-haw!

 

Other spots in Nashville that I love – and that you should consider trying:

The Southern, SoBro (that’s South of Broadway)
Merchant’s, Downtown
The Farm House, SoBro

If you have any other recommendations, send them my way!

Road Trip: Coco Bistro, Providenciales, Turks and Caicos

Photo from cocobistro's facebook page

Photo from cocobistro's facebook page

I recently went on a trip to Providenciales in the Turks and Caicos Islands for a friend's 40th birthday festivities. And by "recently" I mean, four weeks ago! This post is a little tardy.

Anyway, it was a fantastic trip. T and C is gorgeous. The most beautiful blue water I've ever seen. The softest, whitest sand. Gorgeous sunsets. The cutest puppies (yes, puppies; or "potcakes" as they call them in the islands). Here's my time with the potcakes (I was in pure heaven):

We swam and snorkeled and paddle boarded and shopped. We had homemade pina coladas and fresh conch right from the ocean. We saw dolphins, rays, barracuda and even a shark. 

Moral of the story: visit the Turks and Caicos Islands; you won't be sorry.

Grace Bay Beach, Providenciales, Turks and Caicos

Grace Bay Beach, Providenciales, Turks and Caicos

Before getting to TCI, I had read about Coco Bistro and knew it was one of the best places in Providenciales to eat. We heard the same again from our cab driver Ali on our ride from the airport; but in the same breath heard it was impossible to get a reservation. Grrr. But since it just happened to be right across the street from our condo we definitely had to try. And it was a success! We got in! Dems the perks you get when you visit during hurricane season I guess. 

Coco Bistro doesn't look like much from the driveway. It's down a dirt road in Grace Bay and looks like so:

Exterior of Coco Bistro (Photo from localadventurer.com)

Exterior of Coco Bistro (Photo from localadventurer.com)

Nice color but sort of "meh," right? But once you get inside, you are transported to a tropical freakin' paradise. You are literally dining among the palm trees. I love palm trees!. It is actually quite romantic, if you're into that sort of thing:

The menu prices at Coco Bistro are typical for TCI (i.e. expensive). Because it's a British island, like Bermuda, everything is a little pricier than the U.S. But since we were a friendly group we decided to order a bunch of appetizers and a few desserts and just share everything. Doing that was very reasonable and we were all still pretty full. And we got to try a whole bunch of different stuff, which to me is key, especially when on vacation. We tried so much I can't even remember it all.

Top on my list was their Coco Bistro Style Ahi Tuna Sashimi:

Photo from infinitelegroom.com

Photo from infinitelegroom.com

Also loved the Mushroom and Arugula Tart (left), the Lobster and Avocado Spring Rolls and the House Made Corn Tortilla with Peking Style Shredded Duck and Duck Bacon (right):

I'm pretty sure we had more, but the above kept me relatively enthralled. And for dessert, Coco Bistro's "Famous" Coconut Pie:

Photo from eatingwithziggy.com

Photo from eatingwithziggy.com

OK, OK -- in full disclosure: we also had Warm Chocolate Banana Bread Pudding (left) and Fried Banana Fritters (with Caramel Sauce and Vanilla Ice Cream): 

(Photos from tripadvisor.com)

Here's another tip: get the rum punch. Everywhere. It's delish!

Two thumbs up for Coco Bistro and for Turks and Caicos. 

 

To read more about Coco Bistro and to view their menu, click here. If you're interested in learning more about the "potcakes," visit Potcake Place K-9 Rescue here and consider adopting a puppy!

Road trip: The Purple Pig, Chicago

Photo courtesy of followmefoodie.com

Photo courtesy of followmefoodie.com

I went back to Chicago recently on a business trip which happened to land on my birthday. My lovely friend Trish, who relocated to Chicago last year, suggested we try The Purple Pig to celebrate. 

Located in Chicago's bustling neighborhood of River North, The Purple Pig is one of Chicago's most popular and well known spots for Spanish tapas and wine. My two favorite things!

I did a little research after and learned The Purple Pig was named one of Food & Wine's "Insider Picks" in their Chicago Travel Guide (alongside Avec and Girl and the Goat) and one of Bon Appetit's Best New Restaurants in America in 2010. In addition, head Chef Jimmy Bannos, Jr. was co-winner of the James Beard Award for Rising Star Chef of the Year in 2014.

That's an impressive resume, eh?

PHoto courtesy of cookingwineandtravel.com

PHoto courtesy of cookingwineandtravel.com

On to the important stuff:

In addition to wine, we ordered The Purple Pig platter (essentially a giant charcuterie plate, see below) and a cheese plate; prosciutto stuffed squid (below, right); confit turkey leg and probably something else that I can't remember. (Don't judge, it was my birthday!) The meat and cheese, of course, were fabulous, but that stuffed squid was one of the best tapas I've had in some time. Yum.

All in all, a fantastic spot to take a group, drink some wine and have some fun. I love Chicago. I love The Purple Pig. Go there next time you're in town. (P.S. they don't take reservations, so be patient.)

¡Buen provecho!

 

Road trip: St Patrick's Day in Chicago

Like I've said before, Chicago is one of my favorite cities. It's always a great time. And St. Patrick's Day parade weekend is no exception.

Just got back from a weekend trip with a group of friends to get our green on. We drank green beer, we admired the green river, we caroused with a green leprechaun at D4 Irish Pub in Streeterville, we gobbled up whiskey-laced green gummy bears. Erin go bragh! 

"Cloud Gate" sculpture in Millenium Park, Chicago

"Cloud Gate" sculpture in Millenium Park, Chicago

We also hit some places I hadn't been yet for non-Irish themed fun. We ate and drank, and ate and drank some more. Our friends live in Streeterville so we hit that neighborhood, River North and Old Town. Here are some good picks if you're heading to Chicago for some fun:

The Signature Lounge at the John Hancock Building, Gold Coast/Streeterville
Touristy? Sure. But instead of paying to visit the Hancock Building's observation deck (which can run you $19-$38), pay instead to have a classic cocktail or a 312 draft in The Signature Lounge. I like any sightseeing that involves booze. And don't forget to stop in the bathroom for the best unobstructed views in the whole place. 

Giordano's, multiple locations
You have to have stuffed pizza if you go to Chicago. Don't argue, you just do. Wait, you also have to have a Chicago dog. Damn -- I have to go back! Anyway, Giordano's is a tourist trap, but they let you order your pizza while you wait for a table so by the time you sit down and order a drink, your yummy pizza arrives. Not too shabby.

Old Town Social, Old Town
Great local bar with extensive wine and beer list. A long list of apps and charcuterie to choose from that are perfect for sharing - which is exactly what we did. Walked from here to The Second City, birthplace of my lady crush, Tina Fey.

Henry's Swing Club, River North
Super fun joint. Lots 'o beers. Lot's o' people. This quote from their website, which explains their name, says it all:

“Everyone was talkin’ ’bout the
HENRY’S SWING CLUB
So I decided I’d drop in there that night.
When I did, I say “Yes people!”
They was really havin’ a ball!
Yes I know. Boogie Chillin’!”

- John Lee Hooker, “Boogie Chillin'” 1947

Three Dots & a Dash, River North
Two thumbs up for Three Dots. A must visit. Fun cocktails, swanky atmosphere and kitschy decor. I wish we had this place in Atlanta! Get one of the group drinks - I saw one go by that was on fire and another with smoke coming out of it. We ordered prematurely.

 
 

Boss Bar, River North
I had to include this bar for the name alone. Where else would BITNB drink??

Quartino Ristorante & Wine Bar, River North
Awesome Italian pasta and pizza joint. My friend and I split the braised pork ravioli (above) and the porcini and truffle risotto. Yummy. Made Thrillist's January 2015 list of Chicago's 10 best Italian restaurants. While we were eating a pipe and drum band even came through the place to serenade everyone. A great end to a fabulous Chicago St. Patrick's celebration!

Special thanks to our hosts Trish and Matt!

 

Road trip: Eataly Chicago

A friend and I recently took a weekend trip to Chicago to visit another friend who relocated there from Atlanta (boo!). We definitely miss her, but Chicago is not a bad place to have to visit! It's a fabulous combination of the charm of Boston, the big city appeal of NYC, and the friendliness of the Midwest. There's great food, great sports, great festivals, great history and great lakes. If it wasn't ridiculously snowy and wretchedly cold in the winter, it'd be practically perfect.

So anyway, we visited for a long weekend. Lots of great food and shopping. But one thing that stood out? Eataly Chicago. This isn't the original location of this fantastic concept, but it's the first one I've been to so I'm going to love on it all the same.

Eataly is a gourmet Italian food market/hall that was founded by one Mr. Oscar Farinetti in January 2007 when he opened a 30,000 square foot store in Turin, Italy. His vision was the create an atmosphere that "joined elements of a lively European open market and a learning center." Farinetti was joined by brothers Adam and Alex Saper to create the first ever Eataly North America.

Photo from Eataly Chicago

Photo from Eataly Chicago

Together with New York restaurant veterans, Mario Batali and Joe and Lidia Bastianich (of B&B Hospitality Group), the very first Eataly USA located in NYC opened in 2010.  Eataly now has locations in Chicago, Italy, Istanbul, Dubai and Japan. (All info paraphrased from eataly.com.)

Click here for Eataly's manifesto (p.s. it's fabulous).

Eataly Chicago

Photo from Eataly Chicago

Photo from Eataly Chicago

Established in 2013, Eataly Chicago is located at 43 East Ohio Street in Chicago's River North neighborhood. The Chicago location boasts two floors of food, wine, shopping and sweets. You can take cooking classes and culinary tours. You can hold a private dinner or event. You can drink (or buy) beer and wine. You can shop in the market for gifts, oils, spices, sauces and fresh pasta, cheeses seafood and meat. You can dine at one of the 23 different eateries . You can grab a coffee and a chocolate, pastry or gelato. They even have a Nutella bar!

What we ate

Not surprisingly, we stopped at two restaurants: La Piazza and La Pizza & La Pasta:

Il Fritto: ARANCINI (fried saffron risotto balls stuffed with pork and veal ragù and peas)

Pizza: CAPRICCIOSA (mozzarella, mushrooms, prosciutto, artichokes, tomato sauce, olives and basil)

 

(I can never get a pic before we start eating the pizza!)

Pasta: PAPPARDELLE con Funghi (housemade pappardelle with a mushroom, tomato, garlic and thyme ragù)

20141003_193815418_iOS.jpg
 

I'm not going to break down any type of scoring for this - we were on vacation after all - so let's just say the pizza was traditional Neopolitan style pizza (is there anything better?) and the pasta with ragu was earthy and rich and damn fabulous.

Combine the great food with the electric atmosphere and you have yourself a pretty cool place to eat and shop! Come to Atlanta Eataly!

Per favore?