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Beyond Hot Chicken

Beyond Hot Chicken

Nashville Hits Its Stride as a Culinary Destination

It wasn't that long ago if you said the words "Nashville" and "culinary destination" together, people might have looked at you funny. Sure, you could easily get great barbecue, Southern comfort food, hot chicken or dine at a chain restaurant, but an array of farm-to-table restaurants with local and seasonal ingredients? The city was never like it is today.

To emphasize the city’s appeal for chain restaurants, that type of establishment grew from 2,620 in 2011 to 3,067 in 2017. That isn't to say Nashville didn't have any forward-thinking chefs. Visionaries like Margot McCormack of the French-Italian Margot Café & Bar and Tandy Wilson of the Italian-leaning City House opened their restaurants in 2001 and 2007, respectively. In the last five or so years, however, Nashville's culinary scene has morphed and exploded where just in 2017 around 70 restaurants representing diverse cuisines opened. These days, it's no longer surprising to find octopus or beef tartare on a menu.

Leading restaurant group Strategic Hospitality's umbrella alone has 10 restaurants, including the acclaimed 24-seat Bastion serving an ever-changing five-course a la carte menu, The Catbird Seat where chef Ryan Poli and his crew cook elevated cuisine in front of the guests seated around a U-shaped kitchen and the seasonal American Henrietta Red.

Bastion

Bastion

Photo by NCVC
City House

City House

Photo by Andrea Behrends
Henrietta Red

Henrietta Red

Photo by Andrew Thomas Lee
Husk

Husk

Photo by Andrea Behrends

These days, you can get almost any kind of cuisine in Nashville. Maneet Chauhan, a judge on the Food Network show, "Chopped," has Chauhan Ale & Masala House combining Indian fare with Southern flavors. There’s also the modern Chinese restaurant Tansuo, where chef Chris Cheung, who grew up in New York's Chinatown, makes authentic fare like Peking duck and toisan siu mai. Thai Esane is a sleekly designed spot near the Gulch from owner Nina Sayasack, and it offers authentic Thai and Laotian cuisine. Butcher & Bee, where the focus is on fresh, seasonal ingredients, offers a globally inspired menu with items like shakshuka and Turkish hummus.

Nashville now has more options than places you can actually visit. You definitely don't want to miss modern classics like Rolf & Daughters and 5th & Taylor, both doing new American fare in the Germantown neighborhood; 404 Kitchen, where chef/owner Matt Bolus prepares classic European dishes with local seasonal ingredients alongside a bountiful whiskey selection; Husk, Chef Sean Brock's celebrated Charleston import focusing entirely on Southern ingredients; and Nicky's Coal Fired, from husband-and-wife team Tony and Caroline Galzin, who make thin Neapolitan-style, crispy-crust pizzas topped with locally sourced ingredients in Nashville's first coal-burning pizza oven.

Don't miss actual classics like Arnold's Country Kitchen, an old-school, cafeteria-style "meat and 3" spot that's been around for more than 30 years or barbecue places Martin's Bar-B-Que Joint, Peg Leg Porker and Edley's.

And like other cities with vibrant restaurant scenes, Nashville has a couple of top culinary events that tie in food and drinks with Nashville's other big draw: music. They take place between June and September and both feature the best of Nashville.

In June, the “Nissan Taste of Music City” occurs in Public Square Park with featured restaurants and entertainment, but also in neighborhoods all around Nashville where patrons can sample tastings. In September, Music City Food + Wine is a collaboration between the band Kings of Leon, renowned New York chef Jonathan Waxman and event producers C3 Presents (Lollapalooza, Austin Food + Wine). Over three days, attendees indulge in food from top Nashville restaurants like Etch, Hattie B's Hot Chicken, Henley, Biscuit Love, Sinema, The Mockingbird as well as from visiting chefs from around the country.

All in all, Nashville has grown up culinarily, which is just all the more reason to visit.


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