It’s been six years since The New York Times proclaimed that East Nashville was “climbing the charts as a new food star,” and over those years, we’ve made good on their prediction, with promising new restaurants joining our established players in droves.
Boundary-pushing high-end cuisine at the Treehouse, knockout ramen at Two Ten Jack, creative vegetarian fare at Graze, fresh French- and Southern-inspired menus at pioneering East Side spot Margot Cafe — we contain culinary multitudes in East Nashville in 2018, and that’s only set to grow.
So, a good problem to have: Really getting to know East Nashville’s estimable food scene can be a significant time (and funds) commitment. Luckily, East Nashville has its effective and delicious shortcuts, too.
One that’s grown up alongside the Times’ prediction: the Yum!East festival, heading into its sixth year, and set for May 31, 2018 at Pavilion East. At the event — a fundraiser for East Nashville’s Fannie Battle Day Home for Children — attendees get to taste dishes from dozens of East Nashville restaurants, from amuse-bouches to sweets. More on this year’s fest/tickets at yumeast.com.
For a deeper familiarity, you might opt for a three-hour East Nashville tour with Walk Eat Nashville. Twice a week, Walk Eaters wander the East Side, stopping at six different tasting stops, sampling dishes, meeting with chefs and owners and learning about the neighborhood, its history and its culinary offerings. It’s part education, part leisurely lunch, even a little bit of exercise as you swing from Lockeland Table over to the Turnip Truck and around to Edley’s Bar-bque. You can learn more/book your tour spot at walkeatnashville.com.
If you could go for a more immediate introduction, though, we figured we could offer something of an East Nashville food road map in the meantime, too. And who better to turn to than someone who walks and eats the East Nashville food scene every day: Walk Eat Nashville founder and longtime East Nashvillian Karen-Lee Ryan. Think of the following as a focused menu of must-order items that’ll take you across East Nashville, established names to newcomers, and give you a clear understanding of just how high East Nashville’s food star has risen.
6 DISHES THAT DEFINE EAST NASHVILLE RIGHT NOW
The Roze Bowl at Cafe Roze
It’s hard to flip through Instagram without seeing the pink-tinted tables at Cafe Roze dotted with drool-inducing dishes, like the coconut yogurt or hard-boiled B.L.T. But the signature dish, the Roze Bowl, looks as if it were created for hashtagging: The beet tahini swirled 180 degrees inside the white bowl perfectly matches the tables’ pink hues, while the flavors, colors and textures remind this is a dish to savor when the snapping ceases. A look around this cozy restaurant reveals a cross-section of the neighborhood — baby-toting parents, developers talking business, and multi-generational groups of friends — enjoying every bite of the kale, quinoa, lentil and zucchini combination. And, this rainbow-in-a-bowl is vegan, gluten free and dairy free, but with options to make it carnivore friendly, to meet just about any East Nashvillian’s dietary needs.
1115 Porter Rd., caferoze.com
Athenian Chicken at GReKo Greek Street Food
Despite Nashville’s “Athens of the South” moniker, finding Greek street food here wasn’t easy, until GReKo opened near 7th and Main. Mural-splashed walls inside and out help ferry us to the Grecian city before the tzatziki and house-made pita even arrive, and the chilled, brightly flavored horta greens nudge us further from our Southern mooring. But the Athenian chicken, cooked over live fire and coated in a honey-lemon drizzle, transports tastebuds to the sunny climes of the Mediterranean. It’s a world away from the flaming fowl Nashville is famous for. And this year, that brightly-hued half bird and heap of French fries taste even better on the open-air patio, which beckons sun-starved neighbors to linger after a long, gray winter.
704 Main St., grekostreetfood.com
Cub Scout Moonshake at The Soda Parlor
The Soda Parlor has quickly become a sweet neighborhood hang, combining free-play arcade games, decadent desserts and a line of locally printed T-shirts originally inspired by owner Olan Rogers’ comedic YouTube sketches. And now it’s an ideal place to introduce folks to his latest venture, a hit TBS TV show called Final Space, executive produced by Conan O’Brien. The 18-month-old shop is grounded in deliciousness. The signature Waffle Mondaes pack enough sugar and carbs to satisfy a family of four, but for something slightly lighter any time of day, the Cub Scout Moonshake is an out-of-this-world milkshake, made with s’mores ice cream from East Nashville’s own Pied Piper Creamery and Hatcher Dairy milk, served in a fudge-swirled jar with house-made whip and a marshmallow. Play Pac-Man while it’s prepared and pick up a Mooncake stuffed animal for a fully immersive experience.
966 Woodland St., thesodaparlor.com
Braised Rabbit at Peninsula
The $9 gin and tonic menu is reason enough to visit this East Nashville newcomer. The weekly menu changes make return visits essential, but one item “will never come off the menu,” according to co-owner Craig Schoen: the braised rabbit in garlic broth. Thankfully so. One spoon of the silky ham broth threaded with onions, fennel and rabbit, and forget about sharing this dish with any tablemates. With a focus on the Spanish and Portuguese dishes of the Iberian Peninsula, the menu intrigues with new-to-Nashville flavors. And that’s exactly what makes this 38-seat charmer of a restaurant such a welcome addition to the neighborhood.
1035 W. Eastland Ave., peninsulanashville.com
Pecan Sticky Bun Sundae at Margot Café
When Margot McCormack stopped serving Sunday brunch and launched a new Sunday supper service at her namesake restaurant, she converted a mainstay of the brunch pastry plate into a signature Sunday dessert. The Pecan Sticky Bun Sundae is an oversized, yeasty sweet roll smothered in pecans and slathered with a decadent caramel sauce then topped with a scoop of house-made vanilla ice cream. It’s a rich dish best savored slowly and shared with friends, and a fitting ending to any week — especially at Margot’s place, where the laid-back vibe and neighborhood crowd kindle plenty of cross-table conversation.
1017 Woodland St., margotcafe.com
Anything with Chef Hal’s Chimichurri at Lockeland Table
Executive chef Hal Holden-Bache has been tinkering with chimichurri since he first read about it as a teenager. The green Argentinian sauce typically combines parsley, garlic, and red wine vinegar in an olive-oil base to complement grilled meats. Experimenting with various combinations, chef Hal preferred making it with cilantro and a hint of lime instead of parsley. He drapes it over his signature dry-aged New York Strip and pairs it with the daily empanada appetizer. But try it on their pommes frites. Or dip a pizza crust into it. Or take home a jar now that chef Hal’s Chimichurri is part of a product line the restaurant launched about a year ago. It amps up just about anything, from bread to eggs to burgers.
1520 Woodland St., lockelandtable.com