Saturdays in the South: Nashville, Tennessee

Originally published by Current Magazine in 2007.

Titans StadiumHidden between the sprawling high-rises and the studios of Music Row is Vanderbilt University.  The lone private school in the Southeastern Conference, Vandy is best known for its law and medical schools.  Though nicknamed the Harvard of the South the Commodores would surely make quick work of the Ivy Leaguers were they to ever meet on the gridiron.

Because of its urban location within the spiraling growth of vibrant Nashville authentic tailgating is limited.  However the city is what makes Vanderbilt’s experience unique in contrast to the rural locales of the other member institutions.  In a way, it is the cultural capitol of the South with its history in music, racing, radio, publishing, sports and even politics.  In the days before television chances are you listed to the Grand Ole Opry on WSM each Saturday night.

The Ryman Auditorium, longtime home of the Opry is about a ten minute cab ride downtown.  There you will find Ernest Tubbs’ Record Shop and the infamous Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge.  Planet Hollywood, Hard Rock Café, and the Wild Horse Saloon are all within easy walking distance as well.  Historic 2nd Avenue is host to everything from honkytonks to souvenir shops to jazz clubs to Irish pubs.

Nearby Printer’s Alley is grittier than the Disneyesque 2nd Avenue/Lower Broad area.  It is an actual alley which was once nested amid the many publishing houses that occupied downtown Nashville back in its heyday as the South’s publishing empire.  Today it features more of a Bourbon Street feel with blues bars and a metropolitan vibe that provides natives with music and libations deep into the night pouring the local favorite Gerst beer.

Just off the Vanderbilt campus in either direction are two of the hippest neighborhoods in America.  To the south, the campus gives way to 21st Ave. and the ultrachic Hillsboro Village which is filled with niche coffee houses, artisan bakeries, foreign movie houses and modish restaurants.  Hillsboro flows into Music Row making it prime terrain for star gazing.

It is home to Sam’s Place Sports Bar & Grill; the place for post game food (fantastic pizzas) with a view of the country’s other football games via multiple televisions.  Almost hidden is Sunset Grill (Belcourt Ave.) which is posh and trendy, if not a little pricey except for the affordable late night menu on the weekends.  The best known eatery in the neighborhood is the Pancake Pantry which, as the name suggests features superlative pancakes but the star is the steak and eggs which come with the best hash browns on planet earth.

It is also in the Village that you will find the best Sunday brunch in town.  Jackson’s Bar and Bistro not only offers novelties like French onion hash browns, chicken salad torrado, Jackson’s BLT (with fried green tomatoes), and cookie dough egg rolls, but their patio is a must for those into people-watching.

To the north you cross West End Avenue to get to Elliston Place.  The best live music venues in the city speckle the street along with dining pleasures that range from the Middle East to the Deep South with stops in Austin, St. Croix, and Chi-town.  Novel shops vending fine cigars, antique books and tie-dyed guitars act as buffers between rockers, groupies, frats, yuppies and tourists.

Just a block or so down Elliston Place from the stadium is Rotier’s.  It looks like one of those places your parents would have warned you to avoid as a child.  Sure it’s a dive, but it is also the home of Nashville’s best burger (served on French bread).  Other notable Elliston Place haunts include Obie’s Pizza and the Wingbasket.

For singles looking to sample some of the local flavor the Gold Rush (also on Elliston Place) is a strange brew to say the least.  Before the party crowd shows they dish out some of the best Tex-Mex in town.  After the dinner rush fades, the co-eds show up but the weirdness does not end.  Up stairs is a typical frat bar with pool tables, dart boards, and Top 40 music.  Downstairs is where the rockers hang out.  The frat bar closes before the rocker bar which makes for an interesting scenario as many a Kip has lost his Muffy to a Tommy Lee wannabe.

The tailgating that does go on for Commodore games is unique as Centennial Park, located just across West End Ave. from Dudley Field fills with fans of both teams.  The park makes for what is probably the most cultured tailgate experience in the South.  Standing in its center is a full-scale replica of the Athenian Parthenon.  The modern Parthenon, which was originally erected for Tennessee’s 1897 Centennial Exposition, houses the city’s art museum whose permanent collection contains a group of 63 paintings by 19th and 20th century American artists.

During September you can double your pleasure with a visit to the Tennessee State Fair which features rides, exhibits, rodeos, tractor pulls and other attractions or perhaps take in one of Nashville’s two major league sports franchises – the Tennessee Titans (NFL) or the Nashville Predators (NHL).  Or maybe checkout the Nashville Sounds, the Triple-A affiliate of the Milwaukee Brewers.

Nashville has a culinary legacy.  It is a unique take on traditional fried chicken called hot chicken.  There are many places in town that do their own version of hot chicken, practically one in every neighborhood.  The sovereign of Nashville hot chicken, however is the renowned Prince’s Hot Chicken Shack (East Nashville near the Titans’ Stadium).

Nashville is a metropolis with ten colleges or universities and over 1.5 million people.  Visiting fans have long enjoyed away games to Music City because of the many things to do and see, plus the hospitality is impressive.  So much so that recently, Travel & Leisure magazine named the citizenry the friendliest people in the nation.

Nashville Hot Chicken
Recipe Type: Entree
Author: Stuart Reb Donald
Prep time: 8 hours
Cook time: 35 mins
Total time: 8 hours 35 mins
Serves: 4
Ingredients
  • 8 chicken quarters
  • 1 recipe breading (follows)
  • 1 recipe rub (follows)
  • 1 recipe marinade (follows)
  • 16 slices white bread
  • 8 pickle dill spears
  • Vegetable shortening for frying.
    RUB:

  • 1/2 cup hot paprika
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 4 tablespoons black pepper
  • 1 tablespoons garlic powder
  • 2 tablespoons cayenne pepper
  • 2 tablespoons chili de arbol
  • 1 teaspoons habanera powder (optional)
  • 2 tablespoons salt
  • Mix and seal in an airtight container.
    BREADING:

  • 2 cups AP flour
  • 1 cup bread crumbs
  • 1/4 cup rub
    MARINADE:

  • 2 quarts buttermilk
  • 1/2 cup rub
  • 1 bottle Tabasco sauce
  • Mix and refrigerate.
Instructions
  1. In several large zip top bags place the chicken and marinade.
  2. Seal and refrigerate at least 8 hours, turning every two hours.
  3. Heat an iron skillet to medium heat and add shortening to 1/2″.
  4. Remove chicken from bags and let excess marinade drain.
  5. Coat in breading and fry for 20 – 35 minutes, or until done.
  6. When chicken is done remove to draining rack and coat, liberally, with rub.
  7. Serve over two slices of white bread with a pickle.

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Stuart is a celebrity chef, food activist and award-winning food writer. He penned the cookbooks Third Coast Cuisine: Recipes of the Gulf of Mexico, No Sides Needed: 34 Recipes To Simplify Life and Amigeauxs - Mexican/Creole Fusion Cuisine. He hosts two Internet cooking shows "Everyday Gourmet" and "Little Grill Big Flavor." His recipes have been featured in Current, Lagniappe, Southern Tailgater, The Kitchen Hotline and on the Cooking Channel.

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