Sunday, March 14, 2010

In-Flight Writing Part 2: Nashville

I have a layered relationship with Nashville. Even inclusive of the cowboys and country music the rest of the world knows it for, it always seemed a little more cosmopolitan than Memphis. Maybe most people feel that way about the place they grew up- it couldn't possibly be all that exciting when there was just so much world out there. And, indeed, there was and is a lot of world. I was suddenly 18-19 and spending all my time in Nashville, a visitor immersed in a prestigious private school and the thick, old South gentilities and implied advantages of its students.

And I should probably mention, I was holy crow in love to the point of absolute stupidity. I don't know whether I'm more horrified or sympathized to the way that first time into the depths turns a person inside out. Regardless, it was easy to be charmed by the city enabling it. We ate black bean salads with cucumber dill dressing on my Thursday arrivals at Calypso, shared Steeplechase sandwiches on sunny Saturdays at Bread & Co and nursed Sunday hangovers with chicken fingers at McDougal's.

I tried sushi for the first time at Goten and the fact that it was followed immediately thereafter by sake bomb(s) has not deterred my devotion ever since. I knew that city well and we charmed each other for a few years (until we didn't). Only in that singular state of high altitude hormones can one get so nostalgic about the smell of stale Natural Light.

Which is to say once Nashville inevitably saw the contents of my proverbial heart cracked wide open and fried over easy on the sidewalk, it took me a year or two to go back.

When I did, the city didn't remember me splayed violently in the outline of a great salt lake. It just hugged me heartily and smelled like Dogwood trees and magnolia blooms. And deep-fryers. So I've continued to go back annually and in the last two years I've headed south for a work-related conference (as it turns out "work-related" does not exclude dance parties and the odd glass of wine:).

This made for the second of my winter adventures, split between talking till I was hoarse at the Opryland Hotel and getting to ingratiate a good friend to her new city. JPop, previously mentioned as part of a Monday night dinner tradition, moved shop to Nashville in December. I worked out my slight jealousy by acknowledging that part of me would be loving the city a little more because someone I love was enjoying it in my stead. So clearly we would need to eat well.

Thanks to a spectacular recommendation, we opted into a late reservation at City House Saturday night. East Nashville six years ago (gulp) was not nearly as far along in its gentrification as it is today but I suspect it was well on its way. That being said, it seems like every new restaurant I've heard about since my NashVegas years is somewhere over on the sunrise side of the river that splits the city down the middle. This unassuming cottage in Germantown is why. I think I had one of my favorite meals in the last five years.

I've tried to cut back on taking any photos in restaurants. I never did use a flash but still, unless I can catch it fast with natural light, rarely is it worth the interruption. My hesitation can be found on Flickr but I'll tell you now that the photos don't do the food justice. We sat down at 9:45 after a round of cocktails and tried to narrow it down. The meat is cured in-house. The pasta is made by a guy around the block. Any eggs involved? Laid the previous day. My kind of eating. The gnocchi was some of the best I've had with a crisp bottom and a soft, toothsome middle. The food wasn't overdone. After marsala sorbet and not a small amount of wine, I was giddy in a way that only that feeling of a tremendous find makes you.

We spent a cocktail at Patterson House after dinner at our waiter's recommendation and it proved to be, like his other recos, tremendous. Hey Kris? You made our night. Patterson House, as it turns out, is the Nashvillian sister of the Violet Hour, one of my favorite weekday bar-sits in Chicago. Our barkeep made a smooth whiskeydrink (called Vincent's Demise, I think) and it turned out he'd lived in Chicago before heading south to help open this place. I like it when I find two of my favorite places getting along.

Then we did a little of the above. The above being Broadway on a Saturday night when the audience of any given honkytonk reads like an anthropology dissertation. I'm not sure which part of the evolutionary chain I was representing at this point so let's skip to brunch.

Margot. Another spot on the east side and oh so very worth the venture. By daylight I could further fall for the area with its little bungalows and a big trees. Old houses with tin roofs and all manner of independent eatery.

"I could do this. I could be happy here."

My favorite part of traveling is finding the life I'd be living in any given place. Do you do that, too?

We got inside and wanted everything. And we were, errr, hungry. So we did indeed have everything. Including a scone that made me a believer and the dish you see above. It was too pretty not to snap but don't worry, I got JPop and Becca's choices documented as well. Poached eggs over veal sugo with Fall's Mill grits for breakfast. Game changer.

From there we attended to an issue at hand and bought ourselves boots (see top, I'm the Johnny Cash). I had been telling myself they were impractical for years but buy one get two free sucked us right in. I have to tell you that I've never owned a more comfortable pair of shoes and they look so cute in my doorway...reason enough to do anything.

On my way back to the airport, I stopped into Calypso for a black bean salad. It smelled the same inside as it did then and it tasted just as good. Maybe better.


kat said...

There is no expressing how much I love these posts -- it's like sense of taste, sense of place, and no-regrets old romance all on one plate. Keep catching it up.

TKTC said...

kat: Go figure it would be you. I love writing them/having them around for later. If I had to pick just one other person to be reading(and I suspect as much), you're it. So thanks for that.

TKTC said...

For anyone visiting from the future (aka post that just went up), I ate at City House twice on my most recent Nashville trip and it was just as superb. Particularly the sazeracs and pizza, a combination I think I could live on.