The Mount Rushmore of Nashville Dishes

Stoney Keeley weighs in with his four favorite dishes from Nashville's dining scene.

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I always do my best to be as transparent with you guys as possible. Today is one of those days. I’ll be honest – my whole inspiration for this article came to me when my wife and I had our early Valentine’s Day dinner a few weeks ago (we’re 12 years into this game – seasoned pros know you get those reservations early and don’t mess with the crowds). I had us a nice little table at The 404 Kitchen in The Gulch on a Friday night. Our fantastic waiter…or, it might’ve been fancy enough for him to have been referred to as “garcon….” recommended their tri tips. We obliged, and as we did our best to house that dish, I caught myself thinking, “this is one of the best fucking things I’ve ever eaten in this city.” Because I have this website and an insatiable thirst to rank things because I’m in the media game, I immediately asked my wife (who has likely had it with me trying to rank things) what her favorite individual dishes in this city are. We’re not talking about the overall experience at a restaurant. We’re not considering the price, the booze, or the atmosphere – just straight up FOOD.

I could barely sleep that night, my thoughts constantly racing from restaurant to restaurant as I tried to compile this list in my head. The tri tips and two other dishes pretty well immediately came to mind, but I got a little hung up on that 4th one. Like everything else we do around here, this thing is subject to change, and I’ll update the list once it changes, but after combing over my catalog of all the restaurant reviews I’ve written on this site (shout out the fact that I’m to 85 rated restaurants), these are the four individual entrees that I’ve landed on as my personal favorites in Nashville.

The Mount Rushmore of Nashville Dishes

Tri tips at The 404 Kitchen – For our main entree at The 404 Kitchen, we elected to go with their tri tips, which I was sold on after learning that they were cooked for 72 hours….72 hours…before serving. The dish had all of the flavor of a complex stew jammed into a single bite. The meat was so tender that it virtually melted in my mouth with each bite. The cipollini onions added the slightest bit of sweetness to the dish where the mushrooms soaked up all of the richness of it, unloading it on my palate with every bite. 

The smoke stack at Butchertown Hall – Per the Butchertown Hall menu, the Smoke Stack is “SMOKED ANCHO CHILI MEATLOAF | GARLIC HERB MASHED POTATOES | TOMATO COMPOTE | CRISPY SHALLOTS | DEMI GLACE.” Now, as I described it, it’s a dish that provides the full spectrum of perceptible flavor. The meatloaf itself was rich, smoky, and had the slightest little kick to it. The tomato compote gave it a bit of a juicy tang. The potatoes added a creamy buttery flavor and texture. And, the shallots added some crispy texture as well, that added a bit of a bitter balance to the tang of the tomato. The dish was tied together with a subtle sweetness that I couldn’t quite place exactly where it was coming from. The Smoke Stack is a flawless blend of flavor and texture that pays homage both to the quintessential southern meat-and-three and the smoke and spice of Texas BBQ all the same. Incredible and poetic – this is what I want my dining experiences to be in Nashville!

The burger at Dino’s/Brown’s Diner – I can’t break the tie. I don’t want to. I don’t have to. And, you can’t make me. I’m the one typing this. Depending on the day, I might say Dino’s has the best burger in town. The following day, I might say it’s Brown’s Diner. I don’t want to choose! I wrote this about the burger at Dino’s, but I could honestly apply it to the burger at Brown’s Diner too: “old fashioned – bare bones kinda stuff. I didn’t get a load of weird/fancy toppings. Just a warm bun, fresh lettuce, tomato, onion, pickle, and a burger that tasted like it was cooked in the same grease they’ve been using for a hundred years. It was like a century’s worth of history dripping down my chin. It was juicy and flavorful, but not greasy – I didn’t have to pop a TUMS, and I didn’t have a stomach ache afterwards. That feels like sorcery to me. The fries were my favorite style – little bit of crispy flaky action going on there.” Something about a burger at Dino’s or Brown’s Diner just feels like simpler times. It’s like the good old days on a plate.

Disclaimer: Yes, it’s only one picture, and I know it sucks. Listen – my usual photographer wasn’t with me, so I had to go it alone on this review, and this is just not my strong suit. My phone/camera is at least six years old at this point. Sue me. I can’t let something like decent pictures stand in the way of writing this review.

Nashville hot chicken pizza at Slim & Husky’s – Their hot chicken pizza made for an interesting combination of ingredients – Nashville hot chicken, jalapenos, banana peppers, spicy honey drizzle, and served with some jalapeno ranch on the side. Hot chicken AND jalapenos always make for a dangerous combination, but with this pizza, I found that it added a nice bit of crunch to it without overbearing heat. The chicken itself was all about the Nashville hot flavor. To me, it wasn’t a violent heat, but a more subtle enjoyable heat that was balanced out by the cheese blend, and the crust itself dipped in some of that jalapeno ranch. The banana peppers gave the dish a nice tang that had me thinking we need to combine banana peppers and hot chicken more often. I’m not a crust eater, but I consumed every bit of this pizza (one of only two places I’ll do that – the other being Calabria out here in Mount Juliet). Between the flavor of the hot chicken, the heat and the crunch from the fresh jalapenos, the tang of the banana peppers, and the sweetness of the honey drizzle, this made for a creative combination of flavors that made a lasting impression on me. I can’t wait to get another one of these bad boys.

CURRENT NASHVILLE RESTAURANT RANKINGS

  1. Audrey (8.82/10)
  2. Hathorne (8.62/10)
  3. Butcher & Bee (8.5/10)
  4. Nectar: Urban Cantina (8.44/10)
  5. The 404 Kitchen (8.41/10)

You can check out our full Nashville restaurant rankings here. I’m always looking for new spots to try – don’t be afraid to hit the comments with suggestions!

Stoney Keeley is the Editor in Chief of The SoBros Network, and a Dogs Playing Poker on velvet connoisseur. He is a strong supporter of Team GSD, #BeBetter, and ‘Minds right, asses tight.’ “Big Natural” covers the Tennessee Titans, Nashville, Yankee Candle, and a whole wealth of nonsense. Follow on Twitter @StoneyKeeley

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