The Nashville dining scene is about so much more than just hot chicken these days. Case in point: Celeb chef Maneet Chauhan, who is a judge on Food Network's Chopped and has wowed the foodie crowds at trendy restaurants in Chicago and New York, decided to chuck big-city life three years ago and settle down in the South. "I'm a proud Nashvillian," Chauhan recently told Ikaroo.info. "I'm so excited about the food here; the culinary scene is fantastic. Nashville may be known as music city, but I think it should also be known as food city."
is just one of the cutting-edge establishments helping to forge the city's new culinary identity. Chauhan's namesake eatery has been racking up seemingly endless accolades and awards since it opened in November 2014, the same night that the chef's second child was born—three months early. "It was a pretty big night for our family," says Chauhan with a laugh. "I missed the opening, but I'm there most of the time now."
What makes the restaurant such a hotspot? First, it's a unique concept: upscale Indian meets downhome southern cooking; fans have dubbed it "Indian fusion." But no matter what you call it, almost everyone agrees that the innovative dishes offer a remarkable combination of flavors. The cool setting also elevates the entire dining experience. Housed in a funky old brick building in the up-and-coming Gulch neighborhood, the 168-seat restaurant was designed to offer the comfort of an old-world British pub, albeit one decorated with plentiful, colorful Indian accents.
What should you order? Chauhan identifies several favorite dishes. Take the Gol Guppa shots: semolina puffs, stuffed with potato and garbanzo beans; diners then fill them with mint cilantro water. "They're Indian street food; everyone goes crazy for them," she says. Or Chauhan's unforgettable version of kale chips: they're served with spicy garbanzo, tamarind, mint, and yogurt.
While many diners are excited to sample something completely new, Chauhan realizes that others are less adventurous. "Part of our mission is to make Indian food approachable," she says. "We realize that some people are more likely to try something a little bit different, which is why we serve dishes like nachos." Of course, these nachos feature spicy lamb and traditional Indian staples like chutney.
Intrigued? You can meet Chauhan in person at the , taking place April 21-23, where she will be cooking up one of her spicy sensations and signing copies of her cookbook, Flavors of My World. And if you're in town, you're definitely going to want to check out these nine other Nashville restaurants:
Chauhan Ale & Masala House isn't Chauhan's only Music City hotspot—she's so happy in Nashville that she's quickly building a local empire. She joined forces with local brewers Derrick Morse and Chad Frost to open in Franklin in November 2015. And just last month, she opened a highly anticipated Asian eatery, (it means "to explore" in Cantonese). "It's a special occasion place," says Chauhan.
Here, acclaimed executive chef Chris Cheung is elevating traditional Chinese and Chinese-American dishes with fresh ingredients and lots of whimsical touches. "If you go to Chinatown in New York City and have chow mein, you are getting canned water chestnuts," says Chauhan. "Here, every ingredient is fresh. In our beef and broccoli, the broccoli still has the leaves on top." Peking duck is a house specialty (a special oven was built to cook the Long Island-sourced birds), as are other exotic, but less Americanized-delicacies, including chicken feet and 1,000-year-old eggs.
If you want to feel like you are on an episode of Iron Chef, try dinner at , one of Nashville's most buzzed-about restaurants. Here's how it works: there are 22 bar seats surrounding a U-shaped kitchen. Chef Ryan Poli and his team prepare a 7-to 10-course tasting meal as you watch, placing the perfectly-timed dishes right in front of you. All the while, the chefs are chatting away about ingredients, techniques, or perhaps Poli's world travels, which heavily influence the menu. Open for dinner Wednesday through Sunday, reservations and prepayment of $115 per person are required. Everyone promises you'll be talking about dishes like the sake-marinated cauliflower for years to come.
Created by Michael Dorf, the founder of New York's iconic music venue the Knitting Factory, is a unique establishment: part concert venue, part restaurant, and the first fully functioning winery in the city. A Mediterranean-inspired menu can be found in the Barrel Room Wine Bar & Restaurant, but full food and beverage service is also available during concerts. The best way to sample some of the many wines? Venture out on a Monday for "Flight Night!" and sample four perfectly-paired wines.
At this tiny 24-seat restaurant—a hipster heaven—you can dine at the bar while watching the chefs prepare a highly acclaimed and ever-changing a la carte menu. Or plan a party for four to six guests ($100 per person) and they'll serve up a multi-course dinner for you. Next door at the , you can get creative with your cocktails (check out the extensive bitters collection), although many opt for the punch of the day. The only food at the bar? Nachos. And while they don't look as sumptuous as your greasy pub grub, we hear one bite and you'll be singing a new tune.
While many restaurants are narrowing their offerings, is proving that you can enjoy super success by being all things to all people. A six-lane bowling alley, two outside dipping pools (with their own light sandwich/taco menu served up via an Airstream trailer), and a bar are connected to a happening restaurant that starts serving up food at 7 a.m. (everything from whole wheat waffles to chickens and biscuits) and doesn't stop until 1:00 a.m. And don't worry: the "jack of all trades, master of none" conundrum doesn't apply here. Chef Andrew Rodriguez cut his teeth at the Catbird Seat, so all dishes, even simple-sounding ones, are executed in excellent fashion.
This in Germantown, which opened in February, is heavily focused on seafood and veggies. But the true star is the oyster bar, which is currently serving up more than a dozen different types of the mollusks, from both the East and the West coasts. Check out the action with the open air kitchen, where you can also view the impressive brick oven. Innovative flourishes, including fresh bread with anchovy butter and cauliflower steak are keeping the locals happy so far.