top thing to eat in nashville - the top thing

The Top Thing to Eat: Nashville

Written: The Top Thing Staff | October 4, 2023

1. Hot Chicken

Hot chicken is a must-try dish in Nashville, known for its fiery kick and flavorful crunch. This iconic Southern specialty, fiery fowl, consists of crispy fried chicken coated in a cayenne-infused paste, delivering a perfect balance of heat and flavor.

  • Hot chicken has become synonymous with Nashville’s culinary identity, drawing food enthusiasts from far and wide to savor its unique taste at restaurants.
  • Variety of Heat Levels: From mild to extra hot, hot chicken comes in various spice levels, catering to different preferences. This allows both spicy food aficionados and those with milder tastes to enjoy this local delicacy.
  • Typically served with pickles and white bread that help offset the spiciness, enhancing the overall dining experience.
  • Historical Significance: Originating from Prince’s Hot Chicken Shack in the 1930s, this dish carries historical significance deeply rooted in Nashville’s culture.

Hot chicken perfectly encapsulates the essence of Nashville’s vibrant food scene. Its popularity continues to grow beyond Tennessee due to its distinctive flavors and cultural significance.

2. Biscuits

Nashville is famous for its delectable biscuits, and you can’t miss out on trying them when visiting the city. Here’s why these biscuits are a must-try:

  • Nashville’s biscuits are deeply rooted in Southern culinary tradition, featuring flaky layers and a buttery taste that sets them apart from other types of bread.
  • Variety: Whether you prefer classic buttermilk biscuits or enjoy unique variations like sweet potato or cheddar cheese-infused biscuits, Nashville city offers a wide variety to cater to different food preferences.
  • Accompaniments: These delightful treats are often served with an array of accompaniments such as sausage gravy, fruit preserves, honey butter, or even fried chicken – making them versatile for any meal of the day.
  • Local Favorites: Locals have their favorite restaurant for indulging in this iconic dish. The Loveless Cafe restaurant is renowned for its mouthwatering homemade biscuits served with preserves and country ham.
  • Cultural Experience: Trying Nashville’s biscuits at a restaurant isn’t just about savoring food; it also provides insight into the city’s rich culinary heritage and hospitality culture.

3. Meat and Three

Meat and Three is a quintessential Nashville dining experience, offering a hearty plate of meat alongside three sides at a restaurant. Here’s why this Southern tradition should be at the top of your list when visiting Nashville:

  • Southern Comfort: Indulge in classic comfort foods at the restaurant like fried chicken, country ham, meatloaf, or pork chops paired with traditional Southern sides such as collard greens, mac and cheese, black-eyed peas, or cornbread. This culinary combination embodies the essence of Southern hospitality.
  • Variety: With an array of meats and an extensive selection of sides on the menu, there’s something for everyone. Whether you’re a carnivore or prefer vegetarian options, the “meat and three” concept ensures a diverse range of choices.
  • Restaurant: Beyond just food, dining at a Meat and Three spot provides insight into Nashville’s cultural heritage. It offers visitors an authentic taste of local cuisine deeply rooted in history and tradition.
  • Local Favorites: Locals have their go-to spots for exceptional Meat and Three meals at the restaurant. Hattie B’s Hot Chicken restaurant is renowned for its spicy yet flavorful rendition of this dish while Arnold’s Country Kitchen is celebrated for its homestyle cooking.

4. Goo Goo Clusters

Goo Goo Clusters, a Nashville staple since 1912, are a delightful blend of caramel, marshmallow nougat, fresh roasted peanuts, and milk chocolate. This iconic treat offers a unique taste experience that has stood the test of time.

  • Rich History: The Goo Goo Cluster holds the title of being the first combination candy bar ever created in the world. Its enduring popularity is a testament to its exceptional taste and quality.
  • Local Favorite: Locals and tourists alike flock to Nashville’s various candy shops and restaurants to get their hands on this beloved confectionery. It’s not just a sweet treat; it’s an integral part of Nashville’s culinary heritage.
  • Versatile Use: Beyond being enjoyed as is, these clusters can also be used in recipes for cookies, brownies, or even ice cream toppings. Their versatility makes them an essential ingredient for many local bakers and chefs.

The Goo Goo Cluster isn’t just any candy; it represents tradition and innovation combined into one delectable package. Whether you’re satisfying your sweet tooth or exploring Nashville’s food scene, indulging in this classic delight is an absolute must-do.

5. Nashville-Style Barbecue

Nashville-Style Barbecue is a must-try for visitors. The city’s barbecue scene is known for its unique blend of flavors and cooking techniques.

  • Authentic Flavor: Nashville-style barbecue showcases a vinegar-based sauce, setting it apart from other regional styles. This tangy, slightly sweet sauce perfectly complements the slow-cooked meats, such as pork shoulder or ribs.
  • Variety of Meats: Unlike some traditional barbecue regions that focus on specific types of meat, Nashville-style barbecue offers a wide variety. From pulled pork to smoked chicken and brisket, there’s something to satisfy every palate.
  • Popular Joints: Visitors can indulge in this culinary experience at iconic spots like Martin’s Bar-B-Que Joint or Peg Leg Porker. These establishments not only serve mouthwatering dishes but also provide an authentic ambiance that adds to the overall dining experience.
  • Local Ingredients: Many Nashville-style barbecue restaurants take pride in using locally sourced ingredients. This commitment to freshness enhances the quality and flavor of the dishes served.

6. Southern Fried Catfish

Southern fried catfish is a staple in Nashville’s culinary scene, offering a delightful blend of flavors and textures that are truly unique to the region.

  • Cultural Significance: This dish holds cultural significance in Nashville, reflecting the city’s deep-rooted connection to Southern cuisine. It represents a historical tradition of utilizing local ingredients and cooking methods passed down through generations.
  • Flavor Profile: The catfish is typically coated in seasoned cornmeal before being fried to golden perfection, resulting in a crispy exterior that gives way to tender, flaky fish inside. The seasoning often includes a mix of spices like paprika, garlic powder, cayenne pepper, and black pepper for an extra kick.
  • Accompaniments: Often served with classic sides such as creamy coleslaw, hushpuppies (deep-fried cornmeal dumplings), and tangy tartar sauce or remoulade, this dish offers a medley of complementary flavors that enhance the overall dining experience.
  • Local Favorites: Visitors can find this quintessential Nashville dish at various eateries across the city. From upscale restaurants to casual diners and food trucks, each establishment puts its own spin on this beloved classic.
  • Health Considerations: While undeniably delicious, it’s worth noting that fried catfish may not align with certain dietary preferences due to its high-fat content from frying. However, some establishments offer grilled or blackened catfish options for those seeking healthier alternatives without compromising on flavor.

7. Banana Pudding

Banana pudding is a quintessential Southern dessert that has become an iconic part of Nashville’s culinary scene. This creamy, indulgent treat consists of layers of vanilla wafers, ripe bananas, and luscious vanilla pudding.

  • Historical Significance: The origins of banana pudding can be traced back to the late 19th century when bananas became more accessible in the United States due to improved transportation. This dessert quickly gained popularity in the South and has since become a beloved classic.
  • Local Variations: In Nashville, you’ll find diverse interpretations of this delectable dessert. Some restaurants add a twist by incorporating caramel or peanut butter flavors, elevating the traditional recipe with innovative touches.
  • Cultural Symbolism: Beyond its delicious taste, banana pudding holds cultural significance as a comfort food that brings people together. It often takes center stage at family gatherings and community events in Nashville, fostering a sense of warmth and nostalgia.
  • Popular Destinations: Visitors can savor exceptional renditions of banana pudding at renowned eateries like Loveless Cafe or Arnold’s Country Kitchen. These establishments are celebrated for their commitment to preserving authentic Southern flavors.
  • Versatile Appeal: While it is commonly enjoyed as a sweet conclusion to meals, banana pudding also features on brunch menus across Nashville. Its versatility makes it suitable for various dining occasions throughout the day.

8. Country Ham

If you’re a fan of cured meats, Nashville’s country ham is a must-try. Here’s why:

  • Rich Flavor: Country ham offers a rich, salty flavor with a slightly sweet undertone due to the curing process, making it unique and flavorful.
  • Culinary Versatility: It can be enjoyed in various ways such as on its own, in sandwiches, or incorporated into dishes like biscuits and gravy or salads.
  • Southern Tradition: Sampling country ham allows visitors to immerse themselves in the traditional Southern cuisine that has deep roots in Nashville’s food culture.
  • Local Favorite: This delicacy holds significant cultural value for Nashvillians and is often considered an essential part of local cuisine.

9. Fruit Tea

Fruit tea is a quintessential Nashville beverage that perfectly complements the city’s warm climate and vibrant food scene.

  • Refreshing Blend: The fruit teas in Nashville are typically made with a refreshing blend of fruits such as peaches, strawberries, or raspberries, creating a delightful burst of flavors.
  • Local Variations: Each establishment often has its own unique take on fruit tea, incorporating different fruits or infusions to create signature blends that cater to diverse palates.
  • Perfect Pairing: Fruit tea pairs exceptionally well with spicy Southern dishes like hot chicken or barbecue. Its sweetness and cooling properties provide an ideal contrast to the bold flavors and heat found in many local cuisines.
  • Health Benefits: Beyond taste, fruit tea offers health benefits due to its natural ingredients. It’s often free from artificial additives and can be served unsweetened for those looking for a healthier option.

10. Chess Pie

Chess pie is a classic Southern dessert that originated in Nashville, Tennessee. This sweet treat has a simple yet rich flavor profile, making it a popular choice for locals and visitors alike.

  • Historical Significance: Dating back to the 19th century, chess pie has been an integral part of Nashville’s culinary heritage. Its roots in Southern cuisine make it a must-try for anyone looking to experience authentic local flavors.
  • Unique Ingredients: The key ingredients of chess pie include sugar, butter, eggs, and cornmeal or vinegar. These simple components come together to create a decadent filling with a slightly crunchy texture on top.
  • Variations: While the traditional chess pie remains beloved by many, there are also variations such as lemon chess pie and chocolate chess pie. Each variation offers its own twist on this iconic dessert.
  • Cultural Experience: Sampling chess pie not only provides a delightful taste experience but also allows individuals to connect with the cultural heritage of Nashville and the broader South.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is Hot Chicken?

Hot chicken is a Nashville specialty known for its spicy fried chicken. It’s typically marinated in a blend of spices and served with pickles on white bread. The heat level can vary, but it always packs a flavorful punch.

Where can I find the best Biscuits in Nashville?

For some of the best biscuits in Nashville, head to renowned spots like Loveless Cafe or Biscuit Love. These establishments are celebrated for their fluffy, buttery biscuits that pair perfectly with various toppings.

What exactly is Meat and Three?

Meat and Three refers to a traditional Southern meal where diners choose one meat dish and three side dishes from a daily selection. This concept allows you to create your own hearty plate featuring classic comfort foods.

Can you tell me more about Goo Goo Clusters?

Goo Goo Clusters are iconic Nashville treats made with caramel, marshmallow nougat, fresh roasted peanuts, and milk chocolate. They’ve been satisfying sweet cravings since 1912 and are widely available throughout the city.

How would you describe Nashville-Style Barbecue?

Nashville-style barbecue showcases slow-cooked meats—often pork or chicken—paired with tangy sauces that have hints of sweetness and spice. This style of barbecue highlights the region’s distinct flavors and culinary traditions.