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Over the past decade, Nashville has evolved beyond a destination for country music. Critics agree it’s a culinary powerhouse too. Which nouveau-Southern eateries are worthy of the hot list?
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- I'm Aida Mollenkamp. I'm a chef and writer with a passion for exploration, and I'm in search of the best food a city has to offer. Whether it's a chef's secret special or a local's only favorite, join me as I go off menu in Nashville. Nashville might be famous for honky tonks, country music and recording studios. But it's also making a name for itself as a dining destination. Fancy pour over coffee shops, updated takes on old southern standbys, and celebrity chefs with brand new restaurants are changing the culinary landscape of this hip southern city. I'm meeting up with food blogger Beth Sachan. In the last decade she's seen the Nashville dining scene explode. It was difficult for her to narrow down the list. But our first stop is the ever trendy Barista Parlor Golden Sound. Named for the recording studio that once lived here. In this outer space meets auto mechanic garage, we're greeted with our first dose of southern hospitality, hot coffee. - My name is Lee Sill, and I'm director of coffee quality here at Barista Parlor. With our bourbon vanilla latte, we take a vanilla extract that's aged in bourbon barrels in Kentucky. And then we crush our own vanilla bean and add sugar, and we make our own vanilla syrup. We usually try our best to use single varietal, single origin coffees and maintain their characteristics as best we can. We went with the chemex because we thought it highlighted the clarity and sweetness best in that coffee, and that's what we were serving today. - Okay, I like this. We've got a traditional drip and then we've got their house special. Have you had this one before? - Yes. You're going to love it. - Okay. Vanilla bourbon latte, I like all three of those words. - Right. - I like them better when they're all three together. Cheers to great coffee. - [Beth] Cheers. - Well this is excellent. I actually really like these coffee shops that have all these different coffees so that you can kind of taste and try as you please. - Right. - Instead of having that one that you go for every time. - Yes. - And here's your food. We feature a seasonal waffle on the menu that changes every few months. Right now our waffle is made with a house made apple chutney, which also includes golden raisins and Four Roses bourbon. The Huntsman is a plate that features Willow Farms eggs, Kenny's Farm house white cheddar, and our cornbread drizzled with honey. And you can also have your choice of meat, bacon or sausage. - This is a good start to the day. - Yes. - Okay, let's dig in. You've got this really good balance of the sweet and the savory, and these waffles. - That sausage is so good. - Okay. - It's a little spicy, but I love spicy. - You're right though, that has a lot of spice on it! There's like, all sorts of good dried herbs in there. Like dried thyme. - Not like your typical sausage for sure. - Totally. - So I know we are thoroughly enjoying this breakfast. - Yes. - But let's try not to get too full, because we still have a big meal ahead. - Okay. - Nashville specialty, hot chicken. - Hot chicken is a dish that let's you know you're in Nashville. And Hattie B's is happy to be carrying on its story tradition. Concocted by a suspicious spouse, the amount of heat in this fried chicken was meant to be a punishment, and instead, it became a family favorite. Decades later, the heat is still on, and Nick Bishop junior's Hattie B's is a local favorite and worthy rival of the original. - Hi, I'm Nick Bishop junior, co owner of Hattie B's Hot Chicken in Nashville Tennessee. We got to playing around in the kitchen one day and came up with our own hot chicken blend. Started running it as a special kind of, and it turned into about 30% of our entrees, and we said, maybe we've got something here. Basically you pick your plate, pick your heat level and your sides. - [Aida] Okay. - Do you like hot? - I do like hot, yeah. - Okay. - Like, you wanna go for it? - I haven't had hot chicken before, so I don't know. I'm kind of scared. I feel like I should go for it. - Yeah, absolutely, if you're here. - [Aida] You only live once! - Yeah, absolutely. - Hopefully you go to Hattie B's multiple times though. - Yeah, and if you do come back. So go with shut the cluck up, try it. - Okay. It says burn notice. - It is that very much. - Okay. - You'll be alright. - I'm trusting you. We just met but. - You're safe. - I feel like I can trust you. - Yeah! - Okay. - Nashville style hot chicken is very unique to Nashville. It's kind of our city's culinary offering to the world. And it's basically fried chicken that has been seasoned. It's a cayenne based. You can use a dry rub or a wet application. It gives the chicken a lot more heat. After the chicken's cooked, we add our wet application, too, that coats the bird in that hot chicken grease just sucks it all right in and locks in the flavor and the heat. - Thanks Nick. - You all enjoy. - Thanks Nick. - Yeah, good to see ya! - You're waiting for me to eat it. - Yes, I've gotta see your reaction. - You're making me really scared. Well I've eaten all kinds of chilies before. Let's try it. That is hot. That is very hot. You know what? It's really hot, but it's really good hot. It's super crispy, super moist, and you get that cayenne that's just like, keeps warming you up, keeps warming you up. - Right. - On a cold Nashville day? Works for me. - I love how it lingers. - [Aida] I think some mac n cheese is in order. - Right. In the South, macaroni and cheese counts as a vegetable. - Oh. Thank you for that lesson. The vegetable group I was previously unaware of. - The cheesy, starchy vegetable group. We got chicken and beer. I feel like maybe this is my right of passage to become a Nashvillite. - Absolutely. - Okay. The music city is full of surprises. And our next stop is taking its cue from a piece of Nashville history. Sinema is the newest fine dining restaurant in Nashville with chef Dale Levitski, of Top Chef fame at the helm. Located in the old Melrose Theater, a grand cinema constructed in 1942. The owners kept the art deco atmosphere intact. The menu is part mid century super club, and part classic comfort food. - I guess my menu concept, my style is very simple and familiar ingredients just done in very different ways. But things that are much more comfortable. So we have these amazing local ingredients that we do some things that are just a little bit different than your mom used to. It's kind of like comfort food with jazz hands. It puts on a little show. - This is absolutely stunning. What is the history of Sinema? - I love this space. So this was actually a theater. So it's an old, historic theater, built in 1942, called the Melrose Theater. - [Aida] Okay. - [Beth] So they renovated it, and turned it into Sinema, the restaurant. But there's a lot of architectural details that are still original to the space itself. The staircase, it's got this great art deco feel to it. - Yeah, it does. One of my favorite architectural styles, I'm liking it. It's gorgeous. - Alright, well here we go. This one, this is our latest dish on the menu. It's called the bearded swine. Which is a grilled pork tenderloin, served with a sauce called bali cue, which is my own secret little sauce. It also comes with local scarlet turnips, brazen greens, and white turnips that are braised in butter. A whip of coconut milk, homemade sour cream and malt vinegar. As well as pink lady apples , some purple daikon radish and watermelon radish, topped off with cilantro and mint. And this is probably one of the strangest dishes I've ever made. But it's also one of my favorites. This one is called seaweed. We start by putting a little bit of sriracha aioli in the bowl with edamame and sesame seared mushrooms, a seared, New York strip carpaccio, aromatic herbs, fresh radishes, jumbo lump crab, lotus root, we've done fresh lotus root and fried lotus root, and on top, we pour over an aromatic seaweed broth. That's made out of seaweed salad that we boil in some fish stalk. So it's kind of like a shabu shabu meets bouillabaisse and pho kind of all at once. It's very healthy and very hearty. I will stop back in couple to check on you. - Thank you. - Okay. - He said the magic word, carpaccio. - Sounds amazing. - Oh my god, this broth is phenomenal. Tastes kind of like seawater in your mouth in a good way? I know that sounds like it wouldn't be good but it is really good. I personally love seaweed salad, so having it in liquid form totally works for me. I love all this lotus root. Like he said, it's really bold flavor and eclectic and yet totally working. Okay, you have to try this. It is excellent. - Definitely. Okay. Scoot this one over. - I'll take that. This works. Hello. You look beautiful. Even though this is a curry sauce, it has that spice and warmth and familiarity that you would think of with a barbecue. - Right. - So it's still everything you want it to be, when you think of really delicious pork dishes in Tennessee, and yet, somehow, really interesting. - Yes. - I'm so glad you brought me here. - And this is amazing. - Right? It's really good. - I'll be back for this. Quite often I think. - Ladies, how are we doing? - It's honestly fabulous. - So I think I have one more thing for you that is gonna bring it home. - [Aida] Okay. - So I'm gonna surprise you. - Okay. - I'll be back. - Okay. I'm waiting in anticipation. - I asked the chef to maybe bring us something that's off menu. - Okay. - That I've heard is really awesome. So get ready. - Okay. - So this is a little secret here at Sinema. - Wow. - This is the burger. It's my off menu little sucker punch on Monday and Tuesday nights. We have a locally made bun, homemade Worcestershire mustard, a eight ounce angus and short rib burger. Topped off with Nueske's bacon from Wisconsin, a spicy homemade barbecue sauce, a sunny side egg, homemade bread and butter pickles, homemade oven roasted tomatoes, romaine lettuce, and homemade Boursin whipped cheese as well. In the middle to add some crunch, we have funions that we make in house, also. It's Nash Vegas, it's entertainment with restraint. - [Beth] Perfect. - There's a little secret to it, we core out the inside of the bun, and so in order to eat it you have to press it down, juices are gonna come out, it gets really nice and sloppy. - Perfect, go it. - Still not sure that's gonna work. - You know what it seems like? The easy button to me. You just press down. We're going to smush. - [Beth] Oh my gosh. - And then cut. - That is simple. - Hence the reason it's called Sinema. - Right. - Half for you, half for me. Go ahead, lady. - Oh my goodness. - Oh don't be dainty about it. - This is not tea hour. - I'm glad it's just the two of us here, and no one else is around. - Ready? Cheers with the burger. - Cheers. - Cheers. Let's do it. What's amazing about this burger is he has this great bun, everything's holding together and the meat is absolutely fabulous. - I totally agree. This is unreal. Unreal. - And you know what goes really well with burgers? White wine. - Right. - Silence is a good thing. - Silence is a very good thing. - It's kind of like a big burger hug. So whenever you're in town, you better come back. - Oh yeah, I'm ordering this thing off menu all the time. Thank you so much. - [Chef Dale] Thanks guys, I'll see you soon. - [Beth] Thank you. - I mean honestly, what a fabulous end to the day. - I know. - Gotta cheers to that. - Cheers. - Thank you. - Beth, thank you so much for showing me Nashville. I feel like you showed me a whole new side to this city. - Great! I'm so glad you had a good time here. And I think we had some incredible meals. - I would say so, I think it's now time to maybe just go relax and kick up our feet. - I think that's a good plan!