On a recent trip to Nashville, I was impressed with a group of restaurants, organized as “Nashville Originals,” that are devoted to independent dining with home-made meals, locally sourced from the Farmer’s Market, with updated takes on Southern-style cooking. Places like the Midtown Café, Bound’ry and Tayst -- which is the first and only green certified restaurant in "Music City," serving up Pumpkin Pimento Salad and Cherry Potato Breadless Pudding.
With Restaurant Week coming up in a number of cities from Nashville to New York City next week, eateries are offering the opportunity to try signature specialties in full-course style with deep discounts. One four-star establishment not only taps local foods, such as grass-fed Tennessee beef and peach jam, the “chef-farmer” tends his own organic garden just five miles from downtown on a historic site.
Chef Tyler Cole of the Capitol Grille in The Hermitage Hotel harvests veggies each day that he grows on the nearby one-acre plot. After he researched heirloom seeds from the 19th century, he planted butterstick zucchini, zephyr squash, French breakfast radishes and Cherokee purple tomatoes along with his non-heritage crops.
Part of the farm-to-table movement, farmer-chef Cole designs menu items seasonally to highlight his produce with fresh gazpacho in summer and beets in winter, smoked sweet potatoes and braised greens with foraged mushrooms. Even the menu is created by the iconic Hatch Show Print in its distinctive letterpress style since 1879.
The restaurant’s garden is located on the 65-acre Glen Leven estate in a unique partnership developed with the Land Trust of Tennessee to preserve the
land. Natural cultivation techniques such as homeopathic pest control remedies are used instead of chemical pesticides, “to protect what is irreplaceable,” said Janet Kurtz from the hotel.
The 102-year-old Hermitage Hotel was restored in 2003 and guests can donate $2/day to the preservation of undeveloped lands. Since ’08, the hotel has raised more that $100,000 for the Land Trust and restoration of the more than 200-year-old property. There are also plans in the works with a local university to develop sustainable agriculture on the site “in perpetuity.”
The upscale restaurant on Sixth Avenue is worth a delicious splurge when visiting Nashville. And so are the gourmet popsicles at Las Paletas on 12th Avenue in flavors like cucumber/mint and rose petal. Also, there's herb-infused small-batch gin at the Corsair micro distillery in the restored Marathon factory and hand-crafted stone-ground single-origin cocoa chocolate bars in cinnamon-chili by Olive & Sinclair. Sure, there’s still spicy bar-b-que chicken and deep fried hush puppies, but the city is now cooking with real country roots.