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Best of Nashville 2011: Food & Beverage Writers' Choice

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Super ’Villian


BEST BAGEL: BAGEL FACE BAGELS

Kristen Skruber is a self-professed chemistry nerd, and her keen comprehension of the relationships among yeast, sugar, bacteria and esters has set off a chain reaction that has shaken breakfast to its core. The result of Skruber's baking alchemy is a rounder, chewier bagel that looks more like a softball than a doughnut and that's pliable enough to cradle the contents of a sandwich without squirting them out the sides. It's a formula that drew large and loyal crowds to her original store when it launched at the entrepreneurial crossroads of Riverside Village in East Nashville.

On the heels of early success, Skruber and co-owner Rae Schobel relocated this spring to Main Street, where they seduce the early birds with inventive flavors such as chocolate espresso, cracked wheat-jalapeno and rosemary garlic. Meanwhile, Bagel Face, which takes its name from the way a grandmother lovingly scrunches up a baby's plump cheeks into a wrinkly bundle, is showing its mug all over town in locales such as Dose, Crema, Frothy Monkey, Mitchell Delicatessen and the Hermitage Hotel. Bagel connoisseurs may quarrel over whether Skruber and Schobel's soft and supple bread is on par with a gnarly New York bagel. But when it comes to homemade local breakfast, Bagel Face hits a hole in one. CARRINGTON FOX


BEST RESTAURANT: CITY HOUSE
With its lively atmosphere, rotating menu, imaginative appetizers, and most of all, exquisite thin-crust brick-oven pizzas, City House has earned the top spot on many Nashvillians' dining destination list — so much so that it's hopping every night except Tuesday (when it's closed). Recent highlights: absolutely the best ribs I have ever eaten (coated in a dry rub of fennel and herbs), an ingenious take on congealed salad (peaches, ricotta and crumbled pretzels) and a terrific pizza with zucchini, pecorino and pork strutto. As regulars know, chef-owner Tandy Wilson loves his pig products, but there are always good vegetarian options too. And best of all, you don't have to cash in your already shriveled 401k: Two people can easily share a pizza, salad and app, for a total bill of just north of $30. JACK SILVERMAN

BEST CHEF/GENTLEMAN FARMER: TYLER BROWN, CAPITOL GRILLE
It seems counterintuitive to praise a chef for having dirt under his fingernails, but Chef Tyler Brown of the Capitol Grille at the Hermitage Hotel is making a name for himself in both the kitchen and on the farm. Outstanding in both fields (nyuck), Chef Brown creates exquisite dishes in his restaurant from beef to beets that he raises on the 66-acre farm at Glen Leven, thanks to a cooperative venture with the Land Trust of Tennessee. It doesn't get more farm-to-table than that. CHRIS CHAMBERLAIN

BEST FOOD EMPIRE: (TIE) BENJAMIN & MAX GOLDBERG, ARNOLD MYINT
Their ventures read like a what's-what list of Nashville food. The Goldbergs' holdings include the swanky cocktail room Patterson House, Lower Broad kitsch temple Paradise Park, the overhauled Merchants and the buzzed-about new chef's restaurant The Catbird Seat. Meanwhile, former Top Chef contestant Arnold Myint presides over Asian fusion house PM, avant-tapas hall Cha Chah, Eastern bistro Suzy Wong's House of Yum and farmers' market stall AM@FM. That's a lot of good eating from two very different but similarly bold creative sources. STEVE HARUCH

BEST LISTENING ROOM/RESTAURANT: FAMILY WASH
Most times, when you go to hear a band at a club that serves food, you're either struggling to choke down the inedible equivalent of a two-drink minimum or trying to tune out some wispy acoustic balladeer while you rummage around for the last nacho. Neither food nor music shows signs of neglect at Jamie Rubin's East Nashville hang, where the neighborhood's many musicians can be found chilling at the renovated laundry with a shepherd's pie and a brew (the Wash's famous $10 Tuesday "Pint & Pie" special) when they're not on the road. Tip: Any night you get wind of a set by the Sons of Zevon — Rubin's all-star cover band featuring regulars who've played for the likes of David Bowie, The Black Crowes and The Jayhawks — bring lawyers, guns and money. JIM RIDLEY

BEST STAY OF EXECUTION: ELLISTON PLACE SODA SHOP
Boy, that was a close one. In July, it was looking like Elliston Place Soda Shop was about to go the way of The Great Escape — ousted from its roost of more than 70 years by rising rent and a miserable economy. Thanks to an outpouring of support and some deft lease maneuvering, the Rock Block's favorite place to get a milkshake remains intact — at least for another five years. LANCE CONZETT

BEST WEEKLY FOOD EVENT: MANGIA NASHVILLE
When Nick Pellegrino came up with the idea for Mangia Nashville at a New Year's Eve party nine months ago, it's doubtful he had any clue how big it would become: After just seven months in operation, the fixed-price Italian feast has expanded from one to two nights a week, and is typically booked up weeks in advance. Featuring an assortment of antipasti, two salads, two pastas, three entrées and two desserts, the family-style food fest is a bargain at $40. Even better, it's BYOB (with a $5 cork fee). Heavenly highlights from the fall menu include grilled polenta with wild mushroom ragú, the outstanding shell pasta with short-rib Bolognese, grilled pork loin with vinegared cherry peppers, and sautéed pears with house-made ricotta and local honey. And of course, our favorite decadent indulgence, zeppole, served piping hot in a paper bag filled with powdered sugar. (Suggestion: Don't wear black, unless you want to look like you've been partying with Charlie Sheen.) Every Friday and Saturday at the Cool Cafe, 1110 Hillsboro Road, Franklin. By reservation only; call 538-7456. JACK SILVERMAN

BEST ANNUAL FOOD EVENT: CHINESE NEW YEAR BANQUET, WILD GINGER
Nashville has more competition for this category every year, from the Hot Chicken Festival to Generous Helpings (and we disqualified our own Iron Fork). But there's literally a lot to like about the Chinese Arts Alliance of Nashville's annual Lunar New Year banquet: eight sumptuous courses (ranging this year from West Lake beef soup to flounder with scallops and roasted spicy prawns), exquisitely presented and even more exquisitely flavored. Add to that the delightful ruckus of the lion dance — improbably executed between the tables as the dancers snake their way through the dining room — artwork, party favors and door prizes, and you've got a celebration as good as any under the moon. STEVE HARUCH

BEST WEEKEND ACTIVITY: IN-STORE WINE TASTINGS
In what we hope will be a tentative step down the slippery slope of loosening the archaic wine and liquor regulations of our state, legislators finally voted to allow wine and liquor stores to pour samples for consumers. Now interested shoppers can finally "try it before you buy it" as wine shop employees offer a quick education on particular wineries and varietals. Now if we can just do something about Sundays and supermarkets. CHRIS CHAMBERLAIN

BEST SECRET DINING OPTION: POP-UP SUPPER CLUBS
Between the wave of food trucks and the craze of pop-up restaurants currently sweeping some larger metropolises, the barriers to entry for restaurants have never been lower. Still, some people want to share their culinary creations with others without investing in commercial equipment — or even leaving their houses, for that matter. In-home supper clubs are growing in popularity. Usually you have to be invited through an email and payment is likely under the dinner table in the form of "tips," but groups like The Good Wife Supper Club and Vivek Surti's Epicurean Adventures Supper Club are giving the people what they want ... good company and great meals. CHRIS CHAMBERLAIN

BEST PR: FOOD SHOWS DISCOVER NASHVILLE
We know Nashville has some great restaurants, but now word is reaching the rest of the world. National food shows like Diners, Drive-ins and Dives, Throwdown! With Bobby Flay and Eat Street have all visited our fair city in the past few years, featuring local favorites such as Prince's Hot Chicken Shack, the Loveless Cafe, Martin's Bar-B-Que Joint, Savarino's, Riffs Fine Street Food truck and The Pancake Pantry. Is the publicity making an impact? Let's just say that when Man v. Food Nation host Adam Richman — a man we're surprised to see alive — paid a recent visit to the Gulch BBQ joint Rooster's, he brought out a cartel of amorous foodie stalkerazzi hitherto unseen. CHRIS CHAMBERLAIN

BEST TREND: FOOD TRUCKS
It may be breaking ranks to call the sudden proliferation of food trucks a "trend," but let's be honest: "Sudden proliferation" is a good way to identify one — and that they were recently a Scene cover story is another. Nashville is in the 30-40 truck range now: We've got tacos, pizza, grilled cheese, Japanese — all fun and delicious! Let's just hope they stand with coffee shops in foodie history, rather than upscale cupcakes. ASHLEY SPURGEON

BEST FOOD TRUCK: RIFFS FINE STREET FOOD
Frankly, as far as gambling on food trucks goes in Nashville's culinary craze of the moment, we've rolled sevens every time — whether it's a 2 a.m. slice at Pizza Buds, a gooey Croque Madame at The Grilled Cheeserie, a burger stuffed with goat cheese from Hoss' Loaded Burger, or even a pre-craze contender like Mexico (now anchored on Nolensville near Haywood Lane), home to a scalding salsa verde that amounts to a discount colostomy. And Labor of Love's Philly cheesesteaks are in a class of their own (see Best Philly Cheesesteak entry later in this section). But Riffs, the brainchild of B.J. Lofback and Carlos Davis, has set a bar for originality and consistency that's hard to beat, whether the selection is a spicy Asian beef salad dusted with crunchy noodles, a terrific jerk chicken on skewers or a citrusy fish taco. They embody the energy and variety the mobile-food movement has brought to Nashville's restaurant scene — a tropical breeze currently enjoying the momentum of a hurricane. JIM RIDLEY

BEST COMEBACK: JAMAICAWAY
Jamaicaway has been a reliably delightful lunch spot since Ouida Bradshaw opened it in the Farmers' Market in 2003. A cafeteria lineup offers a bounty of Caribbean comfort food: jerk and curry chicken, oxtails and goat, excellent greens and some welcome vegetarian entrées. But last year's Great Flood hit the Bradshaws hard, and financing to reopen was difficult to secure. In a show of devotion, patrons gathered for a Save Jamaicaway benefit party in December. Further help came in the unlikely form of Food Network celebrity Guy Fieri. The episode of Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives where he visits Jamaicaway has been airing occasionally since December, generating curious new customers with each broadcast. Jamaicaway reopened earlier this year, and at a recent Night Market, the line of eager diners stretched out the door all evening long. DANA KOPP FRANKLIN

BEST UPGRADE: MERCHANTS
For far too long, Merchants got a bye on the food because the space had exposed-brick walls and an endearing history. Leave it to the Goldberg Brothers to realize that those attributes, coupled with an excellent menu, could make for a modern-day downtown landmark. A fresh coat of warm white paint, some smoky mirrors and a reconfiguring of the downstairs, not to mention an elegant overhaul of the more formal second story, conspired to reinvent this lukewarm dining dowager into a culinary hot spot. On the casual ground floor, the menu offers creative contemporary takes on comfort food favorites such as pot roast, turkey sandwiches and succotash. Meanwhile, upstairs the fare is more upscale (as are the atmosphere and the prices), making the clubby second story an excellent place for formal and private gatherings. CARRINGTON FOX

BEST MEAT-AND-THREE: COOL CAFE
You won't hear a word of judgment from us if, come the holidays, you trot out to this low-key meat-and-three in a Franklin strip mall to get your turkey and trimmings. Really, what's the point of dirtying all that cookware when Cool Cafe can produce turkey, cranberry sauce, sage dressing and sweet potatoes every bit as good as you wish your mom could ever make? Holidays aside, it's hard to go to all the trouble of peeling potatoes and frying chicken when all year long Tim Ness and his team are expertly preparing those classic Southern staples — along with meatloaf, chicken casserole, a few light salads, cakes, cobblers and ethereal banana pudding that can get even the coolest customer a little hot and bothered. CARRINGTON FOX

BEST SOUL FOOD: SWETT'S
Contrary to what shows like Mad Men imply, there were black people alive and well in the '60s. Indeed, there were even some in the '50s, the decade Walter and Susie Swett purchased Joyland Tavern on 11th Avenue. The same year — 1952 — they also began operating Swett's Grocery at 28th and Albion. Two years later, they opened Swett's Dinette on 28th and Clifton, where it stands today. Had Bill O'Reilly gone there a few times, he would never have uttered his controversial declaration years ago about attending a famous black restaurant in New York and being astonished by its degree of civility. Swett's is a meeting place for all sorts of people — and a spot where you can get the best soul food anywhere in Music City, from beef tips, meatloaf and pulled pork to squash casserole, collard or turnip greens, black-eyed peas, cornbread, sweet potato pie or blackberry cobbler. The prices remain quite reasonable, and they now have a second location in Green Hills (2209 Abbott Martin Road) that replaced their flooded-out establishment at the Nashville Farmers' Market. There's plenty of history at Swett's, but fortunately they're not relying on their reputation when it comes to food. RON WYNN

BEST COMFORT FOOD: PUCKETT'S DOWNTOWN
If you'd taken a bet among Nashvillagers that a meat-and-three with live music would be able to succeed downtown in a spot several blocks away from both Lower Broad and the Second Avenue tourist corridor, you probably could have gotten some pretty good odds against the proposition. Especially with no discernible parking options, which always turns off locals and our sense of entitlement to free "mall parking" within 20 feet of any destination. But the new Puckett's Corner at St. Cloud Corner remains jumping, day and night, through a combination of killer comfort food — biscuits heaped with eggs and gravy, big messy burgers, fried chicken and catfish — and great music Tuesday-Saturday nights. What do we know, anyway? CHRIS CHAMBERLAIN

BEST UNSUNG WEEKEND BRUNCH: SOUTH STREET
Looking for a seriously good Nashville weekend breakfast? Sick of the word "Benedict" on brunch menus? Tired of the farkakte drive out to the Loveless? Old reliable South Street's "smoke house breakfast" on Saturdays and Sundays is just the ticket. The best scramble in town, a killer pecan waffle, frittata with shrimp and crawfish, for crying out loud ... and everything on the reasonably priced menu comes with biscuits, gravy and grits. Add a breeze when the big windows are up on a nice day, and it approaches perfection. BRUCE BARRY

BEST STAND-ALONE BRUNCH ITEM: STUFFED FRENCH TOAST PANCAKES, SKY BLUE CAFE
Fact: I do not have a sophisticated palate. I salivate at the thought of a Costco churro and will always pick Steak 'n Shake over an actual steak dinner. However, I know pancakes, and East Nashville's Sky Blue Cafe has something special in their pantry. These culinary mad scientists coat their massive French toast with an "outer layer of pancake" before cramming them with filling. Unless you're looking to go into hyperglycemic shock, skip the PB&J and banana/chocolate-chip options and go with eggs/cheese/bacon/sausage for that perfect mix of sweet and salty (vegetarian option available). This is the real breakfast of champions. ABBY WHITE PLACHY

BEST NEW COFFEEHOUSE: THE JAM
Naysayers online told Diana Newton and her daughters Bethany and Maile that their sparkling little coffeehouse and tea shop would never survive in its location: a nondescript strip mall just off the all-but-impassable intersection of 12th and Wedgewood, practically hidden by the corner shop selling discount cigs and Hunt Brothers Pizza. But it was a show of faith in their transitional neighborhood when the Newtons removed the bars over their windows earlier this year and let light flood the cozy, cheery little room, with its gleaming canisters of 50 different teas and its stout glass single-cup filter-drip brewpots. Those pots produce intensely bright, aromatic cups from roaster Brandon Stakelbeck's coffee — but the Newtons' grateful fussing over every customer beats caffeine as a morning pick-me-up. JIM RIDLEY

BEST HAMBURGER: BURGER UP
There are many, many worthy contenders in this category, from Gabby's in the industrial district near Greer Stadium to Fido, man's best friend in Hillsboro Village. But The Woodstock, Burger Up's delicious stack of locally sourced goodness — from the grass-fed beef to the improbably smoky Benton's bacon to the house-made Jack Daniel's maple ketchup — makes for a perfect, and perfectly Nashville, kind of burger. And the option of adding rich truffle fries and a Mexican Coke to the ensemble sure makes the case for the Woodstock all but airtight. STEVE HARUCH

BEST HOT DOG STAND: KEVIN'S SNACK SHACK, 100 OAKS HOME DEPOT
For the best hot dog in town, there are several strong brick-and-mortar shops, frankly speaking. In our estimation, nobody beats Hot Diggity Dogs with its first-rate beef franks ("charred," please), though The Dog of Nashville and up-and-comer Cori's have their partisans. And Jim's Coney Island on Trousdale is the place for homesick Detroit ex-pats to get their fixes for Coney dogs with real beef casing and chili sauce — washed down with a Faygo Rock & Rye, natch. But sometimes you just want a cheap, fast dog on the fly — and for that, folks have been lining up at Kevin Inman's card table outside the 100 Oaks Home Depot for eight years now. For less than four bucks, you can get a $2.25 dog, a $1 soda and a 50-cent bag of chips, and 50 cents more gets you a Chicago dog Inman's got down to such a science he snaps shut the sport pepper and onion canisters in the same sweep of his arm. Or follow the example of five-year patron Frank Woodlee, who comes all the way from downtown for the Polish sausage — light onion, mayo — with Fritos and a Mountain Dew. "Best dog in the city," he says. JIM RIDLEY

BEST PHILLY CHEESESTEAK: LABOR OF LOVE
I'd rather tell a ComicCon signing line that Capt. Kirk could kick Han Solo's ass than get Philly ex-pats arguing over what is or isn't an "authentic" cheesesteak. Provolone or Cheez Whiz, mushrooms or no mushrooms, soft bun vs. hard roll — it's enough to make a Wookiee forsake Life Day. On this point, however, there's little argument: At their mustard-yellow truck, Philly kids Jennifer Zungolo and Christopher Eddis are serving the best 'steak you're likely to get in these parts — lean meat hand-chopped and grilled just so, buns flown in from Amoroso's bakery (and they haven't been gathering dust since Rocky Balboa ran past them). Some folks wish for more salt, more cheese (including a Cheez Whiz option) and a vent for steam to escape the foil-wrapped sandwiches before it turns the buns to mush — but these drips probably have Han Solo's back. To everybody else, we highly recommend the pizza sub, the cherry-pepper option and the homemade Italian ices. JIM RIDLEY

BEST GYRO: KING SOLOMON'S
Few would dispute that the section of Gallatin Road that slinks through East Nashville offers little in the way of the culinary and cultural delights found so easily elsewhere in the neighborhood. But this is no reason to write it off altogether. Case in point: Tucked between Burger King and Rite Aid (at Gallatin and Chicamauga) is a little white hut dispensing what is arguably the best Greek food in Nashville — for pennies. And the appeal is multidimensional. Not only is the food always served made-to-order, making it supremely fresh (the short wait is worth it), it's always served by the very people behind this fine establishment, who I'm guessing haven't had a day off in quite some time. Indeed, I can't decide which is more inspiring: their tireless work ethic or the delicious yet affordable food they serve me every week. RYAN BURLESON

BEST SANDWICH HONORING A TRULY GREAT NASHVILLIAN: SAVARINO'S JACK SILVERMANI
The annual Best of Nashville issue is no place for false humility, so I'm just going to tell it like it is: Getting a Savarino's sandwich named after you is a huge deal. Few Nashvillians are magnificent enough to deserve such an honor — and even fewer have gone to the restaurant at least once a week for the past five years, shamelessly begging, pleading and whining for that honor. Even more amazing, I managed to convince those suckers that I'm really Italian — thus the "i" at the end of the name — since being a paisan is the only way to get your name on the menu. (Hopefully they don't read this paper.) And what better way to pay tribute to a great Hebrew-Italian-American than with a sandwich of shrimp (not kosher) and bacon (even less kosher). Add a few slices of roasted potato and some bomba calabrese (a spicy sauce), and you've got an orgy of awesome that would tempt even my rabbi to violate several millennia of Torah-proscribed dietary laws and tradition. JACK SILVERMAN

BEST SIDE: FRIED PICKLES, HOT DIGGITY DOGS
Taking the vaunted fried pickle to the proverbial next level, the good people of Hot Diggity Dogs dip entire garlicky spears in batter and deep-fry them to tangy-crisp, dill-crusted perfection. Are they addictive? Let's just say Hot Diggity co-owner Gayle Davis refers to certain Scene staffers who will not be named as "picklehead" whenever we — uh, they, pop in. It's the sort of nickname that would feel like a burden if it weren't so totally worth it. And hey, we've been called worse. STEVE HARUCH

BEST HEALTHY LUNCH BUFFET: TURNIP TRUCK URBAN FARE
Because of its proximity to our offices and the frequency with which we eat there, we refer to the Gulch location of Turnip Truck as "The Scene Commissary." We can always find something tempting, and on its best days, it can rival fine restaurant food — particularly when the hot bar is serving up lasagna Bolognese or fried chicken. Of course, when we feel like eating healthy (every third Tuesday), the cold bar has a wide variety of veggies, the occasional sushi, noodle salads, and of course our favorite healthy (ahem) items: panna cotta and lemon curd. JACK SILVERMAN

BEST NEWS FOR PIZZA LOVERS: NY PIE / AMICO'S / FIVE POINTS PIZZA
Other cities take the prevalence of first-rate pizza wholly for granted, as if great slices were as much a given as oxygen in water molecules. But in Nashville, beyond perpetual champs Manny's and Joey's House of Pizza and the Vanderbilt Pizza Perfect, the city has typically had large blackout zones untouched by excellent non-chain (or chain) pie. Some of those have been filled in, however: by the terrific NY Pie in Nashville West out Bellevue way, with its large floppy Brooklyn-style slices; by Amico's in Nolensville, home also to big golden half-moon calzones; and by East Nashville newcomer Five Points Pizza, an instant hit with late-night denizens seeking beer soppage after midnight. Is it too much now to hope for a really good Chicago deep dish around here? JIM RIDLEY

BEST DOWNLOW DRIVE-THRU: MANNY'S HOUSE OF PIZZA
Lots of pizza joints will deliver to your home or office, and just about all of them encourage carryout service. But if a restaurant is located downtown, your slices may be cold by the time either you find parking or they fight the traffic to get to your place of business. Manny's House of Pizza in the Arcade has a better solution. Just call ahead and order your pizza. Then drive down and park in the alley between Church and Union. When you arrive, call them back and say "Yo, Manny. I'm here for my friggin' pie!" Within seconds, your car will be redolent of the finest red sauce in the downtown area — and what many at the Scene consider the city's best pizza, period. CHRIS CHAMBERLAIN

BEST SALAD: INTERNATIONAL MARKET
If you think salad is little more than self-denial on a bed of greens, treat yourself to Patti Myint's off-the-menu salad, which is available to groups of four or more. It's best to give Patti a few days' heads-up, because it takes some time to chop, slice and dice the 20 ingredients that go into her sprawling array of fresh and flavorful finger food. Think of it as lettuce wraps on steroids: You get an unlimited supply of crisp leaves, to be filled with all-you-can-eat stir-fried meats, along with bottomless bowls of peanuts, pineapple, lime, garlic, ginger, carrot, noodles, cucumber, mango, onions and more. It's delicious, healthy and a fun way to dine with group — as long as everyone agrees to wash hands first. CARRINGTON FOX

BEST DEVELOPMENT FOR HOT CHICKEN FANS: 400 DEGREES DOWNTOWN
For many Nashvillians, hot chicken is like Bigfoot: often rumored, rarely sighted, and never anywhere close. A long drive plus long prep time scratched off hot chicken as a lunch option for many — until Aqui Simpson relocated her first-rate foundry for flamin' fowl to the hitherto unenticing Peabody Street food court off Fourth Avenue South. Now, you can call ahead — might as well tattoo 244-4467 on your dialing finger — and arrive maybe 20 minutes later to find Simpson's pepper-blackened bird sizzling atop two slices of white bread. As cold season approaches, we advise going straight to the 200-degree "medium," which tells any streptococci loitering in your bloodstream that there's a new sheriff in town. JIM RIDLEY

BEST THAI: SMILING ELEPHANT
In May, I had a visit from my notoriously picky LA cousin, who's seemingly eaten at every great restaurant in the Western Hemisphere (and many in the Eastern). She fell so in love with Sam Kopsombut's charming palace of Thai delights that she insisted we come back for a second dinner there (and she was only here four nights). She said it was better than any Thai she's had in this country, and though my dining résumé pales in comparison to hers, I tend to agree. Invariably fresh ingredients, bold flavors and exceptional pad thai make this Eighth Avenue eatery a must for locals and visitors alike. Other favorite dishes: khao kai ra-bert (minced pork, garlic, black pepper and a fried egg on top), chicken cashew stir-fry with satay sauce, and prik khing curry fried rice. If only they'd dim the lights at night — but that's a minor quibble with an otherwise exquisite dining experience. JACK SILVERMAN

BEST RIBS: JONBALAYA CATERING
We've chased ribs from Clarksville Highway to Murfreesboro Road, and while the thrill of the hunt is always part of barbecue's appeal, we're happy to stop looking — at least through October, when Jon Heidelberg and his competition-grade smoker will be set up at the Woodbine Farmers' Market Saturday mornings in Coleman Park. A bearded, burly meatmeister who lives his motto — "Never trust a skinny cook!" — Heidelberg says he prizes his ribs too much to open a restaurant, where he fears a daily grind would tempt him to cut corners on the long hours that properly smoked ribs entail. Better to taste the love seeping like hickory/cherry smoke from those foil-wrapped racks — and to hope he's got some of those sweet-hot "tiger wings" stashed away. Watch jonbalayacatering.com for his latest addition: "pork parfaits" of killer pulled pork, baked beans and mashed potatoes layered in a clear plastic cup. JIM RIDLEY

BEST PASTA: CAFFE NONNA
Caffe Nonna, the little Italian spot in Sylvan Park, has been around forever — well, since 1999. Its dining room is small and cozy, and its menu is brief and rarely changes. If you want novelty, the bill of fare is supplemented with creative daily specials featuring fresh fish or a particularly appealing cut of meat. But what draws me back time after time is a dish so simple that it's almost laughable. Linguine with white clam sauce costs just $12.95, but there are days when I'd pay triple that just to enjoy the comfort of clams and cream commingling in their bed of slender pasta ribbons. DANA KOPP FRANKLIN

BEST CURRY: GINGER
Pardon me if I gush, but the way the flavor and heat work together in the Massaman curry at this superb Thai place off Thompson Lane is like the taste equivalent of one of Barry White and The Love Unlimited Orchestra's sexy symphonies. It has a heartiness almost like a stew, keeping its components simple and focused: mostly potato, onion and carrot, upped with spices to an aching sensual heat. I'm a squid man when it comes to curries, and the way that delicate flesh mixes with the spice and earthy peanut taste is some kind of magic. The uncluttered mesh of its components makes for the kind of meal you savor, especially at Native Thai level; I say that not for frat-dare cred, but because its heat is flavorful and delicious. Things skew a bit hot, so keep that in mind and revel in the luxurious burn. JASON SHAWHAN

BEST LATIN AMERICAN FOOD: PUPUSERIA SALVADOREÑA
We still love Las Americas on Nolensville Road, but we're big fans of another Salvadoran eatery a few blocks away on Welch Road. Naturally, Pupuseria Salvadoreño, as the name implies, serves fabulous pupusas — rounds of grilled corn dough filled with various combinations of beans, cheese and pork — but we also enjoy the pollo a la plancha (grilled chicken), empanadas and fabulous breakfast plates. And judging by the large Latin American customer base, we're guessing it's just as authentic as it is delicious. JACK SILVERMAN

BEST PERSIAN FOOD: (TIE) HOUSE OF KABOB/SHISH KABOB
These are two of my favorite places in town, and they share a lot of DNA, both figuratively and literally. In addition to having similar menus, the two kabob palaces are owned by cousins, Hamid Hasan (House of Kabob) and Hikmat Gazi (Shish Kabob). In fact, Gazi owned House of Kabob until 2005, when he sold it to Hasan and went back to his native Iraq for a few years to work as a contractor for the U.S. Department of Defense. Gazi came back to Nashville and opened Shish Kabob on Nolensville Road in January. Meanwhile, Hasan did a lovely renovation job at his Thompson Lane restaurant. Whichever one you choose (and you can't go wrong with either), be sure to try the kashk (puréed eggplant with herbs and whey), shrimp kabobs, kubideh (long strips of ground, charbroiled beef with spices) and the terrific joojeh (a marinated whole cornish hen chopped into pieces, skewered and charbroiled). JACK SILVERMAN

BEST RESTAURANT WORTH THE DRIVE: CAFE RAKKA
It's just 10 miles from downtown to this unassuming Hendersonville eatery, but the short journey can feel like it is taking forever if your mouth is watering for Chef Riyad Al-Kasem's steak sizzled on a Himalayan salt block or his rack of lamb lacquered with pomegranate and chocolate. But it's worth the trip, once you've settled into a Mediterranean platter of crisp bronze falafel, velvety baba ganoush, silky hummus and herb-heavy tabbouleh, all accented with olive oil, parsley and pomegranate seeds. The no-nonsense decor — jars of spices and bowls of fruit — hints at the fresh flavors of ginger, lemon, garlic, saffron, cucumber and sesame that infuse the menu. The refreshingly simple formula once lured Guy Fieri to Hendersonville to check it out; it should be more than enough to convince you to drive a few extra miles north for an unforgettable meal. CARRINGTON FOX

BEST ICE CREAM: JENI'S SPLENDID ICE CREAMS
Just when you thought Nashville was maxed out in the frozen treat department, Jeni's comes to town. We got a preview late last year, when Hot & Cold started dishing out this unconventionally scrumptious ice cream, but when Jeni's opened in East Nashville in June, it was like a scene out of a zombie movie. Hordes of salivating eyes-on-the-prize patrons swarmed the place in pursuit of Salty Caramel and Wildberry Lavender, and even at $10 a pint, lines still run out the door after 10 p.m. A sign of the apocalypse? Well, the Jeni's opening did immediately follow the cicada plague. ... ABBY WHITE PLACHY

BEST LOCALLY PRODUCED SUPERMARKET SNACK: BLONDIE, COLTS CHOCOLATES
Famous for her hockey puck-sized Colts Bolts, former Hee Haw Honey Mackenzie Colt has a few more sweet tricks up her sleeve at Colts Chocolates' Gulch headquarters. Among the many tempting candy and dessert concoctions is one monstrous, two-pounder brownie hybrid: The Gluten Free Chocolate Peanut Butter Rocky Road Blondie. The crunchy, richly textured blondie/peanut butter base is drowned in marshmallows and roasted pecans, and then drizzled in dark chocolate ganache and peanut butter. This King of All Desserts (which, of course, we have the authority to designate) is gigantic and probably meant to share, but why would you? ABBY WHITE PLACHY

BEST TOURING LOCAL SPECIALTY: CUPCAKE COLLECTION
For all the talk about where food trucks should or should not be allowed to park around Nashville, one victual vendor rendered that point moot this summer by taking their sweets show on the road. Cupcake Collection went on a five-city tour this summer, dispensing their confections in New York City, Charlotte, Raleigh, Atlanta, and the nation's capital — all to raise money to help send four students to college. And they didn't just roll through town unnoticed: In D.C., for one, they sold cupcakes almost as fast as they could make them. STEVE HARUCH

BEST FROZEN YOGURT: PINKBERRY
Yeah, I know what you're thinking: When we have several locally owned frozen yogurt vendors, how could I pick an out-of-state chain? Well, after sampling Pinkberry, I simply think it's the best. Some of the other contenders are good, but none can match the delightfully creamy texture of Pinkberry's original tart — it's almost like frozen sour cream, in the best possible way. The chocolate and coconut are pretty awesome too. And their fruit toppings are always fresh, never frozen. Regulars call it Crackberry for a reason. JACK SILVERMAN

BEST PRE-/POST-MOVIE TREAT: HOT & COLD
This is more dating than dining advice, but you'll come out a winner either way if you start off an afternoon matinee or cap an evening screening with a stop at this Hillsboro Village jewel. I mean no offense to Bongo Java impresario Bob Bernstein by saying that anybody plus his wife, Las Paletas founder Irma Paz Bernstein, would make a pretty glamorous couple. That said, this collaborative dessert shop reflecting their mutual passions (chocolate, spice, hot drinks and cool treats) gives off an irresistible romantic vibe because its selections lend themselves so well to sharing: elegant little samplers of exotic Jeni's ice creams, a demitasse serving of Olive & Sinclair drinking chocolate more intense and rewardingly bitter than espresso. Cheap it's not — but it's worth every penny in taste and satisfaction. JIM RIDLEY

BEST MOVIE CONCESSIONS: THE BELCOURT
The concession stand is a lot like the programming at the city's beloved indie arthouse: a mix of old favorites (popcorn, sodas), worthy local fare (Olive & Sinclair chocolates, Yazoo beer), top-drawer selections you won't find elsewhere (roasted nuts, wasabi snack mix) and tasty junk food (pizza, hot dogs). It's cheaper than other theaters too, as are the tickets. Now if we could just get staffer Ben Smythe to provide a popcorn shaker from his side gig: crafting the dynamite spice rubs for Banjamin's Ghost Pepper Elixer, featuring atomic flakes of the world's hottest pepper, the bhut jolokia. Goes well with Fassbinder! JIM RIDLEY

BEST EXPANSION: THE SILLY GOOSE
For the first few years of its existence, the only thing wrong with The Silly Goose was that there just wasn't enough of it. This year, not only did Chef Roderick Bailey and his crew double the space, add a large community table and install a gorgeous bar crafted from a 100-year-old oak tree, they also added more substantial dinner items — like the rack of ribs, rubbed in redolent spice and magnificently substantial — to what was already one of East Nashville's best menus. Sometimes more is definitely more. STEVE HARUCH

BEST INTERIOR: (TIE) KAYNE PRIME, VIRAGO
Just for fun, see how many different types of lighting you can spot at these stunning sister restaurants in the Gulch. Uplighting, downlight, red, green, blue, twinkle, flood, pendant ... it's a bright and brilliant constellation of design details that elevates these eateries into showplaces, not just for the pretty plates that come from their kitchens, but for the beautiful people who grace the bars and tables of these sprawling hot spots. Whether you have an appetite for the high-end steakhouse menu at Kayne Prime — where flat-screen TVs hang amid warm reclaimed woods — or the Asian-inspired repertoire at Virago, where candlelight illuminates walls of smooth river rocks — they're given gorgeous settings at Chris Hyndman's M Street temples of gastronomy. CARRINGTON FOX

BEST NEIGHBORHOOD FARMERS' MARKET: WEST NASHVILLE FARMERS' MARKET
When the farmers, restaurateurs, bakers and other purveyors of fine foods — from Al Fresco pasta to Noble Springs goat cheese to Bongo Java coffee — roll their wares into Richland Park on Saturday morning, it's not just a market. It's a happening. Bring your shopping list — because there are plenty of fresh vegetables and pasture-fed beef to fill a reusable grocery sack. But make sure you also arrive with extra time on your hands, because there's more than enough to sidetrack you: yoga, sandwich carts, live music, paletas and a field full of folks basking in the seasonal glow of Middle Tennessee's growing affection for local food. The market runs April through November, so you've got a few more weeks until the festive field in Sylvan Park lies fallow again until spring. CARRINGTON FOX

BEST CHEESEMONGER: KATHLEEN COTTER, THE BLOOMY RIND
A fixture at the Nashville Farmers' Market, Kathleen Cotter of the Bloomy Rind is the biggest cheese cheerleader the National Dairy Council could ever ask for. Her enthusiasm for regional artisan cheeses is definitely contagious as she samples and sells her wares to shoppers and local restaurants like tayst, Holland House, Provence and Jackalope. Kathleen also organized last weekend's Southern Artisan Cheese Festival in Nashville and hopes to open her own brick-and-mortar location for The Bloomy Rind soon. Cheese ... it's what's for dinner. CHRIS CHAMBERLAIN

BEST PLACE TO BUY PRODUCE: NIGHT MARKET
Once a month on Friday night, crowds flock to the Nashville Farmers' Market for some nocturnal commerce. Over the past year, the numbers of shoppers and vendors have grown until Night Market has evolved into one of the best parties of the month — the one place in Nashville where people can sip wine as they shop. During the winter, couples drank hot cider and snuggled as they walked under the sheds of the "farm side" of the market, which were gaily festooned with holiday lights. As spring turned to summer, more of the restaurants in the Market House caught on, and now Night Market has become a dining destination as well, whether your tastes run to Mrs. Cock-a-Doodle's curry chicken salad, Doc Braden's Creole seafood pies or "Butter Cake Babe" Julie Granda's irresistible gooey treats. Don't miss it — it may be as close as Tennesseans ever get to wine in grocery stores. CHRIS CHAMBERLAIN

BEST PLACE TO BUY SEAFOOD: LOUISIANA SEAFOOD CO.
I want to hug Chris Moran of the Louisiana Seafood Co. every time I see him at the Nashville Farmers' Market. And I'd do it too, if he didn't always smell like fish. This hardworking man from Baton Rouge searched the map for a city he would enjoy traveling to that was not already able to get a reliable supply of fresh seafood. To our great fortune, Nashville fulfilled both criteria, and now Chris meets the fishing boats as they dock in Louisiana to pick the freshest shellfish and fish — which he drives up to Music City on Thursdays to sell each weekend. He'll even shuck oysters on the spot, which you can eat right there for a buck a pop. Aieee! CHRIS CHAMBERLAIN

BEST PLACE TO FIND A GREAT WINE UNDER $20: WOODLAND WINE MERCHANT
Sure, there are bigger wine shops than Will Motley's Woodland Wine Merchant, and you might find a slightly better price on that bottle of Jägerúmpleschlâger at your local liquor mart. But if you're looking for an impeccably laid-out wine store with shelf-talker tags describing every single single item in the store, then Woodland is the place for you. Tell Will what you like or what you seek, and odds are he'll find you a great buy you've never heard of. CHRIS CHAMBERLAIN

BEST HOME-AWAY-FROM-HOME BAR: EDGEFIELD BAR & GRILL
If you ignore the flat-screen TVs and cell phones, Edgefield Bar & Grill is a drinking hole out of time. The clientele, music and friendly staff make Edgefield feel somewhere between 1975 and yesterday. The large, open room feels less like a bar and more like an event hall taken over by good-natured smokers and rec-center athletes who are dying for a burger after the game. Laughed there. Cried there. See you there. Soon. ASHLEY SPURGEON

BEST NEW BAR: NO. 308
This time last year, we could only speculate on what lay inside that slick black facade on Gallatin Pike perched between the iconic dive Dino's and Sherwin-Williams. Was it a new boutique? A new bar? Turns out it was the latter — and a brilliant addition to the neighborhood at that. Opened by mixologists Alexis Soler and Ben Clemons, who were engaged in Room 308 of Manhattan's Ace Hotel (hence the name), the bar caters to cocktail know-it-alls and pedestrian drinkers alike, serving up delicious, well-conceived concoctions just as quickly as they'll sling you a PBR. Tapas items at 308 are nothing to guffaw at either, all perfectly suited to blunt the effects of the drinks that go down so easily in this place. Whether stopping by for a Motown-soundtracked, early-evening Dickel and ginger or the rowdier Whiskey Disco or Book Club parties curated by some of the city's best DJs, 308 never fails to reward. RYAN BURLESON

BEST NEW NEIGHBORHOOD BAR (EAST SIDE): VILLAGE PUB & BEER GARDEN
While the elements of the quintessential neighborhood bar are open to interpretation, you pretty much know it when you see it. Village Pub & Beer Garden has the giant, frosty mugs of beer — a dozen on draft, and even more bottled options, mostly in the craft/import variety. There's good food — sandwiches, cheese/meat plates, huge pretzels — multiple TVs (this is East Nashville's Preds HQ) and a refreshing signature drink, the sweet yet sneaky Moscow Mule. In fact, the Village Pub pretty much has it all ... except for the actual beer garden. We'll settle for the dog-friendly wraparound porch, where everybody knows your name. ABBY WHITE PLACHY

BEST NEW NEIGHBORHOOD BAR (WEST SIDE): NEIGHBORS OF SYLVAN PARK
Everything about Sylvan Park is perfect — just ask the folks who live there. But until recently, there was nowhere to drink after dark. And then Neighbors slid in, halfway between the hip Local Taco and the indefatigable Jack's Market. It's cozy: mineshaft-narrow inside, but with plenty of outside seating. Its food is the epitome of non-pretension: hoagies, and sometimes barbecue (including the best smoked wings we've found in Davidson County, cooked right in the parking lot on Murphy). It's shiny-new, and yet it feels as lived-in as an old couch. Sometimes you don't want all the hip what-have-you. Sometimes you just need a drink. J.R. LIND

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