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Food & Drink 2010: Writer's Picks

Best of Nashville 2010

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BEST RESTAURANT/BEST NEW RESTAURANT: SILLY GOOSE AND SMILING ELEPHANT (TIE)

Over the last year, my most frequent dining recommendation was to a small new eatery near downtown with an open kitchen, a short menu, an emphasis on fresh food, and a price point that makes you want to return regularly. Named for a happy animal and adorned with handcrafted detailing, the cozy room is the brainchild of a man with boundless energy and an ability to tease extraordinary flavor from simple foods. That man is Sam Kopsombut, chef-owner of Smiling Elephant — and he's also Roderick Bailey, chef-owner of Silly Goose. It was Nashville's great fortune that two inspired, gifted entrepreneurs thumbed their noses at the recession, opening restaurants that are consistently excellent and unlike anything else in the city — except, perhaps, each other. While these eateries share so much in principle, their flavor palettes are worlds apart. Kopsombut draws on the tastes of his native Thailand, while Bailey builds an eclectic, global palette showcasing local ingredients. In both cases, the formula is refreshing, encouraging — and something we'd like to see expanded across the dining landscape. As such, we wouldn't dream of choosing between them. The city's richer for having them both. CARRINGTON FOX

BEST CHEF: ASHLEY QUICK, FLYTE WORLD DINING & WINE

Maybe it's too early to drop a superlative on a chef who's been in place just over a year. But the plates that Chef Quick delivered to our table have stuck in my mind since I nibbled the last morsel of deep-fried squab off its tiny leg bone and rousted the last hunk of pork belly from its bed of coarse grits and tomato-bacon jam. An alumnus of the short-lived-but-exquisite Andrew Chadwick's on Rutledge Hill and the venerable Capitol Grille, Quick was fast to make his mark at Flyte. Under him, it has earned its wings as one of the city's most alluring eateries. CARRINGTON FOX

BEST CULINARY AMBASSADOR: ARNOLD MYINT

Tell your snooty New York friends you're a food critic in Nashville, and they'll ask you how many synonyms you know for "deep-fried." (That's "grease submersible" to you, Mac.) But thanks to Myint's scene-stealing turn on Top Chef this season, where he provided a needed respite from the swinging sausages who hogged the airtime, a growing Bravo audience knows that Music City cuisine is about more than meat-and-three. With a growing empire that includes PM, Cha Chah, and Suzy Wong's House of Yum, Myint is spicing up the dining options from Belmont to Church Street. Meanwhile, his inimitable personality and telegenic face are helping spread the word that Nashville is a fun city for food lovers. CARRINGTON FOX

BEST CULINARY INSTIGATOR: JEREMY BARLOW, TAYST

In the kitchen at his 21st Avenue eatery (which Barlow & Co. have dubbed "Fatmanistan"), Nashville's first certified Green restaurateur continues to poke at the established notions of food and dining. From fat salad to caramelized cheese, Barlow invites guests to indulge in the most decadent of dishes, while reminding us ever so subtly — check out that painting of "Fat Man at a Hot Dog Stand" — that moderation is a virtue. For all of tayst's head-cheese sliders and its twists of house-cooked cracklins, Barlow is also gathering school-food reformers to reconsider how and what we feed our kids and doing what he can to draw attention to the sources of our food. It's a lot to chew on, but Barlow makes it delicious. CARRINGTON FOX

BEST TELEVISION COOK: BIG FELLA

Ask MTSU alumni what they miss most about Murfreesboro, and odds are it won't be the Burnin' Bucket or The 'Boro: It'll be The Hustlin Gourmet. Maybe it's a testament to the Blue Raiders' ability to rip bongloads, but nearly everyone watched Big Fella's mad cooking show on the college's cable station. It helps that his delivery is slacker-smooth and his creations are basically what Mom would make for dinner if she had a can opener and a mean case of the munchies. But his show has all the trappings of a cable-access classic, and it remains a sorely missed piece of post-grad life. Luckily he's now on iQtv Channel 10 — which means it's time to pack the binger again. SEAN L. MALONEY

BEST NEIGHBORHOOD RESTAURANT: FIREFLY GRILLE

The best thing to happen to Firefly — or was it the best thing to happen to my date nights? — was the closing of Bistro 215, which used to be our go-to spot for dinner and a movie in Green Hills. With the shuttering of the restaurant adjacent to the Regal megaplex, we were forced to dine within a slightly wider radius, and thus we rediscovered the quirky cottage in the bend of Bandywood. The combination of owner Curt Cole's friendly face and Kristen Gregory's farm-fresh menu of low-key but sophisticated fare (housemade ciabatta on every plate, Leland Riggan cakes for dessert) makes Firefly glow. CARRINGTON FOX

BEST SOUL FOOD: THE SANDS

Any day of the week at The Sands (known as the Silver Sands until the last couple of years), you'll find fine meat-and-three as well as some favorites you can't get anywhere else: stewed neckbones, braised okra and hot water cornbread. It's the kind you long for if you've lived outside Nashville for years. Located on a side street off Jefferson not far from the Bicentennial Mall, The Sands also offers something else you won't find at other meat-and-threes: Sunday operating hours. It's a good time to go, because in addition to the good food, there's a spectacular parade of Nashville Sunday finery when the church crowd arrives. NICKI P. WOOD

BEST RESTAURANT SUCCESS STORY: BURGER UP

An upscale burger joint isn't a particularly radical idea, but the combination of locally sourced beef and produce, the determination of owners Miranda Whitcomb Pontes and Mike Pontes — and perhaps most of all, location, location, location — have made Burger Up the most successful restaurant opening of the year. Drive by anytime, even 9 p.m. on a Monday night, and there's a good chance you'll see people standing outside waiting for tables. The food — a mix of apps, salads, burgers and other sandwiches — is first-rate, the atmosphere convivial. Highlights include the lamb burger, the Woodstock burger (with Sweetwater white cheddar and Benton's bacon) and the tuna tartare appetizer. If you're going to cater to the enlightened, well-heeled carnivore, it's hard to imagine a better site than the heart of the 12South commercial district, Nashville's yuppie ground zero. JACK SILVERMAN

BEST STREET EATS GONE STATIONARY: MAS TACOS POR FAVOR

When Teresa Mason converted a '70s Winnebago into a mobile taco stand, she had high hopes, but little did she know how incredibly popular her adorable yellow-and-blue eatery on wheels would become. Now Mason has opened a stationary outpost at 732 McFerrin Ave., across from Holland House, and miraculously, she's managed to create a room that shares the 'Bago's low-key retro charm. Painted cinderblock and distressed wood walls, offbeat photos and artwork, rolls of paper towels on the tables, an awesome old-school jukebox — it's a funky space that's hard to resist. We've tried to get takeout on several occasions, but always seem to wind up eating it there. Oh, and the food! Not only does Mason serve the standards that made her truck famous — among them quinoa, chicken and (irresistible) fried-avocado tacos and, when good corn's available, delectable elotes — she's constantly experimenting with new items that the truck's confined space wouldn't allow. If they're on the chalkboard, be sure to try the tamales and the savory chicken tortilla soup. JACK SILVERMAN

BEST NEW STREET EATS: PIZZA BUDS / BUENOS AIRES GRILL

Much as we love Nashville's awesome taco trucks, we're thrilled to see some new mobile food options. First up: Pizza Buds, a trio of twentysomething buddies in a tricked-out '70s camper that says "Leisure Time" on the side (and looks more fitting for an impromptu porno). Inspired by a late-night gorge on greasy slices at Austin's SXSW, photog Jonny Kingsbury, Hannah Barberians drummer Ben Jones and all-star nice guy Kenny Gay decided free range pizza was their calling — a witches brew of all-natural sauce, homemade crust (thanks to Gay's mom) and competing sweet and savory spices (hello, brown sugar!). But we're also hooked on Argentine native Gitano Herrera's grilled choripan sausage sandwiches and homemade desserts, including an intense dulce de leche. You've got a few more weeks to try them at the Woodbine Farmers Market. TRACY MOORE & JIM RIDLEY

BEST BREAKFAST: MARCHÉ

The long lines of East Nashville's young and beautiful waiting for the weekend brunch at Marché — where rustic shelves are filled with highfalutin condiments, spices and oils — have led some locals to call it "Hipster Cracker Barrel." Of course, the brunches are the best in town, and worth the wait, but the weekday breakfast is pretty fabulous too — and with no lines! Take your pick from the healthy (Anson Mills stone-cut organic oatmeal), the hearty (the omelets, unequivocally the best in town) or the decadent (croissant French toast with powdered sugar and real maple syrup). Then there's my personal fave, the toasted brioche with a fried egg in the center, a gourmet version of what your mom may have called a bull's-eye, cluck-in-the-hole, Scottish pizza, egg-in-a-blanket, one-eyed monster, gibbly's willies, the Hiding Mexican, man-on-a-raft, the-gardener-spilled-the-fertilizer-that-looks-like-an-egg-in-the-hole-that-he-dug-in-the-brown-dirt-that-looks-like-bread, or maybe peekaboo toast. (Thanks, eatoutzone.com.) I order mine with an extra egg, bacon and maple syrup on the side, just to eliminate any potential ambiguity about its health consequences. JACK SILVERMAN

BEST BREAD: TWIN FORKS FARM ARTISAN BREAD

Maybe man cannot live by bread alone, but your odds of survival increase significantly with one of David Tannen's artisanal loaves, studded with nutty whole grains and raisins but free of added eggs, dairy or sugar. Uh-oh, you might think, get ready for a Duraflame log — but the densely crusted ovals come out of Tannen's hand-built brick oven smelling of fresh-plowed earth and sun-dappled fields, and a slice with a thick schmear of cream cheese or butter and marmalade makes a filling breakfast. It doesn't hurt that each loaf tastes like the creation of a man who loves his work. Look for it at The Turnip Truck, The Produce Place, Whole Foods and area farmers' markets. JIM RIDLEY

BEST BAGEL: BAGEL FACE BAKERY

Those "rolls with holes" days are over, Nashville. Over in East Nashville's Riverside Village, tucked around back from Castrillo's Pizza next to the Olive & Sinclair world headquarters, Kristen Skrube is rolling out bagels by the dozen — not the monocular biscuits folks in these parts are used to buying in stores, but plump, dense, chewy little knots of dough with a buttery crust that pops to the bite. Skrube, co-founder of Springwater's Taco Party, told Bites' Dana Kopp Franklin that the secret's in a "cold, slow ferment" that lets the dough and yeast cozy up for a good 12 hours. She's also indicated she's not averse to trying bialys — the increasingly rare little pastries that resemble the star-crossed romance of a bagel and an English muffin, with a little well of chopped onion in the center. She must want to test if Southerners can truly get verklempt. JIM RIDLEY

BEST CRÊPES: THE PERCH

Based on a Belgian family recipe, The Perch's supple crêpes fold gracefully, like French silk scarves. Made to order, with combinations such as apples, brie and ham; eggplant, roasted red peppers and balsamic glaze; artichokes, spinach and Havarti; and peanut butter and banana, the sweet and savory options make an elegant start to the day (open at 6:30 a.m.), a light lunch or a comforting afternoon snack. If you want that s'mores crêpe with Nutella and marshmallows, but you worry chocolate gives you pimples, step into the adjacent room, where owners Heather Chandler and John Kressaty run a skin-care boutique that's as fresh-faced as their crêperie. CARRINGTON FOX

BEST GRITS: SWEET 16TH/B&C MELROSE BBQ

Here are two rejoinders to the (very funny) description of grits in The Help as the vehicle for what you'd rather be eating. At East Nashville's wonderful Sweet 16th Bakery, home to one of the best chocolate cakes we've ever had that wasn't baked by Mama, the breakfast specialty is the grittata: a foundation of provolone and grits overlaid with egg custard flecked with portobellos, sun-dried tomato and green onions. Pair it with one of Sweet 16th's feathery cheddar scones, unless you're into that whole "alertness at work" thing. Meanwhile, over at B&C, the pulled pork and brisket are fine, but the scene-stealers here are the sides — led by buffalo grits, a fiery helping of coarse, cheesy grits laden with shreds of hot, saucy chicken. (They often sell out, so it's worth calling ahead to see if they're available: 457-3473.) Our only complaint is that the steam table tends to harden them into crusty crumbles if they sit out too long. Even so, big wet kisses with sauce-stained cheeks to B&C for bringing real barbecue (smoker and all) to the Melrose area, where the prominent culinary signpost for many years was Krystal. JIM RIDLEY

BEST BUSINESS LUNCH: GERMANTOWN CAFÉ

If you're trying to get your résumé into the hands of someone important, you might consider standing on the brick-paved sidewalk outside Chris Lowry and Jay Luther's room-with-a view between, say 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. That's when the movers and shakers from Capitol Hill, the downtown law offices and just about everywhere else take their seats in the elegant shadow of the statehouse and go about doing the business of the capital city. It's a wonder how many important decisions have been made over Germantown's French onion soup and coconut curry salmon. And after a plate of warm apple pie with cinnamon ice cream, it's a marvel any work gets done at all. CARRINGTON FOX

BEST DELI: MITCHELL DELI

The first time we went to Mitchell Deli we kept our expectations low, as previous journeys to other East Side hotspots revealed little more than hipster hype. One bite of Mitchell's ham-and-brie sandwich on an all-natural hoagie, however, and we were true believers. Now in its third year, the deli has become the anchor of the Riverside Village neighborhood. Granted, it's not the classic pickle-barrels-and-hanging-salamis kind of deli — but the proof is between the slices, and Mitchell specializes in uncommonly good local and natural deli-meat selections. Mitchell also offers a self-serve salad bar, a lunch and dinner hot bar, and breakfast by the pound (including Benton's bacon). How many cheese grits in a pound? JOE NOLAN

BEST FRENCH FRIES: HOT DIGGITY DOG

Nothing raises my dander like mealy, pasty french fries (and don't even get me started on the worst culinary invention of all time, steak fries). Listen up, folks: They're called french fries. So fry the hell out of 'em — like Hot Diggity Dog does. Deep gold on the outside with just a hint of whiteness at the center, and served in a brown paper sack that helps soak up the grease, the fries at this Chicago-style hot dog shop on Ewing Avenue are crispy, salty strips of gustatory ecstasy. And be sure to try the latest addition to the menu, fried pickles, which are pretty damn diggity themselves. JACK SILVERMAN

BEST SANDWICH SELECTION: SAVARINO'S CUCINA

It's easier to crack a papal conclave than to lift the veil of secrecy that determines how Corrado Savarino chooses the names on his Hillsboro Village sandwich board. Holy writ? Divine guidance? Rock-paper-scissors? Whatever it is, we ain't getting it — although Corrado keeps stringing the Scene's Jack Silverman along with promises of his own signature sammy. (He says the main ingredient will be tongue.) If you wonder why it matters, you've obviously never had the Frank DiLeo (sausage and broccoli rabe — amazing), the Al Bunetta (breaded chicken cutlet, lettuce, tomato, roasted peppers, balsamic vinaigrette) or our current favorite, the Stevie B. (fried eggplant, broccoli rabe, Asiago cheese, lettuce, tomato, balsamic vinaigrette and a fiery bomba calabrese sauce). More to the point, though, a popular item confers its own kind of immortality — and we confess to a catch in our throats whenever we order the fist-thick Ed Pontieri, named for the late raconteur who made the place feel like a friend's kitchen instead of a business establishment. "The rock-star thing kind of dwindles," the Rascals' Felix Cavaliere once told Silverman of his own place on the board, "but the sandwich is forever." JIM RIDLEY

BEST ROAST BEEF SANDWICH: GREENLIGHT DELI

It's getting closer to Halloween, so I hope I'm not jumping the gun by offering up a ghost story: I'm being haunted ... by a sandwich. All kidding aside, I'm being haunted by a sandwich. Seriously. You know you've had a great bite to eat when you can't forget the experience. While the Greenlight Deli has been slowly and surely finding its way since opening its door on 12th Avenue South this summer, their roast beef sandwich was a knockout the very first time we had it. Try it yourself, but remember, you've been warned. JOE NOLAN

BEST BARBECUE: MARTIN'S BAR-B-QUE JOINT

When the Saturday sun goes down over the tiny hamlet of Nolensville, Patrick Martin flings open the pit inside his latter-day roadhouse, and a plume of pig smoke signals that the whole hog 'cue is ready. Then Pat climbs up on the side of the fire pit and, wearing giant black rubber gloves, plucks strands of buttery meat from a caramelized carcass splayed over a bed of embers. Now, some folks can't handle the inconvenient truth that their pork comes from — gasp! — a dead pig. But if you're man or woman enough to own up to the origins of your food, you'll get a taste of something truly special. If not, you can always order a burger. (But where do you think that comes from?) CARRINGTON FOX

BEST RIBS: JIMMY CARL'S LUNCH BOX

"Why, what's so hard about cooking ribs?" — asks the man who's never cooked ribs. There are more ways to screw up a slab than there are chips in Tunica, and the odds are far better you'll end up with a charred hulk that resembles something sifted from an airliner's wreckage. It's not just the smoky flavor that sets Pat Isbey and Russ Nelson's ribs apart from the crowd (although their smoker settles a heavenly cloud over the Gulch on weekdays). It's the unmatched tenderness of the lean meat that has patrons sucking bones 'til they gleam like mammoth tusks. Bonus points for getting to eat them in the Station Inn, the hipster holdout that keeps the Gulch honest — and cool. JIM RIDLEY

BEST MEAT PURVEYOR WE'LL MISS: ROBERT REGG

Once you got the chatty Regg brothers, Bobby and Stephen, talking about meat, they could go on and on. That's what happens when your family runs a butcher shop for 90 years. Their meat was lusciously marbled Choice grade, and despite the broken down couch in the shop, their operation was federally inspected and fully compliant. They could order most anything, although they were very opinionated — occasionally even ornery — about certain cuts of meat. Regg was an institution in a town of institutions. Their Middleton Street shop opened in the early 1970s — still just the final third of the shop's long life. The aging facility and equipment needed some pricey investment to upgrade, and the Reggs made the difficult decision to close their doors in August. That's left an ironic vacuum in Nashville's culinary life: people are more interested than ever in specialty meat, but now we're without an independent, federally inspected butcher shop. Sounds like an entrepreneurship opportunity. NICKI P. WOOD

BEST PLACE TO TRICK CARNIVORES INTO EATING VEGETARIAN: WOODLANDSFor those of us raised on the notion that meat equals meal — it's "meat and three," after all, not "four" — it's always disappointing to leave a vegetarian eatery and a few hours later feel the pangs of being pure at heart. But with crisp, crepe-like dosas the size of hubcaps and gigantic thali platters that combine a dozen mini-feasts into one — not to mention amazing chai tea — Woodlands is the rare vegetarian restaurant where the food is so good, and so filling, you could walk past a rack of ribs on your way out and not even turn your head. STEVE HARUCH

BEST PLACE FOR VEGETARIANS TO DINE WITH CARNIVORES: CITY HOUSE

I may have gone to City House for James Beard nominee Tandy Wilson's house-made salumi, but I left dreaming about his cauliflower. Crisp white florets shaved into thin cross-sections and tossed with toasted almonds, pomegranate seeds and smoked vinegar bore no similarity to the sad soggy stalks in the supermarket freezer, underscoring Wilson's talent of combining simple, fresh, seasonal ingredients to yield extraordinary flavor. With each bite of cruciferous crunch, I swooned. My carnivorous companions got jealous. They traded sausages for salad. Pigs everywhere rejoiced. CARRINGTON FOX

BEST THING TO HAPPEN TO VEGETARIANS: WILD COW

It's no secret that Music City residents who don't like to eat animals are woefully underserved, so when this eatery planted roots across the street from Rosepepper last year, area vegetarians were excited to see a restaurant catering to their diet — particularly East Nashvillians, who previously had zero vegetarian restaurants on their side of town. Melanie and John Cochran's Wild Cow has plenty of faux-meat options to lure carnivores to the table — a vegan Philly "cheesesteak" sandwich or a Reuben, made with seitan and tempeh (or tofu), respectively — but our faves are the veggie and quinoa bowl with garlic aioli, the lettuce wraps filled with sun-dried tomato-walnut paté, or the straightforward but delicious "Beans & Greens," which mixes pinto beans with spicy kale (or whatever greens are seasonal) and brown rice. And be sure to check the daily specials — the peppercorn-encrusted tempeh with roasted tomato sauce we tried a couple of months ago was absolutely divine. JACK SILVERMAN

BEST REASON TO GO GLUTEN-FREE: FIDDLECAKES

An estimated 3 million Americans may suffer from undiagnosed celiac disease — an impairment of the intestines' ability to process gluten. Fortunately for gluten-intolerant Nashvillians, there's Lindsay Beckner and Tasha Ross' charming bakery, where a roster of wheat-free soups, sandwiches, salads and pastries will make you forget what you're missing. Not that you have to hate gluten to love FiddleCakes. In addition to gluten-free loaves, FiddleCakes carries wheat bread, including ciabatta from Silke's Bakery. While the gluten-free and wheat products are stored separately (to prevent cross-contamination), the broad appeal of the menu brings all appetites together in this cheery Eighth Avenue bungalow. CARRINGTON FOX

BEST FAMILY DINING OUT: FRIDAY NIGHTS, GERST HAUS

At some point in your German-flavored meal of jagerschnitzel, schweineschnitzel and spaetzle, at the East Side's beloved approximation of a Bavarian lodge, the house band Musik Meisters will take a break from their accordion-enhanced rendition of "Mack the Knife" to instigate a restaurant-wide Chicken Dance. At that point, you'll set down your fish bowl of Gerst beer (named for the same family, now manufactured by the Pittsburgh Brewing Company) and join your fellow diners in a conga line as you flap your arms and shake your tail feathers. It's not exactly German. Nor is it exactly dignified. But it's a Nashville tradition worth experiencing at any age. CARRINGTON FOX

BEST PLACE TO IMPRESS YOUR DATE (EAST SIDE): HOLLAND HOUSE

While the rest of us were mourning the closing of Ombi, the understated chic and sleek restaurant on Elliston Place, bartender-turned-owner Terrell Raley was planning a Rocky-style return, jogging from defeat on the Rock Block to glory in East Nashville. After valiantly attempting to save the flagging Ombi by purchasing the restaurant, Raley teamed up with Dutchman Cees Brinkman to open Holland House in a former grocery store. With guidance from Ombi veteran and kitchen sage Laura Wilson, Raley debuted an airy epicurean cocktail lounge with a menu of local, seasonal fare. The combination of low-key atmosphere and attitude with high-quality cocktails and cuisine revives much of what was great about Ombi while establishing an identity all its own. CARRINGTON FOX

BEST PLACE TO IMPRESS YOUR DATE (WEST SIDE): PATTERSON HOUSE

With a front-door sign the size of a cafeteria tray, the Patterson House is a place you have to look for to find, despite the fact that it is on a corner of Division Street within crawling distance of Music Row's McRoosterRoof bar strip. Rather than making sure you're seen as part of that scene, take a trip behind the velvet curtain at Patterson House for a sultry, romantic evening of artisan cocktails. The bar staff is appropriately attentive without being chatty, so you'll have more time to focus on your date. The menu is inventive, with a short list of playful takes on traditional bar food, but still leaves room for dinner out if you desire. Alternatively, it's the perfect place to end your evening's revelries. Well, besides your own house (bomp-chicka-wow-wow). CHRIS CHAMBERLAIN

BEST PLACE TO CONVINCE YOUR DATE YOU CAN REALLY COOK: LAZZAROLI'S PASTA

When it comes to creative, ready-to-cook pastas, your first resource should always be Germantown's Tom Lazzaro. Working out of a tiny kitchen on Fifth Avenue North, the creative genius affectionately known as Tommy Noodles whips up daily delights including fresh cut pastas, microwavable lasagnas and a seemingly endless stream of inventive ravioli options. Follow him on Facebook to discover whether today's special ravioli is Goat Cheese and Pear, Beef Short Rib & Chianti or even Professor Bailey's Pimento Cheese. Add one of his original sauces and house-made mozzarella, and within minutes you'll have a meal that will make you look like Mario Batali. Minus the Crocs, I hope. CHRIS CHAMBERLAIN

BEST PLACE TO WATCH FIREWORKS: ALLIUM

Why endure the downtown crush of sweaty Fourth of July revelers just to get a few feet closer to Lee Greenwood singing "God Bless My Royalty Check," when you could simply hop five blocks across the Cumberland for a convivial evening with old and new friends at Allium? Make your reservations a couple weeks in advance for a table by the window and enjoy a fine affordable French bistro-style meal and creative cocktails at this hip eatery in the Fifth and Main complex. After all, without the help of the French Navy, we might not have won the Revolutionary War. The sliding doors to the deck open at dusk, allowing the happy crowd to toast another year of independence for the People's Republic of East Nashville. CHRIS CHAMBERLAIN

BEST CHEAP DINNER: LAS AMERICAS

If you're like me and stick to tacos and pupusas — delectable grilled rounds of cornmeal dough filled with cheese and either beans or pork — this Salvadoran eatery on Nolensville Road is dirt-cheap and damn good. The tacos al pastor, cubes of pork in a slightly sweet and spicy sauce, are the best. One pupusa and one taco (under $4) is usually enough, but if I'm really hungry, I'll double up on the tacos and still come in under a fin — and feel like I've had an hour-long Central American vacation in the process. JACK SILVERMAN

BEST NEW ITALIAN: PORTA VIA

It takes between 90 and 120 seconds to cook a pizza in the 750-degree bell-shaped brick oven in the back of the sunlit dining room. Funny thing: it took about that long for crowds to show up at this new Lion's Head hot spot. Glass windows overlooking the bustling kitchen provide dinner and a show, as pizzamakers twirl and toss dough into frivolously thin disks that bubble and scar in the intense heat. Go for the pizza, stay for the whole package, from the cheery ambiance to the fresh sauces and the jewel-toned array of gelatos by the front door. Porta Via is friendly, affordable and versatile — for date night, family supper or, as the name implies in Italian, carryout. CARRINGTON FOX

BEST PIZZA: MANNY'S HOUSE OF PIZZA / JOEY'S HOUSE OF PIZZA

The Scene has been raving about Manny and Joey Macca's pizza-making prowess for the better part of two decades, and still their first-rate pies remain something of a secret handshake among local pizza fanatics — particularly transplanted Brooklynites homesick for broad gooey slices, with a side of gettin' your chops busted if you hem and haw in line. (Im)purists prefer the grubby downtown vibe of Manny's original shop in the Arcade, with its GoodFellas poster for atmosphere, while Joey's newer Brentwood outpost won't scare away the suburbanites. Either way, though, the thin-crusted slices, densely layered pepperoni rolls and artery-straining lasagna won't do you wrong. JIM RIDLEY

BEST LOCAL PIZZA TREND: NEAPOLITAN

According to the Associazione Vera Pizza Napoletana, true Neapolitan pizza dough can only contain wheat flour, Neapolitan yeast, salt and water. Sounds easy enough, huh? Only the tomatoes for the sauce are supposed to be grown in the shadow of Mount Vesuvius, and the mozzarella — I swear I'm not making this up — should be made from the milk of water buffaloes raised in the marshlands of Campania. Yet that Il Duce-style dogma means that true Neapolitan pizza has a consistency that puts it head and shoulders above your garden-variety pie. The proprietors at Porta Via on White Bridge Road and Bella Napoli in Villa Place have embraced the demands of true Neapolitan pizza construction, and Nashville diners are the luckier because of it. With less than two minutes in the wood-fired inferno of an oven, Neapolitan pizza laughs at any chain's 30-minute guarantee. CHRIS CHAMBERLAIN

BEST DETROIT-STYLE PIZZA: JET'S PIZZA

You might not know about Detroit-style pizza, but if you've tried Jet's, you've already been initiated. Thicker than New York style but not as deep a dish as a Chicago pie, this Motown favorite is known for its thick, twice-baked crust. Having carpet-bombed the city with flyers, Jet's Pizza is bringing this classic taste to Nashville's Michigan ex-pats who've yearned for a square pizza dotted with upturned pepperonis, filled with greasy goodness and crispy around the edges. Yes, this is yet another cultural milestone brought to you by the city that invented the 20th century. You're welcome! JOE NOLAN

BEST COMEBACK: THE ITALIAN MARKET

Things looked dire for a minute when Café Coco took over this Richland Park institution, which we'd taken to calling our substitute Grandma. Its quality nosedived, and by the time it actually caught on fire, we were ready to write the whole venture off. Then a couple months back a colleague told us the joint was cooking again, and we needed to see for ourselves that Granny had her swagger back. Oh yes she does, we can safely report, and then some. Need a laid-back locale for date night? Got your back. Need a cheap and choice torpedo sub? In there like swimwear. Plus they've got imported cheeses, chocolates and pasta so you can kick it Nana-style at home. SEAN L. MALONEY

BEST SUSHI: SAMURAI SUSHI/PETER'S SUSHI & THAI

Nashville lacks a wharf where the catch of the day is literally pitched into your hands, as it would be at, say, Seattle's Pike Place Market. Even so, it's remarkable what good sushi we've been able to find here. Peter's, incongruously located in the Brentwood Kroger shopping mall, scores for the consistently bright, fresh taste of its sashimi, while Samurai on Elliston comes in for a Kyoto finish with its striking flavor combinations, including slivers of kiwi and strawberry. Who'd have ever thought we'd see the day Nashville would have an easier time finding sushi parlors than catfish joints? JIM RIDLEY

BEST NEW SUSHI: JIMBO'S SUSHI

There is no great sushi in landlocked Nashville. There is good sushi, but a restaurant has to also offer the variety of Ru San's or the masochistic delights of Sam's as no one's fish is that fresh. Jimbo's has a small but classic menu: about seven bucks gets you two rolls, miso soup and green tea, not to mention a heaping helping of sweet, fun service accompanied by blaring pop radio. It's one of a kind. After my first lunch I ate there for a week. You will too. JOE NOLAN

BEST DIM SUM: LUCKY BAMBOO

Among the eternal questions bandied about in Nashville's food blogosphere is "Where is the best Chinese food?" The perennial answer — after "What Chinese food?" — is Golden Coast on West End, where the weekend buffet offers a rare glimpse of authentic Chinese cuisine, with hints of dim sum favorites such as pork buns and dumplings. But now there's a full-fledged dim sum option every weekend at the sprawling restaurant adjacent to K&S Market on Charlotte. With clattering carts laden with pork pastries, sesame balls, braised broccoli and rubbery chicken's feet, along with giant murals of smiling pandas and an elaborate fish pond in the center of the dining room, Lucky Bamboo offers a family-friendly spectacle and a delicious dining adventure. CARRINGTON FOX

BEST KOREAN: SEOUL GARDEN

We love the incredible soups at So Gong Dong Tofu House, and we're fans of Korea House too — but we give the slight edge to this Edmonson Pike eatery, whose date-worthy ambience and in-table grills make it our all-around fave. The galbi (marinated beef short rib) on the grill is fabulous, and the jap chae (sweet potato noodles with vegetables and beef) and bibimbap (vegetables, beef and fried egg over rice) are also highly recommended. Seoul Garden also serves Nashville's best banchan (assorted side dishes that accompany Korean meals). JACK SILVERMAN

BEST RESTAURANT REVIVAL: MERCHANTS

Like an aging grande dame in need of cosmetic assistance, Merchants Restaurant had seen its better days. Restored two decades ago from a dilapidated hotel into a fine dining location, Merchants had lost most of its luster in recent years. Luckily, Nashville wunderkind restaurateurs Max and Ben Goldberg (Patterson House, Paradise Park) saw the potential in the old girl and recognized the value of adding an upscale establishment to Lower Broad. After revitalizing the decor and the menu, the Goldbergs have created a snappy bistro atmosphere downstairs and an opulent white-tablecloth venue upstairs. If you haven't visited lately, all we need to say is: tater tots fried in duck fat! CHRIS CHAMBERLAIN

BEST RESTAURANT RELOCATION: SWETT'S

Leave it to the venerable North Nashville meat-and-three Swett's to remind Green Hills not to get too big for its britches. Sure, there are lots of new fancy-pants places to eat in Nashville's high-end retail enclave, but Southern fare was sorely missing from the equation. When the Farmers' Market branch of Swett's flooded, the restaurant saw the disaster as an opportunity to move uptown into the old Retired Teachers Building — and to bring a little down-home soul to Green Hills, just in case the new Nordstrom made folks think they were shopping in a more humid version of Fifth Avenue. J.R. LIND

BEST REASON TO GET OUT OF GREEN HILLS: RENT HIKES

Starting at the I-440 ramp onto Hillsboro Road on a Sunday afternoon, you're likely to encounter a string of traffic that crawls the two miles to the Mall. It's the place to be, whether you're a shopper or a shop. Alas, that synergy has been scooting rents (and menu prices) upward for years, even before building gentrification and the coming of Nordstrom's. Tonier surroundings and dearer real estate equaled the end for two reliable and inexpensive eateries this year: Baja Fresh and Chinese Kitchen. Add to the list La Paz, TCBY, Bistro 215 and Princeton's. Restaurants have been coming and going in Green Hills for decades, but it was usually the food quality or the management that was the problem, not the rent. Hey landlords: not everyone comes to Green Hills to buy a Louis Vuitton bag. Or its dinner equivalent. NICKI P. WOOD

BEST NEW EVENT: WOODBINE FARMERS' MARKET

The proliferation of farmers' markets throughout Middle Tennessee — and the increased savvy it shows on the part of chefs and consumers alike — has been one of the most encouraging developments in local food over the past decade. But Woodbine's newly organized Tuesday-afternoon market at Coleman Park proves that direct access to fresh, locally produced meats and vegetables is an underrated amenity — one that adds luster and a sense of community pride to a neighborhood, while attracting a gratifyingly diverse clientele. Plus we would gladly swim the backstroke open-mouthed through a lake of Primm Springs' basil lemonade. The market shuts down for the season with its fall fest Oct. 26. It'll be back. JIM RIDLEY

BEST NEW ITEM ON THE LOCAL SCENE: GHOST PEPPER

OK, so the fabled bhut jolokia is about as "new" to northeast India as Shiva the Destroyer. But when the University of New Mexico found the so-called "ghost chili" nearly doubled the heat-measuring Scoville units of the world's then-hottest pepper, in 2007, the infernal condiment loomed like a thermonuclear blast on pepper fanatics' radars. (For those of you keeping score: Red Savina habanero pepper, 580,000 Scovilles; bhut jolokia, a colon-searing 1,001,034.) Our search back then through the city's Indian groceries and specialty stores turned up none of the rare peppers in Nashville. Three years later, though, the joint is jumpin' with jolokia's cathartic burn and fruity undertaste — at Charlie Tambellini's Further Foods stand in the Nashville Farmers Market (see below), at Belcourt staffer Ben Smythe's Banjamin's Ghost Pepper "Elixer" booth at the Woodbine Farmers' Market, even dried at Whole Foods. Do they meet the hype? Imagine a Prince's extra-hot breast condensed to a speck of atomic fury — then pack about a thousand into a single pepper. JIM RIDLEY

BEST SPICES AND CONDIMENTS: FURTHER FOODS

Someone much more, uh, enlightened than we once called Further Foods' Charlie Tambellini "the Bodhisattva of Hot Sauce" and we'd have to agree — his limited edition horseradish was practically a religious experience. (You know, like scourging.) Better still is his super-spicy mango mustard, a quarter teaspoon of which will make your sandwich spontaneously combust like shrubbery on Mount Sinai. It doubles as a marinade for pork tenderloin and an inducement to Nirvana. And we'd be remiss if we didn't mention the blackberry barbecue sauce, which is essentially everything great about summer in one convenient bottle. SEAN L. MALONEY

BEST HOT SAUCE: JAMAICAWAY

We love mouth-scorching food, and the Caribbean cafeteria-style joint Jamaicaway has one of the hottest hot sauces we've ever had. After enthusing about their "spicy" jerk chicken, we were offered something from "back in the kitchen." Regardless of whether or not you like it hot, Jamaicaway has great food in the fun atmosphere of the Nashville Farmers' Market and the kind of homey service that makes you wish you were born in Kingston: those three ingredients make every meal great, no matter where you're from. But don't forget the hot sauce. JOE NOLAN

BEST INDIE-ROCK CONDIMENT: SAUSSARY

Full disclosure: I used to work in a kitchen with philosopher-chef Joey Kneiser, frontman for local rockers Glossary. So when I say that he's one of the best cooks I know, it's based on eating two meals a day, five days a week for a long time. When I heard he was bottling his own hot sauce and peddling it at shows supporting Glossary's barn–burner of a new album, Feral Fire, I needed both sleeves to wipe the drool. Kneiser is the unheralded Socrates of Southern cuisine, and all that thinking shines through in the Saussary. SEAN L. MALONEY

BEST CULINARY TREND: GROWING YOUR OWN FOOD

Sure, we're impressed by Capitol Grille Chef Tyler Brown's nomination for a James Beard award, but we really want to see him take home a 4H prize. Brown and the Capitol Grille boys are splitting their time between the kitchen and a fertile plot of land at historic Glen Leven mansion, where they harvest okra, tomatoes, squashes and greens to supply their luxe restaurant at the Hermitage Hotel. Meanwhile, across town, Seema Prasad and the team at Miel are cultivating a farm plot to source fresh vegetables for their French-inspired fare. At Ellendale's in Donelson, owner Julie Buhler harvests tomatoes, beets, cucumbers and squash for the Southern menu and an array of herbs for garden-fresh cocktails. And at The Farm House at Fontanel in Whites Creek, tomato vines and vegetable beds circle the sunny patio. More and more chefs are cooking with a pinch of dirt, and it tastes good. CARRINGTON FOX

BEST CULINARY EQUIVALENT OF KUDZU: FROZEN YOGURT

Although Nashville's maybe 20 years late to the FroYo party, now that we've finally got the taste for cold cultured milk, we've got it bad. You'd think that with Sweet CeCe's, Krave, Menchie's, Yogurt Oasis, Bravo Gelato and a myriad of other places to satisfy these cravings, the saturation point might have been reached. But no, lines continue out the front doors of Sweet CeCe's in Hillsboro Village as children of all ages pay by the pound to add Gummi Worms to their pint containers while parents nervously eye the scale. Brace yourself, Nashville — anticipation is reaching a fever pitch for the pending arrival of Pinkberry's Swirling Goodness. CHRIS CHAMBERLAIN

BEST LOCAL SWEET: DOZEN SWEET SHOP

Picking our favorite confection from Dozen is a Sisyphean task, as each bite of something new resets the task — but that's a rock we are more than willing to roll. Locally sourced and organic, their ingredients give extra snap to ginger cookies and extra mnemonic powers to madelines. Yet our hearts belong to their organic pecan squares, the very first thing we ate at the Nashville Farmers Market on the very first day of business after the flood. Back then, the shortbread crust and its caramel-pecan topping, made from Hatcher Family Dairy cream, local honey and Georgia pecans, combined quite literally into the taste of sweet relief. SEAN L. MALONEY

BEST CHOCOLATE CHIP COOKIE: PORTLAND BREW

When it comes to what makes for the best chocolate chip cookie, achieving consensus is like brokering peace on the West Bank. Some folks like 'em thick and chewy, others prefer thin and crisp — not to mention the land-mine topic of chip-to-dough ratio. For us, there's no interpretation more satisfying than the Portland Brew version, which leans to the wider, flatter side of the spectrum, and whose outer ring crunches while the center retains just a whisper of chewy heaven. Of course, the real secret is butter. What the recipe calls for times two, or maybe three. And then a little more. In fact, the Portland Brew cookie is typically (though not always) made with Plugrá European-style butter, brought to you by those devious folks at Keller's Creamery, who realized that normal butter wasn't buttery enough and thus added more butterfat. JACK SILVERMAN

BEST DOWNTOWN BAR: PAST PERFECT

When Shawn Courtney opened Past Perfect five years ago, he envisioned a neighborhood restaurant/bar like those in his beloved Chicago. He delivered. Courtney's gem combines quirkiness, cool and a vibe distinctively for downtown residents and workers. Smoke-free and perfectly lit, P-Perfect offers silent films, infused vodkas, quality vegetarian fare, a Wednesday trivia night courtesy of nationally known Geeks Who Drink, and recorded music (lots of hip jazz) played at a reasonable volume. Though it may be the flavored vodka talking when a Past Perfect patron likens this pleasant pub to a dear old friend, Shawn and his team deserve it nonetheless. WILLIAM WILLIAMS

BEST NEW NEIGHBORHOOD BAR: VILLAGE PUB & BEER GARDEN

For three years now, Riverside Village has provided a much-needed oasis of convenience and social mobility for Inglewoodians. Where once was but a strip of houses has sprouted a mecca of barbecue, sushi, pizza, coffee, thrift stores, a coffee shop — but until recently, one vital component of the urban experience was missing. That thirst was quenched this year with the opening of the roomy and casual Village Pub & Beer Garden. It boasts not only a healthy selection of brews and a menu of next-level pub fare, but it also has the ever-essential outdoor deck perfect for an afternoon beer with your neighbors. SETH GRAVES

BEST BLOODY MARY: 55 SOUTH

Sunday, Bloody Sunday, indeed. What do you get when you mix a glass of vodka with an all-you-can-eat salad bar? 55 South's build-your-own Bloody Mary buffet. If only every serve-yourself situation in the world were as bountiful as the assortment of condiments at chef Jason McConnell's boozy Sunday brunch, where pickled okra, cornichons, green beans, peppers, celery, capers, horseradish and more items line the table under the Gulf sign in downtown Franklin's homage to Southern road food. Order your vodka, add tomato juice, Worcestershire, Tabasco and olive juice, then cram in the fresh garnishes. Tack on a gnarled hunk of beef jerky as a sidecar, or use a Slim Jim for a swizzle stick. CARRINGTON FOX

BEST BAR FOOD: WHISKEY KITCHEN

Memo to the authorities at Child-Protection Services: When my child announced to his pre-K class that Whiskey Kitchen was his favorite restaurant, it's not what you think. Despite its boozy name, this tavern-chic gateway to the Gulch is not just about the hooch. A sister restaurant of Lime and Virago, Whiskey Kitchen delivers a roster of food that is creative, fresh and plentiful — from kid-friendly pizza and fish-and-chips to foodie-friendly fried green tomatoes with apple butter and sliders topped with peach-horseradish jam and honey-pecan goat cheese. CARRINGTON FOX

BEST GRAPE MONGER: HOYT HILL, VILLAGE WINES

Hidden behind the Pancake Pantry parking lot and nestled between a beer shop and a nail salon, Village Wines doesn't necessarily look like the most impressive wine store in town. But it's not the exterior that makes a fine juice shop, it's what's inside — and what's inside here is a spectacular selection of special occasion wines, affordable pool-pounders, limited availability boutique wines, and (most importantly) the voluminous brain of owner Hoyt Hill. Sign up for his email blasts and prepare to receive multiple missives daily that can serve as the Cliff's Notes for your growing wine library. He'll rarely steer you wrong, so go ahead and sign up for that unlimited bandwidth plan. CHRIS CHAMBERLAIN

BEST COFFEE: DREW'S BREWS

After electricity, a bustling metropolis's most essential ingredient is caffeine, so the proliferation of local coffee roasters in recent years is one of the surest signs of Nashville's arrival as a major cosmopolitan center. (Take away all the frozen yogurt and most folks won't bat an eye, but take away the caffeine and there'll be riots in the streets.) In the '90s, Bob Bernstein's Bongo Java Roasting Company was the only game in town, but now there's Portland Brew, also the maker of our pick for Best Chocolate Chip Cookie; the superb Roast, Inc., Nashville's only single cup brewer; the inspiring Humphreys Street Coffee Co., which has turned coffee roasting into a community outreach project; and the creator of my go-to cup, Drew's Brews. Proprietor Drew Park, who cut his teeth as a Bongo Java roaster, has won the hearts and minds of residents and restaurant owners with roasts like his exceptionally hearty Thick French, the earthy Gravel Springs, and the tangy Papua New Guinea. My fave? The chocolatey Lost Weekend, a coffee whose name, if you know the proprietor, surely has its roots in personal experience. Do tell, Drew. JACK SILVERMAN

BEST ICED COFFEE: DOSE

To say that we were raised drinking coffee is an understatement — the only way we could have started sooner was if Mom had lactated lattes. Over the years, as our caffeine habit has sunk deeper into the mouth of madness, we've dispensed with all that cream-and-sugar bullshit and will only allow one single additive into our cup o' joe: ice. When done correctly, so the cold sharpens rather than dilutes the flavor, iced coffee is probably the greatest drink in the history of humankind. When done poorly — hot coffee meets cold ice, producing instant dishwater — it is an abomination and an affront to all that's good and right in the world. Dose does it right. SEAN L. MALONEY

BEST COFFEE FOR A CAUSE: HUMPHREYS STREET COFFEE CO.

As if you needed another reason to grab your morning cuppa, consider this: Humphreys Street Coffee Co. provides an after-school mentoring program for young men in South Nashville, teaching them the fundamentals of business and inspiring them with the spirit of entrepreneurship. Located in a former church near the fairgrounds, Humphreys Street Coffee — a program of nonprofit Harvest Hands — now roasts beans for Dose Coffee & Tea on Murphy Road. Meanwhile, in the same building, young women produce WOW! soap, made with vegetable and essential oils, in shapes of flowers and insects. Soaps and coffee are both available at Harvest Hands, 424 Humphreys St. CARRINGTON FOX

BEST SEASONAL SURPRISE AT PRODUCE PLACE: NASHVILLE-GROWN CONCORD GRAPES

Every season, we make a point of strolling through Produce Place to see what locally grown surprise is awaiting. In the spring, you might be rewarded with pungent little green onions. Summer brings homegrown honeydews and figs from Nashville trees. We've even spotted white Kirby cucumbers. This fall, a basket of local rhubarb glowed with rosy charm. And when Lady Luck is in the house, we score fruit and vegetables offered with the name of the individual grower or neighborhood. This summer, it was pints of concord grapes grown right in town. Sweet, fragrant, perfectly ripe, with a dusty blue blush, they were a rare treat with a short season, and far too delicate to ship. Keep the goodies coming, Nashville growers — we really are watching. NICKI P. WOOD

BEST EGG NOODLES: SCHROCK FAMILY BAKERS

Egg noodles were a staple of mom-don't-wanna-cook-a-damn-thing nights during our childhood, so you'll have to excuse us if they've fallen out of our culinary purview for a while. Thank heaven for impulse buys, though — or more accurately, thank the flood-defying Amish family farmers and their booth at the Nashville Farmers Market — 'cause now we're all the way on board. (Another great thing about an Amish bakery: They won't make your life a living hell with Tweets.) Did you know that egg noodles were actually supposed to taste like egg and be, like, really flavorful and brilliantly colored and stuff? We had no idea. We always thought they were supposed to taste like dried paste. Sorry, Ma. SEAN L. MALONEY

BEST DAIRY INNOVATION: JD COUNTRY MILK'S DRINKABLE YOGURT

When we went to Europe almost a decade and a half ago, one of our favorite things was the culture — and by culture we mean the stuff that makes drinkable yogurt a possibility. When that brilliant beverage finally hit these shores, we were totally stoked ... until we tasted the sickly sweet stuff and felt like we were licking doll ass. So we were completely stoked when our favorite dairy providers were all like, "Hey, wanna try some drinkable yogurt?" Combine the smooth, sweet bacterial nectar with a fistful of JD's unrivaled homemade granola, and you've got a healthy breakfast fit for Odysseus the King. SEAN L. MALONEY

BEST FROMAGE-MAKING SUPPLIER: ALL SEASONS

Making your own cheese is not that difficult, people. Humans have been doing it for almost 9,000 years — most of that time, they didn't even have science! Because there's no mozzarella quite like your own mozzarella, the fine folks at All Seasons can set you up with everything you need to curdle cow juice correctly — coagulants, cultures, cheesecloth. The only other thing you need is milk. No word on how you put those little orange squares into those tiny plastic sleeves, but we'd love to see you try. SEAN L. MALONEY

BEST NEWS FOR CHEESE LOVERS: THE BLOOMY RIND

Between the stores (including Corrieri's and the counter at Whole Foods) and the suppliers (including Noble Springs Dairy's astoundingly rich, creamy goat cheese and Kenny's Farmhouse Cheese), these are good times for Nashvillians to put the forage in fromage. But Kathleen Cotter's cheese stand is something slightly different: it's almost more of a curated boutique, offering regional selections from the likes of East Tennessee's Blackberry Farm and the Chapel Hill Creamery. Her willingness to look beyond the state line has gotten her in hot water with some area farmers' markets, but for customers, the compensation is access to wonders such as Utah-based Beehive Cheese Co.'s Barely Buzzed — a tangy cheese hand-rubbed with a mixture of ground coffee and lavender buds for an incongruously caramelly how'd-they-do-it taste. Follow her on Facebook to find out where her mobile stand will be, and watch for a small selection of Bloomy Rind cheeses at Provence. JIM RIDLEY

BEST PLACE TO GET ICED: IZZIE'S ICE

If you don't already know what "bros icing bros" is, please don't look it up — you don't want to know. Trust us. Instead, rejoice that East Nashville's newest mobile vendor has gotten busy dishing out seriously delicious Italian ice — flavored not with corny syrups but with real, natural, fresh ingredients (pulp, zest and all). Now serving up Hebrew National hot dogs and other savory fare alongside their all-natural sweets, Izzie's has made the corner of Rosebank and Riverside that much more enticing. (We're sad to hear they've closed that location for the season, though they do still have a mobile cart that travels to events and farmers markets around town). Izzie's makes getting iced the best part of any day. STEVE HARUCH

BEST LUNCH SPECIALS: FIDO

I'm sure many of the folks jamming the venerable coffeehouse Fido during the day are too focused on slaking their caffeine jones to notice the giant chalkboard full of specials on the wall. It's their loss. Chef John Stephenson supplements the familiar Fido menu with some amazing creations — daily specials crafted with the best local, seasonal produce and meats he can find. It's generally six specials, half of them vegetarian, and all of them memorable. This summer brought a dazzler: a sandwich filled with Benton's bacon, a roasted peach, toasted pecan butter and heirloom tomato. It was $8, including a side (salad, homemade soup, sweet potato fries or chips). That kind of deal is as addictive as ... well, coffee. DANA KOPP FRANKLIN

BEST PRIX FIXE DEAL: TIN ANGEL

The term "prix fixe" is confusing, but the idea's golden: A restaurant offers a set menu of multiple courses for a fixed price. It's the basis of the semiannual blast here called Restaurant Week, but one longstanding Nashville eatery offers a terrific prix-fixe three nights a week. Tin Angel lures diners Tuesday through Thursday with a fun, fanciful three-course dinner. Head chef Donald Main and pastry chef Renee Kasman try something new each week, and their whims are more than worthwhile. A gem from June: gorgeous seafood-studded bouillabaisse preceded by a salad of local greens and fried Camembert with lentil vinaigrette. For dessert? Milk chocolate pot de crème (aka chocolate pudding). At $24, it really made my Wednesday. Hell, it made my week. DANA KOPP FRANKLIN

BEST LATE-NIGHT LIQUOR SOP: THE VILLAGER TAVERN

Alcohol can start a lot of problems. A good sandwich can fix many of them. Fortunately, late-night sandwich emergencies can be handled with grace and crunchy onions, thanks to The Villager Tavern, whose po'boys (turkey or roast beef) can fix whatever may be bothering you. I prefer turkey, but sandwiches have always been a good demonstration of democracy in action. Cigarette smoke and boisterousness are part of the process, but they are balanced out by hearty loaves and pickles with just the right amount of spice to counteract whatever havoc the evening's drinking has wrought. Cheap is a statement of price, not an evaluation of quality. CATHERINE WolfF

BEST UNSUNG BRUNCH: THE GARDEN

The secret heart of Germantown in the early afternoon is this cozy Jefferson Street eatery, reassuring in both menu and decor. Mimosas by the pitcher, a friendly, jazzy vibe, and pancakes of such exquisite quality that you will find yourself, during the week, longing for them while stuck with whatever on-the-go weekday breakfast substitute is closest at hand. Their freshly squeezed juices and quality hot sauce (drizzled on their flaky, full potatoes) are a perfect balance of flavors, and their summer peach pancake plate is like breakfast and dessert decided to have a party and invited you along. I would never disparage Marché, which is still a magnificent jewel on its own, but sometimes East Nashville is just too far to go, and Germantown beckons with arms opened and with heated, magical griddle. CATHERINE WOlfF

The Sweetest Thing

MITCHELL DELI / BENTON'S BACON

Big Fella

Big Fella hosts the popular underground cooking show The Hustlin Gourmet, available on YouTube and broadcast locally on iQ TV 10.

The guys from The Fray turned me on to that damn Benton's Bacon...I was ready to head to East Tennessee! Then one day this producer took me to lunch at Mitchell Deli for the first time and there it was ... Benton's Bacon! That was the beginning of a beautiful relationship. I go in there some mornings and just order strips of bacon. I have been in there at 9 a.m. and it smells like a damn barbecue — it used to kind of confuse me, but it's the bacon! I'm like, what? Bacon that smells like a full-blown barbecue when you cook it? I'm in love with it!

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