Nashville, Tennessee: the home of country’s hottest stars and my very best friend in the whole wide world. I spent Labor Day weekend south of the Mason Dixon, sipping on ‘shine and cheap beers, listening to up-and-coming musicians in hole-in-the-wall dive bars, eating an exorbitant amount of incredible food, and soaking in the best thing about Nashville: quality time with the people I love. Everyone is beautiful, kind and welcoming, and the sun shines hot. But the food – my goodness, the food – is what will keep me coming back to Nashville, even if my best friend isn’t there anymore.
Our first restaurant in town was Sky Blue Cafe, a quaint little place in East Nashville. We enjoyed a late brunch with Nate, a friend of ours from Pittsburgh, laughing at the verbiage of the 80s trivia questions that rested calmly on our table. We ordered mimosas that came with pulpy, fresh-squeezed orange juice, and Nate opted for a heavy-on-the-horseradish Bloody Mary. I had decided on the Eggs Benedict, a classic breakfast dish that I had been craving for days, until the server buttered me up to the idea of their Crabcake Eggs Benedict. Sold. In fact, all three of us were sold, and soon enough, three identical steaming plates were placed in front of us. Scoot over, Trivial Pursuit. The table fell silent as we each shoveled heaping forkfuls of English muffin, seasoned crab cake, poached egg, and creamy Hollandaise sauce into our mouths. We left feeling fat and sassy. (Shout out to you on that one, Memaw.)
Fast forward a few hours later, and we stepped inside the door of Jeni’s Splendid Ice Cream. We had been craving something creamy and cool, and when Autumn mentioned that they were known for their weird flavors, I readily agreed. Boy, was she right. Offerings like Bangkok Peanut, Brambleberry Crisp and Saison with Sunflower Seeds and Golden Flax made me drool. Never in my new-to-food-loving wildest dreams could these combinations exist, let alone in a scoop of ice cream. I was awestruck. I finally – and after some serious debate – decided on a scoop of Brown Butter Almond Brittle ice cream and a scoop of Sweet Cream Biscuit and Peach Jam ice cream. And each of those scoops tasted exactly how you would imagine they would, if you can possibly imagine it. The farm fresh cream comes from grass-fed cows in Ohio, and then each unique ingredient is perfectly layered in, leaving you with a truly creative dessert. (Note: Jeni’s ice cream is sold in select Whole Foods. You’re welcome.)
The next day for lunch, I decided – thanks to Autumn’s recommendation – to check out Edley’s Bar-B-Que. From floor to ceiling, this restaurant evoked a homey, woodsy feel. The tables each had unique imperfections, and the walls were rough to the touch, as if I’d have to dig out a deep splinter if I moved by them the wrong way. (Not to mention, the typeface throughout Edley’s is on point.) We waited in line to place our order at the single, open kitchen. I went for the wholesome southern brisket sandwich with collard greens and potato salad. We walked to an empty table by the bar, placed a plastic 25 identifier high on the table and grabbed a drink menu. Soon enough, I was salivating over my plate with a Southern ‘Shine Cider in my hand. My greens were warm and spicy, and the potato salad was cool and creamy. The juices from my brisket mixed with the red barbecue sauce and ran down my arm, pooling on a napkin under my elbow. I could barely come up for breath. This was – by far – my favorite meal of the whole weekend. Instant food coma.
Fast forward another 24 hours, and I’m are sweaty from the thick, southern heat, seated across from Nate and his girlfriend at a little joint in Midtown called The Row. We wandered in searching for breakfast, but given that it was almost noon, we settled for lunch fare instead. I whet my raging appetites with an order of hot, fresh biscuits, served with homemade strawberry, tomato and blackberry jam, while they opted for fried green tomatoes, pimento cheese and some down home Tennessee chow chow. (I’ll be honest, none of us knew what chow chow was. I had to Google it. Answer: relish.) We dug in, stuffing our empty stomaches, and didn’t give it a second thought until our main courses were placed in front of us. I ordered a simple turkey and avocado sandwich and side of cheddar grits. I took a bite or two of my sandwich, already full from my biscuits, and left it behind to nibble on the salty, creamy, grainy grits.
Fast forward three days, and here I am, sitting on my couch in Pittsburgh, with a pint of Jeni’s Splendid Ice Cream in my hands. The taste of goat cheese and cherries reminds me of the time just a few days ago, a cool dessert on my tongue, my best friend next to me, when I was grinning ear-to-ear, happy as a clam, my heart bursting with love. I know I say it all the time, but the moments I remember the most in life revolve around friends and food, and there’s really nothing better.