Every year I go away for my birthday. My thought process is pretty much ‘if it doesn’t happen in the UK, it doesn’t happen’. Hence I’m a lot younger than I ‘technically’ am, and that’s just the way I like it!
This year I was struggling to come up with a place to go and who to go with. I have managed to ‘drag’ my friends out of the country for my birthday in the past but that’s getting harder now that everyone seems to have babies. However, by an amazing stroke of luck I was out for dinner at Ducksoup with my foodie soulmate and partner in crime Cassie about 6 weeks before my birthday and without even mentioning my dilemma, she told me that she was off to do a road-trip to the States in June. Now, Cassie and I have been trying to plan a road-trip together for years now, but our time off work never coincided. I asked her what week she was going and it turned out to be the same week I’d booked off for my birthday. Result! I slapped by hands down on the table and told her I was coming with her. Cue over-excited shrieking and a quick check for flight prices on our phones. We were off to Nashville, Memphis, Clarksdale, New Orleans and Athens, Georgia.
A few weeks later Cassie and I met up at Heathrow, bound for Atlanta where we hired a car and drove to Nashville. Ridiculously excited to be in ‘real America’, we stopped off at a Waffle House at about 1am our time (having had about 4 hours sleep in the last 24). I ordered a large portion of hash browns with cheese, which turned out to be a plate-sized hash brown with one cheese slice. Still, it tasted amazing.
We arrived at our Airbnb in 12 South, Nashville and promptly passed out. Waking up the next morning, we knew exactly where we were going to go for breakfast…Crema. Cassie knows Crema well as she has spent a fair amount of time in Nashville. Also, as fans of the programme Nashville, Crema has been referenced a few times on the show, along with the phrase ‘best coffee in Nashville’. Arriving before opening time, a queue was already forming, so we sat outside in the blazing heat, eagerly planning our day. By the time the door opened there were a lot of people ready for their coffee fix. Clearly we’d picked the best place for our Sunday morning coffee.
Waiting to order, we read their impressive coffee menu, unable to decide what to order. Meanwhile, we watched as the cool, tattooed staff were diligently and lovingly making coffees, it was quite something to behold.
Cassie ordered a Cuban latte (with condensed milk) while I ordered a cortado. We also ordered a pain au chocolate and the prettiest doughnut we’d ever seen.
We grabbed a table outside (I am like a sunflower…I follow the sun wherever it goes), not yet realising we were about to experience one of the best doughnuts we have ever had. This was a brioche doughnut with elderflower and vanilla custard. Biting into it was like biting into a cloud…a soft, pillowy, creamy, sweet, glorious cloud.
Eyes widened, we moaned and grinned from ear to ear. I’ve not yet found anything better than sex, but I’m pretty sure this is it. The pain au chocolat, although lovely, paled into insignificance. The doughnut sadly disappeared all too quickly. At that point, Cassie’s friend Grace joined us. We fell over ourselves telling her how amazing our doughnut had been, so we ordered two more. Heaven. What a way to start a holiday!
We left and wandered around 12 South, popping into Las Paletas, a shop that just sells popsicles. You might wonder how a shop can just sell popsicles but these were no ordinary popsicles, these are fabulous popsicles. Cassie ordered her favourite…the avocado one, whilst I opted for a butter pecan one, then we sat on the porch in the heat, savouring our icy cold treats and watching the world go by.
It was soon time for brunch, so we headed back Downtown to Pinewood Social. I absolutely loved this place. They sell it as a ‘social gathering place that can accommodate your needs morning, noon and night’. Essentially, it’s a restaurant that serves breakfast, lunch, dinner and late night food, as well as a coffee shop. It also has a huge bar in the middle, a bowling alley at the back, a karaoke spot and a pool club! Yes, really! As you walk in you are met by a bevvy of beauties behind a reception desk. One of those tall, slim, beautiful, stylish beauties showed us to our table. We walked past a Crema coffee bar to the left, a huge table full of people playing on their Air Macs, a large bar in the centre and then to our booth at the far end of the room near the bowling alley.
Our super-friendly and very attractive waiter introduced himself, asked if we’d dined there before then went on to explain the menu, asking if we would like to start with some drinks, hinting that their bloody mary’s were well worth trying. Three bloody mary’s were ordered and then we started to pour over the brunch menu.
One thing I have learnt about Americans…they really know how to do brunch well. You can get a damn good brunch in London and I’m sure around the rest of the UK but my God, they’re not a patch on the brunch menus I see in America. Its enough to make you want to live there. To that end, it took a while to decide what to order as I wanted everything. Eventually I opted for the lobster roll with lemon, celery and celery salt. The ‘roll’ part was actually thick, soft, sweet, rich toasted brioche. The lobster was sweet, meaty and juicy in a creamy sauce, but lightened with the lemon and celery. It was bloody delicious.
We also got a portion of fried green tomatoes for the table which came with pickle brined, buttermilk dill yoghurt. These were additive, almost obsessively good. I am Glaswegian and therefore adore anything fried and these really hit the spot. It was actually quite hard for the three of us to share these, we could probably have had more, but we had a lot more eating to do that day!
Grace had also ordered a portion of fried broccoli cooked with lemon zest and sea salt with almond garlic dipping sauce. Again…absolutely incredible. So simple and yet so bleedin tasty. I didn’t get a good photo of this but if you ever do find yourself in Pinewood Social, please order them.
Leaning back in our seats and rubbing our newly enlarged tummies, we all said we needed to take a break from eating as we knew we were having a big meal later. Then of course the table next to us suddenly received their desserts, making us all sit up…huge mason jars of Nutella mousse with whipped cream and honeycomb! We vowed to return, even if just for one of those desserts.
We drove to the 5 Points area of East Nashville for a wander around the shops then went back to our place for a power nap before going out for the night. Ending up back in 5 Points, we headed to the hottest new restaurant in town…Little Octopus. It had only been open a week when we got there and we had been told it was fantastic.
Little Octopus and its Executive Chef Daniel Herget promise a menu that ‘celebrates wholesome, clean, and fresh food that people can feel good about eating every day’. What was lovely about this was the emphasis on gluten-free, vegan and pescatarian options. One slight worry of mine before I got to Nashville was that I wouldn’t have many healthy or pescatarian options to choose from. At this point, I hadn’t eaten any meat for six months. When I say meat, I mean chicken, beef, lamb, pork etc, I was still eating fish. However I was pleasantly surprised by the variety of meat-free and healthy options in Nashville.
The restaurant is on the second level of a multipurpose building. Inside it is large and airy with white-washed walls and pale wooden tables and chairs, high-top tables and stools. Looking through to the back we saw a bar and patio area.
We sat down and poured over the menu which is divided into Raw, Cold, Hot and Plates. We wanted to eat everything so it took us a while to decide. In the meantime our super-cool waitress introduced herself and asked us if we would like some drinks. Asking her for a little more information on what the cocktails were like she hesitated, smiled and shrugged her shoulders and said she really couldn’t remember. She was in her 11th hour of working and had been waiting tables at a drag queen brunch that day. We loved her immediately.
We ordered three cocktails then pondered over the food for a bit longer. In the end we ordered a little bit of everything. As we were listing the dishes we wanted to eat to our waitress we said, “We’re ordering quite a lot aren’t we?” She just shrugged her shoulders and said in her Southern drawl: “I don’t care” Fair enough!
Our dishes came to the table as and when they were ready and we ate so fast I didn’t get photographs of everything. In the grid of photos below are…tomatoes with feta, tarragon and shallot vinaigrette | burrata with kaffir lime and pickled peaches | scallops on honeyed lentils with kimchi | gazpacho with almonds, roasted grapes and date oil | charred aubergine dip.
Two things really stood out for us…the burrata with kaffir lime and pickled peaches was a revelation. It was like a party in my mouth. Absolutely beautiful. The other dish that stood out was the scallops on honeyed lentils with kimchi. I just don’t ‘get’ why people like lentils normally but these ones were absolutely delicious. Cass and I vowed to remember the recipe and make them as soon as we got back to London but of course, we haven’t. Saying that, I’ve made burrata with peaches many, many times since I’ve been back.
Just as we were starting to Google who the chef was, the man himself walked through the kitchen doors, working his way around the tables in the restaurant. He introduced himself, we quizzed him about his menu and he went into great detail explaining his influences and techniques, clearly incredibly passionate about what he does.
Our hilarious waitress stopped off to say “goodbye y’all” after her shift ended. The poor girl was clearly exhausted but it was lovely that she took the time to say goodbye and wish us safe travels on our ‘vacation’.
The next morning, Cass and I headed back to 5 Points for breakfast at coffee specialists Barista Parlor. I could go into detail about this place but this post is already way too long. If you would like to read more about it, you can here.
We were served by the super-smiley Josh who was delighted to be serving two Brits. He immediately informed us that he watches BBC Worldwide (something a lot of Americans are eager to share with us Brits) and had been following the General Election very closely. I reckon if he’d had a chance, he would have pulled up a chair and joined us for breakfast! Cass knew exactly what she was going for…biscuits and gravy. If you haven’t eaten in the States before, this is not at all what you think it would be. Its essentially savoury scones in a creamy sausage sauce. Its not something I would order personally, although it did taste good, its just not breakfast. I went for the waffles with peaches and maple syrup.
I must say, these were the best waffles I’ve ever tasted. Soft and fluffy, and perfect with the ripe, sweet peaches. As we ate, Josh came over to ask more about where we were from. Turns out he had been to Edinburgh on a Make Poverty History march, plus he informed us that he is a singer and on iTunes. Then he passed us a post-it with his details! These American waiters sure are friendly!
After we left Barista Parlor, we ventured into some of its neighbouring shops, dropping a small fortune while we were at it. But my God, we came out with some great stuff…vintage playsuits, hats, bags, t-shirts, dresses, skirts…we had to drag ourselves away before we maxed out our credit cards.
All that shopping worked up quite an appetite so we drove to Inglewood to check out Mitchell’s Deli which Cassie had seen on Diners Drive-Ins & Dives. It was pretty hard to decide what to order as they all sounded so good. I could have happily had a bite of each one.
Annoyingly, as I hadn’t had meat for 6 months, I didn’t really want to dive into a meat sandwich so I opted for the Grilled Veggie one. Cass went for the Asian Flank which had featured on DD&D. With some smoked onion jam on the side, we sat in the sun devouring our sandwiches…and they were amazing. I did have a couple of bites of Cassies flank steak sandwich as there was no way I was going all the way there and not trying it. And my God I’m glad I did. The meat was so succulent, so full of flavour, and the onion jam was a wonderful accompaniment.
Oh and incidentally there was a fab record shop just across the road…
That night we headed to Broadway for some Honky Tonking and then to the ‘Monday Night Dance Party’ at the 5 Spot.
I’m pretty sure we danced off nearly everything we’d eaten in Nashville that night, and we were ready for more food the next morning, which also happened to be my birthday.
Of course, where better for a birthday breakfast than back to Crema. Hungover and about to drive to Memphis, we needed something healthy to kick the day off. We did enquire about the amazing doughnuts we’d had a couple of days earlier but alas, they’re only available at the weekends, so if you ever find yourself in Nashville, don’t assume you can get them every day. (Check out the amazing Utterly who makes them, especially her Instagram which constantly makes my tummy rumble)
I ended up getting the sourdough toast topped with ricotta, avocado, honey and microherbs, whilst Cassie had toasted almond and vanilla granola with berries, banana, yoghurt and pumpkin seeds. She also ordered the most delicious iced latte made with almond and coconut milk. No matter where we go, Cassie always seems to order better than me, I don’t know why I never learn!
Sitting in the sun, drinking our coffee and enjoying our healthy breakfasts, we laughed as we tried to piece together our night of Honky Tonking and Motown madness. We desperately wanted to stay in Nashville but we knew we had a whole lot of fun waiting for us on the next leg of our journey so we bid farewell to our beloved coffee shop, promising to return for more coffee and doughnuts just as soon as we could save up the money, then jumped in the car and headed for Memphis…
…to be continued.
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