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GOURMET HIGHWAY: Hot Chicken and Nashville Cats

By Doc Lawrence –

Jimmy Kelley’s Steakhouse

Housed in a glorious Southern mansion in the heart of Music City as Nashville is often called, Jimmy Kelly’s landmark restaurant works hard at becoming the standard by which American steakhouses are measured.

Founded in 1934 while the country was in the throes of the Great Depression and just one year removed from the repeal of prohibition, founder and namesake Jimmy Kelly made a promise, according to old newspaper accounts, that he would serve a great steak, a generous portion of whiskey (think Jack Daniel’s served over chunk ice) with generous portions of cheer. Fast forward 80 years later to drinks and dinner there on an early spring evening confirmed that the restaurant operated by the third generation of Kelly’s deserves its reputation as one of the grand dining destinations in Tennessee’s capital city.

Reba McEntire’s Starstruck Studio on Music Row

Nashville is a very cool Southern city that claims a large swath of American business and cultural heritage. The recording industry is also the centerpiece of historic preservation and downtown revitalization. Mush of this is chronicled in the spectacular exhibitions at the Country Music Hall of Fame. Wonderful bars dot the downtown landscape, a pedestrian paradise. Visitors stroll around recoding studios on fabled Music Row where a young Elvis Presley recorded over 200 songs. The beautiful Starstruck Studio owned by County Music and Broadway superstar Reba McEntire is a visual wonder.

Walking around town can make you thirsty, justifying a stop in Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge for something cold and refreshing. A short distance away is the Tennessee Fox Trot Carousel, a construction by famed artist and native son Red Grooms who carved the faces of Hank Williams, Patsy Cline, Elvis and others on the horses. Not surprising, it’s a magnet for selfies.

Southerners place in importance food alongside music and when the appetite beckons, downtown Nashville is the place to be. Southern gourmet is juxtaposed with Music City’s tasty and healthier alternative to fast food: hot chicken, which has become a hugely popular item.

Nashville Hot Chicken is a local staple.

 

Hot chicken is everywhere. The staple is not a transplant from south of the border, it’s “much like the music,” says legendary Nashville promoter Reggie Churchwell. “Like Jack Daniel’s, hot chicken belongs to Tennessee. Enjoy it and you’ll be a healthier person.” Mattie B’s is a downtown hot chicken institution, friendly and efficient with entrees noted for sweeter heat. Translated this means, according to Churchwell, “delicious with less cayenne.” The Farm House, also near Music Row, bakes its version of hot chicken and justly earns praise for a signature dish.

The road to Nashville’s best barbecue leads to Martin’s Bar-B-Que Joint. Pitmaster Pat Martin’s acclaimed restaurant is a highly regarded stop for barbecue aficionados. Martin, who has garnered more accolades than many celebrity chefs has appeared on Food Network and the Travel Channel, and topped off his fast-rising ascension to national fame with a New York experience preparing and serving his whole hog barbecue dishes at the James Beard House last year. While dining at Martin’s, be prepared to spot some big name recording stars.

Romantic dining in Nashville

In between meals and cocktails, a visit to the Country Music Hall of Fame is de rigueur particularly with the opening recently of the blockbuster Dylan, Cash, and the Nashville Cats: A New Music City. Already attracting national stories in media like The New York Times, the exhibition memorializes Bob Dylan’s decision to record in Nashville in 1966 which provided a major catalyst for bringing many others like Leonard Cohen, Neil Young, Ringo Starr, Eric Clapton, Simon & Garfunkel, Kris Kristofferson and countless others, all forged together through Johnny Cash’s hit weekly TV show on ABC from the Ryman Auditorium.

According to the exhibit curator and the collective opinion of many music observers, this coming together was a cultural transformation, a fusion of Country, Rock, Pop, Jazz and orchestra music into what became “The Nashville Sound.”

Nashville is a boomtown that has maintained its heritage of music, food and Tennessee whiskey. A few days here can actually make a visitor hope to become one of those Nashville Cats.

F&M

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