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Chef Garrett Pittler Shares His Favorite Food Experiences in Nashville, Tennessee

Welcome to EAT THIS CITY, your tour of the best restaurants in one of our favorite cities, as chosen by a world-class chef, celebrity, or local hero.

This week, we return to Nashville, Tennessee, a city we haven’t eaten our way through since January of 2016, when Maneet Chauhan was nice enough to give us a glimpse into the local food culture. Nearly two years later, we return to the city under the guidance of Garrett Pittler, one of our favorite (and most irreverent) contributors to Chefs Tell Us. Nashville has traditionally been known as a music destination, but has recently asserted itself as a culinary force. In fact, Conde Nast Traveler said “There’s enough going on food-wise to warrant a trip solely for eating.” If anyone can point us in the direction of good eats, it’s Chef Pittler, the executive chef of Nashville City Winery.

A graduate of the Baltimore International College of Culinary Arts, and a former chef tournant for the Omni Nashville Hotel, Pittler knows flavors and he knows Nashville. He has worked with City Winery Nashville to update the restaurant’s menu to showcase the urban winery’s goods, which won Wine Spectator’s 2017 Award of Excellence. In fact, he’s done such a good job that the restaurant is a 2017 recipient of TripExpert’s Expert’s Choice Award — which takes into account reviews from newspapers, magazines, and travel guides. And, one look at the cuisine makes the reasons for the high rankings clear.

Interested in learning about the best places in the city to dine? Strap in and get ready for the blunt truth. Chef Pittler doesn’t deliver it any other way.

Pizza

Bella Napoli Pizzeria

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Circle of life 🍴#nashvilleeats @nashvillemade

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My favorite place for pizza in Nashville is Bella Napoli Pizzeria in Edgehill Village, and it’s one of my favorite places to eat in Nashville in general. It’s owned by a great guy named Paolo who’s from a small town just north of Naples, Italy—and who’s also a good family friend—and they make the best traditional Neapolitan-style pizza. The pizza is cooked in a wood-fire oven and, in the traditional Neapolitan-style, they’re not going to cut your pizza for you. A pizza should come out with just one fork and one knife because traditionally a pizza is for one person. That’s the way you eat a pizza. And Bella Napoli’s pizza is the best.

Tacos

La Mulita Express

I’ve talked about this place a lot before, but there’s this tiny Mexican food truck off Lebanon Pike in Hermitage, Tennessee, called La Mulita Express, and they make the best tacos in the city. You have to understand this love for La Mulita Express that my family has for it. We crave their burritos and tacos. Then what’s even better about it is there’s a Mexican grocery store right next door so you can go in and get a Pineapple Fanta in a glass bottle and Mexican candy to go with your food. It’s the whole package and it’s awesome.

Asian

Thai Phooket

Whether we’re talking Chinese, Japanese, Vietnamese, Thai…the best place for Asian food in Nashville hands down is Thai Phooket. It’s open for lunch and dinner and there are a couple of locations now around town, and it’s a staple in my opinion. My favorite things to order are the drunken noodles and their pad Thai, but honestly it is all amazing. And here’s a secret—it’s also one of the greatest cheap places to eat in the city. You can walk in with 20 bucks and walk out absolutely stuffed and that, in my mind, is what makes a great restaurant.

Street Food

Hot Diggity Dogs

Really, Nashville doesn’t have a lot of street food options in general, but there’s this hot dog stand that I love across the street from City Winery Nashville, where I work, called Hot Diggity Dogs. They have everything from Chicago, Boston and New York-style dogs to their own inventions, and they have all types of meats—Italian beef, Bratwurst, Italian chicken sausage— but they have this Italian beef dog that’s my favorite. It comes with Italian beef, sweet peppers, grilled onions and hot peppers, and the bun is dipped in jus. Their French fries are the thicker kind and always crispy. That’s a selling point—the fries need to be crispy.

My order is a New York-style dog with Italian beef, a large order of fries and a Root Beer.

Sweet Food

The Loving Pie Company

You know what I’ve really fallen in love with recently? The Loving Pie Company out in Berry Hill. And who goes out for pies? Me. I’ve started going out for pies. It’s because these pies are amazing—they do slices, mini pies and whole pies, and their menu runs the gamut from savory pies like chicken pot pie, shepherd’s pie and mac & cheese pie to all sorts of sweet pies. Everything they do is good, but they have a coffee chess pie that’s just phenomenal. That’s the one that I keep coming back for.

Fine Dining

Giovanni Ristorante

What is fine dining anymore? Where can you go anymore where you’re required to wear a tie? If I had to choose, I really like Giovanni’s in Nashville (if that’s even considered fine dining). Giovanni’s is a local spot, and it’s what I think about when I think about a fine dining Italian restaurant. It fits that mold perfectly. They do the things that traditional fine dining did for years: they have the maître d, the table service and all the things that make me think of fine dining. And the food, classic, upscale Italian food, is delicious. I also had a really nice date there one night with my wife and it’s stuck out in my mind ever since.

Casual Dining

Tennessee Brew Works

A great, casual spot to get a good local beer and kick-ass food in Nashville is Tennessee Brew Works, which is around the corner from City Winery Nashville. It’s a local brewery with a full kitchen, so it’s basically your all-in-one spot. Jay Mitchell does a fantastic job with the food menu and their Cutaway IPA is one of my favorite beers in town. On the food end, I’d recommend ordering the PBLT. It’s pork belly, lettuce, tomato and red aioli and it’s awesome. The Nashville Hot Frog Legs that are on the menu are also great, and that’s coming from someone who doesn’t even like frog legs.

Vegetarian

Wild Cow Vegetarian Restaurant

I ate at The Wild Cow Vegetarian Restaurant in Nashville one time on accident. I was meeting some buddies for lunch in East Nashville and they suggested the Wild Cow, and I got excited because I thought they specialized in local beef or had an all-burger menu because of the name, but I soon discovered it was the total opposite of that. Instead they specialize in vegan, vegetarian and gluten-free food. I ended up getting this bean burger though that had lettuce, tomato, onions and pickles, and as far as veggie burgers go, it was pretty good!

Brunch

Kitchen Notes

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again — One of the best places to get brunch, in Nashville and in any city, is Kitchen Notes because they still do what brunch used to be and what brunch still should be. I don’t want an a la carte menu; I want an old school brunch with breakfast and a selection of hot entrée items. I want to be able to eat an omelet and a prime rib. Off a buffet.

David Harker has done a great job of doing the traditional Southern brunch with a lot of great options. I wish more people did that.

Iconic Food of the City

Peg Leg Porker/Hattie B’s

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We’re in Nashville so you’ve got barbecue and you’ve got hot chicken. Nashville’s thing with barbecue is pulled pork, and I like Carey Bringle’s pulled pork at Peg Leg Porker. As for hot chicken, I’m a huge fan of the chicken at Hattie B’s and I order the shut-the-cluck-up; and then I tell everyone to go cluck themselves. I love hot chicken and I like lots of pickles with it. The trick to eating hot chicken is to pace yourself—you’re in it for the long haul. And make sure you have access to good toilet paper. I personally prefer two-ply (Quilted Northern has a good one).

Guilty Pleasure

Captain D’s

Captain D’s fried fish. End of story. Why? Because it’s delicious. I just love deep-fried, battered fish, and it has to be cod. I can say all sorts of crazy things about what I prepare in the kitchen or what I like to eat and nobody will say anything about it, but the second I bring up going out to get Captain D’s fried fish, people look at me like I’m crazy. And I’ve got to tell you: I’m not the only one!

Obviously, people like it because they’re still in business all over, but nobody likes to talk about it.

Hangover Food

Gabby’s Burgers and Fries

I go for Gabby’s Burgers and Fries because there’s nothing better than their burgers and fries when you’re hungover. You might think it’s just a dive bar, but they use Gourmet Pastures grass-fed beef, which I love and is something that sets them apart. When I go to Gabby’s, I like to get the Gabby Burger—two burger patties with American cheese, on both patties, and then freaking everything else you’d ever want on there. They just pile it up. Their fries are pretty damn good, too. They’re salty and crispy, but always soft in the middle. And if you’re really hungover, they have shakes made the old way.

Thank you Chef Pittler, for taking us on a culinary tour of Nashville!

Stay tuned for more EAT THIS CITY — where each week we’ll feature a premier chef in a different city sharing their insider eating tips! Missed a week? Check out Raleigh, San Diego, Cambridge, Hoboken, Hollywood, Return to Miami, Las Vegas, Manhattan, Oakland, Paris, Portland, Tampa, Durham, Toronto, Baltimore, Monterey, Vail, Lexington, Bentonville, San Antonio, Warsaw, Kansas City, NYC, Washington DC, New Orleans, Cleveland, Miami, Seattle, Las Vegas, San Francisco, Sydney, Portland, Chicago, Austin, Los Angeles, Brooklyn, New Orleans,Providence, Memphis, Orange County, Boston, and Detroit.

See you next week!

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