July 24, 2024


Cooking Is My World

Why West Nashville is a Culinary Mecca

A decade ago, the neighborhoods around West Meade, Belle Meade, Sylvan Park and Green Hills could be accurately described as a bit of a dining desert, with few high-end restaurant options for a special night out. The mostly residential areas didn’t possess the population density to warrant opening a lot of fine dining establishments, and there weren’t as many retail properties to locate a restaurant in back then before buildings started to be built up with residential apartments and condos in the floors above new potential commercial spaces.

It wasn’t all bad news for hungry West Nashvillians, though. A few stalwart restaurants have been serving great food for more than a decade, but “date night” usually meant a trip to someplace in the urban core or an adventurous trip across the Cumberland to the exotic wilds of East Nashville.

My, how times have changed as now the West Side is home to some of the most exciting dining developments in town. As the demographics of the residents have skewed younger and the property densities have increased, new restaurants have flocked to the neighborhoods to bring unique and innovative cuisine along with the tried-and-true dining options that are still offering great food as they have for decades.

Long-time Favorites

Of course, Sperry’s has been a fixture in the community since 1974, boasting the first salad bar in Nashville. The plates are still ice cold at that salad bar and the Green Goddess dressing is a lovely throwback to the days when dining out was a rare special occasion. The menu still features continental classics like escargots, jumbo shrimp cocktails and crab cakes that are 98% crab with just enough bread crumbs to hold it all together. Main dishes revolve around beef options, either prime rib or your choice of just about any cut of prime steaks that you could ask for. The only difference in the crowd is that a new generation of diners are bringing their own families to Sperry’s for special celebrations or a mid-week treat, just like their parents might have brought them a couple of decades ago. Sperry’s has also added a small mercantile behind the restaurant where shoppers can pick up ready-made dishes or the ingredients to whip up your own steakhouse meal at home.

360 Bistro has long had a reputation for fine food and fine wine, including winning multiple awards from Wine Spectator magazine for its extensive and interesting wine list. Many of Nashville’s best chefs have spent time in the kitchen at 360, and the food is consistently inventive and excellent. The wine knowledge and service provided by the staff is unparalleled anywhere in town.

Interior of 360 Bistro, a West Nashville restaurant

360 Bistro is an award-winning restaurant that’s offered a fine dining experience for more than 13 years. Image: 360 Bistro

Seema Prasad was an early urban pioneer in the Charlotte Pike corridor when she opened Miel in 2008. That particular strip of asphalt was better known for fast food than fine dining at the time, but Seema saw its potential. She recalls, “I chose the location for a few reasons. It was easy to get there, right off I-40, Charlotte and White Bridge Road, and it had significant parking. Uber & Lyft did not exist in 2008!”

Truth be told, the fact that the neighborhood wasn’t white hot yet also offered another significant advantage for a fledgling restaurant. “It offered affordability for a small operation to maintain its identity without compromising quality in order to make the numbers crunch.”

Seema refurbished the former butcher shop into a sultry dining room, and her kitchen’s dedication to elevated cuisine made with fresh and seasonal ingredients drew legions of fans almost immediately. A wine expert herself, Seema also maintains a list of extraordinary bottles that you won’t find in restaurants all over town, including a robust offering of half bottles to allow for more variety with your meal and some older vintages for special occasions.

Salad from Miel

Miel‘s menu features the freshest ingredients, and the presentation is always spot-on. Image: Miel

RELATED: 6 Beloved Nashville Restaurants Expand Their Concepts

During pre-pandemic times, there was probably no more cozy and intimate dining environment than at Sylvan Park’s Cafe Nonna, where the tables were arranged close enough to eat off your neighbor’s plate when they weren’t looking. (Not that any of you all would do that!) The down-home Italian cuisine of Chef Dan Maggipinto has always walked the line between ultimately comforting and still exciting. And even with the tables spread a little further apart, it’s still a fantastic ambiance for enjoying a romantic date night out.

Just a few doors away from Cafe Nonna is Park Cafe, another excellent option for a little stargazing into your date’s eyes. Maintaining a fixed focus on using local ingredients whenever possible, Park Cafe augments their regional staples like salmon and pork chops with international influences to create their own unique brand of elevated comfort food. And you can’t beat their happy hour!

Notable Newcomers

Considering the families with disposable dining income that live in and around Green Hills, it’s a bit of a surprise that it has taken so long for the restaurant scene to undergo a boom like it has recently. As one of the owners of 4 Top Hospitality Group, the team behind Nashville favorites like Amerigo and Etch, Doug Hogrefe was already quite familiar with Green Hills diners, thanks to their love of one of his group’s greatest assets, Chef Deb Paquette. “Deb has lots of fans from the Zola days in the area, and many of them had expressed how hard it was for them to make it downtown to Etch,” he explains. His solution for them was to open etc., Deb’s second concept tucked into the Bedford Commons complex behind The Mall at Green Hills.

The stylish and cozy space provides an ideal environment to experience Paquette’s bold international flavors plated artfully with dashes of whimsy. The intimate ambiance is excellent for a quick lunch among friends or a leisurely dinner accompanied by a selection from the international wine list or perhaps a few craft cocktails. Plus, without having to fight the crowds of downtown, the evening can end with a pleasant stroll around the neighborhood without fear of being run down by a pedal tavern.

Plate settings at etc., a West Nashville restaurant

Chef Deb Paquette’s etc. is conveniently located in Green Hills and offers an intimate dining experience with unparalleled flavors. Image: etc.

RELATED: ‘Etc.’, Deb Paquette’s New Green Hills Restaurant is Creative and Fabulous

Doug employed the same logic when planning for his second Green Hills restaurant, Char Nashville in the towering Vertis building. He definitely saw the need for a spot like Char, saying, “Since the majority of the 15 restaurants in our group are very much used as ‘neighborhood’ restaurants, Green Hills made perfect sense for both Char and etc. And while there’s basically a steakhouse on every corner of downtown, the Green Hills area certainly is not overrun by them. Plus, Char can be used in a number of different ways, from a quick bite and a glass of wine to a full-on traditional steakhouse experience, and the neighborhood has definitely figured that out.”

Indeed, the flexibility of dining experiences at Char has made it an immediate hit in the neighborhood, whether you’re seeking a happy hour with small bites or a more substantial meal from the menu, which revolves around seafood and steaks. Classy without being pretentious, upscale without exorbitant prices, Char welcomes diners seeking all sorts of dining experiences.

Surf and turf from Char

Char offers a menu primarily of seafood and steaks that pair well with any of its wines, which are available both by the bottle or the glass. Image: Char

The main dining option around Richland Park used to be the ancient McDonald’s or maybe a meat-and-three lunch at Wendell Smith’s, but a few entrepreneurs have really upped the game in the neighborhood in the past couple of years. The new construction at 132 46th Avenue North was originally going to be the home to etc., but the space just didn’t work out for Paquette. Fortunately, chef/owner Chris Rauci and GM/owner Victoria Rothberg came up with a new answer with, well … answer, their cozy hyper-seasonal restaurant nestled in the residential neighborhood. The globally inspired menu attracts diners for dinner service Tuesday through Saturday nights, and a popular bar-top happy hour brings in the crowds a half hour early for a special menu of smaller bites and drink bargains. A popular family meal option is offered for carryout a couple of times a week for those nights when you just can’t bear the thought of cooking.

Chef John Stephenson garnered fervent fans of his cooking in previous stints at favorites like Fido and Family Wash, and when he decided to open his own restaurant in a converted fellowship hall of the United Methodist Church at 4708 Charlotte Ave., expectations were high. Stephenson spends more time outside of the kitchen at Hathorne, but his touches are evident all over the vegetable-focused menu of internationally inspired shareable small plates and larger composed dishes. The cuisine at Hathorne is difficult to pigeonhole, and that’s exactly what keeps John, his talented kitchen staff and diners excited. The bar also offers fantastic “Joyful Hour” deals with discounts on wine, beer and selected cocktails. Another bonus is the plethora of free parking across the street along Richland Park.

Fried chicken from Hathorne, a West Nashville restaurant

Hathorne, located along the bustling Charlotte Avenue corridor, is located in an old church, and its interiors give a nod to that fact. Image: Hathorne

After establishing a brand new dining and entertainment district in what some call “The North Gulch” with her trio of restaurants, Chauhan Ale & Masala House, The Mockingbird and Tànsuŏ, Chef Maneet Chauhan turned her sights west for her latest restaurant concept. The result is Chaatable, a delightful homage to the Indian street foods of her youth. The decor is a riot of color including parasols hanging from the ceiling and a wall covered with a rainbow of thousands of Chauhan’s signature bangle bracelets.

The whimsical menu offers elevated versions of the sort of food you might order from street carts or roadside stands in Punjab. Approachable, yet exciting, the flavor explosions of Chaatable’s small plates and curries will take you on an international journey.

They say “east is east and west is west and never the twain shall meet,” except in the case of Chef Julia Jaksic, who has brought her culinary talents to Belle Meade with Roze Pony. Already considered a local culinary superstar thanks to her success at East Nashville’s Cafe Roze, Julia saw the need for an all-day market cafe on this side of the river and opened her attractive new spot in the Belle Meade Galleria.

Spread of food from Roze Pony

Chef Julia Jaksic brought her culinary talents to the west side with Roze Pony, now open at Belle Meade Galleria. Image: Emily Dorio

Julia had been waiting a while to open this sort of restaurant. She recalls, “When I opened Cafe Roze in 2017 in East Nashville, I had hoped to establish an all day cafe where locals and tourists could come for a great meal or interesting cocktail any time of day and feel totally relaxed and welcome. The kind of place where you set a silent goal to become a regular. Four years later, I think we’ve done just that, and when a space opened on the west side, I saw a white space to do that again for a new demographic.”

She continues, “The west side, specifically 37205, has had a slower food evolution. There are these great institutions, like Sperry’s, that have been around forever, and you go there for an anniversary or when a friend comes in town who has never been to give them the Sperry’s experience. Apart from that, there are places that slant more chain, fast food. But there aren’t a lot of places in between that have great food but are more approachable for an easy catch-up dinner, lunch date or a much needed happy hour martini.”

In addition to serving coffee and cocktails all day long, Roze Pony offers separate daytime and dinner menus of creative breakfast dishes, sandwiches and more substantial fare during the evenings. Known for infusing bold, exotic flavors into her dishes, Julia has another hit on her hands with Roze Pony, and the convenient option to order much of her menu for carryout has quickly made this restaurant an indispensable asset for the neighborhood.

Making the leap into a new part of town was risky, especially during the circumstances of the past year. “Opening Roze Pony during a pandemic was definitely something I never would have imagined when the ink dried on the paperwork two years ago,” Julia admits. “It’s definitely been a challenge, but we are so happy to be new to the neighborhood and offer a chic spot with fresh, seasonal food to a host of new diners. What the future holds is hard to say, as I think we’ve all just been taking everything one day at a time for the last year. There is one thing I have been dreaming of celebrating since day one, and that’s Steeplechase in Belle Meade!”

Even with all the new spots springing up around West Nashville, Seema Prasad of Miel doesn’t see them as “competition.” She shares, “It’s so great to have more restaurants in the neighborhood and the city! We have definitely become a more food- and beverage-savvy city, which allows us to have more fun with the menu, and I am grateful for the lean towards more casual style dining as it has made elevated food more approachable.”

West Nashvillians are the ones who should be grateful to you and the other restaurant pioneers, Seema!

Bon appétit, Nashville!


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