51st Avenue is the heart of the burgeoning Nashville neighborhood known as “The Nations,” an ironic name considering that many of the streets are actually named after U.S. states. While the exact origin of the nickname is still a subject of conjecture, one theory is that is was named after the Chickasaw Nations of Native Americans that lived in the area in the eighteenth century and traded with early settlers. It’s still full of settlers as new residents have poured into the popular neighborhood adding a new energy to the area.
With the population boom has come an accompanying expansion of great drinking and dining options along 51st Avenue, making it a convenient strip to design your own pub crawl or “dinearound.” Here are some excellent choices to add to your itinerary:
At the far end of the avenue is Nicky’s Coal Fired, the fantastic pizzeria, pasta joint and cocktail bar created by the husband and wife of Caroline and Tony Galzin. The couple were early culinary pioneers in the neighborhood at the recently-shuttered Fifty First Kitchen & Bar where Caroline ran the front of the house while Tony manned the kitchen, an arrangement they maintain at their new establishment. The centerpiece of the open kitchen at Nicky’s is a massive coal-fired oven named “Enrico” after Tony’s great grandfather who immigrated from Lazio, Italy.
The menu at Nicky’s always features a variety of house pies, with both white and red sauce options. Pizza toppings go far beyond the traditional with many being house-made charcuterie courtesy of Tony and his talented kitchen team. There’s a lot more than just pizza worth ordering at Nicky’s, including pasta made from scratch and delightful antipasti. In fact, a platter of meats and cheeses paired with a couple of crafty cocktails from Nicky’s amari-centric bar makes for a fabulous meal if you’re not in the mood for pizza or pasta.
There’s another casual Italian option at the other end of 51st. Coco’s Italian Market is more of a traditional checkered tablecloths and red sauce kind of Italian restaurant, and their list of classic cheesy Italian pasta dishes is quite respectable. Traditional desserts like cannoli and tiramisu are worth saving room for.
While a butcher shop is not an obvious choice for a great burger, Bare Bones Butcher does indeed serve one of the best in town. This classic twin-patty smashburger is served with housemade pickles, American cheese, mustard and mayo, and it’s definitely a two napkin experience. Bare Bones doesn’t have a lot of seating in their shop, but they do offer enough space to sit down with a beer and a burger, so that’s really all you need. Other interesting dishes made from spare cuts from their butcher shop include a prototypical Cuban sandwich and a cheesy pastrami melt made with sandwich meat made in house.
There are a few spots along 51st Avenue that might lead to some confusion from their names, but we’ll do our best to set your straight. 51 North Taproom & Grill is a project from the same folks who brought you 12 South Taproom on the other side of town. This makes sense because both taprooms are located in up and coming eminently walkable neighborhoods which encourages the establishment of a watering hole for locals. They’ve accomplished just that in The Nations thanks to an extensive menu of craft beers plus wine and spirits. Their food menu has something for everyone from shareable plates of bar snacks to salads, sandwiches and tacos.
Don’t confuse them with 51st Deli, though. This popular little spot has more of a diner vibe, serving traditional breakfast items in the morning and a long list of specialty salads the rest of the day and night. They are best known for their scrumptious burgers and signature sides. An order of their carne asada fries could be a meal by themselves! Much of the menu offers Latin influences including tacos, burritos, tortas and quesadillas plus sides of Mexican street corn and ceviche.
There are a lot of bars and grills in The Nations, so it’s no surprise that one of the more popular restaurants is named Nations Bar & Grill. You can’t miss the retro neon sign and color scheme of this converted auto shop. In addition to a very generous happy hour Monday through Friday, Nations Bar & Grill offers a clever menu of fun food like house made Bugle Chex Mix, queso tater tots and decadent bacon-wrapped chicken wings. Larger dishes revolve around sandwiches and burgers, making this casual hang quite popular for those seeking out a “Cheers” sort of amiability.
Another possible source of confusion is “The Original Corner Pub,” affiliated with the long-time Green Hills fixture of the same name, but not with that other chain of Corner Pubs around town. This particular Corner Pub is a favorite for night owls since it serves dinner until midnight every night. The traditional pub menu features their famous hot wings, doused in their secret hot sauce and available in mass quantities for carryout. They also offer up a fiery Nashville hot chicken sandwich made with chunks of spicy fried chicken instead of the more traditional breast or thigh quarter. The voluminous menu is filled with all sorts of other specialty items ranging from Knoxville-style steamed deli sandwiches to burgers to a novel meatball quesadilla they call “a Mexican stromboli.”
For lighter fare, check out Red Bicycle Coffee, a quaint coffee shop and creperie that serves breakfast, lunch and weekend brunch. Their variety of sweet and savory crepes in unrivaled in town, and they also serve a variety of breakfast sandwiches if you’re not feeling fancy. Paninis and tacos dominate the midday menu, and several of them feature smoked meats made in house. Since they’re open until 6:00 during the week and also serve beer, wine and cocktails, Red Bicycle is also a fine place for an early happy hour meeting between friends.