It’s an unfortunate truism in Nashville that most of the best places to eat in town don’t feature live music, and most of the best music venues in town serve marginal food at best. Fortunately, there are some noticeable exceptions where you can enjoy dinner and some fine musical entertainment at the same time. We’re not even talking about the recent spate of celebrity-backed honky tonks on Lower Broad that have sprung up with an elevated focus on food and drink beyond just a beer or a shot to accompany the bands on stage and to help encourage you to get your booty on the dance floor. Don’t worry; we’ll give you a guide to some of the best of those megaplexes soon.
Instead, consider these music and food establishments that have been doing it the right way for a little while longer than the latest upstarts.
Acme Feed and Seed occupies premium real estate at the foot of Lower Broad, with a rooftop deck that offers sweeping vistas of East Nashville, the Cumberland River and all the delightful craziness going on below on the streets of downtown. But if it’s music you’re after, stick with the ground floor where a large stage showcases acts that range from Americana to R&B to blues to funk. You might have to jockey for a prime view thanks to large cement pillars that hold up the three stories of the building above you, but it’s worth it for some of the most eclectic music options downtown. The food and drink menu is also quite varied with lots of great regional craft beers, wine and cocktails plus Southern and international dishes that will stick to your ribs and give you the party fuel to sing along with the band.
Just off Broad at the corner of 5th and Church is Puckett’s Grocery, the downtown outpost of the local chain of restaurants known for their down-home cooking and music. Featuring live music almost every night of the week, Puckett’s is home to talented local singer/songwriters performing in front of appreciative audiences who are also lucky enough to dine on a menu of traditional meat-and-three fare plus some really respectable barbecue. It’s just far enough away from the crowds to allow for a less intense listening experience without the sounds of competing bands leaking into the room like on the honky tonks of Lower Broad, and the bands are every bit as talented.
The Bluebird Cafe is doubtlessly the most famous performance space for songwriters in Nashville, but its popularity and distance from downtown can make it a hit-or-miss destination for a last minute decision to check out some live music. If you haven’t been lucky enough to snag a table at the Bluebird, consider The Listening Room Cafe just on the outskirts of downtown as an alternative. With a much larger main dining room, The Listening Cafe offers a better chance to just walk in and see talented singer/songwriters practicing their crafts. You can also make reservations in advance to hold your seat, and tickets are generally really affordable. While you listen, enjoy a snack or a full meal from their menu of burgers, sandwiches and salads or some great smoked meat platters. A novel regional treat is their award-winning Turkey Apple Crisp Sandwich, made with house-smoked shaved turkey breast and bacon, crisp Granny Smith apple slices, Swiss cheese and cranberry aioli served on wheat berry toast.
Of course, you can’t forget Robert’s Western World, the favorite honky tonk among many locals. The bands are some of the best in town, especially on Friday nights when the Don Kelley Band and Brazilbilly take the stage until late. While the food offering at Robert’s is limited (it is a boot store, after all,) their “Recession Special” is consistently named as one of the best deals in town. Six bucks gets you a delicious and decadent fried bologna sandwich, a bag of chips and a beer plus a Moon Pie for dessert. It can’t be beat for value, that’s for sure!
The Row Kitchen & Pub in Midtown has a long history in the local musical community. It’s where Brooks met Dunn and back in the day when a steakhouse chain occupied the space, legend has it that songwriter Earl Bud Lee sold the rights to “Friends in Low Places” to settle a bar tab there. That tale may indeed be apocryphal, but a great songwriter knows to never let the truth get in the way of a good story. The Row pays homage to the building’s spot in country music history by featuring live music every night of the week beginning at 6:00 pm and even earlier on Saturday afternoons. Enjoy breakfast, lunch or dinner at The Row from an offering of traditional Southern dishes, burgers, steaks and barbecue.