Midtown is the section of Nashville roughly defined as the stretch of Broadway, Elliston Place, 21st Avenue and West End between Vanderbilt University and Interstate 40. Twenty years ago, the neighborhood was pretty much dominated by three entities: Vanderbilt, three huge hospitals and the associated clinics and doctors offices, and Music Row, home to the city’s music publishing community. With little residential presence, it was basically a dining desert other than a few fast food joints and a TGI Friday’s. Lately though, it has blossomed as a great spot to find good food and drink, thanks to the influx of condos, apartments and hotels filled with hungry residents.
In fact, it’s so packed full of excellent dining spots, we’ll divide it into two for these roundups of places you need to check out. So for list number one, let’s concentrate on the north side of Midtown, which thanks to Nashville’s curious attitude toward geographic naming, includes the West End corridor. Here are some options for you to check out in burgeoning Midtown.
Nashville’s oldest restaurant in continuous operation at the same location is the venerable Elliston Place Soda Shop on the stretch of road that locals of a certain age still call “The Rock Block” thanks to its role in bringing music other than country to the forefront during the 1970’s. The soda shop began as just a counter in a pharmacy in 1939, until owner Lynn Chandler decided that his customers were more interested in milkshakes than toiletries and expanded the soda shop. It still serves one of the best shakes in town along with a menu of meat-and-three fare, burgers and homemade pies piled impossibly high with meringue.
Elliston Place is also home to a remarkable number of sushi joints in a three-block stretch with Nama as the most upscale of the trio and Samurai Sushi along with the curiously named O’Sake offering more casual opportunities to get your roll on. Any of the three are worth a visit if you are looking for some quality affordable nigiri.
Midtown is blessed with a couple of excellent dining locations inside of hotels as well. Mason’s is in the lobby of the luxurious Loews Nashville Hotel and specializes in inventive upscale Southern cuisine. The Loews works hard to focus on local ingredients whenever possible, so you’ll find plenty of seasonal produce on the menu in the restaurant as well as Nashville-based beers and spirits across the lobby in their Mason Bar. The decor of both establishments feature the eponymous jar prominently in the decor.
Closer to town in the boutique Hutton Hotel is the WestEnd Kitchen and Bar. From crafty cocktails to upscale American gastropub food, WestEnd Kitchen attracts locals as well as hotel guests looking for a fun and casual night out. They have also recently converted a couple floors of their parking deck into a music venue named Analog. This hip lounge doesn’t offer live music every night on a regular schedule, but when they do, it’s a fantastic space to listen to a band with 300 of your new closest friends.
For a great place to wait out rush hour traffic over a drink and some small tapas dishes, it’s hard to beat Americano. The tapas menu isn’t strictly Iberian, combining European and American influences to create fun plates like Nashville Hot Cauliflower and Moroccan Meatballs, so there’s probably something to please most palates.
Not to be confused with Americano is Amerigo, a Nashville stalwart that has been serving up solid Italian food for almost three decades. Offering a full lunch and dinner menu seven days a week plus brunch on the weekends, Amerigo delivers great food at affordable prices. It’s also a favorite dining destination for many superstitious member of the Nashville Predators who wouldn’t miss a game day lunch there. (But don’t bug them while they’re eating; it’s just not the “Nashville Way.”)
Next door to Amerigo is their corporate cousin from the same restaurant group, Saltine. This relatively new seafood-focused restaurant is a great spot for a business lunch or a casual happy hour with friends that can easily stretch into dinner. The vibrant nautical decor makes you feel like you’re a guest in Davy Jones Locker, and the bar is stocked with one of the widest selections of rum in town, so you can drink like a pirate, too. The menu always features fresh oysters on the half shell or as part of loaded seafood towers along with different preparations of fish sourced from all over the region. Landlubbers need not fret, because Saltine has plenty of non-aquatic options as well, ranging from a double-cut pork chop to a delectable tender filet of beef.
Speaking of business lunches, the best power lunch in town may just be at Midtown Cafe, a refined, yet casual restaurant that has been around since the Reagan administration. The intimate space is adorned with bold artwork and tables situated close enough to be cozy but not crowded. Long-time professional servers are a rarity to encounter in this booming local restaurant scene, but Midtown Cafe is staffed with knowledgeable and caring staff who know their food and what their patrons want. Serving breakfast, lunch and dinner from a menu of American and continental classics, it should be a go-to destination on your dining rotation. They also offer a convenient shuttle service to and from events at the Ryman, TPAC, Schermerhorn and Bridgestone Arena if you make reservations in advance and spend at least $30 on a meal before the show. Only having to park once on a trip downtown is a real perk!
The Row Kitchen & Pub is best known for their down-home Southern breakfast menu, but they offer all three meals plus a limited late night menu for a quick bite before last call. The restaurant features a roadhouse vibe, which is appropriate since the building has a long history as a hangout for songwriters and musicians. Legends include that it was where Brooks met Dunn and where Earl Bud Lee sold the rights to his future megahit for Garth Brooks “Friends in Low Places” to pay off a bar tab. The Row still features live music every night at 6:00, so you can enjoy dinner and a show.