Let’s face it, parking in downtown Nashville is hard. And expensive. Most times, once you find a spot at a meter or in a garage, you’re likely to just leave your car there all day rather than fight the masses for another parking space at lunch with the scant hope that you can still get back to someplace near your original spot.
But sometimes you deserve a little splurge for the midday meal, a power lunch if you will. You’re worth it, so drive yourself to any of these excellent spots for an upscale lunch, flip your keys and five bucks to the valet and tell him to park it close!
After the glamorous Prima closed leaving empty a soaring dining room decorated with stunning chandeliers, STK backed into their space like a hermit crab inhabiting a new shell. This chain of upscale steakhouses is known for their huge cuts of dry-aged beef that they serve at dinner, but their lunch is a pretty special treat as well. You can certainly go big baller and order one of those massive steaks at lunch, but you can also enjoy less expensive dishes like a novel short rib sloppy Joe sandwich or an intriguing version of a lobster roll topped with exotic kimchi aioli.
Stateside Kitchen is the main dining room of the new boutique Dream Hotel downtown on Printers Alley. Located in a lovely bright atrium off the lobby, Stateside Kitchen is a very pleasant place to get away from the worries of the day while enjoying a brasserie menu of elevated lunch classics. A simple starter of focaccia and olives is raised above the ordinary thanks to the use of ingredients like citrus-marinated Castelvetrano olives, house-baked focaccia and European herbed butter. Their spare ribs main dish is down-home Southern with an unexpected mustard BBQ sauce reminiscent of Georgia or South Carolina barbecue served with a nicely acidic chow chow slaw and crispy Stateside fries. Stateside Kitchen also serves some dramatic sushi rolls created a la minute by a professional sushi chef. Paired with a local craft beer from the bar, you might just have to skip that afternoon status meeting.
Midtown Cafe has been the go-to spot for power lunches or just meetings between friends for more than thirty years. Patrons are made to feel eminently welcome whether they are doctors and nurses still in scrubs after coming off the graveyard shift, tourists enjoying a midday meal at a spot that most visitors never deign to discover or a table full of Music Row executives hammering out a new recording contract. Midtown Cafe features impeccable service provided by long-term employees, a rarity in this booming food town. Their menu doesn’t emphasize local ingredients, preferring to source ingredients from wherever they are the best. (You wouldn’t want scallops from the Cumberland River would you?) Iconic dishes include their lemon artichoke soup, shrimp & grits and an incredibly decadent lobster “mac n’ cheese” covered with a rich lobster cream sauce. Meat eaters should definitely try their Coca-Cola BBQ beef short ribs for a sweet and spicy treat.
Pemrose is a new venture from chef Matt Bolus and his partners at 404 Kitchen. Just around the corner from his original restaurant in the Gulch, Bolus has set his sites on the sea with this restaurant. The chef has experience as a fishmonger and butcher, so you know he knows how to properly select and prepare great seafood. Unlike Fin & Pearl, which Pemrose replaced, this eatery focuses on more than just Gulf Coast seafood. Bolus has contacts with fishermen and suppliers from around the globe and leverages those connections to source both warm and cold water oysters, exotic Mediterranean fish rarely seen in these parts and the freshest salmon he can find. He prepares these fish with respect and creativity that are totally worth the slightly elevated prices over your usual lunch fare.
The stunning vaulted ceiling of the rathskeller-inspired Capitol Grille in the basement of the Hermitage Hotel makes for a dramatic dining locale. You’ll feel like a big shot when the uniformed doormen and valets take care of your car and show you to the restaurant down a flight of marble stairs, but once you’re seated, it doesn’t matter if you’re wearing shorts before a day of site-seeing or dining with the governor, a frequent guest thanks to the restaurant’s proximity to the State Capitol. Everyone is treated the same by the attentive staff as they serve surprising affordable lunch dishes made from fresh vegetables grown at the Hermitage Hotel’s own farming operation and featuring meats from their Double H Farms. While all the food is fantastic, the power play is to select the “Blue Plate Special” that changes daily and which will set you back only a few bucks more than a double cheeseburger, fries and a drink at most fast food joints.
BrickTops has been a stalwart for lunches in the West End/Vanderbilt neighborhood for years, and you’d better get there early if you want to find a parking spot and a table. But it’s worth the effort for their consistently excellent repast and service. From elegant salads to a solid burger served with shoestring fries, BrickTops never disappoints, and you’ll want to save room for a dessert of a hot chocolate chip cookie served in a skillet topped with vanilla ice cream and a generous drizzle of caramel sauce.
Chef Deb Paquette of Etch in SoBro is beloved for her multi-layered flavors that she employs to create internationally-inspired cuisine. A seat at the long chef’s bar is a fine place to enjoy a casual lunch watching the action in the open kitchen. You can’t skip out on ordering her famous roasted cauliflower served with truffled pea pesto and feta crema before plunging into the menu of exotic sandwiches, salads and entrees.
Husk is located on top of Rutledge Hill in an Italianate mansion that was once home to the 51st mayor of Nashville, and it still maintains the elegant homey experience of dining in someone’s home. Someone rich, that is. However, the fare for the fare at lunch is not especially expensive, so you can enjoy dishes created with the same precision and dedication to hyper-local ingredients as at dinner without breaking the bank. Lunch favorites include a spicy, but not “Nashville hot” fried chicken, a fantastic double-stacked cheeseburger that often ranks on the lists of “America’s best burgers” or shrimp & grits. Another solid choice is their vegetable plate that always features fresh and interesting veggies served up on a wooden platter for a healthy and delicious meal.