Monday, June 27, 2011

Road Trip - Destination...Nashville!

A few weeks ago the hubby and I were in Knoxville, Tennessee...for about an the airport...after it closed for the night.

Our plane was diverted because of bad weather in Louisville and although I was pissed off about our delay I looked out the windows of the cute little airport and thought, "Hmmm. I don't think I've ever been to Knoxville before. I bet it's nice. I'd like to come back".

Summer, to me, is about taking lots of weekend trips. Living in another region of the US allows Nick and I the opportunity to take a lot of small road trips to destinations that until now would have been out of the question for a weekend trip. After our little stop in Knoxville Tennessee I realized I hadn't written about our fun little road trip to Nashville Tenessee. It's about as close to a New Orleans atmosphere as you can get on a tank of gas.

First tip for a fun and relatively inexpensive Nashville getaway...Priceline your hotel. I know I talk about Priceline like it's the best thing to happen to travel since the invention of the airplane, but it kinda is. Nick and I have stayed in some very classy digs in some very expensive cities for as low as $45 a night. Here's a link to my old tutorial for those of you who haven't read it....

We priceline'd a lovely hotel on the Broadway strip in Nashville. All of the bars and honky tonks line Broadway, so if you want to bar hop, staying near the Broadway strip is your best bet. We got a got a wonderful deal on a room at the Union Station hotel (it's a Wyndham Grand but the hotel used to be Nashville's main train station back in the day). I highly recommend it(picture above). The location was perfect. The staff was wonderful. The ambiance and old school charm was delightful.

Now that you've got a place to stay it's time to plan your itinerary. Here are my hits and misses for Nashville:

Hit: Gaylord Opryland Hotel
Located on the north end of Nashville this isn't your typical hotel, and although I don't recommend staying there due to it's location, I feel it's worth a visit just to look around. The behemoth is filled with botanical gardens, cascading waterfalls and even offers a boat ride through the hotel. When's the last time you took a boat ride through your hotel?

I'm not sure that you're technically "allowed" to wander around the hotel without being a guest, but Nick and I parked in a far away lot (don't park in a pay lot) and just happened to wander through a random unlocked door near the convention center section of the property. Whether it's frowned upon or not to take an unescorted tour of the property I'm not sure. I am sure, however, that this hotel is breathtaking and worth a look.

Miss: The Country Music Hall of Fame
I love me some old country music. I'm not the biggest fan of the new stuff, but play me some old Merle Haggard and I'm a happy girl. Needless to say, I was really excited about visiting this museum. My disappointment set in when we realized that the bare bones basic admission was a a whopping $20, and if you wanted to see some of the old studios where folks like Elvis first recorded their music you had to pay upwards of $30.

We decided that we couldn't visit Nashville without going to this museum so we sucked it up and bought tickets around 3:45pm, only to be told that we had better hurry because the place closes at 5pm...on a the tourist section of Nashville. This isn't some government owned Smithsonian. This is a privately owned museum that's charging $30 per person to show you a bunch of gold records glued to the wall. They might want to re-think their hours.

The museum itself was alright I suppose. There was some nice info about the very early history of country music and a few neat bits of memorabilia, but when all was said and done I almost wished I had saved my $20 and used it to tip the hard working musicians at the honky tonks later that evening.

Hit: Any bar on Broadway with live music and no cover charge...and there are a lot of them
All you have to do is google "no cover charge Nashville" and lists of bars with live music and without a cover charge pop up. We spent ALL night bar hopping and I'm still not sure we hit all of them. I suppose it's the competition amongst all the bars on Broadway that breeds good music with cheap booze. Beer was inexpensive. Mixed drinks were affordable. The musicians were amazing (although I could have done with more country music and less Tom Petty...I mean, when in Rome right?). This bar hopping, live music, rowdy all night long atmosphere is the reason we went to Nashville and I loved every minute of it.

Miss: The Parthenon
I don't know who's bright idea it was to recreate the ancient Parthenon in the middle of Nashville, but it seems like a waste of money to me. It's on the list of must-see tourist spots in Nashville, but I'm telling you now, it's alright if you miss it...I promise.

Hit: The Food!

I emailed the bloggers at Nashvillerestaurants.blogspot before we left to get their take on what the Nashville food scene is all about. If you're heading to Nashville I highly recommend perusing their blog first.

I was most intrigued by a type of fried chicken called "hot chicken". Basically it's a spicy fried chicken that's sauced with a blend of spices, heavy on the cayenne. We tried to hit up Prince's, a local favorite, but they were closed(when they were supposed to be open), and so we tried out another shack called Pepperfire. Although the preparation took what seemed like forever, and the seating at Pepperfire was less than comfortable(3 plastic tables next to a very busy road) the end result was pretty amazing. The chicken was moist and delicious. It was spicy...very, very spicy. And the texture of the breading and subsequent saucing was unlike anything I've ever eaten before.

Give it a shot if you're in town. The name certainly doesn't lie.

I searched and searched for an amazing (but not amazingly expensive) restaurant within walking distance of Broadway for a pre-bar hopping meal, but kept finding bad reviews, or worse, tourist trap restaurants. Finally I broke down and we tried this place called Merchants that was given a "pretty good considering it's in tourist central" review. I have to say, regardless of Merchants' address, it was fantastic.

We ate at the bar because the place was packed. We ordered some signature cocktails from a very knowledgeable and pleasant bartender. I told him I liked gin (liked is an understatement), and that Nick liked bourbon (a gross understatement), and he hooked us up with some great drinks. I wrote down the name of both on a napkin but after dinner we went bar hopping so you can imagine that I have no idea where that cocktail napkin is now. I wish I could remember the names because you simply must try my gin cocktail if you go(just ask for the gin cocktail with Chartreuse in it).

We skipped appetizers and went straight for the main course. I ordered a pork pot roast over a sweet potato puree and Nick had braised lamb over a smashed potato. Both seemed somewhat boring on the menu, but hearty enough to keep us going throughout the night. We could not have been more wrong about the boring part. My pork pot roast was sublime. I have no idea what cut they used but it stood up to the braising without falling apart, and it stayed moist at the same time. Pork magic. The sweet potato puree must have had something else in it because it layered with flavor. I licked my bowl clean.

Nick's lamb was no slouch either, and I wish I could have gone around the restaurant telling people to put down their burgers (it seemed like everyone there ordered a burger that night) and try one of these amazing entrees instead. Our meal was inexpensive and delicious. How could anyone not like this place.

The rest........

Nashville locals seem to love their "meat and three" , and although we didn't get a chance to dine ant one, you might give it a shot. They're basically cafeteria type places that serve, you guessed it, a meat and three sides (although I'm sure you can have more or less than three if you desire). Next time we visit we'll be sure to hit one up.

We missed out on touring Yazoo, a local brewery, because I didn't do my homework to see when their tours were offered. But we made sure we didn't miss out on their beer. We grabbed a six pack for some hotel drinking and were very happy with the quality. I highly recommend it.

While we were touring (or trespassing) the Gaylord Opryland, we stopped by Cooter's Place, yes, Cooter's, to get our pictures taken in front of the General Lee. This place was a tourist trap if there ever was one, but it's also a good laugh, so stop in if you're near the Opryland hotel.

The Nashville Farmers Market is one of the best I've seen in recent years and is a must see if you're in town. We picked up some local artisan cheese, a few blueberry bushes, some ham hocks and a boat load of collard greens.

The Grand Ole Opry is one place we didn't check out. My parents caught a show last time they were in Nashville and loved it, but Nick and I were only in town for one night and you can only do so much.

Nick and I don't often visit the same place twice, but of course, there are some exceptions, and Nashville might just be one. Sometimes you just get a hankering for good live music, and lots of it...for cheap booze, and lots of it...and a good 'ol fashioned night of dancing, bar hopping and good times...Nashville certainly has lots of all of it.

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