Actually the Best—Nashville, Right Now

According to City House chef Tandy Wilson.

March 17, 2016 ● 4 min read

It's always award-season somewhere. 

And instead of cobbling together a list based on the arbitrary combined tastes of a mystery panel or the turbulent whims of one editor, we just talked to a dude who knows his city best because he cooks in it. We give you: Nashville, through the eye-holes of everyone's favorite, Tandy Wilson.  

Best New Restaurant: Cochon Butcher 

Our new neighbor and we can't be more thrilled! I think they're doing an outstanding job, and it's one of those things we just don't have here. All the meats that they handle in-house and turn into their sandwiches are phenomenal. They have a great guy in charge over there, Levon [Wallace]. It's all these cool food traditions that aren't just gumbo and jambabalaya; it's New Orleans, now. It's a real snapshot of what's happening there, and the people and the chefs that are driving it. I usually get the muffaletta.

Actually, that whole strip of stuff over there is all my favorite now. Little Donkey, which was in Burmingham and they brought it up here. They're soaking the corn with lye to grind it and make fresh tortillas. The whole area is neat, and there's a juice bar in the middle of it, too...which is something I never thought I'd be into and I actually kinda like. 

Best Established Restaurant: Margot Cafe

Margot [McCormack] totally gave me my start here. She had all of the sensibilities that you'd expect to find in a great chef anywhere, and to see her success and how she operates here...I feel like I had a really solid training. I worked in Napa Valley, at Tra Vigne, at Terra, and had all this great experience — and Hiro [Sone]'s one of my solids. I love him to death. He's one of the most intelligent guys and he's so funny. So genuine, all of that. I worked for him for six months, and he's why we're closed on Tuesdays at City House, he's why our family meals are taken care of the way they are. What I learned from him was absolutely invaluable — and then getting to go work with Margot was like the icing on the cake for me. She let me cook my food, and would always reel me in when I went too far. She really let me see what people are into in Nashville, and reintroduced me to my home. That food is standard for her. It's not traditional Nashville food, but she pushes boundaries in very comfortable ways that make everybody really happy. I think that's an important thing to remember.

Best Creative Vision: Sal Aviva at Prima/Arnold's Country Kitchen 

Sal is doing stuff that brings in his Mexican heritage and his California cooking and his time in Nashville. He's opened a fine-dining restaurant at a time when that just seems crazy, especially a large one. At first, it got the reaction that a lot of people would have imagined, but now that they see his food, they're amped. It's busier and busier every night. He had this vision and he stayed with it, and watching it come true...that slow rise makes for a better restaurant. I'm biased because City House was a slow rise. When we opened in December of 2007, nobody came. On Sunday nights, we'd put a T.V. under the line so that we could watch Titans games. We'd literally serve 15 people. It took a while, and I think Sal is doing a version of that same thing — building a classic that we'll have here forever. 

And then the vision at Arnold's — I love everyone who works here. They knew how to make good food, but are very visionary in the hospitality side of things. You go in there and you never expect anything other than delicious food with love and from the heart, and when you go in there, it's a family.

Best Tasting Menu: Catbird Seat

Since Trevor [Moran] left, a guy from Chicago has come down. It's a neat thing, because they've got these guys who have worked there for a long time. Tom is one of them; he started as an extern and now he's a cook in the kitchen, but he's still there. Colby is another one. It's neat to see these young Nashville guys being thought of enough that they're not just replaced. They didn't bring in a whole new staff. What's coming out of the kitchen is really exciting. That's the kind of concept that, with what we know about restaurants, should fade and go away as chefs leave, but they're on their third line-up. It's a neat thing. 

Best Pastry: City House

I don't ever say we're the best restaurant in town, but I've come to the conclusion that we have the best pastry chef in Nashville, if not the Southeast. Rebekah Turshen is amazing at what she does. She is talented and amazing and I think one of the cool things about her is that you see people like me, who go away and train and come back, but Rebekah has always been here. She's been around, and seen the whole thing, and continues to innovate and change and find her style. I don't think people let her do what she wanted to do for a long time, and now I'm just like, "I just want to know what you're doing, not guide you." 

Best Leadership Philosophy: Pat Martin with Martin's Bar-B-Que 

Pat is a big voice. He has a great, solid opinion of who we are and what we are and how we got here. He's come to town and done this Martin's BBQ, which has been this huge success. Watching that has been amazing. He's the kind of guy that keeps his head on his shoulders, but is also able to travel and get it out there.