Plenty of Nashville reflects traditional Southern tastes and attitudes, as well as places that highlight its reputation as one of the nation’s top music scenes and the country music capital of the world, but cross the bridge over the Cumberland River down Woodland Street into an area east of the city and you’ll find quite a surprise -- vibrant, progressive, growing new neighborhoods with dozens of new independently-owned shops and restaurants, and a bustling nightlife all its own.
Since people began moving into the area and renovating its beautiful, historic old homes over two decades ago, the area has become a huge draw both for young families starting out and creative types eager to express themselves. Its growth just in the last 12 months alone is a testament to its popularity -- small businesses have nearly tripled in the area in the past year, according to Bret MacFadyen, owner of the area’s Art and Invention Gallery and a developer of a new mini shopping district in the area known as 5 Points.
Hailing from across the river myself, I was excited at the chance to do a little Lewis and Clark-ing one recent afternoon when I climbed in the car and headed over the bridge toward the “undiscovered” side of town.
Driving towards this growing area I had heard so much buzz about in the past few months, my eye immediately caught a sign for the Turnip Truck, a natural market that’s been touted by visitors to the city like actress Gwyneth Paltrow, (who spent weeks here filming the movie “Country Strong.”) A seemingly natural place to start, (no pun intended) I pulled in and entered the organic grocery. It features an impressive array of locally-grown produce, coffee beans, and plenty of dairy and organic perishable and non-perishable items as well.
The building is historic in its own right -- it once housed one of the first H.G. Hills grocery stores in Tennessee, and it seems to have come full circle as the Turnip Truck’s home for the past decade.
One invaluable lesson I’ve learned from my travels is if you want to learn about an area’s hidden gems and hot spots, always ask a local, so I immediately struck up a conversation with the market’s employees. They were unbelievably helpful in guiding me to some of their neighborhood’s best new places. I set off a short distance down the street from the market and parked my car to walk the neighborhood known as 5 Points, and quickly came upon a bevy of restaurants of just about any type you could want.
Batter’d And Fried Boston Seafood House offers up fare reminiscent of a seaside café on the Atlantic, with fish and chips, sautéed mussels, and Boston clam chowder among the tasty menu items, while 5 Points Pizza is a delicious alternative at the other end of the spectrum for those craving a pie on their night out on the town. Just feet behind those lay a couple of lively bar and grill options across the alleyway from each other, including Beyond The Edge and East Side Drifters.
The Edge has a distinct sports bar feel with tons of TVs and taps, and offers up an impressive list of beers including 30-some-odd specialty and premium import beers and 25 drafts. It felt like a great place to belly up to the bar on a Friday or Saturday night with a group of friends when you want to forget your troubles in a noisy, fun-filled atmosphere.
Another fun option, East Side Drifters offers up lip-smacking barbeque in plenty of ways, including Danish baby back ribs, pulled pork and chicken, smoked sausage and ribs, catfish, and plenty of vegetarian options as well.
If you're up for some awesome local music and some delicious, casual and inexpensive grub (how about a vegetarian shepherds pie, for example) don't miss the delightful Family Wash right nearby on Porter Road. A popular hangout for the area's large artist community, the former actual laundromat features musicians and bands from the local and unknown, to legends of their genre, on any given night. With lrotating displays of localy created art on the walls, and artists of all kind hanging at the bar, it's a fun and easy place to meet the locals and make new, colorful friends.
And by the way, the formerly non-descript area has recentlybeen developed and its historic but vacant brick buildings have been renamed "Porter's Crossing", and now features a newly opened flower shop, hair salon, and bar. Surrounded by a neighborhood of original, restored and gracious Victorian and Craftsman style homes, it's a great new area to enjoy
Not too far away is the absolute cutest food truck, or rather van, that I’ve ever seen -- I Dream Of Weenie. Housed in a ’70s VW van, the hot dog truck features all sorts of tasty dogs with plenty of fixins, all served through a window and under the flash and swirl of a giant disco ball hanging from the porch. Recommended favorites include the Pimento Cheese weenie and the Rebel Yelp -- a dog dressed with Tennessee chow chow slaw, jalapeno peppers, and other garnishes --- though other options like tomato basil soup are also available at the fun walkup.
With your dog in hand, you could actually walk down the street to the Idea Hatchery, a brand new mini shopping cul-de-sac featuring a handful of local shops and businesses.
Among the things one can find while strolling around the cozy complex are the East Garden florist for fresh flowers and gifts, Moss for tasteful and elegant fashion finds, and the Goodbuy Girls for some of the coolest vintage treasures in the city.
Another unique boutique, Alegria, which means “joy” in Portuguese, offers up all sorts of amazing jewelry, boots and other leatherware, as well as one-of-a-kind, Spanish-tinged goodies and gift items. Between the edgy skull rings and the gorgeous, hand-tooled cowboy boots, it was tough to leave the place to head onward to other discoveries.
Ignoring my urge to enter the Wonders on Woodland Antiques shop that I’m sure carried some amazing treasures just next door, I drove a street or two over and pulled into the Walnut Exchange building on Main St. to check out the menu at Marche’, a restaurant touted by my new friends at the Turnip Truck. In existence for five years (where have I been?) the artisan restaurant features breakfast, lunch and dinner menus filled with delicious options like house-made fettucini with spicy lamb meatballs in a red pepper tomato sauce, red wine braised short ribs with swiss chard and polenta, and other yummy breakfast and lunch entrees that made my mouth water just reading over them.
Just next door to Marche’ in the same strip there’s also the Magnolia Spa, for those in need of some east-side pampering, the Chop Shop, a full-service hair salon, and Nuvo Burrito, an intriguing 21st-century take on the Mexican fast food concept, with its clean-lined, modern décor and delicious menu filled with unique spins on the burrito and the quesadilla. From the Heart of Dixie burrito with its mashed sweet potato, cole slaw, black beans, bacon and sweet corn relish, to the Kupaianaha quesadilla, with pork, ham, pineapple, jalapeno, mozzarella, and tomato sauce, there are tons of interesting choices to be had for hungry adventurers eager to try new taste combinations.
Further down the street in the Gallatin Road area a whole crop of hip new bars and restaurants have sprung up over the past several years in this area, including 3 Crow Bar, The 5 Spot, No. 308, the new beer garden, Pharmacy, and Holland House.
No. 308 offers up interesting libations made from house made sodas, and the $5 shots are created after famous author's personalities and works, (many of which are featured on the bar and countertops of the retro-inspired throwback.)
The Pharmacy Burger House and Beer Garden is run by the people who own the Holland House Bar and Refuge, an old-school bar that serves drinks like Pisco sours, Black Lemon Old Fashions, Sazeracs, and other cocktails inspired from long before the Mad Men era.
I was told a can’t miss spot for the best burger in the area is the Edgefield Grill, hands down, while another Mexican restaurant, Mas Taco, just across from Holland House, is a don’t miss for delicious tacos and the freshest Mexican fare. (The place features all organic ingredients, and was the first of the food trucks that have become popular around town to turn into an official stationary restaurant.)
I literally ran out of time before I ran out of places to explore on my quest to check out the East side vibe, and there are dozens more hidden in and around this area that is literally exploding with creativity and an edgy, rebellious sort of can-do indie spirit.
A few streets over on Eastland Avenue, the Rose Pepper Cantina has long been a favorite of locals looking to throw back a few tasty margaritas and some delicious Mexican food, and the Silly Goose, Jenny’s, and vegan restaurant the Wild Cow are all reportedly interesting options for diners looking to satisfy their appetites as well. Names like Mitchell’s, the Pub, and Mad Donna’s also made the list of the area locals I spoke with as places not to miss if you manage to wander across the bridge past the Titans stadium and into this wonderful area of the city. If you’re in town for more than a day or two, I’d head straight from my tour of the Country Music Hall of Fame or the Frist into a cab, and zip right across town to explore this creative, burgeoning side of Music City… it will be well worth the visit!