Music City! I’ve been to Nashville once before, and my friends and I crammed over 20 events, destinations, and restaurants into our 72 hour trip. The trip was balanced with history, music, and good food and drinks. I was vegetarian when we took this first trip, so restaurants don’t necessarily have vegan items. Lucky for you, that was the entire mission of my most recent trip (keep reading past the 72-hour itinerary).
72 Hours in Nashville
We arrived in Nashville and went straight to The Garden Brunch Café for some breakfast. Once we fueled up, we spent the middle of the day at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Studio B. After a few hours of music history, went to Legends Corner for an afternoon Honky Tonk Lemonade. We eventually checked into the hotel and changed for dinner at Kalamata’s, a Mediterranean place with live music, then made it over to the Bluebird Café. Be sure to make reservations; this place fills up.
We started the day at Pancake Pantry, the drove to the Jack Daniels Distillery in Historic Lynchburg. I had a lunch of side dishes at Barrel House BBQ, and then we stopped by George Dickel Distillery only to find them closed. We went to Merchant’s Restaurant for dinner, followed by Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge for the Apple Pie Moonshine and live music. Although there are dozens of places within a few blocks, we ended up back at Legends Corner later that night.
On our final day in the Music City, we visited Bicentennial Capitol Mall State Park then Hatch Show Print and Ryman Auditorium. In the afternoon, we drove out to Belle Meade Plantation for a tour and some wine tasting. We arrived at The Hermitage just as it was closing, so we will have to return. We wrapped up the day with dinner at the 1808 Grille at the Hutton Hotel, and red velvet ice cream with real cake pieces at Mike’s Ice Cream.
Vegan in Nashville
Since I covered so much ground during that first trip years ago, I didn’t feel too bad about my most recent trip being shorter with less time for sightseeing and listening to live music on Broadway. One thing I did make time for was vegan food. I was so pleasantly surprised with the abundance of vegan options in this city!
We landed shortly after 2pm local time, and I realized I hadn’t had anything except those vegan Biscoff cookies served on the plane. It looked like Sunflower Cafe was closest, and I was there within 20 minutes. For being so late in the afternoon, there was still a steady stream of customers. After perusing the menu on the wall, I moved along to the ordering counter. Like a cafeteria, there trays of food on display behind a plexiglass divider from which the employees assemble your order. This made me a bit skeptical, because sometimes when food sits out, its not the right temperature or it loses the ideal texture. I ordered the Traditional BBQ Wrap with a mix of wheat and soy protein in barbecue sauce, with a crunchy Asian slaw, field greens, red onions, tomato, and garlic aioli, all wrapped up in a spinach tortilla and grilled. As an impulse buy, I got a little personal loaf of vegan and gluten-free jalapeno corn bread. The wrap was incredible! After eating at Homegrown Smoker in Portland, I set high standards for VBBQ, and this lunch passed my test. The corn bread, like many gluten-free treats, was a bit crumbly, but the flavor was solid.
After getting some work done, and taking a dip in the hotel pool, I went out for dinner. I wasn’t famished, since I had a late lunch, and decided to check out AVO. If you follow GPS directions, and it seems like you’re in the wrong place, you’ve found it! When I arrived at the address, I pulled into a parking lot where a few men were doing planks outside a CrossFit gym, and there were a couple of beach volleyball courts in use just next to us. Surrounding the courts, were a bunch of shipping containers. When I looked closer, I realized these shipping containers were not storage at all, and the double-decker shipping container housed the restaurant! I sat on the patio, and started off with a locally bottled “BeneFizz” lemon drink. I first ordered the Strawberry Caprese, with strawberries, coconut mozzarella, balsamic pearls, and mint. This mozzarella was quite different from the rice-based version I had a few weeks earlier at Civico 1845 in San Diego. The coconut-based mozzarella held shape much better, and had a very light taste. For presentation, this is what I expected to see, but the cheese flavors could be a bit more robust. I was so pleasantly surprised with the balsamic pearls! I assumed that meant vinegar was drizzled on my dish, and instead, gelatinous droplets were sprinkled around the plate. I think they were made with agar agar (sea vegetables are pretty cool) and they balanced the strawberry, mint, and mozzarella nicely.
I rounded out my dinner with a half Wild Nashville Salad. Local hydroponic microgreens, a perfect avocado, a few bite-sized pieces of beets, and some plump tomatoes were just what I needed as I watched a perfect Nashville sunset.
The next morning, I looked up breakfast places, and found two chain juice/smoothie places that offered acai bowls. I avoid chains when I can, and decided to check out the smaller, more regional chain. For a place that displays the “Happy Cow” sticker in their window, I was pretty disappointed they couldn’t pull off making a me a vegan acai bowl. I asked for the Aloha bowl, and made sure to clarify that I’m vegan. The employee still drizzled honey all over the bowl. I would have preferred agave or nothing at all. All the ingredients were mediocre, so the next morning I went to the other juice/smoothie chain in town. The second place pulled off vegan and nut-free with minimal confusion (I only had to clarify no almond milk OR almond butter a few times!) and while the ingredients were fresh, the portions were small. I’m not recommending any of the places I tried for breakfast.
Luckily, I still had some good Nashville eats to discover before this brief trip came to a close. For lunch on my second day, I pulled up to The Wild Cow for an early lunch around 11:20, and snagged one of the last tables in the house. The place quickly had a small line of people waiting! I love seeing great plant-based places in high demand, and figured anything I ordered would be fantastic. I couldn’t decide, and went with the Taco Sampler Platter. This included one of each of their three signature tacos.
In order of increasing awesomeness, one of the tacos has Sweet Potato and Black Bean (pictured in middle). This one was topped with lime slaw, homemade jerk sauce, and toasted pumpkin seeds. While there are lots of good flavors, and it’s packed with nutrients, the sweet potatoes were mashed and they smooshed out of the tacos with every bite. I think diced up potatoes would have made for a better mouthfeel (and kept my hands slightly cleaner).
Next up, was the Peanut Tempeh Taco. This taco (pictured at top) had a healthy serving of sautéed kale, tempeh, peanut sauce, sesame seeds, avocado, and carrot-daikon slaw. Many of these flavors were light, so the kale really came through. I really liked this, and if I order again, I might get a bit extra peanut sauce to make sure that flavor isn’t drowned out.
Lastly, as proof that I am not as adventurous as I think I am, my favorite taco (pictured on bottom) was the Chipotle Seitan Taco. This one had spinach, chipotle seitan, carrots, grilled peppers, grilled onions, and ranch. Call me a purist, but I really loved this one.
The platter was huge, and three tacos was a bit much for me – not to mention a side dish is included! I ended up taking home the huge side salad with spiralized carrots and beets, pumpkin seeds, and ginger miso dressing. After living in and spending time in more expensive cities, I was so pleasantly surprised to get this enormous order for $12. What a steal!
As I left The Wild Cow, I saw Graze just around the corner. I learned these establishments share owners, and after looking at the menu, I knew I’d be back to East Nashville for dinner. After a few more meetings, I came back to Graze for another plant-based masterpiece. Many items have nut-based cheeses on them, but the server was helpful in letting me know what could be made without. I chose the Crispy Brussels & Mushroom Sandwich. The Brussels sprouts and roasted oyster mushrooms were quite flavorful with the pesto aioli, spinach, and tomato. Because of the way the veggies were shredded up, I thought this would have been better in a wrap to hold it all together. But then, I would take another bite of the fresh baguette, and I quickly forgot that idea. The sandwich was served with a choice of sides, and I went for roasted veggies. Carrots, yellow squash, and onions cooked for just the right amount of time – they were great.
The Nashville vegan scene was so refreshing. I was happy to see so many options, and even happier to see how busy these restaurants were! Additionally, it was nice to see menu items that seemed to be vegan equally for human health, the environment, and animal welfare. Humans can hardly be advocates for the environment or the animals, if they are in a food coma from deep-fried seitan at every meal, so it’s important to keep plants in this plant-based diet. Every restaurant I visited will get my repeat business, and I’ll have to visit again to scope out more breakfast options worth sharing.