You can’t beat the real thing, Coke told us in the ‘80s, and the Southern staple was right: especially when it comes to the foods of the South. After exploring Nashville mouth-first, I found unmatched levels of biscuit expertise, 911-levels of spice on fried chicken, and a tiny enclave of Kurdish baked goods. As I brought a baby into a bar (daytime only) and listened to live music on a Monday afternoon, there was no question that I wasn’t in Seattle anymore: the four-and-a-half-hour flight had brought me across the country, and to a whole different kind of city. But I’m going to need something to tide me over until I can get back to the Music City. So while I miss my cushy digs at the Omni Nashville — walking distance to tons of music and even more food — here’s where I found the best bites in Nashville — and where to find Seattle’s best imitations.
Nashville-style spicy fried chicken took the country by storm this year — even KFC offered a version — and Seattle was no exception. After sampling the two most famous spots in Nashville, Hattie B’s (spicier, if a little fast-foody) and Prince’s (down-home goodness if you’re willing to wait), I wished we could have that level of heat here on the West Coast. But while our local version at Sisters and Brothers didn’t come anywhere near the ear-and-alarm-ringing Nashville birds, it held up as a high-quality, crispy-cluckin’ pile-o’-chicken.
Meat and Three
At Arnold’s Country Kitchen and the hundreds of restaurants like it around the South, diners pick up their main dish and choose a few sides at a cafeteria-style line. Workers gently cajole the line at Arnold’s, encouraging people to pick up the dishes they’re most proud of, what they’re slicing and serving fresh. Roast beef, chicken fried chicken, and meatloaf battle for the center of the plate, while the choice of three sides is nearly as hard: mac n’ cheese, turnip greens, fried apples, or stewed okra? (Turnip greens. The answer, surprisingly enough is turnip greens.) There’s really nowhere like this in the Seattle, but the Southern comfort food you’ll find at Simply Soulful is as close as you’ll come.
There’s no shortage of places selling the biggest, the buttery-est, or the highest-piled biscuits in Seattle. So when I say Nashville gave me a biscuit revelation, I’m talking sheer quality here. The biscuits were neither too crumbly nor made of flat flaky layers, but were ethereal clouds that seemed to float between the two. So light that you worry they might float away, if not weighed down with a slapping of jam or gravy, yet with enough heft that they stood up to fried chicken plopped on top. And while I’d return to Nashville to stand in line at Biscuit Love every day, in the meantime, I’ll stop by the Seattle Biscuit Co.’s truck.
Whole Hog BBQ
On the flight to Nashville, I happened to be reading a book called The One True Barbecue: Fire, Smoke, and the Pitmasters who Cook the Whole Hog, so as soon as we stepped off, I knew exactly what I needed to find. Thankfully, the brand new outlet of Martin’s Bar-B-Que Joint was across the street from the Omni Nashville, and was even discussed in the book. Whole hog is fattier and fuller in flavor than typical pulled pork, but it’s also a more challenging, time consuming, and expensive style of cooking, so it’s rarely done, especially not outside of the south. Nobody is doing it in Seattle, but if you’re looking for the best hit of slow-smoked meat in the city, you’ll want to head to Jack’s BBQ on a Tuesday night for the ginormous beef ribs.
Kurds are the second largest ethnic group in the Middle East (to Arabs), but have no nation of their own—they live in Iraq, Iran, Turkey, and Syria. However, there is a small population in the US, mostly centered around Nashville, which means that curious eaters can pop into the markets, bakeries, and cafes to try the Kurdish cuisine. At Newroz Market, the baker told us that whatever was freshest was best, so we walked away with diamond-shaped warm samoon bread, spinach pies, and a za’atar-flecked flatbread. While there’s no Kurdish bakeries here in Seattle, you can find za’atar-flecked flatbreads of a different Middle Eastern style at Man’oushe Express on Lake City Way.