Music City is “Good to Go”
Story by Chris Chamberlain
Things are tough all over, but Nashville, Tennessee, has had a particularly tough run of luck since early March. First, early in the morning on March 3, a tornado tore through several beloved historic neighborhoods, including North Nashville, Germantown and the Five Points area of East Nashville. Many homes were destroyed and several popular bars and restaurants were forced to shutter due to storm damage. Just as life in the city was beginning to return to some semblance of normal, the global coronavirus pandemic forced Nashville’s closing of every restaurant to dine-in service, silencing the music and dimming the lights of the “Neon Highway” of Lower Broad and its popular honky-tonks. In early May, a freak storm known as a “derecho” swept through town with winds clocking in at up to 80 miles per hour and knocked out power to more than 130,000 households, some for as long as a week.
This is all to say that Nashville is ready to put the spring of 2020 behind it and invite the world to come experience all the joys that Music City has to offer. Moving carefully and steadily through a city-mandated reopening plan, Nashville’s hospitality climate has returned to a relative sense of normality with restaurants and bars serving customers under social distance guidelines, live music returning to the stages of the downtown honky-tonks, and clubs around the city as well as most other cultural and historic attractions swinging doors open and welcoming guests again.
In addition to the official Metro COVID-19 Response Team comprised of local medical, scientific and governmental leaders, Nashville benefits from strong support from the Nashville Convention and Visitors Corporation which has been working with local attractions to craft a new safety program named “Good to Go.” This initiative seeks to educate local businesses about best safety practices, encourage visitors to make a trip to Nashville, and help people identify which establishments have committed to implement specific health practices to promote safe visiting.
To date, more than 600 businesses have pledged to be part of the Good to Go program. Participants are readily identifiable: They display the signature green music note Good to Go window decal and also use the icon in printed and online promotional materials. Good to Go participants include a wide array of Nashville businesses in neighborhoods across the city, including museums, fitness facilities, health care, hotel and lodging facilities, restaurants, bars, retail establishments, salons, spas and beauty parlors, sports teams and sporting venues. Major hospitality industry partners like the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum and Music City Center are also members. A full list of participating businesses can be found at goodtogonashville.com.
“We are blown away by the enthusiastic response and participation of so many local businesses so early in the launch of our Good to Go program, and we appreciate all our participants who are abiding by these safety guidelines,” says Butch Spyridon, president and CEO of NCVC. “We are eager to show the world that through cooperation and collaboration, Nashville is safe and sound, giving all who live and come to Nashville confidence and peace of mind that we are safely open for business.”
Nashville has long been a favorite destination for fans of great restaurants, and for the most part, the dining scene remains intact. Even in the few sad cases where restaurants have been forced to shutter, there are silver linings to be found. Chef Margot McCormack has been a beloved leader in the culinary community for years, but was forced to close her quaint East Nashville morning meal bistro Marché Artisan Foods after it never really bounced back from being damaged by the tornado. Fortunately, McCormack has brought many of the staff and some of the menu around the corner to her venerable eponymous Margot Café & Bar where she has added breakfast, brunch, and lunch service to the soulful European-inspired seasonal dishes that earned her vaunted reputation. The addictive bread and pastry program from Marché also made the transition, much to the joy of those with a love for the talents of Margot’s baking team.
Downtown, The Green Pheasant was forced to close despite earning several “Best of” awards during its first year of operations, serving intricate and inventive modern Japanese cuisine the likes of which have never been seen before in Nashville. In addition to the fantastic food, the décor of The Green Pheasant represented some of the most cutting-edge restaurant design in the city, but unfortunately the cavernous space proved too expensive to survive the shutdown. On the bright side, the husband and wife team of Trey Burnette and Jess Benefield have returned to the kitchen of their original East Nashville izakaya Two Ten Jack to focus on the of ramen bowls and traditional Japanese comfort food that made Nashville fall in love with them in the first place!
Even in the midst of last spring’s turmoil, several entrepreneurial chefs have been bold enough to open new restaurants, and the early returns have been excellent. While the city waits for James Beard award-winning chef Sean Brock to open Audrey, his massive homage to his Appalachian food roots that’s currently under construction in East Nashville, he quietly opened another ode to his youth with Joyland. The cozy restaurant salutes some of Chef Brock’s favorite guilty pleasures: gas station fast food. From a decadent selection of biscuit sandwiches to the prototypical griddled cheeseburger to his takes on the Oxford, Miss., tradition of serving fried chicken on a stick, Brock has recreated and elevated fast food.
Another former fine dining chef has gone a little bit lowbrow as Edgar Pendley, from Urban Grub, opened TennFold, a combination brewery and pizzeria in the up-and-coming Donelson neighborhood near the Nashville Airport. In addition to an ever-growing selection of craft beers of many styles, Pendley has created a menu of innovative Neopolitan and New York-style pizzas. Bravely opening in the early days after the initial closing of dining rooms, Pendley trained his team by cooking dozens of pies a day to be distributed for free to displaced hospitality workers.
After what felt like years of anticipation, Atlanta chef/restaurateur Ford Fry finally opened the first of what is planned to be three properties in Germantown at 1400 Adams St. with the second outpost of The Optimist. Despite the intentionally humble “fish camp” vibe of its seafood-centric menu, The Optimist is a stunner of a restaurant with spacious dining room, an expansive outdoor patio and a classy bar upstairs. The former warehouse has been converted into what Fry calls “a moody yet luxe take on a classic Gloucester fishing village.” Whatever he calls it, it’s gorgeous and will soon be joined by two new Fry projects in the same building, an upscale cocktail emporium named Le Loup and a listening room and taqueria-inspired eatery called Star Rover Sound. Add these properties to Fry’s already popular Superica Tex-Mex eatery in the Gulch, and you’ll see why Nashvillians have been willing to wait for him to complete his vision!