Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Twelve Things To Do In Nashville

Hello LilyOnTheLam.Com Readers!

Merry Christmas Eve to those who celebrate it and Happy Tuesday to those who do not.  

Last month I traveled to Nashville for a quick visit.  Not counting the airport, it was my first time in Nashville and I have to say I very much enjoyed it.  I planned on blogging about all the places I went to individually but it is the holiday season and my procrastination is running on an all time high.  So instead I am borrowing a format I saw a DC food blogger (whose name and blog I can't remember - sorry!) do for a quick travel blog highlighting 10 things she did in a city.  I couldn't limit it to just ten, so here goes … "Twelve Things To Do In Nashville" - in no particular order.

Proof that Nashville Gift Shops Love Me and Want My Money

1)  See Live Music.

You can't go to Nashville and not hear live music.  It is everywhere and it is wonderful!  The purpose of my trip was to see Kelly Clarkson perform an acoustic Musicians On Call benefit at the Hard Rock Cafe in Nashville (2nd row, VIP ticket baby!)  Kelly of course delivered in superstar form.  But you don't need to see a big name act in Nashville to have a good time. I also heard many fantastic local bands in the various bars along Music Row for the price of a drink or a low cover charge.  The air is filled with music and you have to breathe it in.

I think this is Kelly Clarkson's way of asking me to come on stage for a duet

2)  Try Mexican Spaghetti.

Mexican Spaghetti and Steak - sorry for the bad lighting!

I did not do a lot of research for my Nashville trip, so my first night in town I had no idea where I should go for dinner.  I stumbled upon "Demos Steak and Spaghetti House."  I thought "I like steak.  I like spaghetti.  The place is packed.  I think I need to try it out."  So I had a steak skewer and Mexican spaghetti.  It was a very inexpensive restaurant with AMAZINGLY FANTASTIC customer service.  I have been in five star restaurants with 1/100th the customer service.  From the minute I walked in to the minute I left, I was treated like the most valued customer ever.  I was just gobsmacked at how great every employee in the restaurant was.  

The steak was an inexpensive cut heavily marinated.  It was very tender but a little too salty for my tastes.  The Mexican spaghetti was intriguing - I still prefer good old Italian-style spaghetti - but the peppers, Mexican-style sauce and sour cream topped pasta was something I glad I tried. 

3)  Inhale Pure Heaven.

Savannah Candy Kitchen

There are a couple candy stores on Music Row, but the one that smells the best is the Savannah Candy Kitchen.  Rows and rows of freshly made pralines literally yank you off the sidewalk and pull you in.  I dare you to walk past their store without at least sucking in 2 pints of praline-scented air.  I purchased several boxes to give to friends and family.  (They are crazy rich and sugary, so I gave out 4 packs as to not create diabetic comas.)  I also justified that I could not give the pralines out as gifts without sampling one myself - a chocolate covered one called a gopher.  It's like a turtle … except it's called a gopher.  So there you go.  It was delicious on top of delicious on top of a lot of sugar.

4) Stand In Awe In Front of The Man In Black.

Johnny Cash Museum

I have loved Johnny Cash's music as long as I can remember.  I don't know why.  I don't know how.  I just do.  So when I heard that the Johnny Cash Museum recently opened in Nashville, I knew I had to visit.

The experience lived up to the hype my brain created.  It's not a large museum, but the pieces in it are wonderful.  There is a small viewing room in the back where I watched clips of Johnny Cash starring in the movie "Five Minutes To Live."  How did I not know that Johnny Cash starred in movies when he was young?  The museum also showed a clip where Johnny Cash voiced Homer's spirit guide on "The Simpsons." Again, how did I NOT know about this episode?  

Every piece of memorabilia was steeped with history.  Even a simple heart shaped pillow that Johnny had inscribed to June, spoke volumes.  And of course toward the end of the museum, was Johnny Cash doing his iconic version of Nine Inch Nails' song "Hurt."  A song that has so become infused with Johnny's stardom that Entertainment Weekly once  reviewed a Nine Inch Nails' concert and mistakenly commented that the band did a cover of the Johnny Cash song "Hurt."  (The retraction came at lightning speed - tsk tsk Entertainment Weekly.)

The gift shop (I am ALL ABOUT THE GIFT SHOP.)  Did not disappoint.  Whether you are an infant all the way to a senior citizen, there is some quality merchandise at the Johnny Cash Museum for you.  

5)  Spend Some Time With Reba McEntire's High School Photo.

Reba - is it really you?
When my sister heard I was going to Nashville, she told me that I absolutely positively had to go to the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum.  I hemmed and hawed -- I mean going to the Johnny Cash Museum was one thing -- but the Country Music Hall of Fame?  Ehh.  But then I walked past it and I saw a gigantic picture of Reba McEntire (current exhibit) beckoning to me.  So I thought "what the heck?"

And my sister was right - the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum was crazy good with all sorts of memorabilia from the early days of country music to today.  If you like entertainer costumes - there are some great ones here.  I found myself standing in front of one of Taylor Swift's dresses and wondering if she was size triple zero.  The waist was the tiniest thing I have ever seen. 

Why did it take so long to induct Kenny Rogers???
The one thing that really shocked me was the actual Country Music Hall of Fame itself - it is amazing who has been inducted and in what year.  I was floored that Kenny Rogers had not been inducted into the Hall of Fame until 2013!  (And even more surprised that they used a pre-plastic surgery picture for the announcement.  Poor Kenny, you look good but you don't look like yourself any more.  I want my old Kenny Rogers "The Gambler" back!)  He needs a much better face change.

The gift shops are BEYOND FABULOUS.  I restrained myself from buying my friend Nick a t-shirt with Reba's name in red sequins.  I don't think Nick is a Reba fan, but I would be a big fan of seeing his face when he opened a box containing a bedazzled shirt!


I loves me some Southern cooking, so I absolutely had to have the Fried Green Tomatoes with Pimento Cheese at Merchants Restaurant.  
Merchants' Restaurant

I first took a bite of the Fried Green Tomato on its own.  It was OK - a bit bland, nothing to rave about.  But when I took a bite of tomato with Merchants' house made pimento cheese, holy cow - now there's a party!  It was incredibly delicious (as was the rest of my meal at Merchants).  Highly recommend!

Pimento Cheese and Fried Green Tomatoes
This dish set me off on a pimento cheese frenzy for the next 2 weeks, but none of the cheeses I tried were anywhere close to being as good as Merchants' pimento cheese.

7)  Sleep Amidst Nashville History.

Union Station Hotel
I splurged and stayed at the spectacular Union Station hotel while I was in Nashville.  It is a boutique hotel made from parts of a renovated train station and it's just gorgeous.

Lobby of the Union Station Hotel
 The customer service was great - and who can beat fresh baked scones free in the lobby each morning?

Free scones in the morning in the lobby!
The rooms were lovely.  I had a gorgeous marble bathroom.  I was also surprised at the speed of the WiFi - usually in the older renovated hotels, the WiFi connection is terrible.  Not so at Union Station!  A pleasant surprise!

Twice during my stay there were film crews in the lobby - darn paparazzi chasing me!

Plus there was live guitar music in the lobby in the evenings.  A great place to stay!

8)  Have A Proper Southern Breakfast.

The restaurant at Union Station is called Prime 108.  They serve breakfast, lunch and dinner in a lovely dining room off the lobby.  Sadly the customer service was not as good as the hotel staff's.  I was seated quickly and given a cup of a coffee right away.  But then I sat there, forgotten.  There were four tables and three servers and the service was ridiculously slow.  I sat for twenty minutes before the server came over to greet me hello.  Then walked away without taking my order!  

It seemed like the waitstaff were playing a game - one table would get service within 20 seconds, the next one 20 minutes, the next 60 seconds, the next one 25 minutes.  I started timing the servers' visits to other tables - because I had nothing to do since no one seemed to want to take my order.

After a total of 30 minutes of waiting, I finally flagged down the coffee server and asked if I could place my order.  She looked flummoxed - again let me remind you at this time there were only four tables, 3 servers and 2 of the tables already had their food.  She said she guessed she could take my order and then scurried to find something to write it down on.  My order was shrimp and grits, but from the look on her face you would have thought I had just recited an order as long as the encyclopedia.

My order came within 10 minutes and was very good.  The shrimp were cooked perfectly and had a kick of spicy heat.  The grits were somewhat decent but not cheesy as advertised.  But overall, a pretty good plate of shrimp and grits.  The only saving grace for Prime 108.  Needless to say I did not eat any other meals there.
9)  Be Overcome With Modern Art's Poignant Message.

If you are anywhere close to Nashville between now and January 12, 2014 - you absolutely must see the "30 Americans" exhibit at the Frist Center for the Visual Arts.  

The Frist Center is housed in the former Post Office and is a glorious Art Deco structure.  It is worth going there just for the architecture alone.  However when I visited, there was a Norman Rockwell exhibit and the 30 Americans exhibit.  

The Norman Rockwell exhibit was outstanding - from his Saturday Evening Post covers to the civil rights pieces like "The Problem We All Live With" and "Southern Justice."  These haunting pieces indeed follow the adage that a picture is worth a thousand words.

The 30 Americans exhibit was more modern art - some pieces were simple upon first glance but then tunneled in to your psyche.  There was one piece (Duck, Duck, Noose by Gary Simmons) that was reminiscent of the childhood game - Duck, Duck, Goose (although for some reason in the Midwest we called it Duck, Duck, Gray Duck).  There were stools in a circle with Ku Klux Klan caps on each stool and in the center was a noose.  How can some stools, some fabric and some rope leave me absolutely frozen and speechless? 

Even over a month later, I am still thinking about some of the pieces I saw in the exhibit.  This exhibit has been seen in Milwaukee as well.  Highly, highly, highly recommend you see it if you get a chance.

10)  Enjoy the Architecture.

Nashville is a delightful mix of old and new.  The architecture was superb.  I loved to just walk around and take in all the different building styles.

11)  Have some Barbecue!

You cannot go to Nashville without having some good old Southern barbecue.  Since I was in town for only a short time, I chose the legendary Jack's Barbecue on Music Row for my meal.

I had the three meats plate - brisket, ribs and pork with macaroni and cheese and baked beans.  The ribs were my absolute favorite.  If I am ever back at Jack's, I'll just get a huge plate of ribs and be perfectly content.  For dessert, a traditional Southern Chess pie.  

12)  Last but not least … SHOP, SHOP, SHOP!

Music Row and the surrounding streets are filled with boot shops, gift shops, boot shops, candy stores, bars, boot shops, restaurants and boot shops.  I had fun checking it all out!

If you're planning a trip to Nashville, I hope this post has inspired you to check out just some of what Nashville has to offer.  Happy traveling!

Merchants Restaurant on Urbanspoon Jack's Bar-B-Que on Urbanspoon Prime 108 on Urbanspoon Demo's Steak and Spaghetti House on Urbanspoon