NYC had a Southern-fried revolution years ago — and now eateries serving green tomatoes and biscuit and gravy are nearly as commonplace as pizza parlors and Chinese takeout spots. But things have taken a hyper-regional turn with the rise of Nashville cuisine; starting with a major, local obsession with hot chicken, and expanding precipitously from there.
Brooklyn’s Peaches HotHouse can claim a certain amount of credit for planting a seed; considering its been slinging its signature cayenne and ghost pepper-dredged chicken (as well as Deep South specialties like blackened catfish with comeback sauce and loaded baked grits) since 2010. But there’s a new sheriff in town devoted to all things Nashville — that would be Carla Hall’s Southern Kitchen, which opened to great fanfare in the Columbia Waterfront District just this past spring.
A debut NYC restaurant for “Top Chef” favorite and “The Chew” host Carla Hall, the slim space is a full-on love letter to her hometown of Nashville, serving not just chicken (available in multiple heat levels, from sweet and spicy Hoot & Honey, to Bookshakalaka stinging hot), but sides like savory cornbread, collards n’ pot likker and pimento cheese, desserts such as banana pudding and buttermilk soft serve, and beverages including sweet tea, Pure Sodaworks jalapeno-strawberry pop, Yazoo IPA and Blackberry Farms Saison (the latter three are all Nashville companies). There’s even an adjunct mini market selling all manner of Nashville-based sundries; look for Soberdough bread mix, Ava & Zoe’s habanero ketchup, and bourbon nib brittle from Olive & Sinclair Chocolate Co.
And while Brooklyn has emerged as a stronghold of authentic hot chicken, Manhattan has turned its attention to another Nashville tradition; the down-home meat-and-three. Exemplified by Music City staple Arnold’s Country Kitchen, the highly affordable concept allows patrons to pick a protein from a daily-changing selection of choices (such as meat loaf, pork chops or country-fried steak), accompanied by three different sides; usual suspects include mac and cheese, green beans and corn. But NYC chefs are not necessarily content with scooping sweet potatoes off of steam trays, which is why our two new meat-and-three destinations are a tad more evolved.
There’s Mr. Donahue’s from the Uncle Boons team; a charming, fist-sized salon with scant seating, where a choice of main, sauce and two sides sells for $19.99 (unless you up the ante with carved-to-order roast beef). For entrees, you’ll find upscale riffs on classics like dry aged meatloaf, chicken fried pork cheeks and steelhead trout, doused in cowboy butter, pepper gravy, or nutty Spanish romesco, and accompaniments run the gamut from rotisserie red cabbage, pattypan squash parm and steamed, chilled artichokes with shrimp mayonnaise, to crab imperial, ricotta gnocchi and deviled duck eggs crowned with bottarga, red onions and chives.
But that’s still downright pedestrian compared to the gussied up fare at Harold’s Meat + Three, which finally opened under former Commerce chef, Harold Moore. While you could easily fill your belly for a ten-spot at most of Nashville’s down and divey eateries, the cost of an inclusive dinner ranges from $19 (for grilled salmon, crispy sweetbreads or green chili tripe), to $29 (Thai-inspired pork ribs, whole branzino with eggplant, hanger steak with marchand du vin), and all the way up to $39, for pinkies-up proteins such as prime rib, seared sea scallops, and lobster in a citrus crust.
Sides zigzag back and forth between traditional (green bean casserole, potato salad, macaroni and cheese), and contemporary (quinoa, herb salad, elote corn), while Plat du Jour sounds fussy, but actually refers to daily specials that are blessedly faithful to the South (stop by on Monday for hot chicken, Wednesday for shrimp and grits, and Sunday for chicken and dumplings). Although the menu swerves right back into bougie territory with a slew of refined upgrades; including an optional addition of thick cut bacon, eggs or foie, and oh so French sauces such as bordelaise, béarnaise and beurre blanc.
So for a less “re-interpreted” version of Nashville cuisine, look no further than the recently launched Printer’s Alley; a rowdy, two-story tall hootenanny in the heart of the Theatre District. Fire-in-your-belly cocktails such as the “Tennessee Jackass” (whiskey, lime juice, ginger beer), and the “Wrong Side of Memphis” (rum, mint, seltzer), arrive poured into outsized mason jars, and the food is deep-fried and stick to your ribs; we’re talking pimento dip, hush puppies, collards and pulled pork, and of course, platters piled high with slaw and hot chicken.
We “heart” New York, but it looks like nowadays, New York only has eyes for Nashville.
415 Tompkins Ave
Carla Hall’s Southern Kitchen
115 Columbia St
203 Mott St
Harold’s Meat & Three
2 Renwick St
215 W 40th St