Worldeats - Nashville, Tennessee
"Nashville may have a reputation for its music history, but any foodie or gourmand knows the restaurant scene is what makes the city truly special." -Jimmy Im
From Passport Magazine:
I have a weakness for Southern food. Give me buttery grits or a biscuit drenched in gravy, and it’s instant #foodporn. Southern food and I go way back; we have history. I grew up outside Atlanta, Georgia, where the Waffle House was my stomping ground as a teen. Raised in a Korean household, I ate ban chan and bulgogi almost every day and have no regrets. My mom was an amazing cook, but when she brought home a bucket of fried chicken, it was a miracle if the chicken bones survived. There was always a bottle of Louisiana hot sauce on the table at every meal, and it was mine. It would go on everything, especially when my mom cooked meatloaf with green beans or chicken-fried steak with sweet potatoes. It’s not far off the mark to say I learned to love food through Southern dishes. There’s a level of comfort and nostalgia with every meal, no matter where I am in the country, and it truly resonates with iconic chef Anthony Bourdain’s famous quote: “Context and memory play powerful roles in all the truly great meals in one’s life.”
Every time I plan a trip to Nashville, I arrange my itinerary around the restaurants I’ll dine at. Nashville may have a reputation for its music history, but any foodie or gourmand knows the restaurant scene is what makes the city truly special. Notable chefs have elevated Southern classics, yet you can still nom on nostalgic comfort food at a simple café. When I’m in town, I’m hashtagging #foodporn to an obsessive level, but it’s all warranted. Nashville offers some of the best Southern food in the country. Restaurants here also have heaps of personality, and foodies are treated with trademark Southern hospitality, which historically has revolved around a great meal. Nashville is also growing faster than any other city in the south, so visitors have more reason to eat their way through the city. Thompson, Westin, and 21c Museum Hotel have recently moved in, and Kimpton and Virgin are on their way. Complementing the expansion of the tourism landscape, the culinary scene (the real heart and soul of Nashville, in my opinion) gets better every year. It has the power to move you, inspire you and, like me, make you fall in love with food. From longstanding institutions to new, buzzing hot spots, the restaurants featured here are taking dining to the next level.
The Mockingbird Nashville
Nashville has the power to move you (quite literally), and, if I can’t convince you, Brian Riggenbach and Mikey Corona will. The gay couple from Chicago packed their bags, booked one-way tickets to Nashville in November 2016, and opened a restaurant, The Mockingbird. “We relocated to Nashville after a series of events that emanated from Brian’s debut on the Food Network’s Chopped (spoiler alert: he won!),” says Mikey. “One of the judges on the panel for his episode was a Nashvillian, Maneet Chauhan, who invited us to visit the bustling culinary scene of the South. We made a trip from Chicago to taste what we’ve been hearing about in Nashville, and we fell in love! It was very soon after the visit that we began planning our move to become part of the exciting scene.”
Brian and Mikey, who have been together for 13 years and married for 2.5 years, aren’t strangers to the restaurant industry. Mikey has more than 20 years experience (Brian, 16 years) and they owned/operated a successful catering company Yo Soy Underground Supper for seven years in Chicago. Their new venture, The Mockingbird Nashville, has quickly become a foodie fan favorite even though it’s only been open a couple of months.
In the vibrant Gulch neighborhood, the design of The Mockingbird Nashville is reminiscent of 40’s art deco with emphasis on rich woods, brass and stone, embellished with tons of greenery and flooded with natural light, so it’s already visually impressive. With their eye for art (Brian graduated from the School of the Art Institute in Chicago with a focus on fine arts, and Mikey went to Columbia College Chicago with a focus on digital art), Brian and Mikey made the interiors warm and aesthetically commanding. They also commissioned an artist to fabricate an oversized, 3-D mirror in the shape of a bird’s head that is the focal point of the restaurant. Guests will also feel classic diner vibes, especially in the downstairs seating area (expect booths and banquets). From the upstairs balcony, you can get a (mocking) bird’s-eye view of the busy street below. “We wanted to take the neighborhood diner ‘feel’ and create an updated spin on classic comfort foods with global flavor twists,” says Brian. “The diner platform seemed to be the best to use as a jumping off point to add myriad flavors and give our unique culinary perspective.”
That perspective is the inspiration from their travels to Mexico, Europe, and India merging with their love for Southern food. “Unique” is an understatement when it comes to the imagination of their culinary creations. One of the signature dishes is The Bird is the Word, a fried-chicken dish where the country gravy is infused with homemade Mexican chorizo and brightened with a splash of cider vinegar. The perfect complement to the crunch is the soft mashed potatoes whipped with a housemade, roasted salsa verde. As someone who grew up eating Korean food, it was nice to see authentic Korean flavors merging with Southern flair (mishmashing is a Southern tradition, though I know Korean/Southern mishmash well from my upbringing). The Seoul Purpose takes a flank, bulgogi-style seared steak marinated overnight and served with a potato latke, topped with a fried egg and bulgogi jus. “It was paramount to make our dishes not only taste fantastic, but have a visually pleasing aspect as well. It is edible form and function!” says Brian.
Considering Brian and Mikey are one of very few gay restaurant owners in Nashville, The Mockingbird is destined to become a magnet for the LGBT community. They have already joined the LGBT Chamber of Commerce to get involved locally and make new friends, though that isn’t a problem in Nashville’s welcoming gay scene. “In Chicago we had quite a diverse following,” says Brian. “We hope to replicate that flock here as well!” 121A 12th Avenue. www.mockingbirdnashville.com