I t doesn’t feel like it at the moment, given the recent snow and cold and ice, but believe it or not, spring is around the corner. The new season brings with it all kinds of forgotten pleasures (and hopefully not too many allergies): flowers, warm rains, green leaves and grass, walks outdoors, patios and generally anything else that the cold has kept at bay for the past few months. While all of those things raise joy and comfort levels, one of the biggest and best things resurrected in the spring is food.
Of course, one can (and does) eat well in the winter. I’m sure we’ve all enjoyed our stews and pastas and pot roasts and the like. But in the spring, it’s time to return to fresh vegetables and fruits. Lighter fare goes better with warmer weather, partly just because it’s in season. Additionally, it’s time for grilling and eating outside. Burgers, chicken, steaks, pork, fish: seared or blackened or charred. Yes, again, you can eat these things in the winter, but you know what I’m talking about.
It comes down to freshness. There’s a freshness about the spring that winter just doesn’t offer. People look a little brighter, moods tend a little higher, food tastes a little better, and the air seems a little cleaner. For the freshest of the fresh—something that embodies the spirit of spring and contributes to those heightened moods—farm-to-table eating is as good as it gets.
There are several restaurants and shops that boast farm-to-table in Nashville. A lot of the time, it’s for specific dishes (“The bacon comes from so-and-so,” or, “The [fill-in-the-blank] is grown 10 minutes out of town.”). But there are a few places in the Nashville area that have put farm-to-table at the heart of their endeavors. So, for those of you looking for a fresh experience this spring, here are some of your best bets.
First, there’s Miel. Opened in 2008, Miel is an intimate, sensory experience, with excellent food and an impressive wine list. Owner Seema Prasad committed from the beginning to using the best in-season ingredients as much as possible, and it shows. They grow all of their own herbs on site, as well as plant the roof with a tomato garden in the summer and greens in the spring & fall. Executive Chef Will Uhlhorn concocts new dishes regularly, all centered on what’s fresh and flavorful given the time of year. They pull from several local farmers and raisers, sharpening the menu and surprising their guests. If you want one of the shareable dishes like the pig’s head or the 32-ounce ribeye—recommended, by the way—call a few days in advance. After all, the food’s not sitting for days in a freezer. That’s the whole point.
Next up is Capitol Grille. Capitol Grille has a lot in its corner. First, it’s located in the historic Hermitage Hotel, which is worth a visit on its own regardless of whether you’re eating. There’s so much history associated with the hotel, including some great stories revolving around women’s suffrage in Tennessee. Look it up. Also, the hotel houses the Oak Bar which, in addition to a short menu of good food, has one of the best whiskey selections in Nashville. Even without the hotel and the Oak Bar (and, yes, the really cool men’s bathroom just outside the Oak Bar), Capitol Grille stands out as a place for great food and drinks.
In fact, Capitol Grille has its own 250-acre farm in White Bluff. Purchased by the Hermitage Hotel in 2012 and renamed “Double H Farm,” the hotel’s farm has the largest herd of Red Poll cattle in Tennessee, as well as other food kept and grown there. As you can imagine, this makes Capitol Grille’s fare some of the freshest in town, and it’s hard to know exactly how to describe the steaks. See for yourself, and you won’t be disappointed. You can make an evening out of it, of course. Book a room, eat at Capitol Grille, and have a nightcap at the Oak Bar—but I’m sure you’re already thinking along those lines because you’re sane.
Third on our list is Homestead Manor in Thompson’s Station. A self-described “50-acre mecca steeped in rich local history,” Homestead Manor has been many things throughout its 199-year history (construction began in 1799 but was not completed until 1819). Not only was Homestead Manor a plantation-style farm, but it later became a battle site for 6,000 soldiers during the Civil War and is now under permanent conservation easement through the Land Trust of Tennessee. There are plenty of reasons to visit Homestead Manor, from its historic significance to its event space. But this piece is about food.
Homestead Manor’s Harvest is a “farm-to-fork” restaurant supplied by the 10-acre Homestead farm. Each dish is carefully crafted and based on the yield of the season. They grow herbs and flowers, too, some of which are used in the Harvest Bar cocktails. All-around, there’s a quiet beauty to this space and a simple sophistication to its offerings.
Finally, there’s the Old School. The Old School is in an old school but the menu isn’t “old school.” (Okay, I’ll stop.) Located in the Bell’s Bend community, the Old School sits on its own farm, where they grow fresh vegetables and raise animals. Guests can eat inside, and while it’s certainly comfortable and beautiful on the inside, the outdoor space is really the most charming. It truly feels as though you’re sitting in your friend’s back garden.
The Old School is also a nonprofit with educational initiatives—for farming, food, pottery and more—and has distinguished itself as an organization that hires regardless of disability status. A leading member of both the Nashville Food Waste Initiative and Nashville Grown, the Old School is dedicated not only to great-tasting food, but sustainability in growing, in sourcing and to job opportunities. In other words, it’s about food, but not only food. It’s mostly about community.