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Best of 2012

2012 brought several wonderful changes to our lives – the most obvious and profound was our baby, Oz, who was born in June. Before that we bought a home in February and have spent most of the last 10 months trying to furnish it.  With that as the backdrop, it is obvious why our travels were limited this year compared with prior years.  We were able to return to Atlanta, Austin, Chicago and Tampa this year as well as exploring new restaurants in Nashville.  We were still able to have some wonderful (if not less “fancy”) food this year and wanted to share our Best of 2012 list with you.

Restaurant of the Year:

mas tacos por favor, Nashville, TN

What characteristics would one want to have in the Restaurant of the Year?  First of all, the food should be delicious.  It should use quality ingredients. It should be consistent.  It should be a good value.  The chef should have a passion for the food. The restaurant should be inviting to both locals and those from out of town.  Service should be friendly and warm.  You should be craving the food and planning your return when you leave.

When we looked at it from that standpoint it became clear that the one restaurant that stood out to us was mas tacos por favor. Teresa Mason’s small East Nashville taqueria met all of these criteria and then some this year. Her dedication to deliver the highest quality authentic Mexican food stood out among the rest this year.  Most folks are acquainted with mas tacos as a Winnebago food truck that was a staple at the Supper and Song at imogene + willie.  But the restaurant provides many more options that we were happy to discover this year. The Sopa Tarasca (a wonderful pureed black bean soup) and Chicken Tortilla soups became almost weekly staples for us.  The Tamales, Chilaquiles, and Breakfast Tacos are also all crave-worthy.

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Honorable Mention:

Rolf and Daughters, Nashville, TN

Best Atmosphere:

Oxford Exchange, Tampa, FL

This was perhaps our most pleasant discovery of the year. Visually stunning. The pictures speak for themselves (see our previous post). A return here will be a must whenever we visit family in Tampa.

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Honorable Mentions: 

Easy Tiger Bake Shop and Beer Garden, Austin, TX

Elizabeth Street Cafe, Austin, TX

Big Star, Chicago, IL

Dish of the Year:

The Bongo Room, Chicago, IL –

Vanilla Bean Brioche French Toast (with warm white chocolate cream, triple berry coulis, fresh berries and topped with oatmeal streusel crumbs)

Do you ever wake up in the morning and say, “Man, I wish I could have some (blank) this morning?”  Well, for us, it is this most perfect French toast.  We fear it may have ruined us forever for other French Toast.

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Honorable Mentions:

Rolf and Daughters, Nashville, TN –

Garganelli verde, heritage pork ragout, pecorino

Squid ink canestri, gulf shrimp, squid, chorizo

La Pietra Cucina, Atlanta, GA – (now rebranded as a more casual restaurant called LPC and dish not available)

Hand Cut Pappardelle with bolognese ragu and grana padana

Lucy’s Fried Chicken, Austin, TX –

Bucket O’ Chicken

Sandwich of the Year:

XOCO, Chicago, IL –

Ahogado Torta

For the second straight year a roasted pork sandwich claims our title of Sandwich of the Year.  Tender and flavorful carnitas with black beans and pickled onions and bread that stays chewy despite coming dipped in sauce.  The arbol chile sauce in tomato broth brings the heat and makes the dish.  Just make sure to get a refreshing cold drink to wash it all down.

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Honorable Mentions:

Mitchell Delicatessen, Nashville, TN –

Turkey Avocado and Bacon

Muss and Turner’s, Atlanta, GA

Smoked Salmon BLT

Bocado, Atlanta, GA

Roasted Cauliflower with Chinese and Thai eggplant, cilantro, spicy mayo

Dessert of the Year:

Legato Gelato, Nashville, TN

And the gelato flavor of the year is Banana…oh wait, it is Graham Cracker. No, that isn’t it, it must be Burnt Sugar and Bourbon Brittle.  Or was it Dark Chocolate combined with Madagascar Bourbon Vanilla.  But, shoot, that Coffee is fantastic too.  Oh well, we can’t decide which flavor we love the best so we will just say that all of the flavors are our Dessert of the Year. If you don’t believe us, just go sample a bunch of flavors yourself and thank us later.

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Honorable Mentions:

GT Fish and Oyster, Chicago, IL

Salted caramel tart with bananas, chantilly cream and chocolate

Edison food + drink lab, Tampa, FL

edison cruellers with cardamon glaze, carrot ice cream, white raisin purée (deconstructed Carrot Cake)

Drink of the Year:

Tie:

Mindy’s HotChocolate, Chicago, IL

Cappucino with Burnt Honey Infused Milk

And

Barista Parlor, Nashville, TN

Salty Tennessee Whiskey Caramel Latte

We went back and forth on trying to decide who’s espresso drink reigned supreme this year. Finally, we decided that Mindy’s and Barista should share the title.  Normally we aren’t ones for extra sweetened espresso but both of these may have changed our minds for good.

Honorable Mentions:

Chateau Guirdaud Sauternes ‘88 (from our friend ‘s cellar at a special dinner at Midtown Cafe, Nashville, TN)

Topo Chico mineral water with a lime (Dee Dee’s drink of choice while pregnant)

Bite of the Year:

Barista Parlor, Nashville, TN

Pop’s Waffle

Very few times will you ever find a Belgian waffle and have it taste this light, crisp and delicious. This waffle gets it right, made with Hatcher Dairy buttermilk, Bourbon Barrel Vanilla Sugar and Vanilla Maple Syrup.

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Honorable Mentions:

The Purple Pig, Chicago, IL

Tomato Smear

Do-Rite Donuts, Chicago, IL

Cinnamon Crunch doughnut

Food Obsessions 2012:

Calabrian Hot Chiles from DeSano Pizza Bakery, Nashville, TN

These chiles come standard on their delicious Diavola pizza but we just couldn’t stop there.  We get a few cupfuls of these guys, put some more on top and then polish off the rest afterwards.  Antacids not provided by DeSano.

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Bananas – the banana gelato from Legato Gelato started a summer long craving for anything banana in desserts for us.  Whenever it was on the menu, we’d get it.  We also loved the banana in the GT Fish and Oyster dessert (see above).

If You Build It…

…They Will Come.

We know that it takes time for cities to grow and develop. We love Nashville and have been thrilled to see so many great changes in the last 5 years. Here are some examples that we have found in our travels that we feel could help make Nashville even better.

Type of Spot: High Quality Taqueria and Dive Bar

Example: Big Star, Chicago, IL

Why: This spot in Wicker Park in Chicago was created by one of the country’s top chefs, Paul Kahan, as a cash-only place to come and grab a beer/whiskey/cocktail and a few high quality tacos. It has great outdoor seating and updated garage-type feel to the inside. Old Country music plays on a record player and the vibe is laid-back and hip. The food, though, is fantastic and despite its simple menu you want more of their chips/guac, tacos al pastor and fish tacos. Truly one of the coolest places we’ve been to in our recent travels and affordable to everyone. We know of a perfect spot for it in 12South…hint hint…the corner of Kirkwood and 12th.

Who Could Do It: Teresa Mason, mas tacos por favor with Alexis Stoler, No. 308

Type of Spot: Killer Boutique Hotel

Example: Ace Hotel, Portland and Hotel San Jose, Austin

Why: When we asked ourselves the question, “Where would we want to stay if we didn’t live here and came to visit?” and we honestly couldn’t answer. Staying Downtown is where most folks go when they visit, but really, how much do locals really go down there on a nightly basis? Even so, where would you stay? It would be a chain hotel. Hutton Hotel seems cool but its location seems neither here nor there, not really close enough to be able to navigate on foot. Two places that would be primed for a boutique hotel would be the 12South neighborhood or 5 Points in East Nashville. Somewhere where you could come if you were just visiting or if you were a hip musician and wanted a unique stay with interesting decor to hang around a cool neighborhood to get a real taste of Nashville.  It could even have a great outside bar and pool like Hotel San Jose. There is nothing here like that and both of the places listed above are hot spots that are cool and add a lot of character to their cities. It would be perfect here, especially with the number of musicians that visit our city for extended periods of time to record.

Who Could Do It: Liz Lambert, Hotel San Jose, Austin

Type of Spot: A Great Place to Run By the Water

Example: Chicago, San Francisco, Boston, Austin, Seattle, Portland, Tampa…basically most every other city

Why: A place where people can run/walk/bike by the water would be one of the things highest on this list. In our city you can run at Percy Warner or Edwin Warner Park (very nice but hilly), Centennial Park (pretty during the day but only a 1 mile loop), Vandy Loop (mostly traffic lights and cars), Shelby Bottoms Park (a bit isolated and honestly doesn’t feel the safest), or with East Nastys (fantastic but it involves running through East Nashville neighborhoods/streets). If you go to any of those cities listed above the water is a focal point for their cities and the water is where there is so much beauty and where locals run on their paths and trails. We have the Cumberland River, which nothing Downtown actually faces, and which is basically used for nothing. It could be used for a trail like this – somewhere where you could explore the city whether you lived here or were visiting. It would make a huge difference in our city.

Who Could Do It: The Mayor

Type of Spot: Great NY Style Pizza and Hot Spot

Example: Home Slice Pizza, Austin, TX

Why: Nashville has several restaurants with great pizzas – City House and Margot Cafe – but these are gourmet wood fired pizzas rather than thin crust NY style. We really do not have great NY style pizza here in our opinion. Mafiaoza’s is more of a 2 for 1 Tuesday bar scene. Pizza Perfect is fine but not spectacular. Five Points Pizza is closer to the right idea but the pizza is not quite there. In Austin, on South Congress, Home Slice Pizza sits with a fun, funky vibe, fantastic NY style pizza, local beer on tap and is a great hot spot for foodies, hipsters and families. The restaurant even closes briefly each year so the staff can go to NYC to sample the pizzas there.

Who Could Do It: Chef Tandy Wilson, City House and we hear rumors of the delicious Antico Pizza from Atlanta expanding to Nashville

Type of Spot: The Modern Diner

Example: 24 Diner, Austin, TX

Why: A growing dining trend in larger cities is the concept of the “Modern Diner”. These places are using local and sustainable ingredients in a farm-to-table approach and making chef inspired creative comfort food. We have legendary greasy spoons and Meat-and-Threes but these places can certainly be supplemented with something more updated and eclectic/unique. A place where you could get a roasted banana and brown sugar milkshake or a well prepared Sazerac or a Brooklyn Lager on tap.

Who Could Do It: Chef John Stephenson, Fido

Type of Spot: Upper Echelon Bakery

Example: Huckleberry Cafe, Santa Monica, CA and Tartine Bakery, San Francisco, CA

Why: These spots make amazing pastries and breads for local restaurants as well at their cafes. They also brew high quality local coffee and serve fantastic breakfasts and brunches. They have lines out of the door and national attention. We have nothing even close to this.

Who Could Do It: Chef Margot McCormack, Margot Cafe and Marche or Silke’s Old World Breads

Type of Spot: Casual Counter Restaurant featuring High Quality Local Ingredients

Example: Evoe, Portland, OR

Why: This counter cafe is located within a fantastic gourmet small grocery called Pastaworks. It features a wonderful chef, Kevin Gibson, using the freshest seasonal local ingredients. His menu is written on a large chalkboard wall and changes frequently. The key here is that he lets the quality ingredients shine and keeps his dishes simple. Pristine Deviled Eggs, salads and sandwiches that aren’t over or under done. A deft touch and great ingredients is all that he needs. We love the Silly Goose but we feel that a spot where “less is more” with a simpler approach to dishes would be fantastic.

Who Could Do It: Chef Margot McCormack, Margot Cafe and Marche or Chef John Stephenson, Fido

Type of Spot: Excellent New Tavern or Gastropub

Example: The Publican, Chicago or Brave Horse Tavern, Seattle

Why: In Nashville there aren’t that many places to go to get a really good beer on tap. 12South Taproom has a good selection of predominantly Southern microbrews but its vibe is definitely casual and more of a place to get a beer outside than a place to find high quality chef driven food. Flying Saucer is a chain and until recently was a smokestack. Yazoo Brewery is a fantastic spot for a Yazoo, but naturally, that is all that they have.  We have Whiskey Kitchen, which is more of a whiskey lounge with pub food and not the easiest place to get in and out of in the Gulch and Tavern which has a more creative menu but a very limited beer selection. The Publican is a European style pub with an amazing list of European beers – mostly Belgian – and a wonderful menu with mussels, frites and creative uses of pig. The Brave Horse Tavern in Seattle is a more laid back and casual spot and has a great list of local Northwest beers on tap, unreal pretzels and great quality pub food from one of the top chefs in Seattle, Tom Douglas. It also is a great spot to throw darts or play shuffleboard and has ample seating. A spot where folks who love a great selection of some of the world’s best beers and can also have even better quality food would do great here.

Who Could Do It: The Goldberg Brothers, The Patterson House and The Catbird Seat

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