Nashville is known for many things: proudly retaining its stance as “Music City,” for being a hub for the medicine and healthcare industries, and for Southern food staples such as hot chicken, biscuits, and fried bologna sandwiches. Simply put, Nashville is not typically known for its vegan food. But it should be. While Music City will always offer those decidedly battered, buttery, and quintessentially Southern foods, the region is also booming with fresh, healthy, vegetable-driven fare, farm-to-table restaurants, and chef-driven menus. For vegans, this is great news, as an array of eateries serve menu options that are naturally plant-based or can be easily made cruelty-free. In fact, Nashville is home to a vast assortment of restaurants one would never think to associate with vegan cuisine. Here are five of our favorite Nashville locations where you might not expect to find vegan food but will be glad you did.
1. Dozen Bakery
Situated in a bright, airy space in Nashville’s up-and-coming Wedgewood-Houston neighborhood, Dozen Bakery is a French-inspired eatery that pulls a fresh batch of baguettes from its ovens every two hours (arguably, the best and most authentic baguettes in town). The menu is refreshingly simple: tartines, sandwiches, salads, and soup. With every changing season comes a new salad list that is bound to include at least a few vegan options. The flavor combinations in these salads are masterfully curated, with unexpected yet flawlessly balanced pairings of vegetables, grains, nuts, and herbs. Take, for example, the sweet potato salad on the Fall 2017 menu: sweet potatoes, caramelized onions, almonds, cayenne. Superbe.
2. Bella Napoli Pizzeria
If this isn’t the only authentic Neapolitan restaurant in Nashville, it’s the only one worth visiting. With its twinkling string lights and Italian music drifting among the tables, the ambiance of Bella Napoli’s quaint courtyard is enough to attract anyone, but it’s the wood-fired pizzas that have people coming back for more. The restaurant uses quality ingredients imported from Italy, and the staff is always glad to accommodate vegan diets. For instance, order the “Vegetariana” pizza sans cheese and add marinara, and any plant-based eater will be satisfied with the smoky, wood-fired crust, the undeniably fresh tomato sauce, and the generous helping of eggplant and broccolini atop the pie—drizzled, of course, with plenty of fine olive oil.
3. Cori’s Doghouse
If you’d never think to enter a hot dog joint expecting to find vegan options, think again. When you’re craving a good ol’ fashioned Chicago-style dog, look no further than Cori’s Doghouse, near Nashville’s sprawling Centennial Park. Customers can choose from a multitude of toppings for their vegan sausages. What’s more, the buns are buttered with vegan butter, and the fries are cooked in their own designated fryer. Is this the healthiest eatery in town? Of course not. Is it greasy, delicious, and completely necessary every once in a while? You bet.
4. Vui’s Kitchen
Berry Hill is a neighborhood comprised of music studios, quirky shops, and businesses that are housed in quaint cottages—a few of them being very agreeable restaurants. Among these sits Vui’s Kitchen, a modern Vietnamese eatery. Cơm (defined on the menu as “rice bowl”) is a colorful mixture of brown rice, lemongrass tofu, crispy onions, julienned carrots and cucumber, and tangy daikon. The fish sauce that typically comes with cơm is swapped for a vegan sauce when ordered with tofu. With ingredients that are fresh, colorful, and transparent, Vui’s is an ideal choice when you’re in need of a clean meal after all those Chicago-style veggie dogs.
5. Tempered Café & Chocolate
Entering Tempered Café & Chocolate is like stepping into the heart of late 19th-century Paris: the glint of decadent gilt mirrors and the aroma of rich drinking chocolate greets patrons immediately, and you can practically see Picasso’s The Absinthe Drinker materialize right before your eyes. Since there is always room for a little something sweet, vegan customers will be delighted to know that Tempered’s impressive assortment of artisanal truffles includes a rotating selection of vegan flavors, with enticing options such as Rose Dark and Raspberry Cabernet. All of the truffles are made in-house, with many of the ingredients sourced locally. The café also features an impressive wine list and coffee menu, as well as an enchanting “Green Hour,” the late-night phenomenon that takes place Thursdays through Saturdays only, when traditional absinthe-drip and craft cocktails are served to a small crowd of individuals seeking to take a step back in time.
Erica Friedmann is a wordsmith and plant-based foodie with Chicago roots who is currently based in Nashville.
Photo courtesy of Tempered Café & Chocolate