I could spend days writing this blog post. Not kidding. DAYS. Our town’s 2nd Music City Food + Wine Festival has come and gone, and it was a doozy.

As I sat here going through all of my photos, it hit me hard how much I love Nashville and more specifically, our food community. This past weekend was absolutely incredible. My heart and my belly were filled as I got to eat delicious things, listen to incredible music, meet interesting new people, and spend quality time with dear friends I don’t get to see nearly enough of.

I love my life. And I love this festival.

Unfortunately, I don’t have days to spend writing, so while I can’t explain every single thing that made this weekend amazing, I’m giving you my thoughts on what was the best of the best – the food, the drink, the moments.

Day 1 – Grand Taste


One of the first bites I had when I came through the entrance was from Otaku South. That dish stayed on my mind all day long. Okay, who am I kidding? I’m still thinking about it! Tantan Mazeman – thick style noodle, sesame, chili sauce, dashi, chili oil and cured egg yolk – absolutely one of my top 3 favorites of the day.


The other two dishes that made up my Top 3?

Moto’s Housemade Burrata and heirloom tomato panzanella and Sinema’s Duck, Duck, Dumpling – frisee, butternut squash, whipped goat cheese, duck confit, and curried French style gnocchi. Both amazing.


Those may have been my Top 3, but there were a few others that I loved as well.

Biscuit Love’s 3-year-aged country ham with beaten biscuits and jam. As you can see, the ham was cut from a leg right there on the table. I may have gone by a couple of times (3, 4, 5 – who’s counting?) to nibble on the ham remnants. Hey, I love country ham. I grew up in a town that hosts the Country Ham Festival every year. It’s in my DNA.


Just in case you’re wondering, I did more than just eat at the festival. I learned to play harmonica too!


Moving on to the sweet side of things, Lisa Donovan’s (Husk) Bourbon Butterscotch Pudding with Smoked Cocoa Nib Brittle was absolutely delicious.


And this one? Well, it was pure insanity. My mind was blown and I deemed the Catbird Seat contribution to the event the ‘Best in Show’. What looked like a wheelbarrow full of potatoes and dirt turned out to be an amazing cream filled pastry with cocoa nibs (dirt)!



Harvest Night


The Grand Taste tents at Public Square Park during the day is where the Nashville chefs show off their culinary skills, but Saturday night’s Harvest Dinner is where the out of town chefs have a chance to shine.

Held at the Walk of Fame Park behind the downtown Hilton, the lawn was set with 15 individual sampling stations for each chef, which meant lining up for each taste. A couple of the lines were so long, I just wasn’t willing to wait (sorry Tyler Florence & Morimoto), but for the most part they moved fairly quickly.

My favorites from Harvest Night (I’d definitely be willing to wait in line for a second helping of these!):

Amanda Freitag’s Falafel

Ashley Christensen’s Pimento Cheese grits, succotash, and fried okra

Andy Ticer and Michael Hudman’s Porchetta with Brussels Sprouts

Levon Wallace’s BBQ Manchester Farms Quail, Berbere, Watermelon Confit, Cruze Buttermilk

Mike Lata’s braised grilled squid, burnt eggplant puree and paprika




After eating my way through most of the stations, I was exhausted and starting to lose steam, so I plopped myself on the grass to listen to the entertainment. Just a few of the performers for the evening: Kings of Leon, Michael McDonald, Charles Kelley, Hunter Hayes, Ashley Monroe, Moon Taxi…

Sitting in the cool grass with the lights of the city and good friends around me, I had another “I love Nashville. I love my life.” moment. Happy times.

Day 2 – Grand Taste


First thing on the agenda for Day 2 of the festival was to get caffeinated. Day 1 was a long day, and we needed a boost! Luckily, Switter’s bottled iced coffee was there, so I pretty much guzzled it* for the first couple of hours. Let me tell you,  this stuff is really, really fantastic!

Made with 8th and Roast beans, it’s currently sold at Whole Foods, Produce Place, Mitchell Delicatessen and a few other local markets, as well as on tap at some restaurants (and more to come soon).  Search it out!

*there may have also been a little Whisper Creek Tennessee Sipping Cream added….



Caffeine secured, so naturally, hot chicken was our next stop. While Hattie B’s had a table full of mini hot chicken sandwiches, I wasn’t really in the mood for a sandwich, so I asked the chef if I could just get a piece of chicken sans bread. His response was to pull out a giant ziploc bag full of hot chicken skins.

How did he know the way to my heart???  After multiple trips back to that table throughout the day to secure more, I finally suggested that they start selling them by the bag in the restaurant. It would certainly be my new #1 snack food.


Other top picks for Day 2:

Sinema’s Cardamom Sugar Crusted French Toast with mulled wine poached pear, and whipped farm cheese.  (Wow. Fingers crossed that this or at least something very similar will be on their new brunch menu when it launches!)

404 Kitchen’s cornbread with pickled cherries, trampetti olive oil and Hungarian white honey truffles

Mangia’s Porchetta on Focaccia

Well, there you have it. My “best of the best” list for Music City Food + Wine 2014. For those of you that were there, I’d love to hear what your favorites were! And for those that didn’t attend, start saving your change now, because you need to be there next year!



Esane Sausgae at Thai Esane

There aren’t many restaurants that I visit on a regular basis these days because, well, there are so many new restaurants to try in Nashville. But, Thai Esane is an exception. I’ve been there more than any other dining spot in the past couple of months because it’s too good not to go back to.

Opened in June at the far end of 12 South almost to the Gulch, Thai Esane has become a popular lunch spot for many of my food blogger/writer and social media friends. In fact, it’s rare that a day goes by that I don’t see someone posting on Twitter or Instagram about their meal there. And it’s all praise!



Thai Esane’s Steamed Dumplings

Nina Sayasack, the proprietor, was already known to fans of the popular King Market in Antioch, her family’s Thai Laotian cafe. When word began to spread that she was opening a place on 12 South, excitement commenced, and for good reason.

The menu at Thai Esane is huge, so it’s going to take a while to eat my way through it. Luckily I have a couple of friends that have done a great job of pointing out the best of the best. Vivek and Tabitha have both been dining partners of mine at the restaurant, and they’ve both eaten there much more than I even have, so they’re experts on the offerings. Be sure to check out their posts found here and here. (Vivek’s write up includes several ethnic eateries in Nashville. You’ll find Thai Esane if you scroll down a bit)


Papaya Salad at Thai Esane


That said, I’m sharing some pics of what I’ve found to be a few of my personal favorites so far. I love dumplings, and so I often like to start the meal with an order of the steamed dumplings, a wonton stuffed full of chicken, mushrooms, celery, carrots, cabbage and onions. The Papaya salad is also a great, light, refreshing starter to share.

Vivek turned me on to the Esane sausage, which is made with ground pork, lemongrass, onions, and ginger. Served with rice and sauce for dipping, I suggest getting an order to split with the rest of your table.



Thai Esane’s Tiger Tear Salad

My favorite dish, probably partly because it has been so darn hot lately, is the Tiger Tear salad. Made up of thin sliced beef in lime juice, fish sauce, onions, jalapenos, peppers, carrots and herbs, it’s perfectly refreshing and light (though filling!) on a warm day.

The larb (no photo of this one) is also another cold salad that’s great. It’s minced meat (I prefer pork) mixed with red onion, cilantro, green onions, chiles, lime juice and rice powder. (Side note: I order “medium” on all of my dishes at Thai Esane. I love spicy food, but their “hot” is a bit too much for me. Medium gives a pleasing heat that doesn’t overwhelm any of the flavors of the dishes.)



Thai Esane’s Kao Soi: flat thick rice noodles in tomato base with lettuce, beansprouts, cilantro and green onion (add your choice of meat)


Now, the opposite of the cooler, light options on the menu — the bowls of steaming hot soups. The last time I ate here I was with both Tabitha and Vivek. It was 90+ degrees outside, but they both ordered soup! Before then, I hadn’t tried any soups because that’s not really something I think about eating in the summer. When they both did this, I knew there must be something really special about these soups!

I got to sample Tabitha’s chicken noodle (WAY beyond typical chicken noodle) and Vivek’s kao soi, and I’ll say, I cannot wait for it to get colder because these soups will be a staple in my winter diet!





When I was leaving Thai Esane on my last visit, I was thrilled to hear Nina say they were starting delivery service. Deliveries are now up and running, so if you live within a 3 mile radius of their location, you can have all of this deliciousness delivered right to your front door. There is a minimum purchase of $25 and a $5 delivery charge, but I promise, it’s totally worth it!


Thai Esane

907 12th Avenue South
Nashville, TN 37203
(615) 454-5373

M – Thurs 11 – 9
Fri – Sat 11 – 10:30
Sunday – closed

Twitter: @ThaiEsane
Instagram: thaiesane



Taste of Tennessee

September 5th-7th, 2014

Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway
625 Smith Ave
Nashville, TN 37204

Craft beer, artisan spirits, and plenty of food and local goods will all be showcased during the Taste of Tennessee at the Tennessee State Fair this weekend. There’s so much to tell you about that I’m just going to point you toward the TN State Fair website because they’ve already done it better than I can!



Except I will fill you in on some additional details of the Music City Cookoff because I’m playing a small part in it! I’ll be a judge for the dessert round in this Super Regional competition of the World Food Championships.

Goo Goo Cluster is the title sponsor of this event, and as a part of that sponsorship, the competitors will be tasked with using Goo Goo Clusters as an ingredient in whatever their creation may be. You better believe I’m looking forward to sampling the entries!

As of right now, there are still a few spots open for home cooks, chefs, and food professionals that want to test their skills and try to make it to Las Vegas to the BIG World Food Championship in November. For more information, visit the Music City Cookoff website.



Gray’s Mix & Mingle

Tuesday, September 9th, 2014
7 pm

Gray’s on Main – Society Level
332 Main Street
Franklin, TN 37064

Cost: $40 in advance ($45 at the door)


Back in March when I wrote about Gray’s on Main, I mentioned that they were starting to host cocktail classes. I haven’t had a chance to get to one yet, but I’m hopefully that will finally change and I can make it to next week’s where Jon Yeager will be teaching guests how to make the Sac + Lavender and the Brandy Crusta. (There will even be an option to purchase a bottle of Gray’s housemade lavender bitters).

Only 20 spots are available for the class, so call in advance to reserve your spot: (615) 435-3603. Price includes light appetizers, the class, and a few cocktails.





Eat Green for Tennessee

Wednesday, September 17th, 2014

Plan to go out to eat on September 17th. Specifically, plan to go out to eat at one of these 25 local Nashville area restaurants:

The Capitol Grille, City House, Rolf & Daughters, Arnold’s, Pub5, Miel, Merchant’s, Paradise Park, M.L. Rose (both locations: Charlotte + 8Th Ave.),  The 404 Kitchen, Yazoo Brewery, The Stone Fox,  The 12 South Tap Room, Las Paletas, Sinema, Chago’s Cantina, 360 Bistro, Gray’s on Main, Frothy Monkey (all locations: Franklin, 12 South, Downtown, 8th Ave @ Grimey’s), Lockeland Table, Two Ten Jack, Porter Road Butchers (both locations: East Nashville + Charlotte Ave. West), Bagel Face Bakery, The Perch (both locations: Green Hills + Brentwood)

Why? Because a percentage of your check will go to The Land Trust for Tennessee, to support their work protecting local farms and our beautiful state’s natural landscapes! For more information, visit the Land Trust website.



Music City Food + Wine

Saturday & Sunday, September 20th & 21st, 2014
See website for times

Public Square Park, Downtown Nashville

Cost: 1-day Pass $150, All-in 2 day Pass $500, Harvest Night Only $275

Last, but certainly not least, Music City Food + Wine is happening this month!!! Last year I wrote a lot about this event (called Music City Eats then) but the best post to read out of all of them would be my recap.

For this year’s full schedule, click here and to see what talent (celebrities!) to expect, click here. Celebrity chef demos and panel discussions will be running simultaneously with Grand Taste, so you can pick and choose what you do throughout the day. This is going to be awesome you guys, and I hope to see some of you there!

To purchase tickets, or for more detailed information, visit the Music City Food + Wine website.


ACME Feed & Seed at 1st and Broadway, downtown Nashville

The Acme Feed & Seed building has stood at the corner of 1st and Broadway since the 1800s, but since the mid-90s, had been empty. Then Tom Morales (The Southern, Saffire, TomKats) came along and transformed the historic space into an incredible new dining, music and event venue.

There are 4 floors (well, 3 + a rooftop), and each has its own purpose and vibe. Let’s tackle first things first: the 1st floor. This floor houses a shop, restaurant (with open kitchen), bar (28 regional craft beers on draft), and a stage (for live music. Duh).

When you enter the front door off of Broadway, to your right and left is the ACME Farm Store, with quite possibly the best selection of local goods in all of Nashville. (This has not been thoroughly researched, but I honestly cannot remember a store I’ve been in that carries this many local products!)

Seriously, they have the coolest stuff. Follow the store on Instagram to see just a few of the things you might find there.


Some of the local goods at ACME Feed & Seed


Take a few more steps and you’ll be at the front counter staring at the giant menu board featuring street-food inspired cuisine. This is where you’ll place your order and be given a number to take to your seat, which you choose yourself. I love this concept of fast casual because I now have a great downtown spot to go for quick business lunches- quick being the key word here. There are a handful of downtown restaurants that I love to dine at, but often I’m in a hurry and don’t even have an hour to spare. I’ve found that I can be in and out of Acme for lunch in 30-45 minutes!

Don’t go thinking that the fast service is the only thing that has kept me coming back though. Not even close. You know the food has to be good, or I wouldn’t bother.



I am obsessed with one dish in particular, and can proclaim it to be my current favorite vegetarian dish in town. The Hatchery is a bowl of curried chickpeas, creamy coconut rice, cashews, and cilantro, topped with a fried egg and served with fry bread.

I love it so much that I had to share two photos of it. One just would not do.


The Hatchery at ACME Feed & Seed

Executive Chef Matt Farley, who also oversees the kitchen at The Southern, really did an incredible job crafting this menu, as there truly is something for everyone. There are creative dishes (the kinds of things that I tend to like) but also dishes that my mom would order (she’s the least adventurous eater I know) like catfish and hushpuppies, or a simple cheeseburger. And there are vegetarian options (other than the absolutely amazing chickpea dish I’ve already raved about) in addition to the big, meaty dishes for carnivores.

I’ve shared bites of the Hot Chicken Sandwich and the Griot with Ti Malice & Pikliz (translation: seasoned fried pork with black beans, plantains & sweet habanero slaw), and can recommend both, but I’m not sure I’ll personally ever be able to stop ordering The Hatchery because– did I tell you? — it’s SO FREAKIN GOOD. Oh well, hopefully friends/dining companions will let me keep taking nibbles of their dishes so I can eventually try the whole menu but never give up my favorite!



The 2nd floor lounge of ACME Feed & Seed

Okay, now on to the 2nd floor. When I walked into this space for the first time, I was smitten. The details!!!

Featuring lounge seating (some super cool retro chairs that I want to steal), intimate group spaces, vintage games, and seasonally-inspired handcrafted cocktails, this will be a cocktail bar that locals are sure to love.

I’ll be honest. I don’t really like to go out for drinks downtown at night . But there are times when I have friends visiting from out of town and they want to go downtown. Because that’s what you’re supposed to do, right? Until now, I’ve always been filled with dread when that part of the evening comes. I’m a bit claustrophobic, so fighting the drunken masses is not my idea of a good time. (Unless, of course, I’ve already had several cocktails and dancing at Robert’s actually sounds like a fabulous idea).

I think that’s a big part of the reason I’m so enamored with the 2nd floor of ACME. I definitely see it as a place that locals will enjoy going to – and will satisfy our out of town friends’ need for a taste of downtown.

The 2nd floor will also have a menu of its own, and before long, its own sushi bar. You may have heard back in the spring that longtime downtown fixture Sam’s Sushi closed for business in the spring. Well, apparently some people could not imagine downtown without him, so someone worked some magic, and voila – he’ll soon have a corner of the 2nd floor at ACME!



View of Lower Broadway from the roof of ACME Feed & Seed

Third floor, here we come. Called The Hatchery at Acme, this space is said to be the largest one-level event and music venue on lower Broadway. Available year-round for event rentals, they will also use the space for music series and concerts. Even though I don’t have a photo of this floor, I was fortunate enough to recently have attended one of the very first events held there, and I have to say, it’s an awesome space with incredible views of Broadway and the Cumberland River from the floor to ceiling windows that flank the space.

In fact, if I were getting married all over again, this floor and the rooftop above would definitely be my space.

Which brings us to the rooftop. Oh. My. Goodness. This is the best rooftop bar in Nashville, hands down. With sweeping views of lower Broadway, the river, the bridges, the stadium…there are really no words.




So there you go! That’s the new ACME Feed & Seed in a nutshell. As you can tell, I’m a fan and hope you will be too. If you’d like to stay up to date on the latest happenings there, follow ACME  on Twitter  or like them on Facebook.

ACME Feed & Seed

101 Broadway
Nashville, TN 37201

Hours of Operation:
Daily 11 am – 2 am


2014 Nashville Street Food Awards

Saturday, August 30, 2014
11 am – 5 pm
Nashville Farmers’ Market
900 Rosa L. Parks Blvd
Nashville, TN 37208


It’s almost time again for the Nashville Street Food Awards! This year’s event will include more than 30 food trucks (click here to see full list) in a little friendly competition in the grassy outdoor area on the north side of the Nashville Farmers’ Market. Attendees will have the opportunity to purchase food from all participating trucks while listening to some great live music. In addition there will be activities for children and plenty of craft beer for the adults — fun for the whole family!

Then, of course, there is the competition. There will be voting opportunities for the People’s Choice Award (the crowd’s overall favorite), and a panel of judges sampling blind entries from the trucks in a variety of street food categories:

Best Taco
Best Between Bread
Best Smoked
Best Dessert
Best Hot Nashville
Best Vegetarian
Best Deep Fried
Best Drink
Best Yazoo
Best Goo Goo Cluster

The best overall performing food truck will win the honor of Best of the Best.

A couple of years ago I was lucky enough to be on the judging panel and stuffed myself silly on bbq, ‘hot’ and dessert dishes. Unfortunately last year I was out of town for the event, so I missed out on all the fun. But – this time I’ll be back again as a judge!


~ Contest Closed ~

And the winner is…..

#5 Hunter

Who wants to sit next to me on the judging panel??? That’s right, I’ve got a judging spot to give away!

Adventurous eaters are encouraged to enter, as you’ll be required to taste and judge entries from a couple of assigned categories, and you won’t find out which ones until you arrive on site that day. Our judging time will be from 2 – 3:30 pm, so make sure your calendar is clear for that time before you enter.

To enter, all you have to do is this:


1. Over the past year or two, SO MANY new food trucks have come on the scene here in Nashville. Unfortunately I haven’t yet had a chance to try a lot of them. To enter for your shot at a judging position, simply leave a comment telling me about the best food truck dish you’ve had in Nashville recently.

For up to 2 additional entries, you can do either or both of the following. Note: You must leave a separate comment for each optional entry.

2.  Follow me on Twitter (@betheats) and tweet “Want to be a judge at the Nashville Street Food Awards on 8/30?! @betheats is giving away a judging spot!”, then leave a comment telling me you’ve done so.

3.  Follow me on Instagram (betheats)* and come back and tell me you did so (or just tell me you already do if that’s the case.)


Contest ends on Friday, August 22nd at NOON CDT. Once the winner is chosen, I’ll make contact via email and post the name here on the blog. If they don’t respond within 48 hours, I’ll be forced to choose another, so be sure to check your email!


* In the future I’ll be doing more and more on Instagram, including Instagram-only giveaways, so best to follow me there and not miss out on anything!



Just in case you didn’t know, voting for this year’s Nashville Scene “Best of Nashville” is now underway! You’ve only got a limited time to vote for your favorites, so be sure to do so by September 5th, as that’s when voting ends.

And of course, I won’t beg, but you know I’d love you lots and lots and lots if you would consider putting Eat. Drink. Smile. in that blank space next to “Best Food Blog” in the Media section!

Click here to choose your favorites, and note: make sure you enter at least 20 categories or your vote won’t count.


Nashville Lifestyles Bartender Bash

Thursday, August 21, 2014
6 – 8 pm

Loews Vanderbilt Hotel
2100 West End Ave
Nashville, TN 37203

Cost: $40 in advance; $50 at the door

You guys, this upcoming Bartender Bash will mark my 5th time serving as a judge! The same year I launched my blog, 2009, was the first year I took on the tough task of sampling 24 cocktails to help find the best mixologists in Nashville. Luckily, they’ve asked me to come back every year since, and I wouldn’t dream of turning them down since it’s the most fun judging gig I’ve ever had! (Of course, I did have to sit out in 2011 due to a certain someone)

Even before I began judging the competition, I loved attending the event and always encourage everyone I know that enjoys cocktails (and really, who doesn’t?) to buy their tickets early because the event tends to sell out in advance.

This year’s competition is a little different than the other years I’ve judged, as one of the categories the bartenders have competed in before was “Best Martini” using vodka. Well, this year the featured booze has changed, so now the competition is for the “Best El Jimador Margarita” and “Best Craft Herradura Cocktail”. Yes, folks, that means I’ll be drinking a lot of tequila. This could definitely get interesting!

The $40 entry into the event includes a Herradura cocktail, tastings from every bartender, and hors d’oeuvres from Mason’s. Come get your tequila on, cheer for your favorites and vote for the People’s Choice Award!


the 2014 bartenders competing are from:

Benchmark Sports Bar & Grill
Cantina Laredo
Chauhan Ale & Masala House
Hard Rock Cafe
Pinewood Social
Rosepepper Cantina
Saint Anejo
Taqueria Del Sol
Whiskey Kitchen
Urban Grub



So, are you ready to come drink some tequila with me? Well, before you rush over to the Nashville Lifestyles website to purchase your tickets, hang tight for a sec, because I’ve got not 1, not 2, but 3 pairs of tickets to give away!!!

~ Contest Closed ~

And the winners are:

#27 Erin McGill

#64 Renee V

#9 Lisa F

To enter, all you have to do is this:


1. Leave a comment describing your favorite cocktail. (Yep, it’s that simple!)

For up to 2 additional entries, you can do either or both of the following. Note: You must leave a separate comment for each optional entry.

2.  Follow me on Twitter (@betheats) and tweet “Win a pair of tickets to @NashLifestyles Bartender Bash from @betheats!”, then leave a comment telling me you’ve done so.

3.  Like Eat.Drink.Smile. on Facebook and come back and tell me you did so (or just tell me you already do if that’s the case!)


Contest ends on Friday, August 15th at Noon CST. Once the winners are chosen, I’ll make contact via email and post here on the blog. If they don’t respond within 48 hours, I’ll be forced to choose others, so be sure to check your email!

Lisa Donovan_kitchen

image credit: Heidi Ross


As I mentioned yesterday, I’m fortunate to be working with the Music City Food + Wine Festival again this year as a local ambassador, and as I was brainstorming topics for a blog post, I kept coming back to desserts. What began as a project to create a list of my favorite desserts in the city led to the idea of interviewing one of our best pastry chefs, Lisa Donovan of Husk.

Lisa is one of the featured talent at the festival this year, and since her Buttermilk Chess Pie is high on my list of the Best Desserts in Nashville, getting to know her a little better seemed like the perfect thing to do! I was even able to convince her to share the recipe for that amazing pie. You’re welcome.

The Interview


Tell us a little about you. What’s Lisa like when not in the kitchen baking?


Ha! There isn’t much time when I’m not in the kitchen baking. But, when I do get some time it’s mostly spent with my kids, writing, and traveling. My daughter and I have started taking little exploratory trips around Tennessee to places we’ve never been. She’s a lot like me and enjoys just kind of ending up in strange, unfamiliar places. Getting lost is fun and until Maggie, I’d not met anyone who enjoys it as much as I do. My son is a full on teenager and it’s fun to watch him find his own path and interests. I’m enjoying motherhood so much these days in a way that wasn’t quite as natural to me in the past.



What inspired you to become a pastry chef?


So many things. It’s funny because, even though I watched Great Chefs of the World on PBS growing up, always eager for the final six minutes when they would go to the pastry kitchen, and would peek inside the kitchen of every little German restaurant we went into as a child so I could steal a glimpse of the cooks, I still had no inclination that being a pastry chef was a profession I could actually choose. As a young art student I read and reread artisan bread baking books like the biggest nerd in the world. I was a bit desperate to recreate the food, specifically the bread, I had in Germany as a child. Cooking and eating were my favorite things to do, but it wasn’t really like I had a community to share it with. My best friends were yoga teachers and writers and lean, world travelers who were more interested in the romanticism of being the starving, struggling artist. This was 1997 and 1998. There weren’t a lot of people cooking or, hell, EATING a lot of food in my world. We were all so skinny and “special” and, dear god, VEGAN, it makes my stomach hurt just thinking about it. So I just took it as a hobby until I took a server’s job at Margot Café in East Nashville when I was a 25 or 26 years old arts writer with two kids.

I wasn’t seeking out this community, I just needed cash and fast. But, looking back, it meant everything that I stumbled upon that place and those people. There was plenty about working there that challenged me, for better and for worse. I didn’t know that this culture existed beyond my peeks into kitchens as a child and imagining that it was almost a royalty that one had to be born into. I learned so much in my first year as a server there about food and restaurant culture and how much work and studying and technique goes into good food.

Even when it was a struggle, I slowly started to realize that all of the strange little codes I had been writing in my internal computer finally had connectivity. All the books and freelance bread I was selling and large dinner parties I wanted to have at 18 years old started to make sense to me. What had been a hobby became a full fledge addiction and I was ignited. Food became my work.


How do you come up with new ideas?


In order of importance: Traveling, reading, eating, traveling, reading, talking, traveling, reading.


Do you have any secret ingredients that you like to use?


No secrets really. I think any good cook will tell you to listen to your instinct. Remembering that cooking is both sacred and a total fluke sometimes in equal measure is important. Some of the best ideas come out of nowhere so let yourself go from the hip as much as you also follow “directions”.  



image credit: Crystal De Luna Bogan


What is a typical workday for you?


Well. I’ll just tell you about today, if you want it: In at 7am, big brunch, made so many biscuits that I will be dreaming about it tonight, crackers, cakes, ice creams and restored our cookie stash (note: tweak the sorghum stack cookies), cornmeal English muffin testing was a hit and the housemade bologna eggs benedict seemed to be a success, prepped while plated a busy brunch service, finished working out details on a new dessert to be put on next week, made jams and prepped brioche for my donut plate for tomorrow’s brunch (which I’m so excited about I can’t sleep – so much for biscuit dreams), helped my assistant get mised out for dinner service, office work (worst part of my day), left early around 630pm to take my daughter school shopping and home to work on two articles to write (deadline!) and recipe writing. 

It’s now 11:48 pm which means I’ve got six hours before I get up and go do it again tomorrow, but this time, with yeasted, chocolate glazed peanut brittle donuts (!!!!).  I seriously can’t wait.



Where (besides Husk, of course) do you like to dine in Nashville?


City House is always our go to place. Otherwise we eat a lot of ethnic food: Woodlands Indian Restaurant, Guantanamara for good Cuban, King’s Market, El Jaliciense on Gallatin Road even though it’s been “discovered” and is now overcrowded with all those crazy cool kids these days.

We’ve also just bought our first home. So, eating on our front porch with the kids on the stoop is what I like most.



Describe your most memorable food moment.


Vienna Square, my first chocolate truffle with a hazelnut cherry liquor center – the whole world stopped a little. I had never tasted anything like it either before or since. It was special because, here I was, this little wide-eyed American girl in Austria with a bad, bad haircut, doing my best to look sophisticated and not having a clue what the world really had to offer me. One of my dad’s friends, a young GI, came up to me out of the chocolate shop that I was standing in front of with this truffle in his hand. I thought, “Oh, chocolate. Nice.” and proceeded to put the whole thing in my mouth.

Then like forty-seven different things happened in my mouth in the span of eight seconds. I didn’t know what to do. I liked it so much it actually kind of scared me a little. My instinct was to spit it out, just out of the sheer intensity of it all. But it was too good, too special. I had just never had anything that special to eat before. It was really something else.  I think I was 9 or 10?


If you weren’t a pastry chef, what would you be?

A writer. All day, every day.


What is your favorite thing to do in Nashville?

Sit on my front porch.


What about the Music City Food + Wine Festival are you most looking forward to?


I missed it all last year so I’m super happy to be a part of it and to see how it all goes down. It looked so wonderful last year and I’m glad we have such a thing in our city.

Mainly though: so many of my pals are coming to cook and present! I can’t wait to have everyone here for a couple of days so we can all “do Nashville”. And, by “do Nashville”, I mean, sit on my front porch together and get it nice and properly broken in.


To learn more about Lisa, head over to Husk’s website for a full profile.


The Recipe

As I mentioned, Lisa’s Buttermilk Chess Pie is one of my favorite desserts in Nashville. The toppings throughout the year change – roasted strawberries, blackberry sauce, lemon cream sherbet, fresh peaches – based on what’s in season, but no matter how it’s served, it’s always delicious!


image credit: Beth Sachan (me!)



Lisa Donovan's Buttermilk Chess Pie

Serves 8.


6 eggs, room temp
3 cups Sugar
1/2 cup Flour
1 tsp Salt
1.5 cup Buttermilk (Lisa prefers Cruze's)
1/2 tsp Lemon Zest
1 Tbsp Lemon Juice
1/2 cup Butter, melted
Scrapings of 1/2 vanilla bean


Combine sugar, flour and salt and whisk.

In separate bowl, whisk eggs together.

Add dry ingredients from above and then add remaining ingredients, saving butter for last. Combine well.

Fill one deep, unbaked 10" pie crust and bake at 350 for 30 minutes then turn oven down to 325 and bake for another 25 minutes until set but slightly jiggly in center. Cool for two hours and serve room temp or cold.