Today, the process of choosing this year’s stars in the Nashville restaurant world — the Eater Awards winners for 2019 — continues apace. After fielding many solid ideas from readers during the course of our month-long nomination period, it’s time to narrow the playing field. There are five finalists in three categories: Restaurant of the Year, Design of the Year, and Dish of the Year.
Here they are:
Restaurant of the Year:
The Japanese-inspired izakaya from Sarah Gavigan brought variety and late night dining to the Gulch in January, complete with Otaku-style art and illustrations surrounding tables filled with temaki, taco rice, and tonkatsu.
Mailea Weger’s hip-chic all-day cafe opened in September in Riverside Village with an exciting, well-executed menu, plus standout pastries and desserts (also breakfast cake) from Sqirl’s Sasha Piligian.
Nick and Audra Guidry opened their first restaurant in a converted auto shop in East Nashville in January, and the wood-fired menu is truly one of the most exciting and interesting ones in town. Consistent favorites include carrots with green harissa, a standout pork chop, and seasonally-rotating dishes done Nashville hot style (currently, it’s fried cheese).
Chef Bryan Lee Weaver and restaurateur Michael Shemtov opened the counter-service Tex-Mex spot in early July, adding killer fresh flour tortillas, breakfast tacos, brisket, queso, and Frito pie to the East side of town.
Though it doesn’t have its name on the front of a building (yet), the sort-of pop-up from Jason Zygmont and Ray Melendi is already a consistent source for one of the best meals in the city — found on Fridays through Mondays in East Nashville’s Sky Blue Cafe, offering a standout wine list alongside that ricotta agnolotti (and more).
Design of the Year:
Maneet Chauhan and Vivek Deora’s splashy display for the senses opened in November of 2018, dripping with vibrant color and nostalgia — a fine setting for the menu of Indian street food with punny names.
Barista Parlor owner and founder Andy Mumma, Isle of Printing founder Bryce McCloud and longtime Husk Nashville bar manager Mike Wolf opened a hush-hush tropical hideout full of futuristic robot technology and tiki drinks.
The striking new modern Japanese restaurant downtown from co-chefs Jess Benefield, Trey Burnette, and business partner Patrick Burke opened in November of last year — adding an izakaya-inspired menu in a truly stunning space.
Open since December of 2018, downtown’s new Southern brasserie from Terry Raley and Amaranth Hospitality is a spacious, refreshing, easy-on-the-eyes break from the honky-tonk atrocities of Broadway — with gorgeous scalloped walls, plush banquettes, and copper pendant lighting.
Black and white tiled floors, a glass atrium-crowned bar, and interspersed greenery set a comfortable and modern scene for pressed sushi, steaks, and seafood inside the beautiful hotel.
Dish of the Year:
Coal-roasted chicken at BokBox
Fine dining veterans Tom Bayless and Dauer Ellis recently started serving a perfected rendition of coal-roasted chicken from a new walk-up window on the East side, and it’s already become a favorite among locals for to-go lunches (and for delivery via Postmates).
Anything at the newest iteration of the Catbird Seat
A meal at the tasting menu restaurant’s U-shaped counter from Strategic Hospitality has always been a special one, but new chef Will Aghajanian and pastry chef Liz Johnson have taken it to the next level — where every course truly is a work of art in flavor and in presentation.
Spicy lamb and beef meatballs at Hathorne
With mint pistou, Pequin chile dusk, preserved lemon, and chamomile, the flavor-packed lamb and beef meatballs from John Stephenson and Joey Molteni join a large, well-executed menu of show-stopping vegetables and more, in the converted former fellowship hall on the West side of town.
Ricotta agnolotti at Setsun
Flavor-bomb, pillow-y agnolotti with salsa calabria and Grana Padano has been a signature dish from Jason Zygmont for years, and it’s a constant fixture on the menu at he and Ray Melendi’s small plate and wine bar “pop-up” situation at Sky Blue Cafe.
Dhokla and pork coppa at Tailor
Seen on the first-ever menu at Vivek Surti’s restaurant when it opened last winter, the addictive dhokla snack with mustard seed and cilantro made it easy to fill up while awaiting the popular chef’s coming courses and stories behind the recipes. The pork coppa main course with kashmiri chile, fennel, apple, and coriander was another fan favorite from the first menu here.
All of these finalists have either opened or come into their own in a new way since we declared the winners last year. All of them were key contributors to making 2019 a great year of eating in Nashville. So please, take a moment to give these brave finalists a round of applause. Winners will be crowned, with much fanfare, on December 10, 2019.