Celebrity chef Sean Brock’s first of a few new highly anticipated Nashville restaurants is just about ready to open — and it’s a meticulously planned, colorful nod to the fast food joints of yesteryear, named Joyland.
Located in the former Stay Golden space on Woodland Street in East Nashville, Brock says Joyland was born from James Beard award-winning chef’s innate curiosity, love for Southern ingredients, and fascination with the attention to cleanliness and detail seen in Japanese convenience stores.
What might look at first glance like a simple menu of biscuits, burgers, fried chicken sandwiches, and dessert is actually a tirelessly tested selection of ingredients and techniques like finding the ideal “squish” for a bun, or the most appropriate “wacky matrix” of beef for a burger, while pioneering technologies make even the fanciest sauces into fast food-friendly dry seasonings. All items are designed for takeout, and customers who order online can skip the line of walk-up orderers.
Brock says the goal is that with a first bite at Joyland, a person should be driven to laugh with joy. And that begins with the biscuits — a recurring star on the opening menu. The chef lights up himself when he speaks of the flour used for his biscuits here, sourced from Boonville Flour & Feed Mill, a family-owned business in North Carolina. “Have you ever tried this Cruze Farm buttermilk?” he asks. The East Tennessee based farm’s buttermilk combine with the North Carolina-sourced flour to make Brock’s airy, delicate biscuits.
The cast of breakfast biscuit sandwiches aren’t overly fussy — Brock wants the biscuits to remain at the forefront. There’s a biscuit station front-and-center in Joyland, where visitors can watch as the dough is mixed, kneaded, cut, then baked to order. Most are just topped with a simple ingredient. One comes topped with Nashville’s Gifford’s bacon, egg, and cheese. Another, with the chef’s new take on fried chicken, and a drizzle of hot honey. Sack sausage (a largely Southern tradition of fully curing sausage in, yes, a sack) sees an appearance on one biscuit, and country fried Bear Creek Farms’ steak with black pepper gravy on another. Vegetarians can try the Impossible sausage and there is also a gluten-free biscuit.
At Joyland, Brock’s newest take on a burger come with single or double 4-ounce patties, with a customized beef blend from Bear Creek Farm (a sustainable cattle and heritage hog farm located in Williamson County, Tennessee). The buns are cooked using a device specifically designed to sense heat fluctuation. Steam-powered griddles use the same sort of technology.
Waffle and curly fries, plus waffle hash browns are all side options. Seasonal salads and vegetable sides of the day will be much like what he’ll serve at his flagship restaurant Audrey, says Brock — featuring Greener Roots produce and the freshest options at the farmers market.
Fried chicken comes as a sandwich or served on a stick. The team tested more than 100 breading mixes before settling on the one for Joyland. On the sandwich, the chicken comes slathered with a pimento cheese spread and crowned with pickle slaw.
Joy Sticks are a cross between Japanese yakitori and Oxford, Mississippi’s tradition of fried chicken-on-a-stick. Bite-size pieces of chicken are fried, skewered, and then dusted with various flavors, which Brock developed with flavor scientists in the snack food industry. Tapping his favorite restaurants and chefs, Brock will always feature a seasonal Joy Stick flavoring at Joyland — the first features a dusting created in the New York Mission Chinese kitchen and shipped down to Nashville. Customers can opt to have their Joy Sticks “dipped,” a riff on the classic Winston-Salem tradition of fried chicken coated in a special vinegar-based sauce, by asking for a “dip stick”.
Milkshakes using Brock’s own vanilla soft serve will come in playful flavors like Girl Scout cookies and salted sorghum, and seasonal hand pies will reflect what’s available at the local farmers market at any given time.
There is a kid’s menu, too. Options include baby burgers and baby chicken sandwiches, plus grilled cheese and chicken strips. Brock’s first restaurant since becoming a father, the chef says his son Leo was a big inspiration for Joyland. He and wife Adi recently celebrated Leo’s first birthday inside Joyland, and he says that’s exactly how he wants the restaurant to be — kids enjoying themselves just as much as the adults.
Brock says Joyland will eventually offer a secret menu, teasing an option like waffle fries with pimento cheese and Gifford’s bacon.
Joyland has space for 44 inside and 44 on the patio. Pre-prepared items are available from the heated grab-and-go case in the modern space. See the full menu below.