Why not Nashville? I’d driven through Tennessee in college with a stop in Memphis, but bypassed Nashville, making it ripe for an adventure with my 14-year-old daughter. We set out for a a five night trip, with three nights in Nashville and two nights in Memphis, with plans to try everything from hot chicken to BBQ to biscuits with some non-food stops in between.
We left on a Friday and returned the next Wednesday, landing just after a snowstorm in January. The good news is that the snow didn’t stick to the roads, making it nothing like the nerve-wracking snow driving I’ve experienced around Lake Tahoe. In fact, it was nothing, yet enough weather to keep people home.
It wasn’t a full day as we landed in the late afternoon, got our rental car (it took forever!), and drove straight to Hattie B‘s in Midtown. We expected a long line, but thanks to the cold weather, we walked right in and joined the three-person line. We ordered our chicken with medium spiciness because we aren’t crazy. I think I could have gone a level higher, but I didn’t need to be caught with a tummy emergency as I ran into our hotel. Hattie B’s had another first for my kid – Baby’s First Sweet Tea.
After dinner, we headed to Loews Hotel for the night to be near Vanderbilt the next day. Our room was awesome and we could have stayed there forever. I did my hotel room usual, which is monitoring the neighborhood and keeping those I’m staying with abreast of any changes, whether they care or not. It turns out my daughter didn’t care about the car line at the fast food place across the street, but that didn’t stop me.
We got up and headed to Vanderbilt on move-back-in day as students were returning for the spring semester. It was cold out, which meant most of our tour was from our rental car, but we did get out briefly for a short walk. I had my daughter pose for a picture, which was when I realized I left my camera battery in the charger at home. With that failure, we headed to the bookstore and Starbucks. My daughter loved the brick buildings, but after walking around, said she may need to go to college in Los Angeles because all other climates were too cold. One thing that had us baffled was that almost all of the Greek houses had piles of jackets and backpacks outside. We assume this was some sort of hazing thing? (They do a deferred rush at Vanderbilt.)
With mochas and my daughter’s new Vandy sweatshirt, we eturned to our hotel to pack up, then we drove to Memphis.
The easy drive to Memphis took about three hours and included a trip highlight: our first (and second, on the way back) visit to Cracker Barrel. Listen, the show Cracker Barrel commercials on TV here, despite being a few states away from the nearest one. Curiosity got us and we weren’t disappointed.
We stayed at the Peabody Hotel in Memphis and took our place near the velvet ropes for the evening march of the ducks. It gets a little crowded when the ducks are about to walk. Kids can sit in front of the rope, but that didn’t stop someone’s grandma from throwing elbows to get up front. We watched the ducks again the next night from the second floor, which has an nice overview, chairs, and less jockeying for space. Either way, get there early because it gets crowded.
Another first for us was chessboard pie. We went to Gus’s Fried Chicken for dinner, which lives up to all of the hype, and finished dinner with pie. I’m not a pie person, but it was gooood. We tried both chocolate and regular, and at $2.50 a slice, I’d recommend everyone do the same. (Pictured are fried green tomatoes.)
We made a stop at Beale Street on our way back to the hotel, going into one of my all-time favorite stores: A. Schwab Trading Co. They have everything from candies to voodoo supplies. What else could one want?
The National Civil Rights Museum was our first stop of the day. We got there as they opened, which meant fewer crowds. When we left about two hours later, the number of visitors had picked up. The museum is excellent and relevant – and this was before the current presidential administration took over. It was somber, educational, and very well done.
After the museum, we walked across the street to Central BBQ, also reaching it just ahead of the crowds. By the time we ordered, there was a line and the tables were full.
With full tummies, we drove to Graceland. I’d been before and knew it was just a wee bit overhyped, but I wanted my daughter to experience it. Even though it was early January, the Christmas decorations were still up and it was Elvis’ birthday week, which made it very different from the time I saw it last. I loved it more this time, with all of the kitchy Christmas decor and timecapsle holiday feel. Again, the timing or the weather was on our side. We took photos in front of the mansion, we lingered, without the pressure of other people moving us along. Even with the free birthday cake, the crowd size was easily manageable.
We stopped at Gibson’s Donuts on the way back to the hotel, where we channeled Eloise and ordered room service at my daughter’s request.
Before returning to Nashville, we stopped at Jerry’s Sno Cones, which was not the breakfast of champions, but it was our breakfast. It was closed the day before, and my daughter wanted to try one before we left. A sno (I really want to put a w on the end of that) cone with whipped cream is not the different from Frappuccino and surprisingly, we weren’t the first customers when they opened that morning.
Cracker Barrel was our stop on the return drive to Nashville because the sno cone wasn’t going to hold us until dinner. We happened to get the same waitress, who remembered us, too, and she was shocked to hear that we were from California. Then, she told us stories about people who will stock up on Cracker Barrel food before flights or drives to places without Cracker Barrel. She said one trucker will buy 10 different entrees to save and reheat at home because he misses Cracker Barrel so much.
Back in Nashville, we stayed at The Hermitage Hotel, which I really only slightly knew about from Masters of None. This place was nuts. Like the “whoa, incredible” type of nuts. The hotel is historic and beautiful, and when we got to our room, I double checked the name on the reservation because they must have gotten us confused with a celebrity.
The room was amazing and the service was impeccable. It was worth every cent and more, which is normally what they get, but we happened to book this room during a Black Friday sale in November. We could have lived there. We wanted to live there. Had we never left the room, it still would have been an incredible vacation.
We did leave the room, though, and headed to 12 South to stop at Draper James and take pictures with the murals around us. Draper James was the site of my first sweet tea. I pondered the What Would Dolly Do bag, but logic won out.
Dinner was at The Pharmacy where we ate the black bean burger and tater tots.
During our entire trip, my daughter was fixated on whether or not she should get a haircut, a serious haircut of about five inches. Every day she talked about whether or not she should do this. Every day. Multiple times a day. I stopped listening, until we drove past a cute salon near Draper James and I asked if she wanted me to call for an appointment. I called as soon as they opened in the morning and they said they could fit her in right away, if we could make it. We called for our car and zipped out to Trim. The salon was great, the people were great, and the haircut was fantastic. She was thrilled. I was thrilled. The looped conversation was now about the new cut.
After the cut, we shopped, shopped, walked, and hunted for murals, which was a great fun. There are a ton of murals in the 12 South neighborhood, and the famous wings (What Lifts You) mural is in The Gulch.
We went to Robert’s Western World for lunch after I saw on the schedule that John and Lois Shepherd would be performing. John is the singer of the Miller beer commercial from my childhood (If you’ve got the time, we’ve got the beer), and I went hoping that he would play it lived. Dreams realized because it happened, all while we ate fried bologna sandwiches on white bread.
When in Rome…
John is up on stage, while his wife Lois sits in the audience and disputes everything he says in a very funny, totally real banter. For most of the performance, we were the only ones in the audience, getting our own private concert. He played Rhinestone Cowboy, Crazy, some other covers, plus his own songs. When he said he was going to play his most popular song, all 30 seconds of it, I practically jumped up, it was as if Bruce Springsteen announced he’d be playing Thunder Road for me only. After the song, he said he also uses their product, and picked up his Miller beer and took a swig. Lois did the same from her seat. It was surreal and I loved it.
After some more murals, we headed to the Nashville Farmer’s Market for more shopping and a little Jeni’s Splendid Ice Cream. My daughter’s ice cream came with a convo cookie, which is like a fortune cookie, but with a question. It asked, “What is the most valuable thing you own – literally and figuratively?” Her answer was, “Literally, my phone, and figuratively…also my phone.” Real talk, y’all.
Our last night in Tennessee was spent at the Bluebird Cafe. We grabbed the tickets online in advance to make sure we had reserved seats. The Bluebird Cafe is all ages, but kids aren’t allowed to sit at the bar, which is why I didn’t want to wait to queue up for seats the night of the show. To reserve seats, I had to wake up at 6 a.m. PST a few days before our trip and jump online, but it was worth it. It cost $2 to reserve a seat, which again, was totally worth it.
The Bluebird Cafe is in an unassuming strip mall with parking right out front. There is a $10 minimum and we order the Caviar of the South (pimento cheese and Ritz crackers) and I had a beer while we watched four singers perform. They sit in a circle in the center of the room, each taking turns performing. We’ve never watched the show Nashville, but several of the other audience members were there because the Bluebird is featured on the show? I guess? Everyone asked us if we were there because of the show, which kind of reminded me of the Gilmore Girls reboot where they asked all of the women about to hike the Pacific Crest Trail if they were following the book or movie version of Wild. We went to the Bluebird Cafe because I’d heard it was a great spot for live music with a storied background, which it was. We knew nothing else.
Before packing up for the airport, we made it to Biscuit Love in The Gulch for a late breakfast. The line moved fast and we found a seat, easing both of my concerns. It was really good. It was good enough that this replaced the haircut talk and still is something my daughter reminisces about today. Stop here and get the Bonuts. Life changing, even if you are a 14-year-old with a fresh haircut.
With our bellies full of biscuits, we very reluctantly left The Hermitage Hotel, headed to the airport and home, where we ate only salads for the next week.