Like everyone else, we’re mourning the missed opportunities to travel and explore as we remain close to home as the Covid situation drags on (and on). While we may not be sight-seeing on foreign shores or lounging on island beaches just yet—one facet of traveling that we aren’t missing out on is tasting authentic flavors from faraway destinations. Luckily, Music City’s dining scene is surviving the pandemic and some of the most beloved spots offer a taste of something exotic to satisfy our wanderlust. Follow along as we visit a few of the most notable local haunts serving up destination-inspired cuisine that will instantly transport your palate…. and your mindset.
When thinking of an authentic Italian atmosphere, images of big families enjoying meals at a gorgeous table overlooking a Tuscan landscape are instantly transporting. Ahhh… if we could all go there right now all would be right in the world! In the reality that is Nashville for all of us who can’t jet out to Europe, Giovanni is as close as it gets to experiencing genuine Italian hospitality and hand-prepared fare that feels and tastes like what we believe that trip to Italy would offer.
Our editor first met the proprietor (fondly called ‘Gio’ by friends and patrons) when dining with her own family in New York City over a decade ago. It’s still one of the most unforgettable meals in her memory. From the welcoming service to the endless bowls of pasta- there was love in that cozy room favored by discriminating palates in Manhattan for over 27 years. Fortunately, Gio was drawn to the South and to Nashville by several mutual friends and decided to shutter NYC in order to open Mid Town’s Giovanni Ristorante and Bar in 2008. For the last 12 years, he and his devoted team have been welcoming friends and foodies…. Treating everyone who walks through the door like family in keeping with custom and tradition.
There is nothing pretentious about Giovanni despite the pristine white tablecloth covered tables and stunning chandeliers. This is a gathering spot. Yes, it’s a favorite for special occasions and romantic dinners but it’s also a spot to feel comfortable popping into alone for a glass of vino and a (fabulous) pizza at the bar. It seems that everyone is relaxed- and that goes double for those utilizing the intimate private space on the second floor for celebrations and dinner parties for both business and pleasure. From evening gowns to jeans—you will see it all here. We like to get in the spirit and dress up a little when dining here at night – it just feels so elegant that we love to pull out the latest little black dress on rotation. But truth be told – we have been known to show up in our yoga pants for weekday lunch gatherings in the bar area. No shame and no worries—it’s all good according to Gio.
This is where Giovanni truly stands out. Almost every afternoon you will find true wine aficionados sitting at the bar swirling something bold around in a gorgeous goblet. One of the things that Gio himself takes pride in is the development of their wine program. While you will see familiar brands on the extensive list, the vintages offered are distinct and unique to the market. Selection by year and harvest is paramount and the cellar is boast-worthy without being intimidating.
You can never go wrong with any of the pasta items on the menu (yes, they offer gluten-free options on most everything) and there are often daily specials. We also highly recommend Gio’s version of Calamari as an appetizer – where serious heat from gorgeous red cherry peppers livens up what can often be a bland dish. For an indulgent experience—go for the whole Mediterranean Sea Bass. It’s steamed under a sea salt crust and feels so decadent when served at the table. For lunch, our team loves to share a variety of salads featured on the menu and maybe a bite or two of their incredible Tiramisu to share on a really good day.
This list could take up a page or two as almost every famous face in town ends up at Giovanni on occasion if not every week. Our fall 2019 cover girl, Lily Aldridge can be found regularly with her extended family as this is a home-away-from-home for her and her husband (and his Kings of Leon bandmates). Reba is a fan and Kenny Chesney likes to host private dinners upstairs for his friends. And look out for other notables like Eric Church and even old-school crooners like Billy Dean who always stops in when passing through town.
PS: For West Siders who don’t want to trek into town for the ultimate Italian meal, there’s a Giovanni West in Belle Meade that’s never crowded – offering the same menu as our beloved 20th Avenue location.