You can tart a sandwich up all you want — I will always love it. Put an egg on top of it? Pour a sauce over it? Deconstruct it, reconstruct it or deep-fry it? I’m there.
I love a good sandwich, and I’m always looking for another one.
With that in mind, I asked some of the finest eaters I know to give me what they think are some of Nashville’s best sandwiches. The rules are simple: No burgers, no barbecue, no wraps and no tacos. Stay in Nashville (with one detour to Franklin). Take a picture.
What came back was probably the next month of lunches for me, and hopefully you, too. There are some classics in here (a great chicken salad from The Picnic) and some interesting new ones that people swear by (BBQ Asian Tofu from Mitchell’s).
By narrowing the list down — and there were some great sandwiches left on the cutting-room floor — we have surely created arguments for favorites we left out or overlooked. Believe me, I’d love to know what they are. Send us an email about your favorites to firstname.lastname@example.org . If you’ve got a picture, even better. We’ll fan out and try them for a future issue.
—Steve Cavendish, editor
Our panel: Chris Chamberlain, Lesley Lassiter, Ashley Akin, Dana Kopp Franklin, Steve Haruch, Jack Silverman, Jim Ridley, Nicki Pendleton Wood, James Nix, Steve Cavendish
Every bite of this grand sandwich says “handmade.” Cook Boonkheng Xayarath starts her banh mi with the right bread, crackling outside and chewy inside. The velvety liver pâté so often missing from ersatz banh mi, she makes herself out of necessity. Boonkheng also makes her own mayonnaise, and she pickles, thick matchsticks of daikon and carrot for crunchy do chua. Oh also, the red roast pork —she makes that too. Vietnamese ham adds its weird, chewy texture, and cilantro completes the roster. A little visit to the toaster, then the sandwich is cut into halves, wrapped snug and handed to you, warm and irresistible.
2160 Nolensville Pike, (615) 742-3268
Most Nashville culinarians know that Chef Deb Paquette at Etch is something of a mad scientist. Her approach to menu creation and layering of flavors has kept her on the cutting edge of Nashville cuisine for years, but who knew what she could do with a hot dog? It took more than 60 different trial runs for her to perfect a method of injecting and sealing a pickling brine into an all-beef Wagyu wiener. The delicious resulting “corned” dog sandwich is reminiscent of a Reuben with a different delivery system.
303 Demonbreun St.
Perl Cafe & Market
There’s a lot to love about this sandwich, but the best reason is the fry bread, which is like a savory doughnut, minus the hole. The bread is freshly prepared each day and is spread with baba ghanoush — mashed eggplant with olive oil and spices — and goat cheese, then topped with thinly sliced watermelon radish (for a crisp, peppery flavor), sprouts, roasted tomatoes and sweet potato “hay.” The combination of the creamy, chewy and crunchy textures makes for a supremely interesting and satisfying sandwich.
7114 Highway 70 S., Suite 109
“Hot mess” is usually a derogatory term for gaffe-prone starlets, but in this case, it’s a good thing. Spicy egg, tomato and provolone cheese are served on your choice of bagel (we suggest “Everything” and we add ham, lest any meal go pork-less). The egg is fried and drenched in Frank’s RedHot, creating a hot, seeping mess of breakfast-food goodness. Wear dark clothes and bring wet naps.
2605 12th Ave. S.
The Pharmacy Burger Parlor & Beer Garden
If you’re going to have a beer garden, you have to serve a good sausage sandwich, right? At The Pharmacy, they certainly do. Tops among their list of the best of the wurst is their Jagerwurst sandwich, a house-made pork sausage seasoned with coriander, garlic, mustard seed, nutmeg and ginger and served on a custom roll baked by Provence. Topped with a mild beer-braised kraut and served with your choice of either a maple or beer mustard, this is a real deal of a meal.
731 McFerrin Ave.
Seitan is a meat substitute created from vital wheat gluten. The result is a chewy, high-protein mass that’s very similar in texture to real meat (no, really). Chef Jeremy Barlow makes his own seitan, so it’s perfectly seasoned (with a hint of umami) and quite juicy. It’s then thinly sliced and placed on a hoagie roll that’s made in-house daily. Pickled seasonal squash, crispy chickpeas and “microherbs” (grown in the store) are added, and it’s all steamed together to make a very healthy, much-appreciated vegan alternative to a roast beef sandwich.
2905 12th Ave. S.
There’s a King of the Hill episode where Bobby becomes obsessed with Jewish deli food, in particular chopped chicken liver — “It’s meat you eat with a spoon!” The enthusiasm’s understandable. Noshville, where they make chopped liver fresh in house, has an off-the-menu sandwich that combines the delicious “spoon meat” with a meatier meat: roast beef. Put ’em on pumpernickel, add a schmear of Russian dressing (or not) and let carnivorous worlds collide in your mouth.
Any joint with the moxie to call its fish “the crunkest in town” knows it will be expected to deliver. Eastside Fish boasts at least two sandwiches that could comfortably wear that crown. (Actually, the crown would probably be too small for the monstrous pound-and-a-half O.G. King Fish.) They fry up a mean Southern catfish sandwich — tender, flaky meat encased in a perfectly bronzed breading that’s salty and crisp with just enough kick to make it crunk.
2617 Gallatin Pike
Pepperfire Hot Chicken
Pepperfire isn’t much more than a shack on Gallatin Pike, but they put out some amazing stuff from that tiny kitchen, including the Frankensandwich they call The Tender Royale. First they make a pretty tasty cheese sandwich using appropriately tasteless spongy white bread and piquant pepper-jack cheese. Then they batter and deep-fry the concoction until it has a crunchy golden crust like a Scotch egg and a gooey cheesy middle. To take it over the edge, Pepperfire tops it with three of their fiery hot fried chicken tenders to add an excruciating pain/pleasure component to the whole experience.
2821 Gallatin Pike
The Silly Goose
The portobello has become the de facto meat substitute for sandwiches at a lot of restaurants, but often it’s rendered as a feeble concession to vegetarian diners. Not so with The Silly Goose’s Frisby, which strikes the difficult balance between healthy and delicious better than any sandwich in town. And it’s utterly unique: herb-grilled portobello, walnut pesto, sundried tomatoes, Tomme cheese and kalamata olives meld together on honey flaxseed for a delightfully complex taste sensation.
1888 Eastland Ave.
The Stone Fox
Vegetarians (and those looking for healthy alternatives) can rejoice in the revelation that green jackfruit from Asia is remarkably similar in texture to pulled pork. At The Stone Fox, they braise the jackfruit and combine it with their own Sun Drop barbecue sauce. The result is satisfyingly similar to real barbecue. And delicious. The trio of barbecue jackfruit sliders is only available during happy hour, so wash it down with one of the local beers on draft or a genuine RC Cola (also on tap!).
712 51st Ave. N.
There’s plenty of debate about who serves the best hot chicken sandwich in town. While you may be a fan of the venerable Prince’s or an upstart like Hattie B’s, there’s no question about who serves the best hot pork chop sandwich. At 400˚ in SoBro, they batter and fry a huge bone-in chop to a golden brown and then dredge it in an incendiary paste of secret seasoning. The giant cutlet dwarfs the slices of white bread that soak up the spice, but at least afterwards you can enjoy what aficionados call “the devil’s cinnamon toast.”
319 Peabody St.
Bagel Face Bakery
Nashville’s multicultural dining options have expanded greatly in recent years, but good Jewish food is still in short supply. When I need matzo ball soup I head to Noshville, but when I want a good bagel-lox-and-cream-cheese sandwich, Bagel Face Bakery is the place. The Shuckman’s lox — smoked up I-65 in Louisville — is solid, and the sliced red onion, tomato and capers make it authentic. But it’s the divine bagels, made fresh in house each day, that elevate this sandwich from good to geshmak.
700 Main St.
Named for Michael Jackson’s longtime manager — not to mention the guy who played Tuddy Cicero, the mob goon who whacked Joe Pesci in Goodfellas — the Frank Dileo sandwich at Savarino’s is a fitting tribute to a man who was larger than life and loved his Italian roots. Simple yet hearty, the Dileo is an elemental masterpiece, the faint sweetness of grilled Italian sausage complementing the bitterness of the garlicky broccoli rabe. It may well be the most quintessentially Italian, not to mention fabulous, sandwich in town.
2121 Belcourt Ave.
The Picnic Cafe
Picnic chicken salad is immoderately modest in the old Nashville way. It’s won hearts for 30 years the old-fashioned way: by getting it right, staying the same and not cutting corners. Remy Trail, The Picnic’s chicken salad maker of 18 years, steams 150 pounds of chicken every day. It goes through a meat grinder to get the right mix of chunks and shreds. Hand-peeling is the only way to do each day’s 30 dozen boiled eggs. Chicken, eggs, salt, mayo, celery, a whisper of onion and plenty of pepper. Notably absent are controversial ingredients like grapes, curry powder and pecans. Sometimes winning hearts is a matter of purism.
4320 Harding Pike
Purists of various stripes may bristle at the use of “BBQ” and “Asian” in the name, but like its continentally vague steak counterpart (available only on Mondays), this meatless wonder packs enough flavor to silence all doubters. Savory slabs of baked tofu anchor the flavor under a tangle of avocado, cucumber and sprouts, while sesame ginger dressing binds everything together beautifully with a salty-sweet flourish.
1402 McGavock Pike
Back to Cuba Cafe
Any sandwich that begins with the slathering of butter across hot metal has a good chance of making a list like this, and the Cubano at Back to Cuba does not disappoint. Pork, ham, cheese, pickle and mustard get compressed to perfection between two slabs of Cuban bread, forming a meaty, gooey, tart and flaky masterpiece worth defying any trade sanctions or at the very least, the drive to South Nashville.
4683 Trousdale Drive
Beef tenderloin and butternut squash are cooked sous vide for an intense flavor and succulent feel. Leeks are dusted with cornstarch and frizzled until the edges caramelize. A few leaves of arugula add peppery, meaty crunch. The soft, fresh roll is made in house by pastry chef Audra Dykes. Each ingredient is arranged to cover the entire surface of the cut roll. Sourcing the bread in house keeps food cost down, and the sandwich sells for an affordable $7.95, though chef Zack Maddox says he’ll probably have to raise the price. Consider yourself warned.
300A 10th Ave. S.
The well-executed torta may be the near perfect sandwich. El Amigo’s torta milanesa takes pounded-thin, breaded pork cutlets and surrounds them with all the goodness of your favorite Mexican meal: tomatoes, avocado, grilled onions, refried beans, lettuce and jalapeños. And while all of that is good (VERY good, in fact, including the sneaky-hot pepper that torched my tongue last week), the bread makes it great. It’s pressed down on a griddle until it gets the caramelization that turns a soft bun into just-so-crisp goodness.
3901 Nolensville Pike
Hot Diggity Dogs
This Chicago staple isn’t officially on the menu, but just ask the friendly staff at Hot Diggity Dogs to make you an Italian combo. It’s an obscene amount of meat — a heap of Italian beef plus a split-and-grilled Italian sausage — bolstered by the sweetness of grilled peppers and the pickled heat of giardiniera. It’s flavor overload in the best way, and while we do recommend you get the bun dunked in some garlicky jus, we do not recommend leaving your sleeves unrolled.
614 Ewing Ave.
Hot dogs weren’t allowed for this feature. But Arnold Myint’s creation for his new restaurant in Cha Chah’s former space cheats in all the right ways. Two Porter Road Butcher hot dogs (the ones made with ground-up short ribs) are sliced, grilled and tossed onto a shallot bun with smoked cole slaw, Sriracha aioli and mustard seeds. It’s a ridiculous combination that is unwieldy — the criss-crossed, flayed out wieners spill out of the bread — and completely over-the-top in its richness and satisfaction.
2013 Belmont Blvd.
When steady shots and a sympathetic bartender aren’t enough to stifle the blues, this Hillsboro Village staple oughta do the trick: an industrial-strength dose of comfort food, drenched in brown gravy and specks of roast-beef debris. At $6.29 for a half sandwich as long as your forearm, this counts as both a great bang-for-your-buck deal and a liquor sop par excellence. Be sure to check out the jukebox and the thousands of snapshots that make a mosaic of the wall space.
1719 21st Ave. S.
Village Pub and Beer Garden
For those who don’t care much for bread, relegating it to “edible meat holders,” we need our bread to do tricks — salt it and twist it into knots. Slide a butterflied Italian sausage topped with tomato confit, caramelized onions and melted mozzarella between the pretzel buns, and you’ve got something. And when the sausage is gone first, which is probably going to happen, you still have some pretzel to sop up the escaped confit.
1308 McGavock Pike
French dip and prime rib sandwiches from J. Alexander: the Winklevoss twins of the meat-and-bread set. Elegant, rich, brilliant, expensive. And worth it. They’re so close, but the details make the difference. French dip ($17) puts the rib meat into the slicer and cuts it thin. It’s set on the bread in bunches, toasted, then cut on a sharp diagonal. The resulting sharp point and large cut-surface area on each half are engineered for dipping into the oniony jus. The prime rib sandwich ($18) uses a thick, cooked-to-order slab of beef, and gravity to keep the sandwich pristine and sog-less: griddled hoagie halves balance upright like mattresses on their sides against a mound of shoestring fries, and the perfectly cooked slice of rib meat leans against them. Put them together, apply horseradish as needed. It’s crunchy and tender and chewy in all the right places. Insert your own Winkelvoss joke here.