In the Local Palate’s 2023 Restaurants Issue, our state-by-state guide highlights the new restaurants that have emerged since 2022. Here, editor in chief Erin Murray highlights new restaurants in Tennessee.
The opening of June within chef Sean Brock’s restaurant nucleus in East Nashville completes the thought he started when he opened Audrey there in 2021. “I chose to put two restaurants in one building so I could have a place to explore all the ingredients that I adore fully,” he says.
Where Audrey feels “like a warm hug,” Brock says June is more “like a spa treatment.” The team designs eight menus per year, showcasing the microseasonality of the region through 15 to 20 different items. A meal starts with a brief discussion near the culinary lab, complete with a spa-like welcome beverage. A guide points out various items (a glistening pile of caviar, oysters brined in country ham broth, one perfect chanterelle), which later appear on your table. This visual amuse, much like the gastronomical version that occurs tableside, builds anticipation and allows table service to flow seamlessly.
The culinary lab serves both restaurants. Inside, chefs are working with aroma extraction and concentration. So, when any ingredient comes in—say, a particular variety of squash—it might be served in both dining rooms but with two totally different mindsets.
“At Audrey we ask how delicious and how loud we can make a plate of food. We want to knock you back with the intense flavors that we were able to produce,” Brock says. At June, he adds, “we want to put that same squash through a completely different creative process. We want to ask what is possible with this ingredient.”
Menus take several weeks to come together, with research and development starting on the next menu as soon as the current one is released. “I am obsessively thinking throughout the beginning, middle, and end of tasting a dish about what parts of the tongue are being activated, and most importantly, for me, how the flavor of the last dish connects to the flavor and therefore seasoning of the next dish,” Brock says.
The space, meanwhile, accomplishes Brock’s goal of creating a healthy setting for everyone in it. From designing the atmosphere with the nervous system in mind (lighting can be set to “relax” or “stimulate”) to building an upstairs room where team members can take advantage of aromatherapy, cranial electrotherapy stimulation, and guided meditation, Brock has ensured that every square inch of the space serves a greater purpose. The next step, a goal for 2023, is to focus on education. Look for kids’ classes about preserving food and more advanced, lab-based classes for adults.
“I knew if I was going to make an investment like this financially and emotionally, I needed to build a place that would contribute to my health and happiness until the day I retire,” he says. Lucky for us, it can contribute to ours, too.
What to Order at June
June’s menu changes eight times per year, reflecting the region’s seasonal shifts. Below are a few items from an early winter menu.
Pacific Gold Oyster, Country Ham, Kaluga Caviar
- The oyster arrives in a brine of country ham liquor and is served alongside a wooden tasting spoon with a heap of Kaluga caviar for a combination of bites that take you straight to the sea.
Hokkaido Uni, Pumpkin
- Pumpkin is transformed into a leather pocket into which the uni sits beneath a display of edible flowers.
Japanese Crab, Carolina gold rice, Habanada
- Set beneath a fragrant foam, the crab and rice mixture activates the “comfort taste” buds, the crab bright and tangy against the rice’s creamy succulence.
Ebeneezer cheese, Sunchoke, Hoshigaki, Alba truffle
- Presented tableside from a wheel of Sequatchie Cove Creamery’s Ebeneezer, the cheese is layered over sunchoke and topped with dried persimmon and shaved truffle for an unforgettable bite.
11 New Tennessee Restaurants to Visit
Maryville has a culinary scene worth boasting about—and Bella adds to the charm. The large upscale space is anchored by a long bar and an ample dining room, which means plenty of space for tableside presentations, like the “pasta in a wheel,” involving flambé and creamy fettuccine—all of the kinds of pasta are impressively well portioned.
This former car wash-turned-micro-restaurant-incubator houses five upstart restaurants and a bar (almost all of which are minority owned) within its six-bay space. Grab a seat on the patio and order up bun bo hue from East Side Pho, a cortadito at Soy Cubano, and wash it all down with an on-tap cocktail at Bay 6—all while supporting the most exciting food businesses in town.
Set inside Proof, an incubator restaurant and bar space, new Tennessee restaurant Calliope has captured the attention of Chattanooga diners for chef Khaled AlBanna’s deft hand at marrying his roots in Amman, Jordan, with his adopted new home. Witness: deviled eggs with Baharat spices and fresh za’atar, and slow-cooked collard greens with pomegranate and allspice. While the Proof space is temporary housing, AlBanna’s commitment to live-fire cooking and exploring his levantine culture on the plate will follow him wherever he and Calliope land next.
This light-flooded all-day cafe and bakery feels as fresh and alive as its approach to traditional Jewish pastries. Co-owners Emily Williams and Laurence Faber cut their teeth at spots like Blackberry Farm and J.C. Holdway; here, they put out a mouthwatering vegan bánh mì on sesame bialy, a gravity-defying mushroom reuben on thick slabs of toast, and their signature babka, which is what launched their pop-up business during the pandemic.
With its sexy, sultry vibe, killer DJ scene on the weekends, solid happy hour deals, and top-rate cocktails, Inkwell has filled a void in the Memphis bar scene. The drinks steal the show with new signatures showing up regularly—look for the gin-based Pink Dragon with hibiscus, lime, and orange liqueur—but they also offer snacks, like a sausage and roasted tomato flatbread, and sweets by local outfit Phillip Ashley Chocolates.
With its chic, modern farmhouse decor, cozy banquettes, and full seated bar, Limelight is giving this small West Tennessee community a worthwhile spot for casual fine dining. Combine that with a modern American menu—gnocchi with duck and delicata squash, charbroiled oysters, shoyu-glazed pork belly skewers—and a tight list of clever cocktails, and it’s worth a visit from out of town, too.
Opened in mid-December, this buzzing food hall features a number of local restaurants, like ChickNSack for tenders and wings, a ramen bar, and Korean fusion cuisine.
Chef Michael Hanna wowed Nashville with his sfincione-focused pop-up—now the ethereally light concoctions made from Hanna’s expert dough and bright, fresh small plates will have a permanent home when it opens in spring 2023 in the Gulch.
Expert chef and community organizer Charlotte Miller brought a much-needed event and cafe space to Historic Jefferson Street in North Nashville, sharing not just her tremendous biscuits and brunch dishes (hello, sweet potato waffles) but also a welcoming space where challenging and city-changing conversations can occur—especially with the help of a mimosa. Pay close attention to the art, which was sourced from a number of local and historical artists.
Music City has been patiently awaiting the brick-and-mortar location of owner Leina Horii and Brian Lea’s Japanese comfort food concept—look for their onigiri, curries, and noodle dishes this spring.
Nashville oenophiles rejoice: Wine expert Alex Burch (previously of Bastion), is set to open a neighborhood restaurant with an emphasis on wine education in East Nashville in early spring 2023.