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Summer Nonsense: OTF Nashville Food Tournament FINALS and interview w/ Eater's Matt Rogers

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This is it.

Jason Merritt/Getty Images

This ain't no dress rehearsal. We are professionals and this is the big time

-Waylon Jennings

This is it.

THE FINALS

  • Winner take all.
  • That's it.
  • In the event of a tie, which we doubt but whatever, the tie-breaker will be the establishment with the most local beers on tap. Our rules.
  • The winner will be paid a visit by members of the OTF staff who will pay for their dinner.
  • If they would like, we would gladly provide the winner a sticker for their window and maybe an autographed picture/menu.

THE FINALISTS YOU PEOPLE CHOSE:

  • Martin's BBQ Joint
  • Prince's Hot Chicken Shack
  • Hattie B's
  • Loveless Cafe
I'm proud of our choices. But first, we checked in with Matt Rogers of Eater. Matt keeps track of the Nashville food beat better than I can keep track of professional athletes. He's that good.


From the time you arrived at Eater until now, what's the biggest change/trend you've seen in Nashville's food scene?

Since launching the site at the end of June 2013, I'd say one of the most notable changes is just the sheer volume increase in new restaurants and bars opening. It's pretty amazing for a city Nashville's size. So far this year I've covered roughly 40 restaurant and bar openings, with probably at least another 12 to 15 to go.

The other change has been a heightened national focus on the restaurant scene here. Every major publication has written about it, in some way, shape or form, many times over. And with that comes interest from a lot of restaurateurs from outside the city. Brendan Sodikoff in Chicago, Frank Bonanno in Denver, John Besh in New Orleans and a number of others are known to be looking to enter the market. Investors smell blood in the water, but is what they are bringing something Nashville really needs? Is it going to help progress things forward? That question needs to be higher up on the priority list.

How would you compare Nashville's food scene to those of other cities in the region?
Nashville is having a growth explosion that most other cities in the region (Memphis, Louisville, Birmingham) have never seen. So again, just by volume, Nashville has a leg up. But I would not say that it's better than any other city's scene, just different. I could rattle off spots in all of those aforementioned cities that I wish we had here.

Our tournament has been dominated by casual, "blue jeans" kind of places. Is that about what you expected?

Yes, that's a pretty predictable outcome. That's what Nashville has been known for for a long time. Meat and threes, hot chicken, barbecue, etc. And they are all great in their own right. As much as Nashville now fancies itself a 'foodie' (I hate that word on so many levels) town, it's still dominated by more casual restaurants. And while there are more and more restaurants opening that are trying to extend the boundaries of the city's offerings, there is still a long way to go.

You do an excellent job keeping tabs on the food/bar scene in Nashville. Given the constant turnover in the industry, I'm curious/jealous... how long did it take you build the network to stay on top of the beat?

Ha, well I try. And it's still an ongoing process. But it honestly probably took me a good six to eight months of meetings with people connected in that world, along with constantly going out to restaurants and bars to meet and form relationships with restaurant owners, chefs, bartenders, etc. Some of them have become good friends of mine. My real estate background also came in handy.

If someone asks you for a recommendation on a new place that they likely haven't heard of.... where would you send him/her?

Fifty First Kitchen and Bar in The Nations is a great new spot. Tony and Caroline Galzin, along with Christy Thurman (former Rumours Wine Bar owner) opened it back in the middle of June. Because it's located in a primarily residential area, out-of-towners or people not familiar with that part of town probably aren't just going to happen to drive by it and pop in. But it should absolutely be on everyone's radar, definitely worth seeking out.

Another one that's not necessarily new (just a little over a year old) but I just have to mention is Thai Esane on 12 South near The Gulch. Nina and her crew do a great job, and I crave their food at least once a week.


That's all. Good hunting.

Voting runs until noon on Thursday, 9/17.