Solo Surprises

An Asian-fusion weekend in Nashville

Photography by Stacey Greenberg

One of the perks of being the editor of this publication is that I often get invited to sneak peeks, special events, and whatnot. A PR firm in Nashville invited me to enjoy a meal at The Hart, an izakaya restaurant with a Hawaiian twist; to try the coffee at LA-born No Free Coffee (NFC); and to stay the weekend in the Chestnut Hill neighborhood at BentoLiving, an apartment-style hotel that houses The Hart and NFC. It was pretty hard to say no.

I decided to run with an Asian-fusion theme to help plan out a full weekend of eating—and because I was going alone and Asian food is my favorite.

I left Memphis around noon on a Friday in July. Check-in at BentoLiving was a breeze, and my “apartment” was super sleek and fancy. The hotel has a modern feel throughout, and there are several bars, restaurants, and shops within walking distance.

Dinner in paradise

I had a 7 p.m. reservation at The Hart, which is a few steps down from the lobby area. The Hart is quite expansive with a plant-drenched bar in the center, casual but cool modern seating made from wood and milk crates, and a semi-secluded private dining room—all under a ceiling that’s at least 30 feet high. A patio wraps around the outside corner, inviting people in from the street. I got a fun, wacky White Lotus vibe. The male servers were all young, hip, mustachioed, adorned in flowered shirts, and eager to please. (The women were all of these things too, minus the mustaches and flowered shirts.)

There is a downside to dining alone: One can only eat so much.

I did my best, though. Since I wasn’t driving, I sampled a few cocktails, garnished with purple orchids and pineapple leaves. The shishito peppers with shiso tartar sauce were divine. The tomato and whipped tofu salad was interesting with tomato dashi, hijiki seaweed, and shiso. The sweet potatoes from the binchotan charcoal grill were deeply satisfying. And I couldn’t resist the DIY Handroll Party with raw fish, seaweed squares, rice, cucumber, and cilantro.

The Hart also does breakfast, lunch, and brunch—all of which I want to try.

Cool and caffeinated

What I was most excited about trying, though, was No Free Coffee. It’s located inside The Hart, yet maintains a separate identity from the restaurant. I love iced coffee, and was practically counting the minutes until they opened on Saturday morning.

I started with the Grapefruit Tootsie, which was made with cold brew, grapefruit flavored Fever Tree tonic, and a grapefruit peel garnish. It was very similar to the cold brew tonic I get every week from the Vice & Virtue stand at the Cooper-Young Community Farmers Market. And it was fitting since I spent the morning checking out the Franklin Farmers Market. (It’s about a 20-minute drive but totally worth it. Take a cooler and stock up on pasta and dumplings!)

When I returned from the farmers market, I got the enticingly named Espresso Margarita. I haven’t stopped thinking about it since. First off, it’s non-alcoholic. It’s made with a spicy citrus base and topped with a shot of espresso and a jalapeño slice. It had a definite kick, but was highly drinkable.

Mario Kristian, the No Free Coffee owner, told me that he fell in love with coffee culture on yearly visits he used to take to Japan with his wife.

During the pandemic, he was living in LA, which is where he started doing coffee pop-ups and launched his NFC streetwear brand. Having grown up in Nashville, he couldn’t resist the opportunity to open his first permanent shop inside The Hart.

Pop-up with Chef Brock

As I sipped, Mario basically helped plan the rest of my weekend. While I checked out some of his favorite local dining spots on Instagram, I noticed that Chef Sean Brock was hosting a Tokyo-style pizza party pop-up at his flagship restaurant, Audrey. Off I went, and was second in line when the doors opened. The restaurant has a large, open kitchen, where Chef Brock was stretching out dough, saucing it, and placing it in a wood-burning oven.

As I was checking out, I asked what Tokyo-style pizza was, and Chef Brock himself (!) answered me. “It’s all about the dough,” he said. “Lots of olive oil. Like half a cup.”

Because this was an unplanned meal, I had to exercise some serious self-restraint and eat less than half of the Margherita pizza with its soft, chewy crust.

Thoughtful details at Locust

My next planned meal was at Locust in the very popular 12 South neighborhood. It’s been a favorite of mine since I first tried it in 2020—and it was just named Food & Wine Restaurant of the Year 2022.

When you walk into Locust, everyone in the open kitchen stops what they are doing, looks at you, waves, and says, “Hi!”

It’s awesome.

Locust has a very simple menu that changes often, but always includes out-of-this-world dumplings and kakigori (sweetened shaved ice). Four people—or two very hungry ones—could easily consume the entire menu. I found it to be a great place to dine alone, as the staff is so friendly.

As soon as I was seated, I was given the menu and a small, impossibly cold cup of iced tea—a thoughtful gesture on a hot day. I ordered the tomato salad, oysters (the market shellfish of the day), and steamed pork dumplings.

The oysters came out first.

They were Miyagi oysters from the Pacific Northwest and, according to the server, “the only oysters worth eating.”

They came on top of a bowl of ice with house-made horseradish sauce, a smidge of caviar, and house-made hot sauce. Perfection.

The tomato salad was jaw-dropping. Skinned cherry tomatoes were mixed with melon balls of the same size, topped with individual herb leaves and a light dashi. On the side was a small mason jar of a soft, house-made cheese. Wow.

Next, 10 perfectly steamed dumplings arrived with a side of house-made chili oil and a bowl of vinegar flavored with sea vegetables. I was instructed to “dip ’em and drip ’em” and to have fun.

When one server saw that I’d only eaten half of everything, he empathized, “It’s hard when it’s just one person.”

I had to save room for the kakigori. Made with shaved ice, sweet cream, kumquats, and a very intense raspberry dust, the daily offering was otherworldly. Kakigori is a very light dessert, so don’t ever make the mistake of thinking you are too full to try one.

My check was presented with a small, white square. “Please enjoy this marshmallow,” they said.

It didn’t look like much, but it was seasoned with horseradish oil and salt, and it was so surprising and fun. The perfect last bite. Then everyone in the kitchen stopped what they were doing to say goodbye to me.

I spent the next few hours roaming the very fun aisles of East Nashville Antiques & Vintage and capped off the night with a couple of sushi rolls at Punk Wok in the Sylvan Park neighborhood. (Full disclosure: My cousin Clay Greenberg is the owner.) Punk Wok is housed inside the new Sylvan Supply, which was formerly a mill. It’s a great spot to restaurant hop. (More on that in a moment.)

Brunch and last bites

Sunday morning I had an espresso tonic—the final cold brew on the menu at No Free Coffee—and then made my way to “The Lou,” a popular brunch spot featuring natural wines. Lou is in a cozy, white brick house with no sign. The main dining room is an open space with a fireplace and chimney in the center. In the back, there’s a lovely covered patio.

I opted for one of the non-alcoholic amaro sodas on the menu. Now I’m obsessed. For brunch, I decided on the crispy rice bowl with lacinato kale, avocado, house chorizo, a fried egg, fermented honey vinaigrette, pickled shallot, marinated peppers, sauerkraut, walnuts, and lacto fermented hot sauce. Delicious!

Xavier, my server and bartender, was doubly surprised by the speed with which I ate it all and by the fact that I had already been given my check by someone else.

He asked, “If I gave you a little ice cream, would you eat it?”

There was no hesitation. “Yes!”

He presented me with a small scoop of sunflower ice cream drizzled with honey and sprinkled with salt.

I am forever adding salt to all ice cream! And I will eat anything Xavier gives me!

I should have gotten in my car and headed to Memphis, but I couldn’t resist a quick run through Sylvan Supply! I had a fun iced coffee with Mexican Coke at Barista Parlor and then hit the Black Dynasty Secret Ramen House inside Bearded Iris taproom. If you are one of the people missing Lucky Cat Ramen, add this to your list! I had just a taste of the cheeseburger gyoza and shoyu chintan ramen before packing them up to surprise my ramen-obsessed son back home.

Nashville surprised me. And I love surprises.

Inside BentoLiving
321 Hart Street


The Hart

No Free Coffee


Franklin Farmers Market
230 Franklin Road, Franklin, TN


809 Meridian Street


2305 12th Avenue South


East Nashville Antiques & Vintage
3407 Gallatin Pike


1304 McGavock Pike


Inside Sylvan Supply 
4101 Charlotte Avenue

Punk Wok

Barista Parlor

Black Dynasty Secret Ramen House

Bearded Iris

Stacey Greenberg is the editor in chief of Edible Memphis. You can follow her at @nancy_jew.