“Best restaurant in the world.” Big praise, but since not that many people read this blog I can say this rather safely. And a blog is, by definition, a personal opinion. So I cannot be wrong. I say Husk (the Nashville version) is the best in the context of a reasonable experience with many of the great restaurants of the world, including five of the top ten and numerous Michelin 2 and 3-star restaurants. I’ve eaten in every major US city multiple times, always seeking out the best. Husk in Nashville, in my humble opinion, is the best. At least for today.
Sean Brock should buy me a meal. I’ve made three trips to the Nashville location and one to the Charleston original Husk. Also took a large party to his fine dining restaurant McCrady’s, also in Charleston and tried a taco at Minero’s. Every documentary and most print articles have been reviewed, starting with the seminal “Eat it Raw” event where Tony Bourdain is enamoured by an intoxicated, entertaining, fish-out-water Brock for the first time. I even met him briefly, standing in line behind me at his Nashville outpost. I asked him if this place was any good. He laughed and said, “yeah, I hear it is.” No selfie, no autograph. It was clear he was on a date with his wife. No one other than the staff noticed him in his trucker-style cap.
Moreso than Sean, chef de cuisine, Brian Baxter deserves the most credit. There’s a reason why the Nashville outpost is better than the Charleston mother-ship. That reason in Baxter. Check out the restaurant’s Instagram thread to see pics of his baby wearing a onesie inscribed with “Future Cornbread Snob” – adorable.
Let me dive into my most recent Husk encounter. It was special. All I could get was a very early 5:15 PM reservation. In Nashville for reasons other than eating. Seeing that my previous visit was in the dark, Husk took on a new light (pardon the pun) in the daytime. Bright, colorful and not crowded. Sat upstairs this time in front of a tall window in the converted historic Rutledge hill home.
First – Ol’ Fuskie Crab Rice
Evidently this is a traditional Southern dish, prepared and eaten casually. The version here appears casual but hides complexity and finesse. A perfect example of Husk style. Carolina Gold rice (read about it here) topped with crab and oyster powder. Yes, OYSTER POWDER. Like every dish, you can taste each ingredient and every ingredient is special. Either from their own garden or sourced from a carefully selected producer. Phrases like “farm-to-table” and “locally-sourced” are silly in this example and the other Husk dishes. So they won’t come up again.
The rice really shines here, with golden flavors, soft and chewy texture and perfect separation of every grain. The crab is layered on top of the rice and is intentionally dry and probably sauteed with onions, bacon, and other ingredients. Not sure what oyster powder is supposed to taste like and really have no idea how this is created. But, I am sure this upscale Ol’ Fuskie would not taste the same without the oyster powder.
Supper – “A Plate of Southern Vegetables”
Somewhere in one of the many Brock interviews, he states the best dish on the menu is the Plate of Vegetables. Surprising since the menu contains some amazing fish and meat. The catfish is especially good. “Pork Prime Rib” sounded especially special. But I have changed to primarily “plant-based” food choices, for health and other reasons, so now was the right time to try a vegetable only plate. Oh my…vegetarians (and flexible vegans) should be flocking to the place. This dish is the least expensive supper but is clearly the most complex and labor-intensive entree I have ever encountered. Pushes miles past 3-star Michelin temples by a mile.
Forgive me, the waiter did a superb job of explaining everything on the plate but my memory is clouded by wide variety of ingredients and the resulting food intoxication. A different version of intoxication – no meat and very low fat. Overwhelmed and entertained instead with fresh flavors, textures and contrasts. According to online accounts, this menu item varies dramatically from day to day, so while I’ve recounted my experience, yours is going to be different.
Five dishes/bowls arrived on one “plate” or really a platter made from a slice of tree trunk. Five distinct items for the price of one. The only familiar dish was the Hoppin’ John made with (again) Carolina Gold rice and field peas. I’ve done this one at home with the same Anson Mills ingredients but the result is a pale shadow compared to Baxter’s execution. In the center was grits with a soft egg and mushroom broth. Egg is obviously not plant-based so I ate around it, the grits and mushrooms were a savory, unconventional combination. A cauliflower and broccolini dish tasted like they were roasted and charred with an unctuous sauce. OK, I am sure there was some animal fat somewhere in this but the main ingredients stood out boldly. I can tolerate a bit of animal in the backup band. The green soup was based on tomatillos and accented with nuts. Not sure if cream was part of this (probably) but I can venture off the range, and you can too, since this meal has so many good plants and is devoid of meat. Lastly the cucumber salad was filled with green herbs and I think some more nuts.
Impressive. As you can tell from this blog, for the last three months, I have been cooking exclusively vegan at home, which means a lot of vegetables and experimenting with different flavor profiles and preparation methods. However, Husk Nashville reminds me of why we occasionally choose to go out to eat. Brian Baxter and his team, under the direction of Sean Brock, make the food and the experience so much more than any of us could come close to creating at home.
PS: I went back the next day for lunch. So good.