Since before we placed the order for our RV we have been dreaming of all the places we want to explore, but as we get closer to actually having the RV it has occurred to both of us that we have taken our home town for granted. Like a lot of locals in an area popular with tourists, we tend to stay away from the most popular areas and when we do go explore Nashville attractions it’s because we are taking friends and family from out of town. So, with our RV delayed we decided to change that and get out to explore Nashville. This post is the first of our Home Turf Tourist series where we will highlight places and events in the Nashville area and, hopefully, entice you to look beyond the Grand Ole Opry and the honky-tonks on Lower Broadway when you visit.
For the first entry in this series we visited Tomato Art Fest in East Nashville. The festival began in 2004 when a pair of gallery owners held a series of events to publicize an upcoming tomato themed art show. Since then it has grown into a wacky yearly event that draws tens of thousands to the Five Points area of East Nashville to celebrate the uniting qualities of the fruit that’s also a vegetable. The festival features contests, tomato themed art, food trucks, contests and live music, a Bloody Mary garden party and it highlights the vibrant East Nashville community.
The opening event on Saturday is the Push, Pull & Wear parade that features people dressed in tomato inspired attire pushing or pulling homemade tomato-themed parade floats surrounded by marching bands and lots of revelers. When we arrived the parade was already in full swing and it’s quite a sight! It’s like a Mardi Gras parade in New Orleans except everyone was in red and green and the floats were a whole lot smaller! But, folks pull out all the stops to create their costumes and construct their floats. The streets were jammed with revelers as the parade went by making it hard to tell who was a spectator and who was in the parade! I guess it didn’t really matter because everyone was having so much fun.
Small vendor tents lined the streets radiating in every direction featuring local artists and lots of organizations from dental offices to car insurance. About a block away the street was lined with food trucks featuring gourmet grilled cheese sandwiches and other delights. There was even a tent offering a place for your dog to cool down in a kiddie pool full of ice! A valuable thing to have on a very hot August day. There were also farm stands selling tomatoes and other produce where we bought a slice of watermelon to nibble on as we walked around enjoying the music on three different stages.
The stages featured something for everyone, from a New Orleans style brass band to acoustic harmonies to rock. There was also a cooking stage featuring local chefs and the contest stage where they held competitions and announced winners. Some of the contests this year included a pet fashion show, a tomato 5K, tomato haiku, a cornhole competition, a biggest littlest ugliest contest and a home decorating contest for neighborhood homeowners to get in on the fun. Other activities included a Giant Ice Cream Sundae extravaganza, a kids art show, a tomato toss and bobbing for tomatoes.
If you wanted to escape the heat you could duck into one of the many fine local eateries located in Five Points. The area features Five Points Pizza which has incredible New York style pies, I Dream of Weenie, a creative hot dog stand and local institution based in a converted Volkswagen bus and a host of other great options.
Despite all the great options, we decided to leave the festival and go find another local highlight about 10 minutes away. Mas Tacos Por Favor began as a food truck making incredible $3 tacos before settling into its home on McFerrin Avenue in the Greenwood neighborhood. There we had the chicken tortilla soup, a couple of sweet potato and quinoa vegan tacos, and chilequiles, a dish we knew nothing about beyond the description on the sign that said “breakfast nachos”. That description didn’t begin to describe the bowl of sheer awesome that we experienced. Chips covered in a thick, slow cooked tomato sauce and shredded chicken, literally exploding with flavor, topped with a perfectly cooked fried egg. It was large enough that we split it and had to get the soup to go. We washed down lunch with a pair of refreshing agua frescas in flavors of pineapple, orange and carrot.
Before I finish talking about lunch I have to talk about the tortilla soup that we carried home and ate for dinner. Most tortilla soups are thick and stew-like and usually have a decent quantity of cheese on top. Their tortilla soup is nothing like that. It’s a slow cooked, deeply flavored chicken broth with a little lime juice, corn, cilantro and perfectly sliced avocado in the soup. A small bag of tortilla strips came on the side to add.
Mas Tacos Por Favor made a fine finish to our morning of exploration and it’s definitely worth a visit if you are ever in Nashville. Just make sure to bring cash because they don’t take credit cards, however, they do have an ATM in the back in case of taco emergency.
If you happen to visit Nashville during the second week of August, the Tomato Art Fest is a must see. It’s been called one of the best festivals in the south. Admission to the festival is free and activities kick off with a concert on Friday night, then go all day Saturday. Since August in the south is usually hot enough to roast a tomato, bring water, sunscreen and a wide-brimmed hat… preferably in a particular shade of red.