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Nashville's Locust: Neighborhood Gem Now National Food Destination

Updated: Dec 20, 2022

We dined at Locust a few months ago, and loved every bite. Then I dragged me feet writing a post about it, and wouldn't you know it. This quirky little gem within walking distance of our house is now Food and Wine Magazine’s 2022 Restaurant of the Year.

“Great,” my wife said when I told her the news this morning. "We’ll never be able to get a table again.”

Given that the restaurant was also named one of the top 50 in the United States by the New York Times a few weeks ago, this is probably true. But we couldn’t feel happier. Locust is the kind of great restaurant that somehow manages to make you feel happy.

Located in the heart of the popular 12 South neighborhood, it has a stylish but minimalist interior, an equally minimalist menu, and a kitchen staff that greets everyone with a hearty cheer. It feels like a pop-up.

It's hard to define what exactly the restaurant is, but as of right now, the food mostly has a Japanese bent,” Khushbu Shah wrote for Food and Wine. “And on any given night, there might be a heavy metal soundtrack blasting from the open kitchen, with a few chefs head-banging away as they prepare your next dish. Locust is fully, uncompromisingly, and unapologetically itself—which is exactly what makes it so playful and brilliant.

Although the neighborhood is liberally sprinkled with solid restaurants that are bustling seven nights a week, Locust is only open Friday, Saturday, and Sundays.

The brainchild of chef Trevor Moran, formerly of the downtown Nashville stand-out Catbird Seat, as well as Copenhagen’s Noma (google it and you’ll occasionally see the phrase “best restaurant in the world.”) the menu is limited, and constantly changing.

“It’s pretty much whatever Trevor is into at the moment,” one of our servers said.

There were six items available on the evening we dined, and two of them were appetizers. Many patrons simply order all of the menu, and share.

A specialty of the house is steamed dumplings, which come in orders of 10 and are eye-rollingly delicious.

We started with a dozen Pacific Gold oysters that didn’t disappoint. A native New Englander who grew up watching oyster boats steam in and out of the harbor near my house, I am partial to the varieties from Long Island Sound and the various ponds and coastlines of Rhode Island and Massachusetts. But these briny California specimens were slightly sweet and tasty, with a deep shape reminiscent of a periwinkle that made it easier to capture the oyster’s delicious liquor.

We also tried what the menu describes as a “tuna ham crisp.” There is no ham, just a combination of raw and cured tuna, spread out over a thin cracker.

“Don’t eat it with a knife and fork,” our server advised. “You’ll break the cracker. Eat it with your hands.”

A word about the servers: There are none. Each dish was delivered by a different person from the kitchen staff, presumably the chef who made it. Each of them politely crouched down to table height to tell us about their dish. It creates the feeling of hanging out at the home of your cool master chef friend, and having them come out to the dining room, drop a plate in front of you, and say: “Try this.”

Like all restaurants of this stature, Locust is hardly inexpensive. That being said, we felt it was reasonable. You can certainly spend far more at any of a dozen expense-account eateries in downtown Nashville. It's pricey, but worth it.

I don’t presume to be a restaurant reviewer. I love good food, well-prepared. Nothing at Locust was even remotely disappointing. If you want better details of what’s on the menu, here is a lovely write-up.

I’ll just say that we’re grateful to have such a delightful treat in our neighborhood. Here’s hoping we can snag a table again in the next year or so.

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