If you’ve ever traveled to Paris, you’re well aware that it’s so much more than the “City of Light.” It’s more than a boat ride on the river Seine, or crêpes beneath the Eiffel Tower, or a stroll along the cobbled streets of Montmartre. Paris is a way of life. It’s the joy of selecting the perfect cheese, discovering treasures at an antique market, swooning over French cinema, or sipping a beautiful Burgundy wine. And while we may not be able to beam ourselves from Nashville to the Champs Elysées (if only!), there are a surprising number of ways to channel your inner Francophile right here in Music City. One need only adopt the Parisian mentality.
How to Spend a Day in Paris, Without Leaving Nashville
Breakfast (To embrace your day the true Parisian way, don’t start too early!)
There’s no question that Nashville’s love of Paris is alive and well — particularly when it comes to food. And, the trick to an authentic French dining experience is in the approach: a savored, seated meal is everything. So, don’t grab a coffee and croissant and head to your car. No! Sit down. We’re in Paris, remember?
For a tasty, laissez-faire-inspired morning, start by heading to French-owned and operated Little Gourmand. Owner Guenievre Milliner advises that it’s not a true French-style morning without the proper breakfast. “Try a good espresso, croissants with salted butter (the real thing, with sea salt crystals!), and a nice jam,” she says. If you want to brush up on your French skills, grab a table and browse the headlines from French newspaper Le Monde as you eat, or check out france-amerique.com, a monthly bilingual magazine that features articles in both French and English.
While Little Gourmand boasts two locations (one in Green Hills and one in Melrose), we recommend starting your day at Little Gourmand’s Green Hills location, as this location is stocked with French groceries to peruse before or after your breakfast. The selection of teas, chocolates, caviar, and more — in addition to their prepared foods — is tremendous.
You can certainly purchase some pastries to go, but note that snacks are really more of an American thing than a French thing. Guenievre suggests leaving out the snacks and the “grab-it-on-the-go” options and instead plan for “three real seated meals where you make time to enjoy the food and the company.” The French understand that if you eat three full meals a day, you won’t experience snack cravings in between.
Plan to take your time when it comes to lunch, and consider making your way to Cocorico!, another local French-owned business that pops up at farmers’ markets throughout the city. Jambon Beurre is a classic lunch sandwich everybody eats in France. You can find owner Elodie Habert and her Cocorico! booth — stocked with Parisian sandwiches, baguettes, and other goodies — at Richland Park Farmers’ Market on Saturdays, East Nashville Farmers’ Market and 12 South Farmers’ Market on Tuesdays, and Hip Donelson Farmers’ Market on Fridays.
For lunch, you can also grab a baguette sandwich from the Melrose location of Little Gourmand to change up the scenery from breakfast.
Once you’ve dined to your heart’s content, there are plenty of other local ways to help you continue your Paris-inspired day. Browse the farmers’ market for fresh flowers and artisan goods, head to the Belcourt Theatre to catch a French film, feed the ducks your baguette crumbs at Centennial Park, or check out the workshop and meet-up offerings from the Alliance Française Nashville. Alliance Française also offers a resource library with French novels, films, and magazines available for checkout. (If your love for French cinema extends beyond the occasional Amélie rental, you should look into the AFN Ciné Club!)
If you’re craving some artistic influence, consider hitting up the Frist Art Museum. “There’s nothing specifically French there, but going to a museum is a classic French thing to do,” says Parisian Melvil Arnt, owner of Once Upon a Time in France and The Authentique (more on those fabulous spots later!). Plus, a quick check of the Frist schedule might reveal some apropos programming since the museum draws international exhibits. Past artist exhibits have even included some greats such as Van Gogh, Monet, Degas, and Picasso.
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We highly recommend traveling back to early 1900s France by going to The Authentique in East Nashville, where you can pair delicious wines with light accompaniments such as a cheese and charcuterie plate. Owner Melvil Arnt suggests focusing on wine characteristics rather than specific wineries, recommending options such as Pomerol, Pauillac, Châteauneuf-du-Pape, and Côte Rotie. (And, to note for future Parisian adventures, Melvil is also in the process of opening his own wine shop next door to The Authentique called Mel’s Wine and Spirits!)
As we all know, wine is an integral part of Parisian culture, and stocking up on a few bottles at home would definitely round out your Parisian day in Nashville. “The three things that truly make for a French experience are great food, tasty wine, and excellent company,” Elodie explains. “Wine pairing is essential to elevate a French cuisine experience.”
Thankfully, quite a few Nashville wine shops carry an extensive list of international options, so you should plan to grab a few to keep on reserve. Elodie recommends trying one of her favorites, such as white Tariquet or Rosé de Provence, for a fun glass to enjoy over an extended meal with friends. Guenievre says her current favorite is Bois de Menge, which you can snag for under $15 at Trader Joe’s. “It’s pretty amazing for the price if you decant it,” she tells us.
Before signing off for the night, gather with friends to enjoy a lengthy, leisurely supper. “Spending time at the table with our loved ones, sharing a delicious meal paired with the best local wines is what French people do the best,” says Elodie. “Spending four to five hours talking about life while eating homemade dishes is common, and personally, my very favorite thing about French culture!”
For dinner, you simply must go to Once Upon a Time in France in East Nashville, where you’ll dine on classic dishes such as escargot de Bourgogne and Coq au Vin. Melvil, the owner who helped guide us with this Paris-in-Nashville itinerary, says, “Food culture is our main culture.” This sentiment shines in every dish delivered and every bite consumed. “The Chef, Laurent Champonnois, brought with him several true French bistro recipes, and I love to stop by and get dinner when I am homesick,” says Elodie. She counts the Confit de Canard among her personal favorites.
Guenievre also speaks highly of Once Upon a Time in France and gives credit to a few other local restaurants for their skillful French cuisine as well. “The best dinner we had recently was at The Continental,” she gushes. “It has a true French flair, especially the Pâté en Croûte cart. It’s absolutely amazing, and I could have a whole dinner from that cart (and a good wine!). I’m also partial to Miel. Although it is not an actual French restaurant, they are extremely talented.”
If you’re opting for an evening at home, invite a few friends over for an “aperitif.” Guenievre says the perfect combination consists of a glass of wine, olives from Provence, almonds, charcuterie, and crackers. “Forget the cheese before dinner,” she advises. “In France, cheese is part of the meal and served between entrée and dessert; we do not serve it as an appetizer.”
Guenievre and Elodie both recommend ending the day with a good French movie or television series — Call My Agent (on Netflix) tops the list. “You can watch it in French with English subtitles to immerse yourself in the French language,” Elodie tells us, “and you can also explore the Paris area. They even have an episode happening in Versailles Gardens! It’s a great way to discover several well-known French actors and comedians such as Jean Dujardin.” Additionally, Guenievre suggests watching My Afternoons with Marguerite, which she describes as “a very touching movie with Gerard Depardieu.”
From simple pleasures to dreamy dining excursions, a love of Paris thrives here in Nashville. “The best way to understand French culture is to understand that ‘more is not better,'” says Guenievre. “We value quality over quantity, and we would rather pay a little more and savor a high-quality product rather than a big bunch of cheap, tasteless things.”
We couldn’t agree more. So, who’s up for a day of wining, dining, and French immersion?
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