A variety of flavors add to the ever-rising popularity of Central and West Tennessee, where barbecue, brews, booze and other tasty goodies will tempt attendees meeting in the region’s group-friendly destinations.
In Nashville, a few foodie tours cater to groups, meanwhile in Memphis, groups can get the bibs out and sit down to some barbecue. In Jackson, groups can enjoy tasting sugarplum and raspberry wines at a local farm, while in Hardin County, catfish is king.
Groups with free time to get out-and-about in Nashville can enjoy an edible exploration of the city’s most notable culinary neighborhoods with tour group Walk Eat Nashville.
According to Missey Garcia-Smith, vice president, convention services, at the Nashville Convention & Visitors Corp., the popular hoods visited are East Nashville, Midtown/Vanderbilt and SoBro/Downtown Nashville.
“Each tour offers a taste of the people, places and dishes that helped put Nashville on the map as a culinary destination,” she said.
Local Tastes of Nashville, another tour operator, offers walking food outings in Nashville’s Germantown and The Gulch districts.
“Tour participants will eat their way through each neighborhood, stopping at five restaurants and specialty shops along the way,” Garcia-Smith said.
At Belle Meade Plantation groups of 15 or more people can book a hands-on culinary experience that includes a tour and guided preparation of Southern food classics in the venue’s original kitchen.
“Explore the property’s smoke house and herb garden, and get a tour of the 1853 mansion,” Garcia-Smith said.
Dabble Studio offers cooking classes as well, during which attendees will work with locally sourced ingredients to create Southern dishes.
Nashville is also a purveyor of craft brews and spirits that groups can sample when meeting here.
The renowned Jack Daniel’s Distillery, which is located outside Nashville in Lynchburg, and Nashville-based Corsair Distillery, purveyor of gin, absinthe and more, both offer group tours and tastings.
There is also Nelson’s Green Brier Distillery, which was forced to close its doors during the Prohibition and reopened decades later in Nashville’s Marathon Village neighborhood.
“Groups can tour the facility, hearing the story of the distillery, and enjoy a tasting of its award-winning small-batch Belle Meade Bourbon, limited-edition Belle Meade Bourbon (Sherry Cask Finish) and Tennessee White Whiskey,” Garcia-Smith said.
For those in the group with a palate that prefers hops and barley, Fat Bottom Brewing Co., located in The Nations neighborhood, offers tours, tastings and food in its beer garden, and a 3,000-square-foot private event space.
Nashville, as well as the rest of the region, is widely known for great barbecue.
Among the city’s lineup of places to grab a delicious meal is Martin’s Bar-B-Que Joint, which specializes in West Tennessee-style whole-hog barbecue.
The Martin’s location in downtown Nashville features a full dining room downstairs and a large upstairs area with a covered beer garden, private dining space, two bars, dartboards, shuffleboard, ping pong and a stage, according to Garcia-Smith.
Memphis also specializes in both group business and barbecue.
Each year the community celebrates that finger-licking good heritage during the Memphis in May International Festival’s World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest.
According to Colleen Palmertree, national sales manager for the Memphis CVB, groups in town the third weekend in May can visit the all-new Barbecue Alley, where attendees will find samples of the competing barbecue.
“In Memphis, barbecue is an essential staple to any diet,” Palmertree said. “It’s so woven into the fabric of the community that you can find over 100 barbecue restaurants here, each that swear their recipe is the best. Groups can be the judge of that.”
Among those barbecue options is Charlie Vergos' Rendezvous, a standby eatery that will celebrate its 70th birthday next year, where groups can book a business luncheon or a dinner event.
Another celebration of the culinary talent in Memphis, which also happens to feature cuisine from all over the world, is October’s Memphis Food & Wine Festival.
And according to Palmertree, the Memphis craft brew scene has taken off over the last few years.
Of the city’s four popular microbreweries, the following three offer group tours: Wiseacre Brewing Co., High Cotton Brewing Co. and Memphis Made Brewing Co.
Located halfway between Nashville and Memphis, Jackson is an affordable destination for meetings that also serves up some mouth-watering options for groups.
Lori E. Nunnery, executive director of the Jackson Tennessee CVB, said there are several scrumptious restaurants that roll out the red carpet for groups that would like to grab a bite.
“In West Tennessee, when we say, ‘Welcome,’ we mean it!” she said.
According to Nunnery, “sexy Southern cuisine” awaits groups at Chandelier Cafe & Cater, which resides in a refurbished historic hotel near the railroad depot.
“It’s a one-of-a-kind dining experience, and they even have a mixologist on staff,” she said. “The lavender flavored water and the peanut butter creme brulee are two of my favorites.”
Situated next door to the West Tennessee Farmers Market is Rock’n Dough Pizza Co., which specializes in wood-fired pizzas using fresh ingredients.
“And the beignets for dessert make you think of a French cafe,” Nunnery said. “But this is rockabilly country, so be sure to try the Angry Hawaiian.”
Like Nashville and Memphis, Jackson also delivers on barbecue, including at downtown’s West Alley BBQ & Smokehouse, which is also popular for its great brunch menu and pitchers of mimosas.
Groups can also enjoy an outing to the family-owned, 150-year-old Century Farm Winery, where attendees can sample Muscat, raspberry, sugarplum and other flavorful wines.
“The winery boasts lovely music in the vineyard and during tastings,” Nunnery said.
Just down the road from Century Farm Winery is Samuel T. Bryant Distillery, which also makes fruity beverages including blueberry and blackberry moonshine.
“Sam, an arborist by trade, opens his custom-built barn for groups,” Nunnery said. “Sam will take your group on a tour of the operations and finish the visit with a tasting. The TNKilla [an agave-based spirit] is stellar.”
Within Hardin County lies Savannah, Tenn., which is known as the Catfish Capital of the World and is home to the annual summertime National Catfish Derby.
“Fishermen and fish eaters enjoy visiting the scenic Tennessee River that flows the length of Hardin County,” said Beth Pippin, tourism director for the Hardin County CVB.
For a memorable meal, groups can check into Hagy’s Catfish Hotel Restaurant, which has been serving Southern-fried catfish as well as ribs, chicken and other dishes for over 75 years.
The eclectic Outpost General Store and Grill, which was once a bait shop, opened in 2011 and serves breakfast, lunch and dinner.
“Specialty foods include barbecue, cornbread salad and homemade desserts served in a woodsy setting,” Pippin said. “Groups will also find an on-site ice cream stand, wood crafts, antiques and everything from a larger-than-life-size Big Foot to a friendly chicken that greets guests upon arrival.”
Hardin County is also home to the famous Pickwick Curve, a section of Highway 128 running from Pickwick Dam in Tennessee to the Mississippi state line.
“Along the way you can experience a variety of culinary venues,” she said, including Lanie’s Seafood & Oyster Bar, Doc D’s Pizza & Patio, Freddy T’s Restaurant & Beach Club and Rib Cage, a restaurant that specializes in slow-cooked barbecue.
Groups meeting in downtown Savannah can stop by to taste some goodness at the River City Farmers Market, which is open on Wednesdays.
“Local farmers and growers set up under their tents to sell fresh produce, organic meats, eggs and baked goods,” Pippin said. “The season is capped off each fall with a farm-to-table dinner on the banks of the Tennessee River at Wayne Jerrolds River Park.”