Photo by Tony Valainis
The new Hard Truth Distilling campus may be Nashville’s premier dining and drinking spot, but for me, it’s a reminder of my time in those woods long ago. As told by Julia Spalding
At Hard Truth Distilling Co., Brown County’s scenic craft spirits destination, visitors can explore the 325-acre grounds in an all-terrain buggy or take in the surrounding woods on the 45-minute Captain Barker’s Hike ’N Holler guided walking tour. Mixology classes, beer-making classes, and an $800 Moonshiner’s Experience are on offer as well. But all I wanted to do after finishing my beer-battered fish sandwich and Piña Funkalada (a frothy riff on the piña colada with a splash of the house cinnamon vodka) at Hard Truth’s onsite restaurant was to step out on the upper deck and soak up the view—a cymbal crash of treetops trailing off to a bumpy horizon. I squinted. Something caught in my throat. The spectacle felt comfortingly familiar.
Sometime in the 1970s, my grandparents built a little cedar-stained cottage along Old Nashville Road, not far from this very spot. The house had a wooden deck overlooking the same verdant miles of Southern Indiana’s version of an ocean vista. That view was a family heirloom of sorts—something I savored on every trip to Grandma and Grandpa’s house. Even as a kid—a subdivision rat from Indianapolis—I knew it was something special, and I would sneak out the sliding glass doors after Thanksgiving dinners to get my tree-gazing fix. It felt rugged and exotic, expansive and humbling. When we saddled up the horses in my Uncle Don’s barn down the road and plodded through that ATV-friendly territory, my older cousins would ride ahead, holding back the errant branches and briars along our path while I imagined myself a cowgirl from The Apple Dumpling Gang universe.
Both of my grandparents are gone now. Uncle Don, too. I haven’t stepped foot on the property in decades, but I never miss an opportunity to drive by it when I’m in the area. If I zoom in on Google Earth and look hard, I can sometimes spot a roofline engulfed in waves of green, and then the outline of the horse barn and adjacent pond. I can’t go back there, but I can visit the wooded Hard Truth grounds, which feel so grand when you enter through sculpted metal gates off of the old state road. The campus features a Tours and Tasting Center, working distillery, massive restaurant with a gift shop, and an amphitheater for live music beneath the Brown County stars. The hills are still alive with it. 418 Old State Rd. 46, Nashville, 812-720-4840, visithardtruth.com
There’s great new dining in Brown County beyond the Hard Truth campus.
A longtime Bloomington favorite, the Brown County version of this ice cream shop (278 Van Buren St., Nashville, 812-200-3101) has all the homemade flavors (we loved the cinnamon), even more sandwich options, and of course soft serve, stir-ins, and snow cones. The Nashville location offers the convenience of a drive-thru, as well as locally roasted Brown County Coffee, so tourists with a sweet tooth can easily caffeinate before heading back home.
Don’t be fooled by the no-frills façade at this barbecue joint (51 Chestnut St. E, Nashville, 812-988-5810). Chris Johns’s eatery, formerly of Gnaw Bone, opened in Nashville last year and is already a hit. The specialty is brisket, which is slow-smoked out back every night, but other favorites are the pulled pork platter, always-from-scratch sauces, and a variety of housemade sides like cornbread and coleslaw. With a chalkboard menu, cowboy country tunes turning on an old record player, and sandwiches served up in a metal pie pan, this small-town secret is one you’ll be happy you stumbled across.
A mainstay in Nashville for nearly a century, the scratch kitchen here (15 S. Van Buren St., Nashville, 812-988-4554) still serves country favorites in its rustic dining rooms. But a few things have shifted since it reopened in 2020 after being shuttered for two years. Third-generation owner Andi Rogers Bartels remodeled the place and added seasonal entrees and fresh salads to the menu. And the new bar is a welcome change to the Old Country Store area.
Wrapped around a cozy courtyard in downtown Nashville, this restaurant (36 Franklin St., Nashville, 812-720-7040) is actually three. The woodsy outdoor space and local flavors at the Bird’s Nest Cafe have drawn crowds for brunch since it opened in 2018. At the newly added Henhouse Bar, tenders mix handcrafted apothecary cocktails. And on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday evenings, the place revamps as Night Hawks Diner, serving such entrees as Fischer Farms steaks and burgers.
Despite the pandemic, several new stores have sprouted around Nashville. We visited the best of them, and asked the owners for their favorite older businesses in the area.
If you’re heading into Nashville from the north, look for this shop (5902 IN-135 North, Morgantown, 317-217-0232) just before you pass through Bean Blossom. Once a filling station, it’s now a destination for upcycled furniture, vintage kitchen items, and other treasures that will remind you of your grandma’s house. Shop owner Chris Blevins, who opened the place with her mother, Helen Ellis, earlier this year, handcrafts the soy Charmed Candles found here and constantly rotates the whimsical inventory.
“I love Christmas decor and music, and I have been shopping at The Holly Shop for years. I’ve accumulated a large collection of Santa fairies sold there. I just can’t help but smile every time I visit.” —Moon Acres owner Chris Blevins
Tucked away in Nashville’s Franklin Square, Monica Walters’s art studio and storefront (91 W. Franklin St., 317-752-3110) is warm and welcoming. Originally located in Trafalgar, Walters moved the shop to Nashville this past spring. The walls display art by several locals, but many of the works in the gallery are by Walters herself. Her hand-painted, repurposed furniture accompanies art supplies by Iron Orchid Designs and Wise Owl Paints. Walters hosts Friday-evening crafting events on the porch and teaches her painting technique in private and group classes.
“I’m just now getting more familiar with everything down here, but I love going into The Cheeky Owl right next door. The shops I go into a lot are right here in my square.”—Gypsy Garage owner Monica Walters
The meandering, scenic drive along Salt Creek is off Nashville’s beaten path, but retired paramedic Lori Morgan doesn’t mind her antique store (5737 Hoover Rd., Nashville, 812-565-9364) being an outlier. In fact, she believes many heirloom hunters consider that to be part of the fun. With vintage farmhouse finds galore, Morgan, who also paints wooden barn quilts, carries an ever-changing inventory. She hosts weekend pop-up shops with local artisans and vendors, and the venue is a featured stop on the Back Roads of Brown County Studio Tour this October.
“I have been in the area for 35 years, and a lot of our favorite places have come and gone. But I have always gravitated to the Antique Alley shops.” —Somewhere in Time owner Lori Morgan
Housed in the Old State Bank building, this stylish bookstore (76½ E. Main St., Nashville, 812-344-8546) would look right at home in Fountain Square. The high ceilings and contemporary decor are a welcome departure from the stereotypical dusty book shop. Don’t miss the true-crime section in the bank vault.
“One of our favorite shops is the Heritage Candy Store. Their fudge is to die for, and the owners were instrumental in mentoring us through our critical first year in business.” —Naughty Dog Books owner Tarin Paradise
If you’ve ever considered hitting the mountain bike trails of Brown County, plan a stop at this new cycling paradise (185 S. Jefferson St., Nashville, 812-200-1115) first. Professional mountain bike instructors Kate and Danielle Nolan have created something more than a bike store—it’s a community space for two-wheelers of all skill levels. In addition to bicycle sales, rentals, and service, they offer apparel and gear, as well as events such as group rides.
“We were always Big Woods Original fans—we’ve been going there since their grand opening. Now that location is only open for special events, but we still love it.” —Brown County Bikes co-owner Kate Nolan