Anyone who's ever choked down a cardboard chicken breast to satisfy a jazz club minimum knows that good food and good music do not always go hand in hand. But cities like Portland and Austin have proven that tunes and taste buds can live together in perfect harmony. So we've rounded up the country's newest hot spots where the grub and the clubs are both worth a visit, from famous tune towns like Nashville to Midwest success stories such as the Twin Cities, where Dutch broodjes go well with indie rock, and DIY dynamo Detroit, home of pickle stands and punk rock bands.
Once nicknamed the "Liverpool of the South" for the indie rock, bluegrass, and country it churns out, Athens birthed groups as diverse as R.E.M., Neutral Milk Hotel, and the B-52s. It's home to indie standard-bearer record label Elephant 6 andbecause it's a college towna selection of shockingly affordable eats in addition to a growing high-end dining scene.
The Venues: Like New York's CBGB and San Francisco's Fillmore, the 40 Watt Club has served as the hub of Athens' music culture, from the heavyweights above to more recent acts like Drive-By Truckers and Of Montreal. Before they get to play there, local bands prove themselves at the more intimate Caledonia Lounge. Americana, jazz combos, and indie hip-hop mix things up after long dinners of braised beef cheeks with dandelion greens or pork loin with fennel confit and corn bread purée at Farm 255, a combo club and restaurant that grows most of its own ingredients at the nearby Full Moon Farms.
The Menus: Get a side of music history at soul joint Weaver D's Delicious Fine Foods, whose slogan, "Automatic for the People," became the name of one of R.E.M.'s most famous albums. Some of Michael Stipe's cash from that record went into buying the building that houses vegetarian spot the Grit, which serves up hearty, fresh takes on college fare like burritos, gyros, and (tofu) chili cheese dogs. But if Stipe is the musical king of Athens, its culinary leader is Hugh Acheson, co-winner of this year's James Beard Award for Best Chef: Southeast. His restaurants, 5 & 10 and the National, both bring European flavor to Southern specialties, with pimento cheese and smoked catfish getting equal billing alongside Lyonnaise salad and hangar steak.
You may know it as the birthplace of Emmylou Harris, and these days it's the home of three American Idols. Factor in some of the best blues in the country, a scruffy little indie scene, and some serious jazz to boot (Sun Ra), and small-but-mighty Birmingham is emerging from its darker days in the civil rights era as one of the most exciting music cities in the country. And it's got the food chops to match.