This Nashville Restaurant Is Basically an Appalachian Art Gallery with Amazing Food

Art is on the walls—and the plate—at chef Sean Brock’s Audrey.

By Ellen Fort

Published on May 8, 2024

Geometric color blocks abut in a soft patchwork prism of reds, pinks, blues, and grays, each section of cotton fabric bonded to the next by impossibly tiny stitches. The quilt gracing the entrance to Nashville’s Audrey was sewed by Andrea Williams, a descendant of a member of the famed Alabama quilting collective, Gee’s Bend.

Standing beneath the abstract piece, diners might notice the rich, earthy fragrance of vetiver and the faint chirping of crickets. With these, chef Sean Brock aims to transport his guests to the woods of Appalachia. “The second you walk in the door, I’ve got your ears and your nose and your eyes,” says Brock. “I’m slowly creeping you into Appalachia piece by piece, and surrounding you with things that make me feel comfortable and at home.” 

A quilt from Gee's Bend hangs in the foyer of Audrey. (Photo: Emily Dorio)

Audrey, named after the James Beard Award-winner’s grandmother, opened in 2021. Enthusiasm for Brock’s cooking shows no sign of waning, but here, it’s about more than the food. In addition to Williams’ quilt, Brock’s Southern—and particularly Appalachian—art collection also includes works from Butch Anthony, Jimmy Lee Sudduth, and Mose Tolliver. Sharing this collection with restaurant guests was a crucial part of the Audrey plan since day one, when Brock asked the project’s design team to display and light the artwork as though the dining room were a museum. 

For Brock, who grew up in rural Virginia, Audrey's immersive and transportive experience is the point, complementing a regionally-inspired menu peppered with familiar fare like heirloom grits, pan-fried catfish with turnip greens, and chicken and dumplings, tweaked and concentrated into finely tuned versions of themselves. The chef has a particular fascination with Sudduth. The 20th-century Alabaman artist and blues musician painted on old doors, cabinets, and other building supplies, incorporating grass, charcoal, and even berries and mustard into his paints. "Every time I look at one of his paintings," he says, “I think I should be able to do that with a head of cabbage."

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