This Opinion article is part of a Narcity Media series. The views expressed are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the views of Narcity Media.
I've heard the buzz about Nashville's Joyland since the retro-inspired fast-food joint opened its doors in 2020. So when passing through the Music City on a recent day trip, I decided it was time to experience first-hand what the hype was about.
Joyland was created by award-winning chef and restaurateur Sean Brock with the intention of serving "quality comfort food."
The concept is much more casual and accessible than his previous fine-dining endeavors and serves provisions at a much more affordable price range.
Reviewing fast-food sandwiches and fries has become a regular part of my workday in food writing, so I set out with the intention of seeing how the trendy burger joint compared to its mainstream U.S. competitors.
The interior of Joyland is visually appealing. Pops of primary colors are featured throughout the restaurant, and the vibrant, striped vinyl seating feels very retro and cute.
Large windows allow in ample amounts of natural light, giving the space a bright and airy feel, even during peak lunch hours when eager patrons file in.
There's plenty of space to accommodate crowds, even when they arrive together in large parties, and the patio is dog-friendly, which is a bonus.
My only qualm is that I found the photo-op wall with their hashtag and Instagram handle a bit corny. I understand though it's a valuable marketing tool in the digital age where influencers reign.
When I arrived on a rainy Sunday afternoon, there was already a line out the door. Things moved quickly, though, and the flow of service felt seamless. You order at the walk-up counter, seat yourself, and a staff member brings everything out to you.
The woman working the register was extremely friendly and even managed to sneak in casual small talk without holding up the line.
I enjoyed that you could watch the staff working the line, giving it an open-kitchen feel, which is rare in fast-food joints. Despite the crowd, I only waited about 10 minutes to receive my order. The service felt timely and streamlined.
A "Joystick" from Joyland. Right: A waffle hashbrown from Joyland.
I came in with high expectations, and I wasn't disappointed. The quality was consistent across all of the menu items.
We ordered a classic "Joyburger Deluxe," waffle hash browns, a Chicago dog, and the skewered chicken "Joystick."
The Chicago dog was pretty standard, but the pickled toppings marked a big flavor difference. The waffle hash browns were well-salted and delightfully crispy without being overly gre asy.
The quality of the meat really shined in both the JoyBurger and the Joystick. The sandwich was balanced and slathered in a specialty sauce that set it apart from your average fast-food burger.
The savory Joystick was crispy on the outside and tender on the inside. Plus, there's a sort of primal satisfaction to eating meat off a wooden stick.
The boozy milkshakes
One Joyland menu item that stood out as a favorite of mine was their boozy milkshake. I opted to go classic with the flavors and ordered a vanilla shake with a bourbon floater.
It was good. So good that I drank it outside in 30-degree weather and didn't even care that I was freezing my tail off.
The shake was thick but still smooth. The richness of the vanilla ice cream balanced out the bourbon, softening the shot's edges. The warming sensation of the alcohol, in contrast to the frozen milkshake, brought our meal to a harmonious conclusion.
Overall I agree with the word around town that Joyland is better than your average fast-food chain.
The prices are comparable to other casual burger joints, and the quality really shines through in the menu items that I tried.
If I were given the option to pop into Joyland or swing through any other fast food restaurant on my lunch break, I would pick the former.
It's familiar, it's satisfying, it's quality comfort food.