Even before Nashville became the foodie mecca that it is today, it always excelled at one particular kind of cuisine: Southern comfort food. It took awhile for Music City to warm to small plates and ethnic eats, but there was never a time during which you couldn’t find a warm serving of grits or the perfect flaky biscuit. As the diversity of Nashville restaurants has expanded, so, too, have the choices where you can fill up on Southern specialties. You can fill up at meat-and-threes (Nashville-style eateries that serve an entrée plus three Southern vegetables/side dishes). But you can now find top chefs offering their interpretations of the regional dishes that were served on in their grandmothers’ kitchens.
Loosen your belt buckle and satisfy your craving for Southern comforts.
Loveless Cafe is perhaps Nashville’s best-known Southern dining spot. Since 1951 it has been a must-stop—first for travelers along Highway 100, now for locals and visitors alike. The wait times for a table can be long, but the biscuits are fluffy and buttery, the ham salty, and the eggs, bacon, and sausage are just like Mama made.
There’s no shortage of fried chicken in Music City; even so, people often clamor to one of Puckett’s Grocery & Restaurant’s locations for what some say is the area’s best. The downtown outpost offers stick-to-your-ribs comfort food in a location that will get you in and out in time to see a show at the Ryman. Unlike many Southern food favorites, Puckett’s has a full bar.
Sean Brock was known as a Southern culinary standout thanks to his Charleston, SC, restaurant called Husk. Fortunately for Music City, Husk Nashville has lived up to Brock’s reputation. On the menu for brunch, lunch, and dinner are dishes made with local, seasonal Southern ingredients (although they may not be strictly Southern dishes).
Grab a $10 bill and head to an easily missed red cinderblock building on the southern edge of downtown. Arnold’s Country Kitchen is a cafeteria-style meat-and-three that is one the city’s stalwarts. “Entrees” (i.e. meats) change daily, but for “vegetables,” you’ll always find the likes of Jell-O salad, sliced tomatoes, turnip greens, mashed potatoes, squash casserole, macaroni and cheese, and corn bread.
With chow-chow, macaroni and cheese, and fried green tomatoes on the changing seasonal menu, Lockeland Table has Southern comfort food down. But with a mission to bring farm goods to city tables and to connect to the surrounding neighborhood, Lockeland Table adds a hip, trendy vibe to its Southern (and other) delicacies.
Everyone from politicians to country music superstars has dined at Swett’s, an old-school cafeteria that has been in business for almost 60 years. There’s nothing fancy here, but that’s true of the best comfort food, right? Expect beef tips, macaroni and cheese, and other entrees and vegetables, plus excellent pie for dessert. There’s also a Swett’s at the airport, but it lacks the cafeteria’s ambiance and plethora of choices.
If you can’t decide where you want to sample the best Southern food, taking the new Walk Eat Nashville tour is a good way to have the decisions made for you. These tours involve about 1.5 miles of walking and six different culinary stops in East Nashville. You’ll get a helping of context and history along with good things to eat.