I was beyond eager to start trying out some of the Nashville restaurants I had been reading about and drooling over from the photos on the roadfood site for the previous decade-and-a-half. We only had one full day and two significant meals scheduled before heading north, so I had to narrow down our options and put a lot of thought into which places to prioritize.
Our first stop was an early lunch at one of the city’s best-known purveyors of meat-and-three style dining; Arnold’s Country Kitchen.
Arnold’s serves their food cafeteria-style. Although we arrived well before noon, they were already packed and we were fortunate to find a table.
I ordered roast beef with candied yams and extra porky green beans, which were among the best I’ve ever had. My wife went with chicken and dumplings, mashed potatoes and corn pudding. While there was nothing wrong with my yams, when I tasted my wife’s corn pudding, I was so smitten that I wound up eating most of it and letting her have the yams. That corn pudding was in the top tier of sides that I’ve had on our various food-themed trips.
But the most memorable thing I ate at Arnold’s was my dessert. I’ve mentioned my love for banana pudding, one of the South’s most popular desserts, in past posts. Arnold’s was unquestionably the best I’ve ever had. There were an abundance of softened vanilla wafers coated in a delicate custard that sent my taste buds into orbit. There was also meringue mixed in. Everything in that little dish came together perfectly.
Nashville is the capital of Tennessee. Regular readers of this blog know that my wife and I make a point of visiting state capitol buildings. We headed straight to the Tennessee state house after finishing up lunch at Arnold’s.
While driving around Nashville, we passed a couple restaurants that I was very familiar with from the roadfood message board, but that we unfortunately didn’t have the time or appetite to stop at. One was the Elliston Place Soda Shop, which is known for meat-and-three in addition to ice cream treats.
Our next sightseeing stop was the Hermitage, the estate of President Andrew Jackson. Like Mount Vernon, there is much to see in addition to just the President’s house. There were beautiful gardens, a family cemetery and the preserved quarters where Jackson’s slaves lived. It was an extremely educational experience that I recommend to anyone who visits Nashville.
For dinner, which would be our final major meal in Nashville, we went to one of the city’s best known culinary institutions, the Loveless Cafe. Like Arnold’s, the Loveless specializes in meat-and-three, as well as biscuits and country ham. They also have a store on sight where they sell whole hams, among other things.
The Loveless Cafe’s biscuits are legendary in roadfood circles. They start you off with a plate of them accompanied by homemade blackberry and peach preserves.
That apparently wasn’t enough to satisfy my wife, because she ordered a biscuit sampler that included one each filled with pulled pork, fried chicken, and pimento cheese and fried green tomato.
I went with the Southern sampler platter, which featured fried chicken, country ham and pulled pork. Each was outstanding, but the sides were equally appealing. I had more porky green beans, my third helping on this trip, and creamed corn. As much as I enjoyed the green beans, the creamed corn was up there with the corn pudding at Arnold’s. Both are in my all-time pantheon of side dishes.
We were too stuffed to eat dessert, but I took an order of blackberry cobbler back to our hotel for a late-night snack.
We were only in Nashville for about a day-and-a-half, but we packed some very memorable eating and sightseeing into that short stay.
The following morning, we left town and headed north to Kentucky. But before reaching the border, we stopped in Clarksville, Tennessee, to pick up another college mug for my brother-in-law’s collection. This one was from Austin Peay University. I only knew of this school’s existence from their occasional trips to the NCAA Tournament. While there, we came across a school employee barbecuing on a gorgeous offset smoker. Although I didn’t catch it on camera, he turned and gave us a great smile when I commented on how good it smelled.
In a previous post, I wrote about a 2019 visit to northwest Kentucky where I took a culinary tour of the area with my friend Louis, who I know from the old roadfood message board. I met him for the first time during this trip. After our stop at Austin Peay, our next destination was Sebree, Kentucky, to link up with Louis at Bell’s Drugs.
Bell’s is another old pharmacy with a soda fountain. Our reason for being there was their homemade orangeade, which was outstanding.
From Bell’s, we headed further north into Henderson, where Louis lives. He took us on a nice tour of the area that included several food stops.
Henderson is home to my favorite fried chicken. I wrote at some length about it in the 2019 trip report. That chicken was temporarily unavailable while we were there in 2015, so we settled for the next best option, which turned out to be the best fried chicken I had eaten until then, and would remain so until that later visit.
Mr. D’s is a fast-food drive-in. Louis explained that under normal circumstances, I would probably wind up with chicken that had been previously made and was sitting out waiting for someone to order it. But he asked them to make a fresh order for us. That meant a wait of about 20 minutes, but it was more than worth it. Henderson-style fried chicken is spicy – really spicy. But not because of a hot sauce, as is the case with Nashville-style fried chicken. In Henderson, the spice comes from the seasoning in the crust. If I lived in that region, I’d eat this stuff all the time. It’s really phenomenal.
My other main food interest in that part of Kentucky was barbecue. And the meat that is most associated with the region’s barbecue is smoked mutton, something you may not find in any other part of the U.S.
I had tried it once before at Moonlight Bar-B-Q in Owensboro, Kentucky, during our first visit to the state, some years earlier. On this occasion, we went to Peak Bros. Bar-B-Q in Waverly. Louis arranged for us to try a sampler of smoked meats, which came finely chopped, or “chipped,” as it’s referred to by the locals. It was also mixed with a somewhat vinegary sauce. There was mutton, beef, ham and pork. While Peak Bros. is known for their mutton, my favorite was the beef.
I was too full to eat anything else after we left Peak Bros., but Louis took us to check out one of Kentucky’s best country ham outlets, Meacham’s, which has since closed. I picked up a slice to take home after the trip.
My wife and I stayed in Evansville, Indiana, which is right across the Ohio River from Henderson, that evening. We had a gorgeous view of the river from our room.
For a late dinner, we headed to Culver’s, which I’ve written about here before. They are one of our favorite fast-food chains, but there aren’t any in Pennsylvania, so we like to hit them while travelling.
Culver’s is a Wisconsin-based chain and features food that is popular in that state, including smashed burgers on buttered buns, fried cheese curds and frozen custard.
Dinner at Culver’s was our final meal in the South. We made our way up into the Midwest the following morning.
To be continued.