Leave As Friends

21 monells outsideLinda Burton posting from Nashville, Tennessee – “Enter as strangers, leave as friends.” That’s what happens when you gather round the dining table and start passing the peas. And the mashed potatoes, and meatloaf, and all the other goodies that grace the table. I was sitting in Monell’s, a family style restaurant in a historic 1880’s house in Germantown, a north Nashville neighborhood. Baskets of corn muffins, pitchers of sweet tea; pass to the left, please; you can’t help it, you start to chat. “My husband died in February,” said Sandra, on my left. “My son brought me out for 21 monells platelunch today.” Terrance nodded, “We’re walking in the park after lunch,” he said, “I’ve lost almost a hundred pounds in the last year.” He pulled out his cellphone to show a picture of his former self; his mother and I lavished him with praise. On my right sat Allison and Matt; Matt directs a local TV show and gave me the scoop on the Nashville scene; in turn they wanted to know absolutely everything about the Journey. A month’s worth of friendliness, over chicken and dumplings; where can you find that, except when sharing a meal? No fast food hurry up, just take your time and talk. Family dining, the old-fashioned way. Monell’s was my Saturday treat; today I headed far out in the country to the 21 Loveless signfamed Loveless Café for Sunday brunch. Willard Scott claimed the Loveless has the “world’s greatest scratch biscuits” and Martha Stewart said it was “the best breakfast I ever had.” But the reality of the Loveless popularity really hit when I wound up in the unpaved parking lot on the far end of the property. Hundreds of biscuit-hungry folks were already waiting to be fed.

21 loveless biscuits panThe hostess told me I’d wait at least an hour and a half as she handed me the buzzer. “The device is active all over the property,” she advised. “Use your wait time to shop our other stores.” I sat on a bench near the door for a while, chatting with two well-behaved kids dressed in their Sunday finest. “Are you a granny?” the little boy with the bow-tie asked. I bragged that indeed I was; he wrinkled up a dimple face and leaned against me for a hug. Sister leaned against me then; she was in need of a granny hug too; their mother said they’d been waiting two hours for a table. They were regulars; we talked about the Loveless then. “It goes back to 1951,” the mother said, and pointed to a Loveless catalogue with an appealing pan of biscuits pictured on the front. Lon and Annie Loveless opened a little eatery beside the Loveless Motel, I read. Annie knew how to make biscuits and like every southern lady of the time, she made “preserves” as the summer’s bounty of fruit came in. Her biscuits and jams were a hit right away; eventually people who 21 loveless hams and jamsweren’t staying at the motel began to stop in at the Café. The rest is history; stories told in Southern Living and Bon Appetit; their biscuit-making skills invited to the Today Show, the Food Network, Paula Deen’s.

After the little family was called to their table, I decided to wander the property. In Hams and Jams I could have bought, well, you know what. In Lil’ Biscuits I could have bought clothes and gifts for kids. But I was ravenously hungry by then, so back to the Café. “How much longer?” I asked the hostess, sure my buzzer had failed and at least two hours had gone by. “You’ve only been here thirty minutes,” she said. “It’s a long wait yet. How about takeout?” Good idea; I could eat at the picnic tables outside as so many were doing. I ordered the biscuit sampler: one steak, one ham, one chicken, and one barbecue. By darn, I was determined to have Loveless scratch biscuits today.

21 Loveless porchBack on the porch waiting for my order, I met Betty and Lloyd. They were bikers (the motorized kind) out for a spring-day ride. We soon discovered we had a lot in common; Lloyd drove a long-haul truck so knew the roads all across the USA; we compared notes on the evils of tailgating. “It takes me at least 300 yards to come to a safe stop at 60 mph,” he told me, in answer to my question. Betty loved my story of the Journey; “But I’m not much for planning,” she said. “I travel at the drop of a hat.” She told about her train rides to Chicago, and New Orleans, and Seattle. “Wherever I go, I want to stay a little longer,” she laughed. “I’m always surprised at what I find!” They called my name; my 21 loveless my biscuitsbiscuits were finally ready. And Willard was right; they were the best scratch biscuits I’ve ever eaten. But it’s not the biscuits I’ll remember about the Loveless, it’s the feeling of the place. And that, I suspect, is why most people come. That’s the thing about “eating” in the south. Food is merely an excuse for getting together. And if the food happens to be great, well that’s a bonus! I have two more restaurant stories for you that prove the point.

21 ellendalesLast week Ellendale’s was recommended to me as a place near my hotel that serves outstanding food. Located off Old Elm Hill Road in a restored farmhouse, it aims for elegance; a roomy front porch and gazebo; linen tablecloths; artful décor. The menu was interesting; Asiago Crusted Calamari and a cold shrimp platter with fresh garden vegetables were offered under the Appetizer heading; entrees included Prime Rib, New Zealand Lampchops, San Francisco Cippino, Southern Fried Tofu, Crispy Fried Rabbit paired with ginger mashed sweet potatoes, Hickory Smoked Salmon served with lemon and mint Israeli 21 ellendales platecous-cous and a chimichurri sauce paired with roasted garlic baby carrots. The food was fabulous, beautifully presented and flavorful beyond measure. Yet what I’ll remember most was Julie Buhler, and the atmosphere of the place. Julie opened Ellendale’s in 1999, after a stint as Dolly Parton’s personal chef, and cooking for other stars such as Reba McIntire, Vince Gill, and Garth Brooks. Now she spends her time making her guests feel welcome, and creating original recipes from what she grows in the large organic garden beside the house. She’s an artist too, and promotes other artists in the community; she bought a car wash and converted it to an art gallery! The house reflects her 21 ellendales panelsartistic nature; I asked about the striking panels on the wall. “It’s my great-grandfather Douglas Ives,” she answered, pointing to a portrait hanging behind me and the basis for the panels. Julie was excited to hear about the Journey; she followed me outside to get a picture of the Scion for her Facebook page; and posed for me. “I named Ellendale’s after my great-grandmother Ellen Dale Ives,” she told me, as we walked the grounds where the wisteria is just starting to bloom.

21 tootsies guitar out frontI haven’t been to Tootsies Orchid Lounge so far this trip; although I have visited it before. It’s properly defined as a Honky Tonk Bar, located back to back with the Ryman Auditorium; its orchid-colored front faces Broadway. It continues to attract the hoping-to-be-famous, the famous, and those who want to be where the famous have been; its walls are covered with autographed photos of those who made it. But 21 tootsies krisback in 1960 when Tootsie Bess bought the property, it was named simply Mom’s. Over the years Tootsie quietly fed many hungry hopefuls that hung out in this musician’s haven, and slipped ten-dollar bills into their pockets when she knew they needed a hand. And every now and then, so the story goes, Opry stars slipped into Tootsie’s cigar box, and replaced all the IOU’s with cash.

Enter as strangers, leave as friends. That’s how it goes.

A table at Monell's.

A table at Monell’s.

About Monell’s. Mr Monell and Mr King opened their first Pass-the-peas-please-concept Monell’s almost twenty years ago; today there are four in the Nashville area. http://monellstn.com/

About Loveless Café. Café open 7 AM to 9 PM 7 days a week; every Wednesday night the Loveless Barn has Music City Roots, Live from the Loveless Café. http://www.lovelesscafe.com/

Julie Buhler and Alex at Ellendales.

Julie Buhler and Alex at Ellendale’s.

About Ellendale”s. Open every day for lunch and dinner; live music every night. http://www.ellendales.com/

About Tootsies. Open till the wee hours for burgers, beer, and music. http://www.tootsies.net/