Friday Chris and I left for an overnight trip down to northern Alabama, about five hours away. We were headed to our second Rollins wedding rehearsal dinner, this one to prepare for Timothy and Natalia’s wedding the next day.
One reader observed that the account of our last road trip was more focused on food than travel. Not one to mess with success, I’ll tell you about the food highlight of this trip, our visit to the Loveless Cafe in Nashville, first discovered in this Roadfood review. The Loveless family first began selling fried chicken dinners out the front door of their house, located on the Nashville end of the 450-mile Natchez Trace parkway (the other end being in Natchez, Mississippi). That was so successful that they converted their house to an eatery, and built a motor court, or motel, to surround it. The motel is long since defunct, used until recently for smoking their famous country hams, but the eatery continued to thrive, serving great home cooking that centered around amazing biscuits cooked from a secret recipe. The business changed hands a few years back and the restaurant has become more like a theme restaurant, but in a good way—the charm has been polished, and the food is still high quality if a bit pricey.
We arrived around 11:30am, were seated right away, studied the menu for a couple of minutes and placed our orders: fried chicken dinner for me, fried catfish for Chris. The waiter returned immediately with a plate of four biscuits, accompanied by three small containers of homemade preserves (peach, blackberry, strawberry). The biscuits were stunning, with the taste and texture of classic Southern biscuits, but better somehow—especially the texture, which had a sponginess that kept them from turning gummy in your mouth. I can’t guess how they do it. The preserves were also very good, especially the blackberry, with an earthy, almost musky overtone which had me returning again and again to it to decide whether I liked it (I did).
The dinners appeared at the table in record time; I don’t think we were in the restaurant for more than forty-five minutes, and yet we didn’t rush at all. The fried chicken was very good, nothing unique or special, just classic. Chris’ catfish was as good as frozen catfish gets (we’ve been spoiled over the years by usually having access to fresh catfish). The sides were good, except for my greens, which for unknown reasons were sweet; I generally don’t like sweet when it isn’t dessert. Towards the end the waiter offered a couple more biscuits, which we accepted, and that was dessert. But awhile down the road I slapped my forehead, finally remembering that the Loveless Cafe is also famous for its banana pudding, made with homemade vanilla wafers. Maybe next time.
We drove down to Alabama on US-31, the main thoroughfare before the interstate came along. It took us through quite a few interesting towns, including Spring Hill, where the Saturn plant is. I knew about Spring Hill because in its time the Saturn plant was a big deal for the nation, GM’s attempt to set up an operation outside of Detroit and the clutches of the auto unions. Many states were vying for the plant, and I remember being surprised that they plunked it in the middle of Tennessee, an hour south of the sleepy little city of Nashville. Well, Spring Hill is booming now, but I don’t think it was because of the Saturn plant—outside the core of the town, almost all the growth was less than a couple of years old. Nashville itself is booming, and the suburbs have finally made it as far south as Spring Hill, and suburbanites require a certains standard set of conveniences, all of which can be installed in a matter of months.
We arrived in Tim and Cindy Rollins’s backyard around 3pm, set up our instruments on their back porch, overlooking the cool and shady backyard where the dinner would be held. We visited and lounged and tried to stay out of the way as harder-working folk set up the facilities. Then around 4:30pm folks began to trickle in from the rehearsal, and we played while they visited and ate, then stopped awhile to visit and eat ourselves, then played for awhile as harder-working folk cleaned up after the festivities. The best part was, being at Tim and Cindy’s place, it was easy to spend the last part of the evening visiting with them. We finally left at some late hour and headed partway back to the motel where we were staying.
The next morning we had a choice facing us: breakfast in another one of our Nashville favorites, the Pancake Pantry, or back to the Loveless Cafe for more biscuits and to see what their breakfasts are like. The Loveless Cafe won, and we arrived around 8am, sat at almost the same table, attended by exactly the same waiter, who was surprised to see us again. I had a half-portion of country ham with eggs and hashbrown casserole, while Chris had biscuits and gravy with sausage patties. Again, the biscuits came out instantly, and the meals within three minutes. The ham was perfect, served with red-eye gravy (a mixture of coffee and ham drippings, interesting, nothing to die for), the eggs were well cooked, the hashbrown casserole tasted like you always hoped the hashbrown casserole at Cracker Barrel would taste. Chris was disappointed in his breakfast—not the biscuits, of course, but the cream gravy and sausage were good but nothing special. He wished he had ordered hashbrown casserole with it, so I was glad to give him most of mine.
The rest of the trip was uneventful. I’ve been to Nashville enough to know where the northernmost Starbucks is, so I stopped for a coffee and a bag of beans, and we drove home laughing along with NPR’s Car Talk.