Those new to Nashville may be uninitiated in the culture of the Meat and Three, but only a few days in town and anyone can be well educated in the joys of choosing a meal from a rotating selection of daily options, supplemented with two or three southern side dishes of course. Plates of fried chicken with macaroni and cheese, green beans and okra can be found all over the city, usually accompanied with some cornbread and sweet tea. Mashed potatoes are just as much an acceptable lunch item as French fries. Top it all off with a slice of chess pie and you are a meat and three aficionado. Arnold's Country Kitchen is one of the best examples around. Jack Arnold opened the cafeteria-style spot in 1981 and has been featured on Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives as well as getting recognition in The New York Times and Southern Living, Garden & Gun, MAXIM, and many more. Another must-try? Kleer-Vu Lunchroom in Rutherford County. It's worth the drive for it's famous hot water cornbread alone, but once you are out there, dare to try the chitterlings if they are on the menu that day, as well as the tasty, gooey, homemade chess pie.
Katie's Meat & Three
For years Katie's has been plating up lunch specials for downtown diners craving a taste of home. The quarters are tight in the two-story restaurant, which only gives you more reason to grab one of the tables lining the arcade, the historic indoor shopping area built in 1902. That way you can spend as much of your lunch hour people watching as you do enjoying your plate of fried chicken, cat fish, pot roast or meatloaf with any number of suitable southern sides, including their muffin-style cornbread. On Wednesdays, don't miss country fried steak and spaghetti, both items fans of the regulars. (615-256-1055)
Varallo's Chile Parlor & Restaurant
The first hard decision you'll have to make is whether to get the chili or meat-and-three plated lunch. Of course, you can always get both with one of their combos. The chili comes "straight," "three way" with tamale and spaghetti, or any combination of them all. Meatballs and beef stew join the ranks among catfish and fried chicken in the meat and three options. Chess, pecan and fudge pie are always on the menu, as well as a rotating options of other sweet endings. Todd Varallo is the fourth-generation owner and you can expect him or another member of the family there on a daily basis. (615-256-1907)
City Cafe East
On September 29, 2008, Chef George and his wife, Amy Reed bought City Cafe East on the corner of Lebanon Pike and Spence Lane, a restaurant that had been around for 20 years before they added their friendly atmosphere and delicious flavors to the meat-and-three cafeteria style restaurant. Fans of their catering business followed and soon were enjoying his famous chicken tortilla soup with Cajun corn cakes every day, not just at a special event.Other soups can include Creole gumbo and New England clam chowder - perfectly paired with a fresh, grilled Reuben sandwich. When you see the grill out front, be sure to come by the next day for some of their tender brisket. (615-742-8900)
Lines still form right before doors open at Kleer-Vu, one of the few spots where you can find honest-to-goodness soul food, including chitterlings and pig's feet. Roots author Alex Haley once said he's prefer a meal at Kleer-Vu over the five-star Maxim's in Paris. "This right here takes you back home," he said. That is, if your home included their famous hot water cornbread and homemade chess pie. Line up to get your food cafeteria style - complete with authentic lunch trays - and choose from the daily options, which could include incredible fried chicken, catfish, spaghetti, okra, greens and more southern staples. (615-896-0520)
Monell's Dining and Catering
Monell's occupies a historic Victorian house in Germantown. Dining is communal, and long wooden tables and an all-you-eat menu (choices of entree, vegetables, breads, and desserts) set the scene. Simply ask fellow diners to pass around the family-style dishes and you'll have all you'll need while the attentive staff refills dishes chicken, green beans, cheese grits, cornbread, biscuits, pork chops or pot roast as it comes by, so don't even try. With multiple locations including Gallatin, the Cafe Monell's offers takeout meals seven days a week so you never have to go too long without. (615-248-4747, 615-726-4938)
Swett's began as a tavern in 1920, but turned to the meat-and-three scene in 1954. The family-owned business is proud of the diversity of its clientele. Recipes at Swett's are never written down, ensuring a different experience every time you visit. The cooks put their heart and soul into this food, and the popularity of their dishes attest to the care and attention paid to the items. A second location at the Nashville Airport serves as a delicious way to be welcomes to the city, as well as a tasty sendoff for those leaving the land of meat and threes for a while. (615-329-4418)
Copper Kettle Green Hills
Sunday brunch is a bountiful buffet but they are known for their delicious omelets made to order and mimosas. They also have a carving station, smoked salmon, biscuits and gravy, and fresh fruits and pastries. During the week, they offer a variety of European-inspired sandwiches, wraps salads, and meat and threes. Innovative dishes like pecan chicken with apple chutney and coconut chicken with pineapple salsa join southern staples like pot roast, pork chops with sawmill gravy and hamburger steak. A daily selection of cakes, cookies, pies and pastries rounds out the menu that truly makes it hard to choose. (615-383-7242)
Located in the back of a liquor store, this meat and three features breakfast all day, homemade desserts like strawberry shortcake and blackberry cobbler, and true Southern decor. Fresh turnip greens, excellent sandwiches, and an array of traditional veggies keep locals coming back for more. The menu rotates daily of course, and without Sylvan Park serving similar fare down the street, it is a true Nashville institution with staying power. Perhaps the macaroni and cheese has something to do with it. For fast, friendly service with a side of hush puppies, Wendell Smith's more than delivers. (615-383-7114)
Puckett's in Leiper's Fork is not an artificial cafeteria for tourists, but an institution. Founded by the Puckett family in the 1950s, it served as a country store to several communities in Williamson County. From fresh groceries and a good southern meal, to a tank of gas and a place to catch up with friends, Puckett's became a staple in the community. The store and restaurant feels like home, with cheerful staff members and killer live music. These aren't your average bands - these are top notch performers. The experience, combined with mouthwatering barbecue and southern dishes. Try Mojo, with cole slaw, BBQ pulled pork, baked beans, pickles and a drizzle of barbecue ranch sauce. ((615) 794-1308)
Arnold's Country Kitchen
On the red walls of this meat 'n three are signed portraits of famous Nashvillians who frequent the place, including the Dixie Chicks and local sports columnist Joe Biddle. Meats include fried chicken, pork chops, fish, and beef; sides include macaroni and cheese, fried okra, and turnip greens. Make friends with your fellow diners, because you'll be sitting with them family-style.Their mac and cheese and fried green tomatoes set a new standard and roast beef is a cut above the rest. Rounding out the "sides" menu are mash potatoes, turnip greens, corn bread, and creamed corn. Be aware that Arnold's closes by 2:30pm so get there early and grab a tray. (615-256-4455)
About Hollie Deese
Hollie Deese is a Nashville-based writer who has spent the past 10 years falling in love with the sights, sounds and flavors of Music City. Hollie has 15 years experience as a writer and editor for regional and national publications, including The Tennessean, USA Today, Nashville Interiors, and the Nashville Ledger.
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