Spend time in Nashville, Tennessee, and you learn that some stereotypes about country cuisine are true. There’s a lot of deep fried fare, pizza can’t be called pizza, and fast-food joints crowd the streets. However, there has been a growth of boutique restaurants, seasonal menus, and specialty produce shops. And Nashville has something New York never will: the folksy, unassuming tradition of down home southern cookin’ that just can’t be replicated above the Mason-Dixon line. One top pick to try the next time you’re in Music City is Arnold’s Country Kitchen.
An “America’s Classics” award from James Beard in 2009 garnered national recognition for Arnold’s, but this family-run eatery has been a Nashville favorite for 29 years with good reason. It may be located in a red cinderblock building in the middle of a seedy neighborhood, but it’s the best meat-n’-three in Nashville. What’s a “meat-n’-three?” For you Yankees, think Boston Market on steroids. At the counter, you pick three sides and one of the meats offered that day, then pay at the register and leave.
After visiting the farmers’ market for fresh ingredients, Chef Cahlil Arnold arrives daily at 5:30 am to make everything from scratch in time for lunch. It’s all delicious, but the 25-pound roast beef, sliced to order, is one particular standout. Its two-inch thick homemade dry-rub melts into the soft meat, creating perfectly seasoned bites. The brisket is also outstanding— it’s smoked for 24 hours. You can’t find piece of meat you can pierce with your fork that doesn’t just fall apart. The smoky undertones yield a primal, yet delicate flavor, and the buttery texture is utterly addicting.
As for sides, tip your hat to the famed Fried Green Tomatoes. The salty, crisp outer layer tastes first of parsley, basil, and thyme, then of the vinegary musk from the saturated tomato slice. The flavors meld to create one of those eyes-closed, “mmm” moments. And the fried covering has the rare quality of sticking to the tomato (that age-old onion ring dilemma). There are no naked tomatoes at Arnold’s.
There are wonderful desserts, including Pecan Pie, Bread Pudding and Banana Pudding, but the Chess Pie is the most decadent. It has a thick, flaky top layer and a sugary filling reminiscent of butterscotch candy and chewy butter cookies. Uncommonly rich, and sinfully sweet, this slice of heaven is the perfect ending to an unforgettable southern meal.
Arnold’s Country Kitchen — 605 8th Avenue South, Nashville, TN