Feb 4, 2020

A tale of biscuits, 'shine and watermelon ribs at the Loveless Café, Nashville, Tenn.

It seems fewer and fewer classic roadside cafes survive, yet alone thrive, with each passing year.  You know the kind I mean – legendary locally owned and operated diners on the edge of town that are themselves a destination for travelers who have heard how amazing the food is, each with a distinctive down-home vibe the Cracker Barrels and Bob Evans restaurants wish they could replicate. 

So, when more than one friend tipped me off about the Loveless Café, a Nashville institution since 1951 on the southern outskirts of the city, I longed for the opportunity to go there.  Fortunately, my most recent business trip to Nashville put me close to the Loveless Café.  Even more fortunately, my co-worker who rarely ventures out was as intrigued by the story of the Loveless Café as I was.  I think it’s safe to say neither of us was disappointed with the trip.

Located on Highway 100 near the north terminus of the Natchez Trace, the Loveless Café continues to thrive on it legacy of quality southern cooking – in particular its ham and biscuits.  That legacy includes national recognition from sources as varied as “The Today Show,” “Southern Living” magazine, the “Thrillist” website and Martha Stewart.        

The motel which was once connected to the café no longer exists – it was shut down in 1985 and several buildings have since been converted to other uses which I’ll describe later.  The entrance to the restaurant takes you through the old check-in point for the hotel, and the restaurant has obviously seen several expansions, a testament to its landmark status and decades of growth.    

The first thing you’ll likely see upon entering is a cheerful smile from the café’s greeters.  The second thing you’ll likely see is that pie case daring you to leave without having dessert.    

The walls of the lobby are filled with photos of celebrities who have dined here.  I wonder if they replace someone with someone new when they a newbie decides to visit for the first time?  As you check out all the autographs while you wait for your table, don’t forget to add your own name to the guestbook. 

According to their website, the entire restaurant can only hold 129 at a time, but my co-worker and I thought the dining areas were quite spacious and comfortable.  The blue checkered tablecloths made it feel appropriately homey.  And although we arrived early on a Thursday evening, all the seats were filled by the time we left.  Nonetheless, we were never rushed.  You have to love Southern hospitality and the slower pace of life that makes a good meal all the more enjoyable.     

Once seated, you’re never waiting long for food and service.  Our waitress brought a fresh basket of their world-famous biscuits to our table within a couple of minutes.  And yes, these made scratch-made beauties are every bit as good as everyone says.  I am not normally a biscuit guy, but I admit I was blown away.  They’re fluffy and buttery, yet they somehow hold their form even with a shmeer of their house-made preserves on them.  And do not pass on the preserves that come with the biscuits.  You’ll be missing out on a key part of the overall experience.    

Not that these biscuits need anything to wash them down, as they literally melt in your mouth, but if you’re going to choose something off the menu, might I suggest one of their specialty alcoholic drinks?  TheLoveless Café’s drink menu is rather impressive, and many of their best concoctions are made with moonshine and whiskies from nearby distillers.  The strawberry sipper with its combination of fresh strawberries, homemade lemonade and rye whiskey impressed me.  One nice touch was having the whiskey served in a sidecar, allowing you to pour your own into the drink or shoot it as you see fit.  I made my sipper full strength, of course.   

Ordering the dinner turned out to be an extremely tough decision, between the all-day breakfast, Loveless’ famous country ham, fried chicken, catfish and, of course, the almost as famous barbecue.  In the end, my love of said barbecue steered me to the nightly special – the watermelon ribs. 

The choice proved to be a winner.  The meat on the ribs was very flavorful, with the taste of a wonderfully sweet and smoky sauce permeating every bite.  I had worried about the sauce being too sweet, but the smokiness coming from all those hours of slow cooking balanced everything out perfectly.

For my two scratch-made sides, I selected turnip greens (they even mention they’re served with pot liquor on the menu!) and creamed corn, and I couldn’t have been happier.  In fact, Loveless Café’s creamed corn was among the best I’ve ever had. 

My co-worker and I definitely left the Loveless Café full and happy.  But before we left the premises, we got a closer look at other buildings surrounding the café, including the smokehouse where Loveless Café creates all of its barbecue magic …

… and the gift shop/country market, in a section of the former motel, where you can buy several of the Loveless Café’s famous foods to take home.  Or at least a kitschy souvenir to commemorate your visit.  

The Loveless Café is one of those roadhouse diners that is thankfully still running on all cylinders, and it shows no signs of losing any steam.  In January 2020, the Loveless Café was honored with a historical marker as an iconic Nashville destination.  I certainly think they’ve earned it. 

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