Loveless Cafe – A Nashville Tradition

Clouds and rain have blotted out the blue skies we’ve been enjoying.  Despite the ugly weather, my mom came to visit me today and we decided to venture out to Loveless Cafe, a famous Nashville establishment renowned for their amazing homemade biscuits.  I’m not kidding about the “famous” part; they have been featured on the Food Network and Martha Stewart’s show.  The walls of the lobby, I suppose you’d call it, are covered with framed and autographed pictures of country music stars, including one of my favorite groups, Lady Antebellum.

Loveless Cafe started in 1951 as a motel and cafe and gained a reputation for their great Southern fare and incredible biscuits.  Although they’ve gone through a lot of changes over the decades, including converting the 14 motel rooms into shops that surround the restaurant and the installation of a barbecue pit next door, they have managed to retain their reputation as a Nashville landmark.  Their country store sells their products, which include various preserves, t-shirts, cookbooks, country meats, and cooking tools.  Our mouths were watering while flipping through a collection of Tennessee recipes.  Mom laughed and said, “If you ate like this everyday you’d die!”  She said it in a joking way, but this is a complicated issue we’ve been discussing in class, the relative danger of eating these time-honored dishes.

The Southern comfort food was a perfect antidote to the weather.  I ordered the country ham with fried eggs, creamed corn, and fried okra and my mom ordered the fried catfish, hush puppies, mac and cheese, and caramel sweet potatoes.  Our order came with four fresh biscuits and preserves.  Accustomed to Pillsbury grands, I was initially a little disappointed that they were small, but I discovered that the Doughboy has got NOTHING on these biscuits.  I would have enjoyed them if they were the size of quarters, and the 45-minute wait would have been worth it just for these biscuits, which I was careful to eat slowly so I could savor every bite.

The ham was very salty, as country ham usually is, so I ate it with the sweet potatoes to temper it slightly.  The fried okra was also salty but tasty nonetheless.  The mac and cheese was wonderfully cheesy; none of the bland, creamy starch you’d get at Cracker Barrel.  The creamed corn was sweet like summer, and they left many of the kernels intact so it had a nice, little crunch.  The fried catfish, which I had never had before, was mild and perfectly flavorful and the accompanying hush puppies, a traditional partner to catfish, were delicious.

Mom commented that she prefers the okra her mother used to make.  Abuela used to cook okra in a sofrito, a sauce that is used to flavor virtually everything in Cuban and many Caribbean cuisines.  It was interesting to talk about the parallels between Southern and Cuban cuisine.  Some are surprising, while others, like okra, can be explained.  Okra originates in Africa, and since African slaves were brought both to the Caribbean and the South, it makes sense that it is included in both cuisines.  Cubans call okra “quimbombo,” a word of African origin that is immensely entertaining to pronounce.  My dad used to tell a story about teaching his very Southern coworker this word, and he thought it was so funny that from that day forward he began to refer to it as quimbombo, which bounced off his tongue like a spring with his Southern twang.

My mom loves catfish, which she never had until she moved to the South.  She loves it so much she even remembers the first time she tried it, which strangely enough was at the house of another Cuban family from up north.  I always thought catfish would taste too fishy, but I was surprised by the flavor and really liked it.   I read that most catfish is farmed and imported, so I wonder where they get theirs from. I also wondered where they get their pork and beef.  Despite enjoying the food, I had a nagging need to know how it was produced.  Nevertheless, my epicurean side was pleased that they had a real barbecue pit next door.

For dessert we had coconut cream pie, which two of the waiters confirmed as the best choice.  I had to wholeheartedly agree.  It was the perfect sweetness and reminded me of warmer, sunnier weather.

After I ate I felt buoyantly happy.  That’s the power of comfort food on a chilly, rainy day–coupled with the excitement of eating the food I’ve been reading about for my southern foods class.  It’s a little touristy, but the atmosphere is very homey and not kitschy like Cracker Barrel.  To top it off, the staff seems very friendly.  I will definitely come back sometime.  Now I’m dying for an out-of-towner to visit me so I can take them there.

Earlier, while we were waiting, we went to a gift shop behind the restaurant that had some unique items…

Not only have I found a place to take visitors to the South, I have found a great place to buy birthday gifts. : )

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2 thoughts on “Loveless Cafe – A Nashville Tradition”

  1. I’d be interested to hear more about the similarities between Southern cooking and Cuban cooking. I’d love to discover that there’s a Southern parallel to vaca frita.

    The connection to African food is quite easy to explain if you look at it from a historic and socio-economic point of view. Southen cooking is essentially African-American cooking – or as one of my dearest friends explained “soul food with all the dirty bits cleaned up.” How did this come to be? One, who did the cooking in the wealthy households? Two, soul food is a solution to a problem that crosses racial lines: how do I make the cheap food I can afford taste good?

    I’m glad you enjoyed Loveless. Next time you’re there you should try the hash brown casserole. It’s the perfect combination of potatoes, cheese, and joy.

  2. Ah, I was so close to ordering the hash brown casserole! Joy is always better when accompanied by cheese. One more reason to go back.

    Yes, the connections between Southern and Cuban cooking are pretty much inevitable since they’re both heavily influenced by African culture, and both are shaped by the economic factor you mentioned. Your friend’s description of Southern food is so interesting; I’ll remember that.

    Another similarity I’ve noticed is the popularity of pork and its many, many uses. For example, southerners use it to flavor greens, and Cubans use it to flavor beans. (I’m really tickled by that rhyme, by the way.) That’s a connection I’d like to look into further; I know quite a bit about pork and its history in the south, but nothing really about it in Cuba.

    I’ll also definitely have to look into a possible vaca frita connection, or at least eat some to satisfy the craving I now have.

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