What To Eat in Tennessee
Between the Mountains of the east and the cotton fields of the west, in its cities and small towns, Tennessee’s incredible diversity is reflected in a state menu that has something for everyone. Barbecue? Memphis just might have the nation’s finest, both wet and dry. Fried chicken? It’s glorious in Nashville, hot chicken especially! Country ham is served throughout the state, as are superb southern vegetables as part of a meat-and-three lunch in which meat is frequently abjured in favor of a fourth vegetable.
Created in Nashville, and still best there, hot chicken is crisp-fried and imbued skin to bone with peppers' fire. It originated at the still-thriving Prince's Chicken Shack a couple of generations ago when proprietor Thornton Prince's girlfriend, wanting to get even with him for his carousing one night, sopped his fried chicken in a painful amount of pepper. Instead of screaming for mercy, he yelled for joy; and hot fried chicken soon became Prince's trademark. Hot chicken always is served with white bread, which sops up the spicy juices and becomes a delicious hot companion.
Many southern states make a big deal of country ham as well as of biscuits. Nowhere are the two put together with more panache than in Tennessee, where the full presentation also includes red-eye gravy (ham drippins and black coffee), sorghum syrup. fruit preserves and, of course, a couple of eggs.
A term used through much of the South but especially in Nashville, "meat and three" quite simply refers to a menu template that lists two to five entrees and one or two dozen side dishes. From these lists, a diner picks one entree and three sides. Among the sides will be vegetables, but also congealed salads, macaroni and cheese, spaghetti, and rice. Cornbread, hoe cakes, biscuits and/or dinner rolls are always provided on the side. Variations include meat and two or meat and three without the meat, meaning an all‑vegetable plate of three or four selections. While it is possible for a meat and three meal to be simplicity itself -- meat loaf with mashed potatoes, glazed carrots and butter beans -- the list of side dishes likely includes a number of souped-up vegetable casseroles in which squash, broccoli or spinach is transformed into a luxurious indulgence by use of butter or margarine and bread crumbs; also, greens and cabbage tend to be enriched by massive infusions of pig in the form of fatback, country ham or neck bones.
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In Nashville's Gulch area, Peg Leg Porker’s dry-rubbed ribs are tender, juicy & flavorful enough to stand on their own. But the excellent sauce is irresistible.
There’s nothing held back at the unassuming Nashville Biscuit House, where big, soft biscuits are covered in rich gravy, cheese, breakfast meats & eggs.
Nashville’s Sky Blue Cafe's Armadillo sandwich is named for its crunchy, cheesy surface. Note also: Nutella- and banana-stuffed French toast pancakes.
Litton's hamburgers range from minimal beef patties to a Thunder Road burger with pimento cheese, onions & hot pepper, Desserts: good pie & Italian cream cake.
Central BBQ has done an amazing thing for nachos by adding its tender pulled pork, drizzling on some sweet BBQ sauce, and finishing with a touch of BBQ Shake.
A cute coffeehouse adjacent to Centennial Park in the West End of Nashville, Three Brothers is a classic stop for any visiting coffee lover.
Coletta's is an old-style Italian-American restaurant in Memphis that supplements a menu of spaghetti and parmigianas with BBQ pizza and BBQ salad.
Since 1923, Bozo's of Mason, Tennessee, has earned a reputation for hickory-smoked BBQ and outstanding homemade pies. An easy detour off Interstate 40.
Alcenia's is a warm, friendly Memphis, Tennessee, restaurant serving homey soul food meat-and-3 meals that end with glorious pies or bread pudding.