Nashville has not made an appearance in this blog before now, despite it being one of my favorite cities and one which we try to visit at least twice a year. It’s absolutely packed with good restaurants, great people and some wonderful friends, and I wasn’t about to consider a trip to Memphis without swinging back through Nashville to shop, visit and eat.
We left Memphis on Sunday evening after supper and, thanks to the combined forces of Bonnaroo and the CMT Fan Fest distracting every single state trooper in Tennessee, were able to break the land speed record and get to Davidson County in a little more than two hours. The flip side of this is that, thanks to the combined forces of Bonnaroo and the CMT Fan Fest taking over most of the hotel rooms in the region, we had a dickens of a time finding someplace to sleep. Eventually, we wound our way south down I-65 to Franklin, not too bad of a drive back to Nashville’s southern neighborhoods for an early breakfast at the extremely popular Pancake Pantry.
I’ve eaten at a fair number of pancake restaurants over the years. I think that between Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge there were, at the last count, one pancake restaurant for every 6.4 residents, so there have been plenty of chances to load up on flapjacks for breakfast over the years. But darned if I’ve found a one of them as downright wonderful as the Pantry, which is brilliantly located right across the street from an amazing used bookstore which demands the attention of every bibliophile in the southeast. This time out, we learned a great secret about the place: if you arrive before 8 in the morning, you stand a good chance of avoiding the line.
We were coming up from Franklin to meet our friend Ashley, who actually lives north of the city in a lovely little out-of-the-way place called White House. We were running a little behind schedule, which isn’t like us, but we were in Franklin, plus Marie wanted to check the air in our tires, plus I-65 was delayed by an accident involving a deer. Everything was working against us, so I was a little worried about that damn line.
One of the city’s alt-weeklies once suggested that you know you’re a true Nashvillain if you spend better than ten hours each year standing in the line at this place. Happily, we learned this time that the trick is to get there before 8 on a weekday, and you can avoid it. (People of Nashville, please don’t change your routine based on this new information. We are early risers and don’t like lines, so us knowing and you ignorant works out fine for us.) When we came back to the neighborhood after shopping elsewhere, we saw that the line had grown to its usual gargantuan length, which was nice because I didn’t see the point in photographing the outside of the restaurant without the inclusion of people standing in line.
Actually, the really surprising part to this trip was learning that two of our friends in town are not, in the eyes of the Metro Pulse, true Nashvillains. Neither Ashley nor Tory, with whom we’d have lunch a few hours later, had ever been here before. On the other hand, I felt a little better about arriving fifteen minutes late since Ashley didn’t have to stand in the line at all.
But here’s the deal: people don’t just stand in lines because they like standing in lines. Not outside England, anyway. People spend an hour or more waiting outside, oblivious to the weather, because the food here is so darn good. When we were last here, the previous October, Marie had the buckwheat pancakes and was enthralled by them. This time out, she had enjoyed some buckwheat pancakes back at Cafe Eclectic in Memphis the morning before, so I ordered them for myself and she got something even more extraordinary.
Marie says that she should have remembered from the previous visit that the portions are ridiculous, but ridiculous portions are part and parcel of this job. The restaurant offers a variety of three-pancake plates with various fruit compotes on them, so on a wild hair, Marie decided to try one each from three of them. They were delivered on individual plates – well, they’d have to, in order to keep the fruits separate, but it did mean that Ashley and I had to stack our food a little awkwardly thanks to Marie taking up about two-thirds of the table.
The pancakes are really remarkable. They are light and fluffy and absorb syrup well, but the compote did not make them soggy. The peach and cherry were awesome, but the raspberry best of all. They also come with this really remarkable sweet whipped cream. Marie was reluctant to try it at first on the theory that the food in front of her was already too much but relented on seeing the expression on mine and Ashley’s faces after we tried it.
I think we’re in agreement that a more sensibly-sized meal in the future would be two raspberry pancakes and a side of the whipped cream. Possibly with a little corned beef hash on the side. There may not be room. However you stuff yourself, the neighborhood is not a bad one for a ten or fifteen minute walk after breakfast. We don’t take enough walks; maybe we should eat here more often and force the issue.
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