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VOL. 37 | NO. 32 | Friday, August 9, 2013

Worth the trip: Midstate is home to a variety of well-loved restaurants

By Hollie Deese and Joe Morris

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There are certain signs that are sure to tip off whether you’ve found a dining gem.

If you call and the owner can’t talk because she is “up to her elbows in red velvet cake” (Miller’s Grocery, Christiana), then you know it might be worth a stop.

Same goes if you call to place an order and the phone just rings and rings between 11 a.m.-1 p.m. because they are just too slammed to pick up (Top Hog, Gallatin).

And if the line is down the street even decades after the place opened, you know you’ve really hit the jackpot.

Rebecca Patton owns the Kleer-Vu Lunchroom in Murfreesboro, having worked there for 32 years and taking over fully when her mother and founder, Wilhelmina Patterson, passed away. While she concedes it can get busy, no matter how long people have been waiting to come through the line, they will be greeted with a smile.

They are known for their outstanding service – Roots author Alex Haley was a fan – but the food is the real reason people get there before doors open to secure one of the first passes through the cafeteria-style buffet with their old-school lunch tray.

“We are known for our fried chicken and the hot-water cornbread,” Patton says. “The cobbler is made homemade fresh here, as is our chess pie.”

A true soul food spot, you will also find pig’s feet and chitterlings on the menu, as well as outstanding turnip greens, macaroni and cheese and breaded tomatoes.

“Everybody knows that when you come through our doors you will be treated the same as everybody else,” Patton says. “It is a friendly atmosphere here, and it is just like sitting down to your grandmother’s table to eat.”

Sumner

Top Hog (642 Blythe St., Gallatin, 615 478-9330)

Despite the name, beef is king at Top Hog thanks to the incredibly juicy burgers, although the catfish and fried chicken are outstanding. During lunch hour, don’t even bother calling your order in. With a line out the door, they just won’t answer. Best to drive on over, and swing by the ATM on your way – it’s cash only, or they’ll take a check until you give them reason not to. They know the next time you’re craving a plate of barbecue you’ll be back, with cash.

Johnson’s Crossroads Café and Market (Intersection of Hwy 25 and Hwy 76, Cottontown, 615 323-1566)

It’s not every place that has a song and video about it uploaded to YouTube, yet no Yelp reviews at all. But it’s clear when you pull into the lot that the regulars are not exactly your typical Yelpers. Howard Lips sings about the home cookin’, regular coffee and the “bright-eyed beauty” minding the store. And that’s just what you’ll get at Johnson’s, which is just as much about the camaraderie of the regulars as it is the food.

109 Family Restaurant (603 N. Broadway, Portland, 615 325-6996)

At this Portland meat-and-three, you’ll find fried green tomatoes, barbecue on hoecakes and ham hocks with white beans sharing menu space with kraut and wieners and pickled beets and homemade desserts. Owned by a trio of sisters, the restaurant just celebrated its three-year-anniversary in April.

Campione’s Taste of Chicago (179 Hancock St. #208, Gallatin, 615 206-6965, campionesrestaurant.com)

Mama Debbie and the rest of her family know just what goes on a Chicago-style dog (no ketchup, thank-you-very-much) because this place is the real deal. In Gallatin via the Northwest suburbs of Chicago, they closed their restaurant up north to head south for family. Rotating specials incorporate pastas, beef and cheddar croissants and other Midwest specialties. Their daughter does custom designer birthday cakes for family events, but if you are carving something sweet after your meal, you can’t go wrong with the cannoli.

Robertson

JL Baldwin & Son Pit Barbecue (300 Central Ave., Springfield, 615 384-3426)

Yes, everyone has their favorite barbecue place, and for good reason. But you won’t be able to convince regulars at Baldwin’s that there is better smoked meat elsewhere. Third-generation family members run the restaurant, which is known for its barbecue and fudge pie. Fans swear by the sauce, which is available by the bottle.

Dixie Maid Café (412 Memorial Blvd., Springfield, 615 382-8990)

The hours fluctuate with the weather, and the menu includes the most comfortable of the comfort foods, like sloppy joes. They like to put their own spin on things, too, like the “honeyhush” – a split honeybun with two pieces of sausage, whipped cream and a side of syrup, or the “hot mess” burger topped with tater tots and baked beans.

Williamson

Dotson’s (99 E. Main St., Franklin, 615 794-2805)

Just what you expect from a local favorite, delicious, down-home food made from scratch with pies so good they can cause you to rethink that second helping of catfish or perfect BLT. Don’t worry if you can’t resist a slice after breakfast – the pies are totally sanctioned as round-the-clock fare around here. Country stars have been known to hang around (Wynona Judd is one of them) and enjoy a cup of coffee with the regulars.

Country Boy (4141 Old Hillsboro Road, Leiper’s Fork, 615 591-4245, thecountryboyrestaurant.com/)

This year is the 45th year Country Boy has been in business, making it the longest-serving rural restaurant in Williamson County, passing through the hands of a number of local families along the way. As early as 6 a.m. you will find the regulars sipping coffee and enjoying hash brown casserole and biscuits and gravy.

Original Puckett’s (4142 Old Hillsboro Road, Leiper’s Fork, 615 794-1308, puckettsofleipersfork.com/)

Founded by the Puckett family in the 1950s, Puckett’s served as a country store to several communities, becoming a staple in Leiper’s Fork. It was purchased in 1998 by Andy Marshall, a veteran of the supermarket industry who decided to sell his other stores and serve one small town with just one store. He soon realized it was more of a restaurant and gathering place, and since then it has been serving plate lunches and award-winning burgers ever since. In 2008, Marshall sold the Leiper’s Fork location to Rob and Shanel Robinson, who keep up the down home tradition.

Joe Natural’s Farm Store and Café (4150 Old Hillsboro Road, Leiper’s Fork, 615 595-2233, joenaturals.com)

The food sold in the café and prepared in the restaurant is all grown, providing organic, homemade and hand-raised cuisine. The menu changes seasonally, and kids are included in the menu planning with a PB&J made with homemade peanut butter and locally made fruit preserves, or the mini Joe Schmo grass-fed beef or lamb burger.

Halfway Market (3101 Southall Road, 615 794-1435, Franklin)

This family-run country deli has cold and hot sandwiches, delicious buttery biscuits and plate lunches during the week. Early birds can enjoy frog legs and fried catfish on the first and third Fridays of the month before they sell out. In the market, which has been around for more than 100 years, you can find local honey and cold drinks.

Rutherford

Jeff Sowell’s Family Restaurant (467 Hancock St., Murfreesboro, 615 861-2164, jeffsowellsrestaurant.com/)

Located in the old Glanton’s grocery store, the building was purchased by the Sowells in 2006 and completely remodeled from front to back. Touting Murfreesboro’s largest barbecue pit, regulars love the smoked meats and ribs at Sowell’s, along with the 26 other items at the cafeteria-style food line, including real hickory-smoked BBQ ribs, shoulder, chicken, whole fresh fried catfish, whiting and catfish fillets. Keep it healthy with the pesticide-free veggies handpicked by Jeff and his family, or indulge your sweet tooth with six in-house, four-layer cakes, five in-house homemade pies, real stove top, homemade banana pudding, peach cobbler and homemade milkshakes.

Miller’s Grocery (7011 Main St., Christiana, 615 893-1878, millersgrocery.com/)

Miller’s has been in continuous operation as a country store for more than 75 years in the once-bustling, whistle-stop community of Christiana. In 1995, the building was restored as an antique-filled country cafe featuring home-style southern cooking and award-winning desserts like that red velvet cake. The name “Miller’s Grocery” remains as a nod to original proprietor, Stanley Miller. Stop by for lunch with the rest of the regulars as well as plenty of visitors and enjoy homemade chicken salad, corn nuggets, meatloaf, salmon patties and fried oysters.

Kleer-Vu Lunchroom (226 S. Highland Ave., Murfreesboro, 896-0520)

Lines still form right before doors open at Kleer-Vu, one of the few spots where you can find honest-to-goodness soul food – chitterlings and all – and was so loved by Roots author Alex Haley he once said of Kleer-Vu, “I’ve eaten at Maxim’s in Paris, a five-star restaurant, but I would swap it any day to come here and eat. This right here takes you back home.” Another fan of the feel-good fare is Robert DeNiro.

Omni Hut (618 S. Lowry St., Smyrna, 615 459-4870, omnihut.com) It’s all about tikis and aloha spirit at the Omni Hut, which has been serving South Pacific fare for more than 50 years. Owner and founder James Walls passed away last year, but it was his love of the Pacific from his time in the military that inspired the recipes and décor of Omni Hut.

Cheatham

B.J.’s Family Restaurant (2522 Highway 49, Pleasant View, 615 746-0607)

A packed house is your first clue that stopping into B.J.’s is a good idea. This family-run operation offers up a legendary set of buffets: salad, main courses and desserts. Fried chicken is a staple, along with catfish, shrimp, meatloaf, dumplings, pork chops, just about every vegetable imaginable. Dessert, you say? Cobblers, puddings, pies and more. And all this for around $6 a person. For Southern cooking at its best, join the regulars who show up several times a week. Oh, and there’s a breakfast buffet on the weekends.

B&C Smokehouse (Highway 12, Ashland City, 615 792-8889)

Barbecue’s the thing at B&C, and that means everything from pulled pork to brisket. In fact, the brisket plate, along with potato salad, tomatoes and cucumbers, is a best seller. Feeling less healthy? Have it with mac & cheese and baked beans. Other standouts on the menu include the shoestring fries. Sounds simple, but if you’ve ever had bad fries with barbecue, you’ll appreciate that care and attention that these get.

Dickson

Front Porch On Center Ave. (108 Center Ave. Dickson, 615 441-006) and Sisters (207 E. Rickert Ave. Dickson, 615 441-4737)

The Front Porch has three dining rooms, and many who have to wait for a table wish this renovated historical home was just a mite bigger. Country cooking includes such items as a hot-chicken casserole, as well as a daily blue-plate special. The same can be said for Sisters, where a meat-and-three menu offers up everything from turnip greens to white beans and cornbread. Turkey and dressing are on offer every Thursday. There’s a catfish dinner special on Fridays.

The Catfish Kitchen (3069 U.S. 70 Burns, 615 446-4480)

The Catfish Kitchen in Burns has been feeding Dickson County since the early 1970s. How to find it? Simple. Just look for the giant catfish, complete with whiskers, out in front. With billing like that, expect the catfish to be outstanding, but you can even find things like frog legs and quail popping up on the menu as well.

Joann’s Kitchen (105 Center Ave., Dickson, 615 446-0105)

Most cooks have a few hard-and-fast rules, and the kitchen crew at Joann’s is no different. The thing to know about this place is that there’s no can opener on the premises. That means the lunch buffet is all fresh vegetables and other foods, such as fried chicken, barbecue and grits, okra and more, all prepared from scratch. And yes, the same goes for the cakes and pies.

Carl’s Perfect Pig (4992 U.S. 70 White Bluff, 615 797-4020)

At Carl’s, they say “a waist is a terrible thing to mind.” The slogan appears on bumper stickers. And they mean it. It’s old-fashioned pit barbecue, all the time, at Carl’s, and people have been known to drive halfway across the state to get some. Add in the joint’s own sauce, not to mention specially seasoned, home-cooked vegetables, and it’s a full plate. (For those who don’t indulge, you can also get burgers, chicken and steaks.) Wear loose pants. Your waist will thank you.

Maury

Embers Tavern & Grille (2513 Hospitality Lane, Columbia, 931 489-0027)

Need an excuse to hop on your Harley? Go to Embers, where the owners are serious enthusiasts, so both your appetite and your ride will be well provided for. The full-service restaurant offers USDA-Certified Hereford beef, cooked over a hickory-wood grill, as well as everything from soup and salads to hot wings and their well-known Angus Bacon Cheeseburgers. Need it to go? Carryout service is available. On the visual side, Embers has one of the state’s largest projection-screen televisions, as well as other screens throughout the bar so you can check out multiple games. On Friday and Saturday nights, there’s live music from many of the Nashville area’s up-and-coming bands and artists.

Christy’s Sixth Street Restaurant (109 E. 6th Street, Columbia, 931 388-7109)

A place that boasts a sweet tea championship (2010) can authentically argue that they’ve got southern cooking down. So it is at Christy’s in downtown Columbia, where meatloaf and chicken cuddle up to pecan and chess pies, all from family recipes. You can get pints of chicken salad to go or stay in for the daily hot buffet. Christy’s also caters, so if you like the food, you can have it brought to you, or have your event at the restaurant, where up to 150 guests can be seated.

Papa Boudreaux’s Cajun Café & Catering Company (3419 Fly Rd., Santa Fe, 931 682-0040)

If you didn’t even know there was a Santa Fe in Tennessee, then it’s likely you may not have heard of Papa Boudreaux’s. This is a situation that should be rectified right away. It seems Papa comes by his skills from a long line of family cooks, and also though stints in well-known New Orleans restaurants and friendships with noted chefs such as Patrice Boujulais. But however he got there, he’s built a Cajun and Creole powerhouse in Santa Fe. Head that way for a little (or maybe even a big) slice of southern Louisiana cooking.

Montgomery

Edelweiss Café & Restaurant (1984 Fort Campbell Blvd., Clarksville, 931 503-8200)

Need more German food in your diet? Then don’t miss Edelweiss’ full menu of Teutonic treats, including wiener schnitzel, currywurst, sauerkraut, German potato salad, blaukraut and many, many more. If you’re not familiar with German cuisine, try the German breakfast. It’s a platter of cold cuts, cheese and preserves, along with Brötchen and coffee. Or just knock back a plate of Polish sausage, eggs, preserves and bread. And there are few more authentic places to have a Kaffeeklatsch. There are plenty of German pastries on offer, including Black Forest Torte, Apfelstrudel and German Käsekuchen. Can’t pronounce that last one? Then order the chocolate Thunder.

The Choppin’ Block (2212 Madison St. Clarksville, 931 920-2112)

Billing itself as Clarksville’s only full-service butcher shop, the Choppin’ Block would seem to have fulfilled its destiny. But it also serves up breakfast starting at 6 a.m. weekdays and 7 a.m. on Saturdays, with such favorites as fried pork chops, meat and biscuits, omelets and steak and eggs. There’s also a blue-plate lunch special, and specialty offerings such as Ribeye Steak, Cuban and even fried bologna sandwiches. The twice-baked potato is considered by some to be a meal in itself. Lastly, there are homemade salads such as pimiento cheese, broccoli and potato, as well as homemade desserts.

Wilson

Cherokee Steak House and Marina (450 Cherokee Dock Rd., Lebanon, 615 444-2783)

When your motto is, “You can whip our cream, but you cannot beat our meat!” you’re definitely making a statement. But Cherokee Steak House and Marina backs it up with the best cuts from Iowa Beef Packers, noted for its top-quality product. Not into beef? Plenty of seafood and chicken choices also grace the menu, so you’ll hardly walk or row away hungry.

Courtney’s Restaurant & Catering (4066 N. Mt. Juliet Rd, Mt. Juliet, 615 754-7548)

Most folks head to Courtney’s for the meat-and-three menu, but there’s also a growing number who stop by for dinner and live music Wednesday through Saturday. But back to the food … catfish, meatloaf, mac ’n cheese, white beans, even jambalaya and five-layer lasagna. Catering is an option, so you can have the goodness brought to you.

Corner Pub Between the Lakes (4136 N. Mt. Juliet Rd., Mt. Juliet, 615 754-2782)

Another great meat-and-three provider is the Corner Pub (one of four locations in Middle Tennessee, along with outposts in Midtown Nashville, Franklin and Bellevue). Everything from barbecue to baked apples is on offer, and there also are plenty of pub-food classics on the menu. For the sports lover, have a side of college or NFL football (in season, of course) with your entrée, as there’s always a game on the large-screen television.

Houston’s Meat & Produce (3930 N. Mt. Juliet Rd., Mt. Juliet, 615 758-7226)

Like a lot of local goodness in one package? Try Houston’s, which combines a butcher shop, grocery store and restaurant, all under one room. It’s a given that the meat is fresh, and the restaurant preps up anything from barbecue to smoked ribs for take-out customers on the weekend (the diner, which seats 20, is only open during the week) to fresh chicken salad sandwiches and what’s billed as a “legendary taco salad.”

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