I really shouldn’t blog when I’m hungry.

I’m waiting for Gaither.com to publish my piece on Homecoming Radio on Monday before I can then tell you guys MORE about it– they get first dibs this time– so I thought in the meantime I’d tell you about this great little place I just discovered!

I love finding out about new restaurants, and my favorite kinds are the small, family-owned ones. Since I live in Tennessee, a lot of those kind of places are ‘meat-and-threes.’ For my non-Southern readers, that is what we call places that serve good ol’ Southern soul food. You choose a meat selection, usually from a list that includes things like fried chicken, pork chops, ham, bar-be-que, meat loaf and pot roast. Then you choose up to three vegetables or ‘sides’, and that’s where it really gets good. We Southerners cook our vegetables beyond all reason and they are always liberally seasoned with too much salt, butter, pepper and quite often, a pinch of sugar. That list will contain wonders such as mashed potatoes with red-eye or cream gravy, glazed carrots, fried okra, turnip greens (which are fabulous with a little vinegar or Pick-a-Pepper sauce sprinkled on top), country style green beans, all manner of casseroles like squash, tomato and bread, broccoli or sweet potato (with melted marshmallows on top), creamed (sometimes called ‘fried’) corn, purple hull peas and lima beans. We also inexplicably count things like macaroni and cheese, dumplings and dressing as vegetables, which makes no sense but works for me. The breads have to be homemade and if you’re lucky there will be biscuits, yeast rolls, skillet cornbread and hoecake cornbread to choose from. Desserts need to be guilt-producing and huge– fudge pie, banana pudding, lemon, coconut or chocolate pies with sky high merengue, and all manner of fruit cobblers (my personal favorites are blackberry or peach.)

OK, now I am seriously hungry.

If you have ever eaten at a Cracker Barrel restaurant you may think you have eaten ‘real’ Southern cooking, and to be fair, they do an OK job of it. But a chain restaurant will never be able to produce on a massive scale what comes out of the hot, cramped kitchen of a small family-owned meat and three, complete with waitresses that call you “Darlin'” as they repeatedly refill your sweet tea, gray-haired bus ‘boys’ that have worked there for 30 years, and the family matriarch or patriarch sitting on a stool behind the cash register. Some of my all-time favorite meat and threes around here are Arnold’s Country Kitchen, Barbara’s Home Cooking, Bell Buckle CafeDotson’s, Sylvan Park Restaurant, and of course, the famous Loveless Cafe.

Hold up. What you have just read so far may be one of the biggest rabbit trails in the history of this blog, though Lord knows I am capable of getting off-topic at the drop of a hat. I just went off on a Southern food tangent when what I REALLY WANTED TO TELL YOU ABOUT was a completely different kind of small family-owned restaurant– an Italian one!

I have heard about Nana Rosa’s for months– mostly on Twitter, from my friends Joe Bonsall of the Oak Ridge Boys, and Kelly Burton, who is married to gospel singer Rod Burton. They have waxed rhapsodic about this little cafe in a strip mall in Hendersonville, TN. They love the food, they love the owners, and they keep telling me I just “HAVE to go!” Well, I’ve been waiting for Russ to get home so we can go check it out as a family, but the other afternoon when I found myself on that end of town, I decided to pick up some food to go.

I got there at kind of a weird time, in that lull that comes between the lunch and dinner crowd. It’s a charming, cheerful little place incongruously sitting in the middle of a nondescript strip mall. Skip the owner could not have been nicer. He came out of the kitchen to talk to me when I came in and offered me something cold to drink ‘on the house’ while I waited for my order. I wandered around the empty restaurant, looking at all of the family pictures on the wall and asked if I could take some pictures. Skip graciously agreed and then disappeared back into the kitchen. This is a chef who clearly loves cooking, and  I could tell he was a little crestfallen when he realized I would be schlepping his piping hot, perfectly prepared food all the way across town to Brentwood. He was so concerned that it would still be just right when I arrived home that he gave me detailed instructions on the best way to reheat my veal piccata (with a smidge of olive oil in a saute pan, NOT the microwave!) Everything was so carefully packaged that it arrived home beautifully. Our salads were crisp and fresh, with a good solid vinaigrette house dressing. I LOVED my veal piccata, it was thin and tender and cooked to perfection. Charlotte devoured her fettuccine Alfredo, so I’ll just have to assume that it was equally good.  We will most definitely be back to eat there, and if any of you are in the area, you should too. Check out their website, it shows an array of specialty cakes, gift baskets, homemade biscotti and toffee that you have to see to believe– I cannot WAIT to get my hands on some of that!

By the way, though this certainly sounds like a commercial for Nana Rosa’s, I am doing this all on my own–sadly, I’m not getting paid off with $$ or biscotti, so my integrity is intact. I just love good food (and non-chain restaurants) and every once in a while I enjoy telling you guys about them.

So here are a few shots…

**Over the entrance

**So bright and friendly inside… and oops, I left my purse on the chair.

**Family photos all around

**Skip, the owner/chef

**As good as it looks.

Now tell me about some of YOUR favorite little places!

21 Responses

  1. LindaB

    YOU ATE AT THE LOVELESS CAFE?? YOU HAD THEIR WORLD FAMOUS BISCUITS? How were they, in 300 words or less? That’s my dream—-to eat those world celebrated biscuits, as seen on the Food Channel!

    The window at Nana Rosa’s looks so sparkling clean!!! Great picture!

  2. rachelbaker

    Well, I do like Cracker Barrel, and on my 2 trips to the southern states have discovered that it is far too easy to put on weight.

    Nana Rosa’s looks wonderful, I love Italian food. Hmmmm, hungry now.

  3. Gramma Jac

    I just read parts of this to my husband and we are seriously mad at you. (OK, he’s mad at ME for sharing.) Here we sit, in WISCONSIN, with our mouths watering,….and not even a Cracker Barrel within an hour away!! Now we have our own variety of down-home midwestern restaurants,…but I wanna try YOURS!!!

    By the way, here a Bar-B-Q is a “sloppy joe” or a Cook-out which may not even include barbecue sauce!!

    If you haven’t seen this song, it explains it all!

  4. delightedabroad

    Many thanks for a good lesson in Southern cooking…yummy

    Oh, and Happy Independence Day! (Or what else do you say???)

  5. tori

    LindaB–Oh honey, we eat at the Loveless A LOT! We do love it, but to be honest, we liked it better back in the day when it was just a little mom and pop operation… It’s been spiffed up and commercialized a little, but you can’t really blame them, they have to compete. And actually the ‘new’ (though it’s been YEARS now) owners saved the Loveless and have managed to keep so much of the original vibe going. The food truly is delicious, especially the fried chicken and the country ham, and the biscuits and homemade preserves absolutely live up to the hype. (And you can order the preserves online!)

    rachelbaker– I can’t really complain about Cracker Barrel, we get take-out from there on a regular basis. It’s just that the little hole in the wall places are better! Tell me about some of your favorite neighborhood places– England certainly has some great Indian and Thai cafes.

    Gramma Jac— BWAHAHAHAHHA! OK, everybody click that link and go listen– it’s actually pretty accurate as well as funny! (Now tell me about mpm and pop restaurants, Midwestern style!

    delightedabroad– On behalf of everyone in the U.S., thank you! And ‘Happy Independence Day’ works just fine, as well as ‘Happy 4th of July.’

  6. bettyrwoodward

    You are making my very hungry! We loved Southern food when we were in Tennessee. As to favourites in the UK well yes we do love Italian food but I think my best choice would be a little cafe in Alnwick in the North East of England called Aunt Bessy’s Pantry. We found it while we were on holiday up there and hope to visit it more once Rachel has moved back up north. It has a bakers shop on the ground floor and then you go down stairs to the restaurant. The food was great. Lovely salads etc but the homemade sandwiches and cakes were great. The whole atmosphere of the place made us visit several times while we were there on holiday.
    Perhaps we can take you there sometime, you would love all the nicnacks etc.

  7. Laura Plott

    Ok, Apparently I shouldn’t read blogs when I’m hungry!! Now I want to take a food vacation to Tennessee! Guess I’ll just have to settle for a trip to my family’s local mom and pop shop, Hollands.

  8. Gramma Jac

    You know, your question made me think,….midwestern small town cafes don’t do vegies well. Usually, if you order meatloaf or something, there’s some lackluster canned corn, green beans, peas, or mixed vegies. Even mashed potatoes are usually out of a box!! Breakfast is always good! And desserts are usually pies or cookies. What would be truly Wisconsin?? Brats and kraut (some restaurants carry,…some do it as a special), Friday fish, and deep fried cheese curds. Honestly, I think deep fried cheese curds are just OK. I’d rather eat fresh cheese curds,…still squeaky against your teeth!!!

    Hey other midwesterners,…what am I forgetting?

  9. Barbara M. Lloyd

    Grandma Jack, I enjoyed your little film…living here in South Carolina. There are several bar-b-que places here in our town, but only one that is the real thing…cooking the pig in the pit overnight, etc. The others cook in their kitchens just like you and I do. Yep, they are a family place.

    Most every place is a chain restaurant here in Aiken. One of the very few exceptions is Eejays. I love their salads! I should say, I love their salad dressings. They make their own…and their blue cheese is to die for. Actually, the rest of their foods are okay…but it’s those dressing that make the place special.

    I understand there is a Cracker Barrel coming here and everyone is excited about that. Have you had their apple dumpling? But make sure that two of you will be eating the one dumpling because it is huge.

  10. Tweets that mention » I really shouldn’t blog when I’m hungry. | babybloomr -- Topsy.com

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  11. Silver Hair Fans

    Hay..We have a SUPER “meat and 3″ place here named Balyeats!!! Been here since 1946……Super Fried Chicken…love it, especially with “homemade noodles over” (mashed potatoes…not instant but the “real deal”) Everything is made from scratch…with rolls and potato-rusks from our local “Butlers Bakery” which has also been here since around 1939. Numerous sides and salads…and Home Made Pie!!!!! Quaint decor…nothing fancy but always full of “Happy Eaters!!

    In your neck of the woods we love Campbells Station and Country Store!! Near Culleoka…learned about it from DP. Food is awesome and the Fried Pies…Oh My!! Owner is usually in there along with her daughter and grand daughter!! Wonderful People!! Already have our reservations for when we are there over Labor Day for DP’s Barn Bash!!! You & Russ should “come on down!!!!!”

  12. LindaB

    As for “Mom and Pop” eateries here in the north, the best one around these parts is……….is……..MY HOUSE! (At the risk of sounding brag-y!) One of my granddaughter’s friends was over last week at dinnertime and her dad owns a restaurant in Flint……and she loves my cooking. She said to me, “Mrs. B., do you cook EVERY day???” I said yes, of course. Well, give or take a day here and there when it’s too hot to cook. She says her mom seldom cooks at home. They always eat fast food. And all her friends say the same. I feel like I’m a relic left over from pioneer days or something! Do any of you cook dinner everyday? And what do you eat if you don’t cook?

    I just about have to cook nowdays since hubby had a heart attack and needs low fat, low salt, low calorie food! Can’t get that at McDonalds or Wendy’s or Taco Bell!!!

    Oh, that reminds me of something funny that happened here recently. My daughter bought a Happy Meal for her two year old while they were out shopping, and he didn’t eat it all. So, she stopped my here to visit and took his leftover Happy Meal (one half eaten chicken nugget, a small container of apple sauce, and about three french fries) in my fridge closed up in the McD’s bag. And she forgot about it. So, that night, I packed hubby’s lunch and put it in a McDonald’s bag and put it in the fridge. (You can tell where this is going, can’t ya?) Next morning, he grabbed the remains of the Happy Meal and took it to work. When he opened it up at lunchtime, the guys he works with fell on the floor laughing—-they tease him unmercifully about his wife putting him on a strick diet when he used to eat whatever he wanted—–and what he wanted was BIG and BAD! They thought it was my idea of a low cal lunch! He then CALLED ME from the shop and said, “Hey Linda! Is this your idea of a diet lunch??? I had to go out and buy my lunch today—–and the guys were hysterical!”

    Yesterday, I was shopping at the Family Dollar Store (nothing but the best around here, ya know!) and saw a display of grab bags with “Something for a little girl” and “Something for a little boy” printed in big letters on the paper bags. I bought the one for a “Little Boy” so I could use it to send his lunch in today! LOL

    Which is all of no consequence or blog worthy, just rambling ’cause it’s too hot here to do anything else! Is it hot where you live?



  14. Gramma Jac

    Oh LindaB, Where in the North are you because I’m coming for supper???!!! :-)

  15. LindaB

    I live (if you can call it “living”) in Clio, Michigan——-just north of Flint. Come on up, Gramma Jac and “sup” with us!

    Where do you live?

  16. LindaB

    Tori, I went to all those restaurant links and read their reviews. Ya know, I’ve never heard of “meat and threes” in my life! I don’t think there’s anything like that here in the north country. Interesting!

  17. jonny


    I guess this is similar to Loveless for me. I thought it was better before it bacame more commercial. Still good though. And even though it’s a bar restaurant it’s where I take all guests if we go out to eat, or where I recommend going out to it with others. Been eating there, off and on, over fifteen years now. Knew the original chef. Yes, even though a bar restaurant, they first had a chef working there. The place is Helsinki famous for its hamburger, which my friend created when he was bored. He hates making hamburgers and one day, playing around, thought to himself, “If I was ever forced to make a hamburger, how would I do it!?” Well he did it, one restaurant critic found out about it, the rest is history.


  18. rachelbaker

    That looks great jonny!

    I think its fair to say that in England we eat out a lot less than you do in the States. Maybe its because its more expensive here, or maybe its cultural – I don’t know. So LindaB, yes, I cook at home nearly every day. We have a fantastic Butchers shop here in Leamington, its pricey but has ‘special offer and half price’ day on Monday so I’m there straight after I’ve dropped the girls off at school. It has award-winning sausages … so Tori, my bangers and mash will be better than any you have tasted in the pubs of England!

    As for my favourite places, to eat out … for breakfast/lunch we have a fantastic little place called ‘fat birds cafe’ which has a great atmosphere and does really good food – occasionally I’ve been known to sneak in with a few other school Mums and partake of a ‘sausage and egg butty’. There are some really good chinese restaurants in town too – our current favourite is buffet style, mainly because the kids can be fussy and we know there will always be lots they like. There is a great french bistro too, and a lovely, family run, Italian – but these have been reserved for the all too rare nights out without the children!

    I’m looking forward to discovering some new favourites when we move back up to Newcastle, but am definitely going to miss the butchers shop down here!

  19. Gramma Jac

    Linda B., I live in LaCrosse, WI.

  20. Lisa Strickland

    Uh, now I am starving! LOL
    I love Cracker Barrel as well, but no one, can top our “Meet and three'” Love our Southern Cookin’!
    Of course, I am a big fan of Italian too, but after reading this blog, I could eat just about anything! ;)
    Thanks Tori…Loved it! Love you!

  21. gracelynn

    Olive Garden, Cracker Barrell and Ruby Tuesday’s – I visit these alot when I am traveling or going to singings. But if I am here at home, we usually go to Bunn’s BBQ for lunch and get either a plate or sandwich. We’ve done that many a day when working around the farm. My cousins always stop by there and pick up some BBQ to take back to Virginia with them when they leave LOL. We also love to eat at the local Chinese place – China King. They have a great buffet for lunch.

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