Friday, March 13, 2009

Monell's, Nashville, TN

It's been a busy few months, and unfortunately I haven't had a chance to write in a while. While work has been hectic, this period was highlighted Tamar and I getting engaged in January! Did the mountains of pork and Mexican food that we've eaten together contribute to our love? Perhaps...

While it's been a while, I have a backlog of past meals photographed and ready to write about, and I also have upcoming trips to Minneapolis, Montreal, Chicago, and Europe in the summer to look forward to. I hope to post at least once a week for the foreseeable future.

This is the fourth of several accounts of outstanding meals that Tamar and I enjoyed as we traveled across Tennessee during Thanksgiving week, 2008.


When we arrived at Monell's for breakfast on Sunday, it almost felt as if we were late to a neighbourhood block party. We walked through the crowded side garden to the rear entrance and put our names on the waiting list, which ended up being about 20 minutes long. The garden was filled with children running amok or playing on swing sets while their parents kept one eye on them, catching up on the past week's news. Family by family, they were eventually called in to the restaurant to be seated.

Eating at Monell's is a unique experience. The restaurant is on the ground floor of a converted home, and consists only of 4 tables for 10-12 diners each. The protocol is as follows: an entire table is cleared, and then the next 10 or so people waiting are seated at once, together. After our wait, we were led to a table in what used to be the house's dining room. Our breakfast companions were a diverse group consisting of a large African-American family to our right, and on our left, an Asian graduate student from Vanderbilt was taking his girlfriend and visiting mother out for a meal.

The table was initially set with a tray of sticky cinnamon rolls, orange juice, tea (both sweet and unsweet), and a bowl of homemade peach preserves. Table etiquette is briefly explained to us: all cellphones must be turned off, and when food is served, you should help yourself, and then pass the platter to your left. The meal is family-style, and everyone is to share from the same serving dish.

The first item to arrive was a giant baket of still-warm biscuits and accompanying gravy. The biscuits were easily the best I'd ever tasted. Impossibly light and fluffy, with a rich buttery flavour. While that first bite of biscuit is clearly imprinted in my memory, the rest of the meal was blurred by the dishes that seemed to constantly flow from the kitchen.

Stacks of pancakes, scrambled eggs, breakfast meats (bacon, sausages, fried ham), hashed browns, corn pudding, and cheese grits were all served and made their slow journey around the table. If I had only had the biscuits, corn pudding, and bacon, it would have stood tall with any meal I've ever had. The corn pudding may have been prepared as simply as just taking the very sweetest corn available, and cooking it until thick with a little cream. It was unbelievably delicious, and had a strong, pure, sweet taste.

Bacon from a plastic pouch at the supermarket can be fantastic; this bacon was beyond written description. It almost felt like there must be some Nashville folk hero equivalent to Paul Bunyan, and instead of a Blue Ox as a companion, he had a giant pig who had been sacrificed to feed us. I know that logically each piece wasn't actually as long as my forearm or 1/4" thick, but it felt that way. Thick, crispy, salty, smoked perfection.

Just when we'd settled into our meal and were starting to fill up, out came a wicker basket of skillet-fried chicken. I think Tam uttered a prayer of thanks under her breath, as fried chicken is always one of her guilty pleasures. She decided that the best way to enjoy it was to dip her chicken into the peach preserves, the sweet-salty combination reminding her of the chutneys of her fatherland. I know I ate my chicken with biscuits (probably my fifth or sixth biscuit by that point) but to be fair, I also ate my biscuits with corn pudding, with eggs, and with peach preserves. Did I mention that I liked the biscuits?

While this may be the only time that I include a post without pictures, taking any would have felt like I was intruding on a private moment. Passing food around the table to complete strangers, and debating the dishes in front of us gave a certain intimacy that I didn't want to violate by whipping out my digital camera.

A sad reality of the South apparent even on our week-long trip was that even in cities, there are still areas and institutions where you won’t see people of different races mixing. Monell’s thankfully shatters that world as people of all colors and creeds sit around a table and share a glorious meal with one another.

Monell's is located in the historic Germantown neighbourhood of Nashville, TN at 1235 6th Avenue North. Their Country Breakfast is served on Saturday from 8:30 AM - 1 PM, and on Sunday morning from 8:30 to 11. They also serve dinners, and you can see the daily menu on their website. All you can eat for $13 per person. You will not leave hungry.


Katie said...

hello! i found your blog while looking for great places to eat bbq in tn- thanks for all the tips! my friends and i are going on a road trip there this weekend and now i have a whole list of places to stop!

we all live in chicago so, in light of your upcoming summer visit, let me know if i can make any recommendations (bbq or otherwise). here's my blog where you can get ahold of me:

Colin's Mom said...

I found you via chowhound and just had to come see how your tasty travels were going. Having been to Monell's myself, I can certainly appreciate your post and the overwhelming amount of food that is passed before you. A friend took me there the day I was leaving and I wondered how I could possibly stay awake long enough to drive home after that carb-loaded meal. Somehow I managed and your post only makes me want to go back for seconds - glutton, I know!

If you come back through KY, you'll have to let me know so I can suggest a few gems in our neck of the woods. There aren't many but the ones we do have are classics.

Hungry Canuck said...

Thanks for the comment! The travels have been going well. I have a backlog of meals to write up, which I'm looking forward to doing in the near future.

I don't have any plans to get through Kentucky in the near future, although I've always wanted to make it to the Derby (maybe next year?). I'll definitely get in touch for advice if I make it back through the area.