Sunday, February 23, 2014

Monell's: It's About the Vibe, Stupid

All photos © 2014 Mary Brace all rights reserved
There is a handfull of Nashville restaurants that baffle fine diners, who can't understand how an eatery with so-so food ever wound up on the must-eat-there lists of anyone. Today I decided to give my take on my favorite of those, Monell's.

Monell's seems like the quintessential "old Nashville" restaurant but it opened in 1995, a year after I moved here. Because of its pub-style seating, meat-and-three menus, and family style serving it's easy to imagine Monell's with a history stretching back much further than it does.

When you go to Monell's, if your party has less than eight people, expect to be seated with someone or someones who are about to become your new friends. The tables are big, and they like 'em full. This is not the place to choose for an intimate dinner.

It's a great place for diners who don't want to spend time debating over a menu. Each day you'll have the option of fried chicken and whatever other meat-du-jour is out there. Same with the veggies.

My most recent lunch visit featured the ever-present chicken, along with pulled pork and meatloaf. Veggies were green beans, some sort of rice casserole, some sort of potato casserole. Additionally, there was some stuffing out,  and potato salad and biscuits for starters.

 As you can see from my plate, to the right, I'm not much of a veggie eater to begin with. Southern-style veggies, aka "gooey mush" to me, even less. As Oscar Wilde said, "for those who like that sort of thing, it's the sort of thing they like." The biscuits are about on par with what the Loveless Cafe offers. The fried chicken ... well. I've had mixed experiences. What comes out at dinner time is a touch more moist than what we get at lunch. As you also can tell from the photo, the parts are on the small side. Really on the small side. Breasts not much larger than a biscuit. On the bright side, if it's really the crispy, fried skin you like, there's plenty to be had. The pulled pork was insanely tender, though, with just enough smokey flavor.

My favorite things to see at Monell's come dessert time are their bread and banana puddings but today we had strawberry shortcake. Spring fever, I guess. If the strawberries were fresh and not frozen, I'm sure it would be more enjoyable; for now it was a tease of things to come.

So .. why? What's so great about this place? It's totally the atmosphere. The northeast has restaurants in historic homes all over the place, and I guess Monell's reminds me a little of that, with it's varied, high-ceilinged rooms and straight-backed chairs.

It's that you and your friends can find yourself sitting down with someone else and their friends, and you all could be on a first-name basis when you stand up.

There's something about Monell's that feels like a great Southern tradition, even though it never happened before 1995. Perhaps that's what makes it so quintessentially Nashville. In a town that's constantly re-inventing itself, you're experiencing what could be as much as what is.

Monell's Restaurant on Urbanspoon

No comments:

Post a Comment