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Elliston Place Soda Shop, the greasy spoon, red booth institution between Baptist Hospital and Vanderbilt University was on the verge of closure last year before an eleventh hour stay of execution. Luckily for diners, the pharmacy lunch counter style establishment, open since at least 1939 according to the Nashville Scene is hanging around a few more years. Located, as the name implies on Elliston Place, The Soda Shop serves up southern breakfast classics, meat and three plates, lunch counter sandwiches and hand dipped ice cream treats in an environment that looks unchanged since the 1950s.
The Soda Shop is famous for their milkshakes, which are served in a tall pedestal glass, but also come with the metal tumbler in which they were mixed. Enough milkshake to refill your glass at least another time and a half. The shakes are good and available in a variety of flavors: chocolate, vanilla, strawberry, pineapple, banana, and malted versions to name a few. Breakfast also seems to be popular, but as I’ve only been for lunch, I can’t comment on the quality of breakfast.
Nashville has somehow gotten a reputation as a meat and three city. I’m not sure how this happened, as I’m pretty sure that neither the meal nor the term were invented here, and while there are plenty of meat and three type establishments, the same can be said for many a southern city. Hyperbolic claims and reputations aside, I love a good meat and three, so I really have no problem with this reputation and I’m always glad to put it to the test.
In classic meat and three fashion, the Soda Shop has a rotating menu of meats and veggies each day of the week. There are typically 3 different meats to choose from and a variety of 8-10 veggies. The meats, including turkey and stuffing, fried chicken, meatloaf, beef tips, fried catfish and more are mostly available only once a week. The “veggies,” which are liberally defined and include mac and cheese, fried okra, cole slaw, and mashed potatoes, to name a few vary slightly from day to day but there is a good bit of overlap.
For lunch on this visit my party of three had a hard time making decisions. To give ourselves more time we started by ordering milkshakes and an order of onion rings. I went with a classic vanilla malt, and was amazed again by the vast volume of shake that I was served. The onion rings were fine, not bad but nothing special. They were hot and crispy, but based on the breading I’d guess they came from a freezer bag. More importantly, they staved off starvation while we could decide on our meats and our threes. (I should note that the Soda Shop also offers burgers, hot dogs, grilled cheese and cold cut sandwiches, and yes, corndogs in addition to the meat and three menu. In my opinion, there are better places for both burgers and dogs, so I suggest sticking with the meat and three here).
I finally settled on meatloaf, baked squash, turnip greens, and candied yams. It was Thursday and the other options were turkey and dressing and beef tips. For me it was meatloaf all the way. The food came out fast. Faster than the milkshakes in fact- good thing we ordered those early. I went straight for the baked squash, which was delicious, somewhat like a squash casserole only sweeter and without the bread crumbs. The baked squash was the highlight of the meal. The meatloaf was a large portion, but unfortunately it came out a little cold. The flavor wasn’t bad, but it was’t great, and the lack of warmth made the whole thing a little hard. It was by no means inedible, not really bad, but not all that good either. It certainly would have been better if it were hot, but I don’t think it would have been enough to dramatically alter the dish. I like both collard and turnip greens, but generally prefer collard. These turnip greens were definitely cooked southern style, and they were even served with a pretty generous hunk of fat-back in the dish. Unfortunately, they were served with a generous helping of salt. They too were mostly average. I’ve definitely had better greens, but I’ve certainly had worse too. The candied yams were served as a large hunk, not the casserole type that some people associate with this dish. They were good, cooked just right, and had a nice sweet caramelized coating on the exterior. I was starting to get full by the time I gave the yams my full attention, and I wish i’d given more attention to them and less to the greens, as they were tastier. Much to my (and my accomplices’) disappointment, I was too full to try the banana pudding- the biggest regret of this coma inducing meal.
Overall, the food, specifically the meat and three at Elliston Place Soda Shop is hit or miss, and mostly mediocre. None of it is bad really, but nothing stood out as excellent either. Some daily options are probably better than others (Tuesday offers both fried chicken and fried okra), and most are fairly solid renditions of southern favorites, even if they aren’t “as good as mamma used to make.” The service is typically friendly with waitresses commonly calling you “honey”, “sugar” and the like. Our service on this day started a bit scattered with one waitress taking our milkshake orders and another our food, but after some initial confusion it rapidly improved and was friendly and smooth sailing. Elliston Place Soda Shop is a nice lunch spot and a throwback to years gone by. Just temper your expectations, this meat and three isn’t quite like sitting down at grandma’s dining room table. Just make sure to get a milkshake.