Arnold’s Country Kitchen605 8th Ave S. Nashville, TN
Reviewed by: Clay Dined 11/23/13
As much as I love southern, home-cooking and Meat & Threes, it took me awhile to find out about Arnold’s. Maybe I’m just bad at listening. Once I finally found out about Arnold’s, I couldn’t wait to try it. I’ve been looking for an opportunity to go for several months now, and one finally presented itself. A friend of mine was in town for a conference at the newly opened Music City Center. She had a little time for lunch, so I suggested we stay close by and go to Arnold’s.
One of the things that I’d heard was to expect a line, but when we arrived I saw no line outside and took this as a good sign. Oops! The line actually forms inside, wrapping around the restaurant (which isn’t very large to begin with) in a giant, elongated U. We walked all the way to the back of the restaurant, squeezing by other patrons waiting in line, to join them right where the beginning of the line and the end of the line met. Then we waited. Although the line was long, the wait wasn’t bad. I heard someone say they’d never seen it that crowded, and while I didn’t look at my watch, we probably waited in line only 15, maybe 20 minutes.
The great thing about having a long line is that it gave me ample time to read the menu and consider my many options. Each day features a different combination of meat and veggie choices. Looking around at people’s plates, the meatloaf and the roast beef were popular on this Friday. Fried fish and barbecue chicken were also available. None of that mattered though, because I knew as soon as I walked in that I’d be having the meatloaf. The question was how many and what sides would I be getting. And, would I get dessert? It seems wrong to eat meatloaf without mashed potatoes, so I settled on those over the mac-n-cheese. I decided to go all out and went with three veggies and a dessert. I had the turnip greens and the fried green tomatoes, which I had heard were the “best ever.” Dessert was a toss up between chocolate pie and banana pudding. The pie looked great, but the only piece left was a little mangled, so I went with one of my all-time favorites, banana pudding.
The meatloaf was good. I got one large slice with a chunky tomato sauce. This wasn’t the best meatloaf I’ve ever had, but I did really enjoy it. Not as good as The Family Wash’s loaf, and I’ve had other that is better, but this was a good, solid, traditional interpretation. My only complaint was that it was a little more dense than I like, maybe just the recipe, or maybe it was cooked just a tad too long. Either way, it was a minor complaint. I can’t get meatloaf without mashed potatoes, so of course that’s what I went with here. At the server’s recommendation I had him put some meatloaf sauce on there instead of gravy- good call. These were good, creamy, thick, and delicious. They were very well mashed, no chunks of potato, which is fine by me. I know the chunks let you know it’s homemade, but I’ve never been a big fan of those. These were strong mashed potatoes, I could eat a ton of these.
Growing up I was never a fan of greens, collard or turnip. My mom made collards and used a lot of vinegar. As an adult, I’ve found that I really enjoy greens, especially when they are cooked with lots of butter or pork fat, and some sweet and/or spicy seasonings. These (turnip) greens were obviously made in a large batch, and I’m pretty sure they were cooked with PLENTY of pork fat. They were juicy, rich, and flavorful. They weren’t sweet, and they weren’t spicy, but just a dash of pepper vinegar really enhanced the rich flavor here. They were cooked just right too, tender and soft without being mushy. Arnold’s is the type of place where you would expect to find really good greens, and they don’t let you down.
In reading other online reviews (obviously, you don’t need to do that because you have me) I heard that people love Arnold’s fried green tomatoes, so when I saw that those were a daily special I had to get them for my third side. These FGTs are really good. They’re definitely more of a southern country adaptation than some of the FGT at your trendier, more hip restaurants. These are breaded with a heavier cornmeal crust. This gives the tomatoes a nice crunchy exterior without overwhelming the flavor. Arnold’s also manages to prevent these from getting soggy even though they are served cafeteria style- kudos to you, Arnold.
If banana pudding isn’t my single favorite dessert ever, it’s definitely on the podium. If a restaurant has banana pudding on the menu, I’m almost always getting it, especially if they let me get it as a side instead of an extra cost dessert (hat tip to Moe’s!). You pick your dessert first at Arnold’s and after a flirtation with the aforementioned chocolate pie, I plunked a bowl of pudding down on my tray, excited to try it. Unfortunately, that excitement was short lived. The banana pudding was actually the least satisfying item on my tray. It was just too sweet. Almost like they just kept adding unnecessary sugar. The consistency was a bit odd too, almost looking like it was left over from the day before and had fallen a little flat. The bananas were also a little off. They had a spongy, springy texture. I couldn’t decide if they were overly ripe or too green. It was odd and perplexing. They almost tasted too ripe but felt too green. I’m still not sure what that was about. I can’t confirm this, but it kind of seemed like I was eating yesterday’s banana pudding. Next time I’m having an affair with that chocolate pie!
So what did I think of Arnold’s overall? Even with a couple of slight complaints, I still loved my meal. Down-home, southern cooking is one of my favorite types of food. Soul food. I love it. Arnold’s hit the spot in this regard. It wasn’t the best soul food I’ve ever had or the best meat and three, but it sure was good. Monell’s probably has better food, and is all you can eat, but you pay more and have to wait much longer. It’s a different experience. Family Wash has better meatloaf, and a few places in town have better banana pudding. I know it seems like I’m focusing on the negatives, but Arnold’s really is a gem. While they may not have the single “best” food or even item, everything that they have is really good. Great options, great food, reasonable prices, and it moves quick even if the line is long. Let’s face it, you don’t always have time for a 3 hour Monell’s lunch (with wait), sometimes you have to go back to work! Arnold’s might send you back to your desk with a serious food coma, but at least they will get you back on time. For traditional meat & threes in Nashville, Arnold’s is the best I’ve had so far.