Family-Style Meals at Monell's in Nashville
"The Pass to the Left Policy works out well—everyone gets fed eventually. But it gets a tad intense when the fried chicken arrives."
1235 6th Avenue N., Nashville TN 37208 (map); 615-248-4747
Meals: lunch Monday through Friday, dinner Tuesday through Saturday, breakfast on the weekends and Sunday afternoon meal.
Monell's in Nashville is one of those places where you shouldn't eat breakfast that morning (or maybe even last night's dinner). You're basically in for a Southern Thanksgiving, except with 10 or so people you've never met.
Every meal here (lunch, dinner, the weekend country breakfast, and Sunday meal) is served family-style like they did back in the days of Southern boarding houses—except with other peoples' families. But you'll get to know your tablemates pretty quickly after a few "pass the peas!" Every bowl, basket, and platter moves to the left, as your server will remind you.
Monell's dining room is the downstairs portion of a cozy Victorian house (the sign says circa 1880) in the historic Germantown part of Nashville. The legendary spot has easily a 45-minute wait time on a typical Sunday after-churchtime.
The daily menus rotate: Monday is chicken and dumplings and meatloaf; Wednesday is pork chops. But they always include chicken in some form (skillet fried, baked, or smothered) and a basket of fresh biscuits and cornbread squares.
Our Sunday meal started with "salads"—the kind that are more creamy white than leafy green. Cole slaw, macaroni salad, peas swimming in a mystery pool of white liquid. There are also bowls of banana puddin' (why wait until after the meal?) and their famous peach preserves for the biscuits. But try not to fill up too much at this point—there's still plenty more ahead. And to wash it all down, there are big, constantly-refilled pitchers of sweet tea, fruit tea, and unsweetened tea.
Who is the "average" Monells diner? Yeah, that doesn't exist. There are Vanderbilt students, young families with kids (they have booster chairs), out-of-towners, locals, special-occasioners, and every-dayers. On Sunday, it's the unofficial church afterparty.
At one end of our table sat a father of two small (adorable) daughters who had just returned from Iraq, and on the other end, a guy heading to the Olympics in Vancouver next week on business. You might be next to a Chatty Cathy ready to share his or her life story, or someone who will dutifully pass those peas, and that's about it.
Bowls of hot food continue coming out of the kitchen throughout the meal. Mashed potatoes, green beans, a strange pineapple-cheddar casserole thing, and corn puddin', which, after a full rotation, had many arms reaching for seconds and thirds.
The Pass to the Left Policy works out well—everyone gets fed eventually. But it gets a tad intense when the fried chicken arrives. The whole meal seems to culminate here. The basket is piled high with still-sizzling breasts, drumsticks, and thighs. It's everything you'd want fried chicken to be: crunchy with good grease bubbles, zesty flavor, and lots of moist meat underneath the skin.
"Excuse me, miss, I still haven't gotten a dark piece. Every time the basket gets to me, it's all gone." My neighbor was on the verge of an anxiety attack but our server promptly returned with a bird refill. If you ask nicely, they're happy to refill any of the quickly-devoured dishes. There are other meats too—ham triangles covered in a sweet glaze and super tender brisket. Though tasty, they definitely get less love than the fried chicken.
For all that Southern comfort food gluttony, it's really not that pricey. Just $16.43 for the Sunday Meal, $12.95 for the weekday lunch, $14.95 for weekday dinner, and $12.77 for the weekend breakfast.
Eventually you reach a point when there's still food left, but the passing slows down. You realize you physically cannot fit another kernel of corn in your body. The quote on the Monell's meal ticket says it all: "I've eaten and I can't get up."
Lunch Monday through Friday: 10:30 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Dinner Tuesday through Saturday: 5 to 8:30 p.m.
Breakfast Saturday: 8:30 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Breakfast Sunday: 8:30 a.m. to 11 a.m.
Sunday Meal: 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.