Friday, February 4, 2011

Southern Fried Nirvana

605 8th Ave. South
Nashville, TN

I’ve written about that Middle Tennessee institution known as “the meat-and-three” on several occasions now.

But, on yet another trip through Trashville, I felt it was now time to quit fooling around and review the pinnacle of meat-and-threes – the granddaddy of them all – Arnold’s.

What makes Arnold’s the greatest?

Simple. Really, really good food.

That’s it.

Trust me, it’s not the atmosphere, service or the location.

Literally on the wrong side of the tracks (actually about 100 feet from the railroad overpass to be exact), in a run-down industrial section of south Nashville, Arnold’s is mobbed at lunchtime five days a week by perfectly respectable businessmen, cops and record company executives.

(Well, okay, you’re right, there’s nothing respectable about Nashville record company executives, but you get the idea.)

While the staff at Arnold’s is Southern-friendly as can be, the service is pretty much do-it-yourself.

First you stand in a long line that often stretches all the way to the front door. As you contemplate what slow-cooked Southern delicacies you are going to consume today, you inch along in the cafeteria line by pie (always first in a real meat-and-three), then lard-flavored vegetables and finally meat.

Kinda like how they always make you walk through the entire damn grocery store to get the beer section. This is classic meat-and-three prioritization.

Once you tell the man behind the counter which three vegetables and which meat you want, you slide your tray to the cash register, pick out your sweet tea and pay the lady at the cash register.

Then the real adventure begins. Finding a table to sit and eat all this goodness at in the tiny packed dining room.

If you’re a single suit like me (suits rarely travel in pairs), you may need to share a table. But don’t worry about awkward conversation-starters with strangers. Everybody’s too busy concentrating on appreciating the exquisite goodness in every bite of this destination-dining institution.

So why do so many Nashvillites endure this hassle? The trek to the wrong side of town, the long wait, the table hovering?

One bite of Arnold’s fried chicken and the answer becomes obvious.

The food here is so good, I’d travel from anywhere, even across country, just to get a whiff of the collard greens. Come to think of it, I DID travel across country today. So the sketchy drive from Music Row is nothing for the locals.

My chosen “three”? Green beans, turnip greens and – in a nod to the fall season – stewed apples.

The beans and greens were chock full of earthy flavor. You know from the first bite, these vegetables have never darkened the inside of an aluminum can. The fact that they weren’t loaded with spices or pig parts made them even more impressive. These vegetables were so good, they stood on their own – nothing but slow cooked goodness.

The stewed apples were excellent also. Unlike the soft apple mush you get at some Southern restaurants, these apples still retained their crisp skin and tart bite even under their sweet syrupy nectar.

I also liked the corn bread variety served up by Arnold’s. As something of a corn bread connoisseur, I consider Arnold’s to be among the best.

Both kinds.

On a small side dish, you get one traditional corn muffin and a small pancake-looking circle of corn bread known in these parts as a “flap jack.” If you are lucky enough to grab them fresh out of the kitchen, they might still retain enough warmth to melt your pat of butter.

The sweetness of the corn bread is a perfect compliment to the earthy flavors of the green beans and turnip greens.

Corn bread. Vegetables. Apples. What about the meat?

Okay, okay, I’m getting to that.

This is the best fried chicken I’ve ever had in my life!

There. I said it.

That statement might cause some issues at home, but it just can’t be denied.

My fried chicken thigh was the moistest, most tender, juicy and flavorful piece of poultry I’ve ever bit into to.

But best of all was the crust. Crunchy, packed with powerful seasonings in every nook and cranny, the crust was a party in every bite. I couldn’t stop eating it – even the crust on the gristle and bones.

The texture was perfect – not dry, not greasy – and the crust didn’t all come sliding off the meat on the first bite like some lesser elevated fried poultry.

This was fried chicken nirvana.

After that meal, you could understand how the pie might be a bit anti-climactic.

But not at Arnold’s.

My chocolate meringue certainly didn’t look like much. It wasn’t going to win any Davidson County Fair beauty contests. The meringue was sort of shriveled up, teetering to the side like it would slide right off into oblivion the moment I touched it with my fork.

But looks can be deceiving.

The chocolate was light but packed an explosion of sweetness. You can not just taste the sugar. You can feel it on your tongue.

Powerful goodness.

And a great way to cap one of the best lunches to be had in all of America.

Rating: Bought the Shirt!
Arnold's Country Kitchen on Urbanspoon

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