In my neck of the woods—the Jewish side of a New Jersey town—we didn’t even consider biscuits. Dough was for bagels and bialys. Biscuits were either something we gave the dog, or something popped out of a refrigerated cylinder. Lo and behold, I have now eaten biscuits, real biscuits, and they are worth their weight in bialys.
My husband Bill and I headed to Nashville for business and pleasure, respectively. His goal was professional, and mine was to take in the sights and breathe a bit of the South. After the recent 500 year flood, Nashvillians seem a little shell-shocked and a little “thrilled to see y’all.” Be assured, the city is quite cleaned up from that devastating flood, and is proud of having done the job pretty much by themselves. The honky-tonks are hopping; the streets are jumping with pedestrians and the sounds of guitars and fiddles. Southern rock and country are heard on street corners and in dry cleaners and just about everywhere. The lovely rolling green hills 10 minutes from downtown get an L.A. resident musing, “What would our town look like if we got a little rain once in a while?”
But back to biscuits. We’d been told if you come to Nashville you can’t miss at least three sites. The Country Music Hall of Fame was first on the list, and seeing a class trip of third graders fulfilling the assignment of counting the number of stallions mounted on the Cadillac sitting next to Elvis’s “Solid Gold Cadillac” really got my heart. The second can’t miss was the Parthenon.
Yes – there is a stunning and accurate reproduction of the Parthenon in Centennial Park downtown. Talk about the unexpected. That’s why Nashville is called the “Athens of the South”. We couldn’t go inside the Parthenon because the wedding couple taking their vows on the steps out front had reserved the very large interior for their reception.
The third and last can’t miss would have to wait for morning, which brings us back to biscuits. The Loveless Café is a touchstone for the city in much the same way as that wedding ceremony on the Parthenon steps—old and new, borrowed and blue. The Loveless began in the 50’s as fried chicken and biscuits sold at the front door of Lon and Annie Loveless’ house. Later came a Bates-type motel run by Lon. The biscuits (secret recipe, don’t ask) and homemade preserves were all Annie’s.
They added country hams, “cured, smoked, and carved on the premises” according to the paper placemat put in front of every patron. Expansion resulted, the family sold the place, and it kept growing. Today, the motel rooms have been turned into little gift shops, and there’s a new barn out back with a state-of-the-art sound system where artists, big-time and small-change, appear regularly. The daughter of our Nashville friends hopes to be married at the Loveless someday when she settles down and finds herself a groom.
We got a table on the side porch since the weather wasn’t too hot mid-May, and the first thing that appeared was a plate of hot biscuits with 3 kinds of Annie’s preserves, local honey and sweet butter. The biscuits taste like a pillow with a touch of salt and something creamy.
They do a quick vanishing act–the proverbial melt in your mouth kind of disappearing. As the plate empties, another one appears, and you try again to savor the taste and figure out the ingredients. But those biscuits evaporate in a soft glory, and you just keep repeating the process until you give up trying to get a handle on the taste and the texture.
Ordering breakfast seemed superfluous, but I couldn’t pass up saying “fried eggs, country ham, red-eyed gravy and cheese grits, please”. Truth be told, that was all quite good, but I was in a biscuit trance and could easily have ordered nothing else. The fried chicken is likely well worth a try at the Loveless, but in my mind why dilute the taste of that glorious biscuit?
Now the Biscuit Lady is another tale that belongs beside the sorrow of the flood. Carol Fay, a Nashville native with a smile as wide as the Cumberland River, recently passed away. She’d been the keeper and the mistress of the secret biscuit recipe for 29 years, and Nashvillians young and old knew of her death and mourned her loss. During her life, her fame had even reached Martha Stewart who hosted Carol for a televised biscuit rolling lesson. When I asked what was the cause of Carol Fay’s death, one Nashville resident told me that rumors had it that the biscuit flour had caused some kind of disease. Another told me that she’d probably been sick with something for a long time, but the Loveless had kept that fact quiet to avoid having crowds overwhelm the cafe with bouquets and get-well cards.
The biscuit recipe is in safe, experienced hands again. The shops in the old motel rooms are kitchy but fun and help pass the time waiting for a table. I walked out with a pair of socks decorated with the Loveless sign and the message “got biscuits?” on them and a taste memory that lingers still. The desk clerk at the hotel told me I really should try the chocolate pizza at Snappy Tomato on my next trip to Nashville, but I wouldn’t even dream of going back for anything but biscuits.
Loveless Café, 8400 Highway 100, Nashville, TN – (615) 646-9700
Rachel Parker is a middle school teacher and home cook.
by Chef Mark Shoup