At the Loveless Cafe in Nashville, you’ll find platters of thick country ham and pork chops with white gravy. Bowls of creamed corn and fried green tomatoes. Plates of melt-in-your-mouth biscuits and, to finish it off, heaping helpings of peach cobbler and red velvet cake.
The Loveless Cafe has become an institution in Nashville for its made-from-scratch country cooking. The restaurant traces its roots to 1951, when Lon and Annie Loveless began serving homemade fried chicken and biscuits to customers at picnic tables in their front yard. The time was right for a successful start-up, with the post-World War II economic boom leaving Americans feeling prosperous and ready to travel. The Lovelesses’ location couldn’t have been better, either, their home situated on the Natchez Trace, a four-hundred-mile National Scenic Byway that drew thousands of travelers each year.
Lon and Annie’s mom-and-pop business exploded with popularity. They called it the Loveless Cafe, marked by a flashy neon sign (it’s still there) and fourteen motel rooms (they aren’t). These days more than half a million customers visit annually, all hungry for traditional, scratch-made Southern food. Over time, the restaurant added a smokehouse, two event spaces and small food and gift shops, selling the café’s homemade preserves as well as biscuit mix, spice rubs, country hams, and grits. But the late couple’s original home remains the restaurant’s main dining room, appearing much as it did seventy-one years ago.
“We know that visiting our property is like a trip down memory lane,” says Scott Peck, the executive chef, “and people love that.” Lon and Annie’s front door and fireplace are still intact. The restaurant’s walls still bear their original wallpaper. And many of the restaurant’s employees have been on staff for more than a decade. “In spite of our size, the Loveless Cafe is still run very much like a small family restaurant.”
The Loveless Cafe’s menu hasn’t changed much since Lon and Annie’s days, either. (Although visitors will now find healthy modern additions including a green salad topped with grilled chicken and pecans, scrambled egg whites, and smoked turkey). Chef Peck, who grew up on the outskirts of Nashville, is dedicated to continuing what the Lovelesses began.
“We have a commitment to stay true to our Southern roots,” he says, adding that he still uses recipes passed down from Lon and Annie. “In the end, we know that no matter the Loveless Cafe’s history, if the food’s not good, people won’t come back.”
One of the Loveless Cafe’s favorite spring desserts is Steeplechase Pie, a decadent pecan pie that includes the additions of Tennessee whiskey and chocolate chips. It’s typically served in May to coincide with Nashville’s popular Iroquois Steeplechase horse race, and the pie pairs well with coffee, says the chef. “Steeplechase Pie is so sweet,” he says, “you won’t even need whipped cream.”