With a full tank of gas and an empty stomach, I got in my car with one mission.
It’s 2 p.m. on a Saturday, and I want breakfast.
Most restaurants are recuperating from the lunch rush, cleaning dishes of mashed potatoes, chicken sandwiches and burgers, but I want nothing more than to sit down with a plate full of scrambled eggs, bacon and toast accompanied with a cup of coffee.
Nashville has hundreds of restaurants, but only a fraction of them serve breakfast, and a smaller fraction serve the most important meal of the day all day.
With the help of Google, I soon found a breakfast adventure. What I didn’t realize, at 417 Union, the adventure isn’t just food.
Walking in the doors and up a few steps, you see tables, chairs and a bar with a backdrop of exposed brick and half empty bottles. Nothing too out of the ordinary for Nashville.
However, the stories started coming out soon enough. Noticing Rosie the Riveter, I squinted at some of the other black and white photographs hung on the wall. Classic cars and magazine-cover vixens gave a glimpse of a different era, but the photos of soldiers, war patches, and Army hats gave a glimpse of a different world. Slowly, my ears welcomed in the soft 1940s music playing somewhere long ago.
I came for eggs and bacon and was getting a helping of World War II on the side.
“Of course it’s all about the food, but we’re trying to tell a story too,” said 417 Union owner Anthony Leath.
It’s a WWII themed restaurant celebrating the veterans and sacrifices it took to win the war. The details are everywhere, and Leath is in the process of telling a similar story upstairs where overflow seating is available.
As I walked up the stairs, I went even further back in time. Standing in the Lincoln room honoring our 16th president and facing the Franklin room honoring the Battle of Franklin, I was in the middle of the Civil War.
By May, the upstairs will be finished and the rich history will be in air along with the rich smells of supper…or in my case breakfast.
Breakfast is one of those things people emotionally connect with. It’s a meal that holds greater importance than nutrients and taste.
“Breakfast reminds them of something someone may have done for them…I think people are drawn to that,” said Leath.
“I mean, do you like eggs, the flavor of eggs?” he jokingly questioned.
Mornings are usually rushed, so sitting down to enjoy the meal is a luxury, a luxury that may not happen until well in the afternoon. Thanks to 417 Union’s hours, you can do just that till 8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday-Wednesday.
It’s not the place for a cheap eat, but it is the place for a mighty feast.
With savory and sweet on the menu it may be a challenge just to decide what to get.
Here’s the secret: “I‘m the expert. So if you get French toast , it’s sausage. If you get pancakes, it’s bacon,” Leath said.
So with that insider advice I ordered the No. 2 with eggs, bacon, grits, and a biscuit priced at $7.29 along with a short stack of caramelized banana pancakes for $5.49. Needless to say, I did not leave hungry.
The Southern history from the Civil War upstairs definitely left its Southern flavor downstairs and on my plate. It had a hint of Cracker Barrel, a hint of a momma’s kitchen and I guess the rest is 417 Union’s flavor of goodness.
I wasn’t sold on the grits at first, but with some butter and the thickest, smokiest bacon, they were just about cleared from my plate.
In addition to breakfast, they serve lunch and dinner with prices around $9 to $13 you can get anything from salads and burgers to pasta and steak.
Sky Blue Café
Perched on a quiet corner in Edgefield, The Sky Blue Café at 700 Fatherland St. waits for cars to surround it and hungry people to fill it.
“Have a seat wherever you‘d like” is what you’ll hear from the café’s barista Micah Freeman when you walk in the front door.
There’s not much seating but the place has a very comfortable, welcoming atmosphere. It was pretty empty during the late afternoon hours and this kept the homely feel, making it easy to forget it’s a restaurant performing a business.
The servers waiting on tables brought the home feel to life. I went on this breakfast-for-supper outing with a friend and our waitress greeted us warmly, calling us “darlin’” and “sweetie”.
Dim lighting brings out the Christmas lights that line the back wall of the bar adjacent to the one wall painted purple. The other walls are sprinkled with photography and art for sale.
“I’ve seen like maybe two things they’ve sold all together,” said Freeman of his two years working there.
It makes for good décor though, he said. And the objects that are part of the restaurant, people offer to buy.
All the tables are blanketed with mixed-matched tablecloths and eclectic salt and pepper shakers. My table had a pair of Scottie dogs. They are a hot item among customers.
“The owner says he always puts like crazy prices on them,” Freeman said.
He doesn’t put crazy prices on the menu however. Most breakfast plates fall under $10. After people started asking for one of their omelets for dinner, the breakfast menu is now available all day.
While sitting with the Scottie dogs holding their seasonings, I watched Freeman behind the bar ask a guy if he wanted his usual wheat bagel to-go with cream cheese and coffee.
“I try to know everyone’s order that is a regular…I think for a lot of people it’s less about you knowing their order, and more about knowing who they are,” said Freeman.
And there is something for everyone on the menu.
The food has that safety to it, he said, because there is such a range of people who come in the Sky Blue Café.
“It ranges anywhere from families that are coming in before or after school to people that are really hung-over and it’s noon and they just woke up,” Freeman said.
“Neighborhood restaurant” was a term he used more than once. It’s a place where you can see your neighbor or friend, he said.
“Just seeing a full restaurant of happy faces” is a perfect morning for Freeman.
“This place being full, full of people that we see on a pretty regular basis that we know. We know what they want, what they need.”
After reading over the menu, I knew what I wanted and needed, and after my friend and I ordered we were pleasantly surprised to find a 1980s travel edition of Trivial Pursuit on our table.
“The cards give people that have been married 30 years something to do when they have nothing to talk about,” Freeman said.
When our food came, the card game was soon forgotten. “The Classic” came out with eggs, bacon, breakfast potatoes and a biscuit, all for $6.25, but if you have a sweet tooth, the Stuffed French Toast Pancakes with Nutella and bananas for $7 are the way to go.
I’m pretty snobby when it comes to bacon and this bacon wasn’t the thickest, but the chocolate milk was so thick and creamy, it made up for it.
What may be the best thing about Sky Blue Café is Tuesday-Saturday, you can come for breakfast 7 a.m.-10 p.m. and Monday-Sunday 7 a.m.-3 a.m. If breakfast isn’t your thing, they also serve lunch and dinner along with wine, high gravity beer, and even Bloody Marys.
The Nashville Biscuit House
Now this is one of those places that shuts its doors early. If you come after 2 in the afternoon you’re out of luck, but if you can rise and shine before then, it’s worth it.
Nestled in East Nashville at 805 Gallatin Ave., The Nashville Biscuit House personifies the Southern hipster beautifully. Decorated like the house next door with the old lady and all the cats, I stared at pictures of flowers, houses, lakes, and farms.
Signs hang on the wall making promises to my appetite. “Good Food Served Here” and“ Only the Best Coffee Brewed” made my stomach impatient.
I listened to clanging of dishes and laughter and heard a woman’s alarmed voice ask her waitress if it was past 11 a.m. because she really wanted to order off the breakfast menu.
The waitress laughed and assured the breakfast lover that “We start cooking lunch at 11 a.m., but you can always order from the breakfast page.”
Clearly, I am not alone.
The menu was great for my college-student wallet and teenage-boy hunger. I decided on the Denver omelet, breakfast potatoes and a biscuit for $6.25 with a cup of coffee.
While sipping on my coffee, I scanned the room. Runners and joggers came in sweaty. Families sat at long tables while their rowdy kids squirted ketchup on eggs and the floor. Misfit 20-year-olds crowded around a booth talking about the night before.
The clientele might as well have been part of the eclectic décor.
The place was packed, but I did not have to wait long for my three-egg omelet.
With the breakfast staple in the name, I gave The Nashville Biscuit House’s biscuits a high bar to reach.
They are the doughy kind, not flaky, just a warning.
They passed my bar, however a breakfast plate will only come with one, so if you come for biscuits, order more.
Breakfast isn’t all they have to offer however. Fried chicken, catfish and burgers are also sure to fill you up.
With a full stomach, I poked at the last few potatoes, not wanting to waste them.
A waitress who was not mine filled my coffee.
“Sorry darlin’, it’s a habit,” she said as she poured the dark roast in my creamy concoction. I was all but displeased.
After running around the city for a few days in search of breakfast I learned two things: I never get tired of bacon and I never need a to-go box even for the most hefty breakfast.