There’s plenty that is new in Nashville and often this blog gets caught up in trying to find the latest restaurant opening. Sometimes though, it’s fun to get back to the old. Wendell Smith’s is a Westside institution. They opened in 1952 and not much has changed since. Big Wendell, as he was known, ran the place for years. Now it’s a family labor of love for his grandson Benji. The room is like a time warp. Apparently much of the décor is original. There was a slight redecorating in the late 70’s. You can picture yourself back in 1960 having a bite to eat. Some of the customers look like they have been here that entire time. Benji grew up in the place and knows most of them.
You know how it seems at some places that everyone knows everyone? Well, here everyone knows everyone and everyone’s entire family. Waitresses quiz the regulars on how mom, the siblings and even second cousins are doing. The small army of waitresses assembles at the lunch counter and preps for the lunch rush. The gossip flies and good nature prevails. Even with the longstanding traditions a newcomer feels perfectly at home at Wendell Smith’s and all the chatter makes the restaurant cozy and warm.
There’s a big menu that ranges from lunch right through dinner. Breakfast staples include country ham, sugar cured ham and usual arsenal of egg and pancake possibilities. The sandwiches include burgers, bologna, grilled cheese and pit barbecue. There’s nothing inventive or unusual here, just the old favorites served up the way you would expect them. And quite frankly that’s what you really want from a joint like this.
The meat and three is a popular choice for lunch. The standards include lasagna, roast beef, baked ham, pork steak, pit barbecue and fried chicken. The food came out less than a minute after the waitress left with the order. That’s usually a warning sign, but given the early lunch hour they were probably just well prepared for the lunch crowd. One might worry a bit further into the service. Perhaps the lunch rush also means fresh cooking.
The turnip greens have a solid, smoky bite to them for a nice side. The fried corn was pretty average. The Mac and Cheese was also traditionally southern, but with creamy cheese and al dente noodles, which made it better than most. The fried chicken was an entire quarter chicken cooked perfectly; moist inside and a nice flavorful crisp on the outside. All in all it’s a classic meat and three experience. The food is not going to surprise you. It’s just good down home cooking.
Nashville natives probably already have Wendell Smith’s stories to tell. For the rest of us there is still the opportunity to take a trip back in time and experience Nashville that way it was. I paid $12 with tax and tip and a drink.