Sunday, January 23, 2011
Puckett’s Grocery and Restaurant-Downtown
500 Church Street
Puckett’s seems to be holding onto the grocery shtick for marketing and nostalgia. There is certainly plenty of history with the original grocery store and restaurant in Leiper’s Fork. That location has been around since the 1950’s and expanded rapidly under the business eye of Andy Marshall, who took over in 1998 and moved to expand the empire in Franklin. He sold the Leiper's Fork location and concentrated on the Franklin restaurant. The new downtown location provides a cooler of milk, some coffee and peanut butter to maintain the grocery moniker. Tourist gimmicks aside, this eatery provides an important function for downtown visitors and residents- a full-service bar and restaurant serving up a decent breakfast, lunch and dinner.
It’s tough to find weekend breakfast downtown, let alone a place that offers menu items and a buffet. The menu is simple: the standard egg, steak and pancake line-up. There are only a couple of original twists. The Elvis inspired King’s French Toast: egg dipped white bread filled with bananas and peanut butter and then pan fried. The Bubba’s Eggs Benedict replaces the Hollandaise with white pepper gravy and puts the eggs and sausage on top of split biscuits. They ask you how you want your eggs cooked, which quickly means that this isn’t a Benedict at all anymore, just a heaping plate of country breakfast. And that’s fine with the Meat Eater. The biscuits are reasonably fluffy and the gravy okay. They serve a decent herbed sausage patty. The home fries on the side are precisely cooked for a nice skin and yet radically under-seasoned. The buffet on this day offered 13 items, all the usual suspects, with a couple of creative touches. The cheesy hash browns are sticky and flavorful; almost mac and cheese with potato instead of macaroni. The French toast is done casserole-style, with the syrup baked-in. Pecans provide a nice texture contrast and the cinnamon a zingy finish. The sausage links are maple flavored and the bacon is thick and crispy. It’s a reasonable, if unremarkable, buffet at $10 for adults.
We found breakfast crowds a bit sparse when we visited and yet at dinner the large, loud dining room was packed. They have bands starting after 8:30 p.m. on many nights and that means an extra cover charge that can be as high as $10. Folks familiar with the Leiper’s Fork or Franklin locations will find their old favorites on the downtown branch menu. Fried green beans are well-seasoned and appear to be tempura-like in frying style. They hit the table about five minutes after ordering, despite the big crowd. The bad news with burgers is that they won’t go less than medium on the temperature. Still, the Double Puckett comes out fairly juicy and covered in pepper jack. It’s a good, but not great, burger. Super-crisp sweet potato fries are a highlight. They come with finely grated cheese on top.
Veggie Eater: On the first go round, I opted for the pimento grilled cheese. I was a little put off by the lukewarm pimento cheese filling; seems to me if a sandwich is billed as a grilled cheese, then it should be warm through and through. The pimento cheese itself was creamy and savory, with a bit of spice. The fries on the other hand were perfect: skinny, crispy and flavorful. On our second venture, we came for breakfast. I opted for the breakfast buffet, as it offered more veggie options than the menu. The high note had to be the cheesy hash browns. They are very cheesy and it appears they were made with cream of mushroom soup (as opposed to cream of chicken). The grits seem to be real stone milled grits with texture. They weren’t seasoned much, but nothing that a bottle of hot sauce could not correct. Other buffet options included a light and fluffy spinach egg bake casserole. The French toast casserole was good, but would have been better if served with real maple syrup.
Meat Eater: Sure, there are plenty of touristy and kitschy elements to the décor and the grocery store thing is a little silly at this point. But it’s easy to look beyond all of that and find a stylish and warm dining room- remarkable really, given the size of the place. They have a full bar and a wine selection. Get a Bloody Mary with that breakfast or a small batch bourbon with that burger- it makes Puckett’s downtown a nice option for tourist, transplant and native alike.
We paid $34 with tax and tip for dinner and $30 with tax and tip for breakfast.