I found the note in my mail slot at the Scene. It read: “KaySee me about Chicken for Jesus. Manuel.” Taped to it was a slip of yellow paper exactly the size of the message that comes in a fortune cookie. On one side it said, “My help cometh from the Lord, which made heaven and earth. Psalm 121:2” The other side said, “Great peace have they which love thy law. Psalm 119:165a.”
Who wouldn’t be intrigued? I checked in with architect Manuel Zeitlin, always a reliable source for restaurant tips. He asked me if I had been to Beacon Light restaturant lately, and I admitted that I had never been to Beacon Light at all. Manuel told me that Beacon Light is in Lyles, Tenn., out Highway 100, about 30 miles southwest of Nashville. He explained that the place has been in business just about forever and that, for many Nashvillians, Beacon Light is a tradition for biscuits, country ham, and fried chicken, rivaling the editorially well-connected Loveless Cafe.
Manuel also explained that, on their last visit, he and his wife had been startled to find that Beacon Light had apparently been born againnot with regard to its menu, which remained essentially the same one he remembered, but in its packaging. At Beacon Light, Manuel insisted, Jesus was everywhere. I wondered if Manuel wasn’t overreacting a bit, but I slipped the note into my files.
If you need a destination that justifies a ride in the country, and if you’re hungry for some good country cooking, Beacon Light might be just for you. The route out Highway 100 is a bucolic one, blissfully unmarred by the sprawls of Big Homes that have sprouted up in some parts of Williamson County. (Lyles, for the record, is in Hickman County, about 10 minutes from Fairview.) Along the way, we enjoyed plenty of rural landscape, complete with grazing cows and horses, a few markets, several antique/junk/country craft stores, and a dead deer by the side of the road. (We preferred to believe he was just resting.)
Viewed from its gravel parking lot, The Beacon Light Tea Room looks perfectly ordinary, a small one-story building painted light gray with brick-red accents. Inside, well, let me put it this way. Manuel was right. Jesus is inescapable.
The Beacon Light staff is warm, friendly, and cheerful; they seem to belong to one big extended family. They don’t openly proselytize their customers; given the atmosphere, that would hardly be necessary. There’s Christian music on the sound system, and virtually every available inch of wall space is decorated with a biblical image: Jesus at the Last Supper, Jesus as the Lamb of God, Jesus as the Fisher of Men. There are black-and-white Jesuses, and there are living-color Jesuses (no velvet Jesus, I regret to report). There are lions lying down with lambs, there are shepherd’s staffs, and there are white doves (not real ones). A “Jesus is Lord” nightlight is plugged into an outlet by the front door. And on every table, in between the huge bottle of Grand Value ketchup and the silk flower arrangement, is an Our Daily Bread Promise Box. Each Promise Box is a small molded-plastic loaf of bread stuffed with fortune-cookie-style scripture notes. I pulled one out: “He that cometh to me shall never hunger. John 6:35b.” I opened the menu anyway.
There I found a short history of Beacon Light Tea Room, which was founded in 1936 by H.O. Ramsey and was named for a government-built beacon light that once stood across the road and directed the old prop planes flying the mail between Memphis and Nashville. The history ends with a blessing.
Beacon Light offers a slate of food that includes country ham, a rib eye steak, a T-bone, shrimp, cheese, and hamburgers. There are breakfast items, and there’s a BLT. But we were at Beacon Light for the fried chicken, so that’s what we ordered. For $6, you get half a chicken with a salad, your choice of potato (baked or french fries), gravy, biscuits, and preserves.
The salad was mostly iceberg lettuce and some shredded carrots, but it was considerably redeemed by fat slices of ripe, homegrown tomatoes. The biscuits were small and flat, light and tasty, whether we covered them with the pan gravy or with the homemade peach or strawberry preserves. I was craving mashed potatoes in a serious way, but the baked one I ordered was some compensationit was actually baked, not nuked. (I only spied the fries from a distance; they appeared to be of the steak-fry variety.) And though it could have used more pepper, the chicken, cut into breast, wing, and leg/thigh pieces, was skillet-fried to a greasy, golden crisp. The meat inside was moist. I ate every bit.
“He that believeth on me shall never thirst. John 6:35c.” Nevertheless, Beacon Light’s beverage repertoire includes a good, strong iced tea, colas and root beer, milk, and orange and tomato juices. For dessert, there’s lemon ice-box pie on a graham cracker crust. It was too sweet and gummy for my taste.
Like the homemade preserves, the scripture bread boxes are for sale at the counter (just $5.95 each). Each loaf is packed with 240 promises from the Word of God. “I will go before thee, and make the crooked places straight. Isaiah 45:2a”
It’s easy to see why this place has been in business for more than 60 years. When it makes a promise, it delivers. Beacon Light calls itself “A Different Kind of Restaurant.” Truer words were never spoken.
Beacon Light Tea Room is located on Highway 100 in Lyles, Tenn. (615-670-3880). Closed Mon.; open 4 p.m.-10 p.m. Tues.-Fri.; 9 a.m.-10 p.m. Sat.-Sun. Credit cards accepted. Smoking permitted.
On a more secular note, Clayton-Blackmon reports that, since mid-June, H.G. Hill Stores in Belle Meade, Green Hills, and Brentwood have been stocking eight of C-B’s top-selling goumet salads. FYI, that list includes premium chicken salad, lower fat chicken salad, premium tuna salad, lower fat tuna salad, dill potato salad, regular potato salad, pimiento cheese, and tomato-onion-cucumber salad.
♦ First, it’s inter-league baseball games, now they’re messin’ with our beer. Purists may be alarmed by Boscos’ introduction of a new “beer cocktail” menu for the summer months, but they’ll want to keep in mind that Europe has a long tradition of mixing beers with other ingredients. Consider, for example, the English shandy, a mix of stout and ginger ale or lemonade. Boscos is blending its premium hand-crafted beers with various liquors and liqueurs to create concoctions like Thistle Burr (Boscos Wheat Beer & blackberry liqueur), Nutty Alt (Germantown Alt & Frangelico), and Chocolate Pils (Prohibition Pilsner & creme de cacao).