It wasn’t the Aussie couple’s first visit to Puckett’s or to the tiny hamlet in rural Williamson County. According to a recent news report, Leipers Fork was the first place outside Nashville that Urban took Kidman when they began courting. “I just knew she would love it for the exact same reasons I love it,” he said. So much so that they have sold Urban’s Hillsboro Road bachelor pad and purchased a 40-acre farm in the Leipers Fork area, close enough to Puckett’s that Keith can have the chicken salad sandwiches he favors for lunch every day, if not the oatmeal and egg-white omelets that were the couple’s standing breakfast order at the Green Hills Bread & Company.
Andy Marshall, a member of the Franklin High Class of 1979 who purchased Puckett’s Grocery in 1998, is glad to have the Urbans in the neighborhood, but he has no plans to roll out the red carpet. Everybody who comes to Puckett’s—by pickup truck, horse trailer, BMW or Harley—gets the same laid-back, friendly hello when they walk in the door. Since the 1950s, when the Puckett brothers first opened the little market, Puckett’s has served as an unofficial town hall, as much a place to catch up on the news and trade information as to grab a bottle of milk and a carton of eggs. When Mary Stewart purchased the business from the Pucketts in the late ’80s, she started selling biscuits with sausage or bacon, then added a burger for lunch; it was Marshall who created the restaurant.
A grocer from way back—starting with his first job at 14—Marshall bought his first store in Hopkinsville, Ky. “It was just what I was looking for, a real wreck,” he laughs. He fixed it up and turned it into a Piggly Wiggly, one of three he would eventually own. Ten years ago, he heard there was a market for sale in Williamson County. “I knew of Leipers Fork, since I grew up in the area. So I went to check it out and knew it was right. I just fell in love with its authenticity. It hadn’t changed in almost 50 years. I didn’t want to mess with the look or feel of it, but I was going to make it the coolest little grocery store around,” he recalls. “I added all these interesting foods to the inventory. But people just weren’t doing their weekly shopping here, so I needed to do something to survive. The first thing I did was buy a smoker, and we started doing barbecue.” He took out a couple of shelving units and added some tables. As the menu expanded to add a full breakfast—minus oatmeal and omelets—so did the dining area. “The food part took off, so I kept adding tables.” These days, the front half of the market, with its original polished concrete floor, is filled with wood- or tin-topped kitchen-style tables and mismatched wooden chairs; the back stocks everything from corn flakes to hardware on sturdy wooden shelves.
Puckett’s officially opens at 6 a.m., but regulars start drifting in as early as 5:30. Marshall says most of the breakfast trade is local, folks on their way to jobs in Franklin, Brentwood or Nashville, or to the rolling horse farms and white fencing that line Old Hillsboro Road. A large chalkboard that hangs over the counter lists breakfast options under the cheery title “Good Morning Plates.” And a good day it will be when it starts with one of Puckett’s jumbo biscuits, split in half and filled with thick bacon, spicy sausage, beef tenderloin, country ham or fried chicken. Add an egg for 80 cents, cheese for 50 cents, a cup of stout coffee (don’t even think of asking for a latte) and you’re fueled up and ready to roll. Breakfast is available until 10:30 a.m., but sleep in at your own peril. At two minutes past 10 one recent morning, there was just one sausage-and-egg biscuit and a couple of large cinnamon rolls left, pushed over to the side of the warmer to make room for the trays of meat and vegetables coming out for the midday meal, which starts early in that neck of the woods.
Puckett’s offers the standard plate-lunch fare, all of it made fresh in the kitchen, with the exception of the pies, which are baked locally by a proud repeat winner of Tennessee State Fair blue ribbons for his chocolate chess and maple pecan. Meat-and-two, the standard order, is $7.49. Plates come with a biscuit or Cajun corn cakes, the perfect partner for the pulled pork, which has a rosy hue and slightly sweet smokiness, thanks to the cherrywood Marshall favors over mesquite or hickory. Wednesday is fried chicken day, and Friday is fried catfish. Friday through Sunday, slabs of ribs are available to go.
Another chalkboard is devoted to sandwich options such as BLTs, ham-and-cheese or fried bologna. The star of that lineup is the Famous Puckett Burger, hand-patted and cooked on a flat grill, served with standard or sweet potato fries.
Four years ago, when Green’s Grocery down the road stopped hosting its popular songwriters’ nights, Marshall stepped in to fill the silence. He asked some of the local music folks who frequented Puckett’s if they would be interested in playing there, and the next thing he knew, he was also a talent booker.
On Friday nights, a raised platform in the front window of the store is stripped of its tables and turned into the After Hours stage. (The last show of the year bows out with Dave Olney on Friday, Dec. 14; shows will resume in February.)
Two years ago, country came to town when Marshall took over a storefront on Fourth Avenue South in downtown Franklin. While the space had seen a succession of market/cafés come and go, Marshall felt he could make it work. Despite his loyal Leipers Fork following, not everyone loved the idea. “People weren’t real enthusiastic at first. They didn’t think we could re-create what we have in Leipers Fork. That’s true, the Leipers Fork store is totally unique, but we did feel we could bring comfort, food and music to Franklin.”
Marshall furnished the store with the same homey tables and a small selection of groceries, which, he admits, are mainly for show. He also made some concessions to Franklin’s more urban population. “We don’t start breakfast in Franklin till 7, city hours,” he says with a smile. “And we put some city food on the menu—omelets for breakfast and salads at lunch.”
The Franklin store also serves city dinner Tuesday through Saturday, with a small list of entrées ranging from a barbecue platter (brought in from Leipers Fork) and fried catfish to filet mignon and grilled salmon. On Tuesday night, diners are treated to free bluegrass. On Friday and Saturday, folks can stop in for dinner and an After Hours show, or pay a cover charge for the show only. There’s a full bar in the city store, whereas Leipers Fork has beer only—pick your own from the cooler.
No matter where you live, you can bring some of Puckett’s goodness home for the holidays. The store is now taking orders for a complete Best of the Holidays Family Dinner for 12 to 15—ham or turkey with cornbread dressing, sides, rolls and cobbler for $119. For smaller gatherings, the Regular Family Dinner serves six to eight for $69. An à la carte menu breaks it down to turkey (smoked, roasted or fried), spiral-cut hams, beef tenderloin, pork loin, vegetables and sides by the pint or quart, homemade yeast rolls and whole award-winning pies. The takeout holiday menu is online at puckettsgrocery.com.
Orders can be placed by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org, but must be picked up at the Leipers Fork store. If you run into Keith and Nicole, be sure to wish them a happy holiday.
Hours vary at Puckett’s Grocery & Restaurant. It’s best to call ahead.
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