For the uninitiated—and you shouldn’t stay that way for long—Silver Sands sounds like a long-gone, neon-topped casino in Vegas. Far from it.
The unassuming, soul food/meat ’n’ three joint has been a fixture of North Nashville residents and the local foodie intelligentsia for 20 years or so, both for its country soul-food breakfasts and its lunchtime meat ’n’ three offerings. Owner Nellie McAdoo, 60, has been in the restaurant business since age 6, when her family owned and operated the Blue Moon eatery on Lewis Street, a byway immortalized in Steve Earle’s junky lament “South Nashville Blues.” She has owned Silver Sands for the past 15 years.
The restaurant sits off the beaten path—just a shotgun cinderblock structure, two blocks due west of the Farmers Market. There are about a dozen tables or so for dining, and it’s quite popular for takeout orders.
McAdoo bills it as “the best soul food in town—at the right price.” As noted Arkansas philosopher and Hall of Fame St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Dizzy Dean once drawled, “It ain’t braggin’ if you can back it up.” So Nellie shouldn’t be disputed on this, despite other worthy soul food artistry from the iconic Swett’s on Clifton, Harper’s on Jefferson, Dandgure’s Classic Southern Cooking (a.k.a. Dan’s) on Lafayette, Carolyn’s Homestyle Kitchen on Third and Charlotte, and East Nashville’s sublime soul food-grill-barbecue joint, Bailey & Cato Family Restaurant on McGavock.
But as country soul-food breakfasts go, Silver Sands reigns supreme in these parts.
Fellow chowhounds relish Silver Sands’ lunch meat ’n’ three like Donald Trump enjoys firing folks, like Oprah lives for yapping, like Howie Mandel loves a deal. With much gusto, they collectively drool on each other recalling meals of fried pork chops, beef liver and onion gravy, baked spareribs, smothered chicken, turnip greens, white beans, sweet potatoes, lima beans, mac-and-cheese and the fried pies. All rank among the city’s best, particularly the liver and onions.
“We only offer the liver on Tuesdays and Thursdays, although we get requests for it every day,” McAdoo says. “A lot of men say their wives won’t cook it at home.”
But when the topic turns to the restaurant’s country soul-food breakfast, that’s when true hyperventilation begins. McAdoo’s daughter, Sophia Vaughn, at age 38 the heir apparent of the family business, begins the cooking at 3 a.m. each weekday. The steam tables are loaded by 5 a.m., when the doors open. Six cooks toil in the kitchen and dish out the food. The last in the line takes your money. Another in front of the counter takes your drink order.
They’re all women, save the dishwasher, who sometimes fills in as a cook. You gotta figure Silver Sands works so successfully in part because it’s owned and run by women. Seriously, the kitchen has such tight quarters that a half-dozen fellas would just be knocking into each other. On the contrary, these ladies might as well be dancing. That’s how efficiently choreographed it is as bacon fries, flapjacks bubble and biscuits rise. Here’s one fellow fanatic’s breakfast order from the other morning. (Call him The Tapeworm.):
• Two eggs, scrambled, with cheese • Two sizable smoked sausages • Hash browns, so creamy-chunky they may as well be called fried potatoes • Biscuits and gravy. (“It’s brown gravy! I don’t know about that,” he says. But later, “This is great!
”) • Large milk
With regrets and longing looks, I pass by the fried chicken wings, beef tips and gravy, salmon croquettes and other delicacies that are available daily for both breakfast and lunch. Instead, I order the $5 breakfast special: made-upon-ordering pancakes, two eggs (“Ah what the heck, throw some cheese in there too”), choice of meat (gotta go with the country ham), and a bottle of orange juice, which is snagged from the fridge along the back wall.
The bill for two, including tax: $15.10.
For journalistic purposes only, The Tapeworm begrudgingly shares some of his hash browns, a small chunk of sausage and a portion of the biscuits and gravy—winners all. I fill up on the flapjacks and eggs and end up giving a third of the flapjacks and half the country ham to The Tapeworm. If we had stayed another five minutes, Silver Sands’ most excellent grits would have been quickly ordered and gobbled to top of the meal.
“You know,” Tapeworm says, finally sated, while standing on the sidewalk outside the restaurant. “When you eat a breakfast like that, you don’t even need to think about lunch.”
Ol’ Diz couldn’t have said it any better.
Veteran Nashville journalist Pat Embry is editorial director of Brentwood-based Magellan Press and an author-editor of the recently released dining guidebook
Where the Locals Eat-Nashville ($11.95 retail from Magellan Press, available at your favorite bookstore or from www.wherethelocalseat.com. Hey, baby needs new shoes!)