The Family Way 

Father eats best at The Rawlings

Father eats best at The Rawlings

By Kay West

I can’t prove it, but I have a suspicion that my family is almost solely responsible for keeping Hallmark in business. Just about any excuse takes us to the card store—illness, accidents, graduations, promotions, new homes, engagements, weddings, deaths, pregnancies, new babies, and, most important of all, birthdays. Holidays get a lot of attention—we skip Flag Day, President’s Day and Australia Day, but otherwise, we celebrate everything with a card.

Sentimental is OK, but sappy is not. Humor is always good, but it’s got to be clean and not mean spirited. Certain key words (“love,” “best,” “happy”) must be underlined. A personal message must be added; a signature is not enough.

The first year we were married, Steve was taken aback when a stack of birthday cards streamed in from my siblings, my parents, and my aunt. When I didn’t receive a single card from his family on my birthday, my feelings were bruised. Didn’t they like me?

Through the years, we’ve both had to make adjustments. Last year, on a particularly unsuccessful Mother’s Day, my friend Judy told Steve about the 9 O’Clock Mother’s Day Rule. Simply put, the rule states that, if you haven’t done what you’re going to do by 9 a.m. on Mother’s Day, you might as well not do anything at all—you’re already in deep do-do. This Mother’s Day, at 8 a.m., I was delighted to discover a pair of blue gardening shoes in a prettily wrapped box. “Just what I wanted!” I exclaimed.

This Father’s Day, the 9 O’Clock Rule was relaxed so that Steve could sleep late. By 9:15, the children had dragged him out of bed and presented him with the mandolin he said he had always wanted.

To add to the specialness of the occasion, we invited Steve’s mother and his sister and brother-in-law to accompany us to Sunday dinner at The Rawlings, a family-owned restaurant in Joelton. Family-owned, family outing, family holiday—perfect!

Joelton, I discovered, isn’t nearly as far away I’d imagined. Just take I-24 West (as if you were going to the zoo) to Exit 35. Take a left onto Whites Creek Road and a quick right on Eaton’s Creek Road. Wind along for a couple of country miles before you turn right onto Rawlings Road; then go a couple more miles and you’re there.

The Rawlings, located on a blissfully serene, lushly wooded 200-acre estate, sits alongside the Big Marrowbone Creek. Opened in 1933 by the late A.L. Rawlings Sr., it was taken over by Captain Joseph Rawlings in 1957. His widow, Tove Rawlings, along with her children John and Eva-Jane, operates it today.

We were happily seated in the main dining room, with its exposed wooden beams, moss-green painted floor, and wall of big screened-in windows overlooking the creek. The fireplace wasn’t in operation, but the smell of countless wood-burning fires still hangs in the air. Handstiched quilts hang on every wall. Ladder-back chairs surround the wooden tables, which are covered with quilted tablecloths. There are family photos displayed everywhere, and diners are encouraged to stroll through the rooms while waiting for their tables.

It isn’t a long wait by any means.

The Rawlings menu is short and sweet. The specialty is catfish (fillets or whole fish, fried or broiled, all you can eat for $12.95 or dinner for $10.95). You’ll be doing yourself a favor if you stick with what the Rawlings do best. Otherwise, the choices are chicken fritters, country ham, fried shrimp, frog legs, and steak of the day. On this particular day, the steak of choice was a 12-oz. rib eye, and I don’t need to tell you who ordered it. A kiddie menu offers fish and fries, shrimp and fries, or chicken or fries; each is $5. The regular menu offers seasonal appetizers, but our friendly server—we suspect she is a Rawlings—steered us clear of the cheese sticks and fried mushrooms. In a matter of minutes, she delivered two bowls of cole slaw—one creamy, the other vinegary—a basket of biscuits and hush puppies, fat stalks of fresh green onion, and a crock pot of white beans. “Help yourself,” she said.

We loved it all, but the hush puppies, plump and crispy outside, moist inside, and flavored with chopped green onion, were a special hit. The biscuits weren’t exactly chopped liver either.

The fried catfish was the clear winner: Generous-size fillets were lightly coated in seasoned cornmeal and fried to a golden crisp. Be forewarned that the fries are the shoestring variety.

If you’re watching your fat grams, you can try the broiled catfish—served in a baking dish, gussied up with lots of lemon and fresh herbs, including a preponderance of dill. It satisfied my appetite, if not my fat craving. Next time, I’ll throw the diet out the window and indulge in the fried kitties.

The chicken fritters—bigger than fingers but cooked according to the same principle, were good. The fried shrimp was nothing special, but there were plenty of them, and the price ($9.95) was reasonable.

Mr. Wonderful’s steak was not a prime cut, but he swears that the seasoning—loads of pepper and garlic—and the pretty pink center provided ample compensation.

The frog legs, meaty and juicy and perfectly fried, were a big hit, especially with 4-year-old Harry, who thought it was hilarious to be eating a frog.

Desserts on Father’s Day Sunday were warm peach and blackberry cobbler, which everyone ordered à la mode, of course. Sweet and fruity, they were terrific and a great finale for this old-fashioned spread.

After lunch, we walked around the grounds, threw some pebbles into the creek, and sat on a bench while the children played chase around the trees. I can safely predict that, for us, The Rawlings is going to become a family tradition.

Steve’s father, Bob West—a thoughtful man with a twinkle in his eye who loved to fish, loved life in the country, and loved his family—died last August. It’s been a rough year for everyone, particularly around the holidays. His birthday would have been the day after Father’s Day, so this past Sunday was especially poignant for his widow and their five children. Family meals are hard, because no one feels ready to take his place at the head of the table.

Bob Cat would have felt right at home at The Rawlings—on Father’s Day or any other day. Don’t wait for special occasions to send a card, or make a call, or go out to dinner with your parents, your children, and your sisters and brothers. Make the time, just do it while you still can.

The Rawlings is located at 5935 Rawlings Rd. in Joelton, Tenn. (876-2169). Dinner is served 5-9 p.m. Mon. and Thurs.-Sat. Sunday hours are 11:30 a.m.-8 p.m. All major credit cards accepted.

The Rawlings is located at 5935 Rawlings Rd. in Joelton, Tenn. (876-2169). Dinner is served 5-9 p.m. Mon. and Thurs.-Sat. Sunday hours are 11:30 a.m.-8 p.m. All major credit cards accepted.


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  • Re: Close to Home

    • My church wants to know about the property. My number is 615-293-5484. Thanks

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