Silver Sands Café, 937 Locklayer St., in Nashville.
Silver Sands Café is unabashedly old school. The historic meat and three has been serving up soul food that has stood the test of time for more than 75 years.
In addition to the much-beloved fried chicken, beef tips in gravy and turkey with dressing, Silver Sands offers lesser-known items like chitterlings, pig feet, hog maws and neck bones. Its menu is deeply rooted in the comfort foods of Black ancestry that were made tender and delicious despite circumstance. The fact that they exist on Silver Sands’ menu is a testament to a history that shaped what we know as Southern food.
Silver Sands is in a rapidly gentrifying neighborhood just a few blocks from the Nashville Farmers Market. The orange-and-white checkerboard exterior invites you into the cozy, wood-dominated interior with a healthy line of patrons heading to the steam tables on the buffet line. The menu changes daily, but there’s always the superlative fried chicken, baked chicken, beef tips, pork chops and catfish fried to order.
It’s worth checking the restaurant’s website for the daily specials. You’ll want to rush over on Sunday, Thursday or Friday for the oxtails. They’re meltingly tender and swathed in a deeply flavorful gravy. Likewise, Sundays and Fridays are a good idea to sample their turkey served with a comforting, moist dressing.
And now a word about sides. Specifically, the macaroni and cheese. It’s the best mac and cheese in Nashville, maybe the state. The baked casserole is intensely cheesy with perfectly al dente noodles. It’s seasoned generously and topped with a layer of shredded cheese before it goes into the oven. When scooped into a portion, bites of the cheese-bathed noodles and crispy cheese topping intermingle for the perfect marriage. It’s perfection. Other options available daily are fried apples, silky braised cabbage, buttery mashed potatoes, okra, squash and sweet potatoes.
Silver Sands is one of just a handful of restaurants in Nashville that offers hot water cornbread. A staple at church socials for decades, hot water cornbread is made using boiling water in the batter. The individual cornbread cakes are fried rather than baked, yielding a super crispy exterior and fluffy interior.
The café serves breakfast Tuesday through Friday and it’s worth an early morning stop. The usual offerings include biscuit sandwiches and breakfast platters, but you can also get the fried apples, salmon croquettes, fried bologna and rice. It’s basic cooking done well.
It is almost a miracle that Silver Sands is still serving food at all. In March of 2020 the catastrophic tornado that ripped through Nashville peeled back the roof of the restaurant. Just a few weeks later, the pandemic shut down everything. The double whammy caused Silver Sands to close for a bit. But the community – including some very influential Nashville chefs – rallied to raise money for repairs and Silver Sands opened once again to serve the community it has embraced for more than seven decades.
A sign on the front of the restaurant says, “Good Food For Your Soul.” Yes, it is, truly.
Catherine Mayhew is a former restaurant critic for The Charlotte Observer, cookbook author and master BBQ judge. Follow her @thesouthinmymouth on Instagram to see what she’s eating and email her at firstname.lastname@example.org with suggestions on your favorite restaurants and food trucks.