For all the environmental and emotional hand-wringing about "urban sprawl" and "suburban creep" as the cityscape encroaches on the countryside, no one ever seems to bemoan the converse. As far as we know, there's not even an expression for when rural life invades the metropolitan core. Of course, cul de sacs are paving their way into farmland with alarming frequency, while chicken coops aren't exactly popping up alongside self-parking kiosks with any sort of pace that would demand a catchphrase. But if it ever becomes necessary to coin a term for "the infiltration of agrarian elements into the polis," might we suggest the eponym "pucketting."
For example: "In an impressive display of successful 21st century pucketting, Andy Marshall and his family recently debuted their popular Williamson County nameplate in downtown Nashville, bringing an easygoing hint of the country to the hustle and bustle of the state capital."
Marshall doesn't own the original Puckett's Grocery & Restaurant anymore; he sold the Leipers Fork business in 2004. But he still has a store in downtown Franklin, which he opened in 2008. In November, Marshall expanded the brand to Nashville, rehabbing and expanding the former space of Amy's lunchroom at the intersection of Fifth Avenue and Church Street. Marshall & Co. almost doubled the footprint of the store, which occupies the ground floor of St. Cloud Corner. They pushed into the old kitchen to create a new bar, and they sprawled into an adjacent part of the building. They also rusticated and opened up the dining room by eliminating a large central planter and removing a drop ceiling, to improve the ambiance and acoustics for live music acts that perform Tuesday through Saturday evenings.
Marshall's daughter, Claire Crowell, manages the new Puckett's, which fits into the downtown dining scene with the ease of a longtime landmark. The menu promises "nothing too fancy," and just in case you were hoping that was an understatement, the open shelves stocked with canned cream of chicken, sweet peas and green beans give an honest preview of what will arrive on your plate. (Groceries are also for sale, including canned goods, paper towels and dishwashing soap.)
Like you might expect from a country restaurant founded in the 1950s, Puckett's majors in the meat-and-three-style classics — think country-fried steak, country-fried chicken and Southern fried chicken. There's an element of pub grub — think redneck burritos; nachos with black beans, shredded cheese and jalapenos; and a Tennessee Philly. And a hint of Marshall's Southern heritage in Memphis and New Orleans — think shrimp and grits, shrimp po'boy and pulled pork barbecue.
Like the Franklin store, downtown Puckett's smokes its own meats in house, and the new location is kicking off a contest on Facebook for fans to name the smoker. (To give you an idea of what they might be looking for, the Franklin store's dual smoker is named Hoss and Little Joe, as homage to the Bonanza characters.) In our experience, barbecued ribs were indeed the standout dish. Cooked Memphis-style with a dry rub and finished with a candied glaze with a hint of cherry smoke, the tender meat clung to the bone with just the right resistance. We persevered to strip the last pink shreds of sweet and salty meat from the rib, and we were most appreciative of the wet napkin that arrived on the plate.
Fried farmed Mississippi catfish was another highlight, with thick planks of sweet flaky fish cloaked in crisp cornmeal batter. Worth noting: Friday is all-you-can-eat catfish day, when two sides and a bottomless platter of catfish are $14, and Thursday is bottomless pulled pork barbecue for $14.
For a mere $7, the generous burger should become a new downtown dining staple for lunch and dinner, though we'd like to see the French fries overhauled from the flaccid strips of soggy potato that emerged alongside several of our entrées. And while Puckett's is the ideal family-friendly environment for dining with kids, we would like to see an upgrade from the all-too-familiar machine-cut and deep-fried bookmarks that made up the chicken finger platter.
In a welcome contemporary twist, Puckett's offers a handful of salads, including baby spinach with bacon, egg, mushrooms, pecans and feta, and the bountiful Strawberry Field of mixed greens tossed with strawberries, feta and walnuts.
Catering to the growing community of downtown dwellers, Puckett's serves a long list of breakfast foods all week from 7 to 11 a.m., including French toast, pork tenderloin and eggs, oatmeal, pancakes and omelets. For the month of March, breakfast platters and omelets are half-price from 7 to 8 a.m., which means you can get two eggs cooked to order, bacon or sausage, grits and a biscuit for less than $3. A weekend breakfast buffet is available from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. with all-you-can-eat eggs, bacon, grits, sausage, biscuits and more for $10 per adult and $6 for kids.
Desserts are made in house and include pie, cake and cheesecake. Our table devoured the generous bowl of fluffy golden-topped peach cobbler served with Purity ice cream, but we were most delighted by the milkshake made with Hatcher Dairy milk. A malt-shop treat from a bygone era of downtown life, served in a canning jar, the milkshake — like Puckett's — marries the best elements of town and country.
Puckett's serves breakfast, lunch and dinner daily. A full bar is available. For the live music schedule, visit puckettsgrocery.com.