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Monday, March 13, 2017
Swett's Restaurant (Nashville, TN)
Swett's Restaurant, which not-so-humbly describes itself as "a gathering place for Nashville's movers and shakers," has one of the least appetizing names imaginable. That said, this restaurant does feature several smokehouse selections, and that was enough to pique my interest.
A cafeteria-style eatery, Swett's has been dishing out southern cooking for over sixty years. Things here are simple and practical, albeit a bit dated. With the exception of a few aesthetic upgrades, I imagine that the restaurant looks relatively the same as it did back in the 1950s, but that didn't seem to bother the line of people waiting to order or the tour bus that pulled up shortly after my arrival. In fact, many of the folks I saw there probably prefer it that way. As for any of Nashville's movers and shakers, the only person that came close to that description was a "gentleman" who easily weighed in at an earth-shaking 400 pounds.
One of the first sights you see upon entering Swett's is their smokehouse room. It was empty and pitch black, with a sign directing patrons to grab their barbecue at the main cafeteria line. Part of me had been holding out hope that things would be cut-to-order here, but to no avail. I grabbed a tray and took my place in line, unsure of how long beforehand the smokehouse had finished cooking for the day.
The rotating barbecue options at Swett's include brisket, chicken wings, beef ribs, smoked pork chops, barbecue chicken, and rib tips. Today's options were limited to pork shoulder and pork ribs, so I took a helping of each. Sides were certainly plentiful, many of which were better suited to the soul food entrees than the smoked ones, so I picked creamed corn and pinto beans as my accompaniments.
Swett's pinto beans didn't look like much, but I guess I should have heeded the age-old adage about books and covers. There was a surprising depth of flavor - a combination of saltiness and vinegary acidity, coupled with something else that I couldn't quite discern. The large glob of creamed corn was creamy and sweet, as one might expect. Not much popped taste-wise aside from the natural corn, but that was pleasant enough in its own right.
Before hitting my plate, the ribs had been swimming in a pan full of sauce for who knows how long. As a result of their sauce bath, the meat was falling off the bone at each gentle prod. Well, at least what meat there was to be had, since two of my three were more bone than meat. The pink meat appeared to have been smoked well, but all of the tomato-heavy, semi-spicy sauce prevented me from tasting any of it. Don't get me wrong, I liked the sauce just fine, but I'd rather have my ribs be something other than a vehicle for barbecue sauce. If that's all I wanted, I could have just subbed in bread for the ribs and saved myself some money.
Unlike its bone-in cousin, the pulled pork escaped the sauce, but only by specific request. I made the right call there, because the pork was tender and chock-full of potent smoke. Pieces of bark throughout added even more flavor, including a savory seasoning blend. If it had one flaw, it was just a touch too dry. But overall, a spectacular effort.
This is precisely why I always go for a multi-meat plate of food whenever possible. You never know which selections are going to be magnificent and which are going to be subpar. Had I ordered only pulled pork, or had I actually been able to taste the pork ribs themselves, this likely would have been a four-star meal. Ribs aside, the rest of my lunch was quite good, and I found myself reasonably impressed by Swett's Restaurant.
2725 Clifton Ave
Nashville, TN 37209