Music Is on the Menu at Area Country Diners A weekend night offers more than a meal when music and food intersect By Margaret Littman

For generations the country diner has been more than a place to grab a piece of peach cobbler. The country diner has served as a source of sustenance, a concert hall, a post office and more for communities separated by rural roads. Itâ€TMs no accident that politicians head to diners to demonstrate that they really know whatâ€TMs happening in town.

Even as technology has brought folks closer—at least virtually, we now can get mail (of some sort) on our phones—the diner is enjoying continued relevance as a social hub where music and food meet. And in Middle Tennessee, where both the music and food scenes were already are hot, the diner has become an epicenter of weekend activity, a place where music and food intersect.

Want to partake? Consider these three options:

Where: Millerâ€TMs Grocery (7011 Main St., Christiana, 615-893-1878, www.millersgrocery.com) When the music plays: Friday and Saturdays, 5 p.m. – 9 p.m. The sound: The restaurant is housed in what was a general store for 75 years (hence the name) and it is from the storefront windows that a sound system is set up on weekends. Jeff Blaney and other musicians play a cross-section of everything from Johnny Cash to Tom Petty to Old Crow Medicine Show while folks dine. The music is meant to be something diners listen to while they eat, not a place to hang out all night, says Lara Phillips, co-owner of Miller's Grocery. On the menu: This “meat-and-two” serves classic southern fare such as pork chops, Salisbury steak, turnip greens and broccoli casserole. The lore: More than two decades ago the restaurant started welcoming a group of local musicians for weekly jam sessions at a few tables. Many of those players have moved on (and in some cases passed on), but their legacy remains, Phillips says. The crowd: Phillips sees a lot of repeat names on the reservation list every week, many of whom she considers local. But the music/food combination was featured on the PBS program “Tennessee Crossroads” and when the rerun of that episode airs, Millerâ€TMs welcomes more out-of-town visitors, Phillips says.

Where: Whistle Stop Restaurant (303 Broad St., 931-858-3287, whistlestopbaxter.com) When the music plays: Fridays, 6 p.m. – 8 p.m. The sound: Country, bluegrass and gospel, but no rock, played by local bands. The gigs are family friendly, says Amber Sanders, Whistle Stop manager (and daughter of the restaurantâ€TMs owner). No alcohol is served. Thereâ€TMs no cover charge, but people are encouraged to tip the band. On the menu: Pizza. Specifically, Ohio-style, thin and crispy crusts that Sanders and her mom missed when they moved south. While the menu is largely Italian (pizza, lasagna and chicken Alfredo), they added some local specialties such as fried green tomatoes and a daily fresh cobbler. Sandersâ€TM favorite is cherry. The lore: The music has been playing since the second year Whistle Shop was in business–about five years ago. While locals love it and clamor to it, Sanders says it is played at a level so that folks can still have conversation, an important part of that community dining experience. The crowd: Thereâ€TMs often a waiting list of 30 minutes or more of regulars and newcomers alike, often with their kids, waiting for a pie.

Where: Marcy Joâ€TMs Mealhouse (Highways 99 and 431, Columbia, joeyandrory.com/marcy-jos) and a nearby family farm When the music plays: Monthly when Joey + Rory Feek arenâ€TMt on the road with other projects The sound: Singer/songwriter/TV stars Joey + Rory were the 2010 Academy of Country Musicâ€TMs “Top New Vocal Duo” award winners. But local foodies know them because of Marcy Joâ€TMs, the restaurant and bakery run by Roryâ€TMs sister Marcy and Joey. For years they offered weekly writersâ€TM nights at the restaurant, but the popularity of their TV show and a new baby and other demands led them to make a shift. Now they offer barn concerts on their property, about 1.3 miles from Marcy Joâ€TMs, for a price of $50 per ticket. On the menu: Marcy Joâ€TMs desserts such as Coca-Cola cake and cobbler—and coffee from a roaster in Columbia, Tennessee—are served at the barn concerts. But for the full meal, diners need to eat first at Marcy Joâ€TMs (which seats 50) and then head down the road for the show (which seats 280). For what itâ€TMs worth, Joey Feek recommends the fried chicken and the biscuits and gravy. The lore: “The Joey+Rory Show” airs on RFD-TV, and because that TV show has a cooking segment as well as the music, people who live nowhere near Tennessee Highways 99 and 431 learned about the familyâ€TMs passion for food and music. “It is interesting to see how the marriage between food and music is really strong,” says Joey Feek. The crowd: “We started the restaurant [in 2007] as a place to gather and meet and eat. We went from only knowing four or five of our neighbors to knowing thousands,” Joey Feek says. ##

Country Diner Source List:

Lara Phillips

co-owner

Miller's Grocery
615-893-1878
Amber Sanders

Whistle Stop

931-858-EATS

Joey Feek

Marcy Joâ€TMs
615-594-1948

joeyandrory@mac.com

Margaret Littman is a Nashville writer and editor who often covers food and music, although not always at the same time. Her work has appeared in Wine Enthusiast, Rolling Stone Country and other national publications. Read more at littmanwrites.com