Since the 1990’s Paula Deen has been one of the most notable faces of down-home Southern food, stretching back to the days when she first opened her first restaurant, The Lady & Sons, in downtown Savannah, GA. Since then, she has been a fixture on television cooking shows as well as a cookbook author and the host of her own new online cooking series with her sons Jamie and Bobby, titled Quarantine Cooking, or as she jokingly refers to it, “QuaranDeen.”
She has also stayed busy opening a small empire of family-style Southern cooking concepts under the name Paula Deen’s Family Kitchen, with the original location in Pigeon Forge, TN joined by outposts in Myrtle Beach, SC, Branson, MO, Foley, AL and soon by her newest and largest restaurant in Nashville on the banks of the Cumberland River near Opry Mills mall and the Gaylord Opryland Resort.
Coming to Nashville makes a lot of sense, considering that Deen has done quite well in her previous tourist destination restaurants and the fact that she has been a frequent visitor to town for various culinary events. She’s also a huge fan of country music.
“I adore country music!” she shared in a recent discussion with Sounds Like Nashville. “Other kinds of music, I can’t understand the words, but with country I can hear the story.” Throughout her career, she’s worked with various country music artists, often before they hit it big.
“I’ve had the privilege of working with Little Big Town, and the blonde one, Kim (Schlapman) is a big cook. And I think she’s got her own cooking show.” (She did.) “I had Zac Brown on my show ‘Paula’s Best Dishes,’ and it was his first national television appearance. He had just written ‘Chicken Fried,’ and he sat down in my kitchen and played the whole song. I knew right then that boy was gonna be a star!”
She recalls another early brush with future stardom: “When I was making ‘Paula’s Party,’ they brought a guy on the show and said, ‘You don’t know who this guy is yet, but he’s going to hit it big real soon.’ It turned out to be Blake Shelton. He was just starting out, but he was such a sweet fella.”
Deen also has a love of old country as well. “I had the honor of working with the fabulous Dolly Parton on her telethon after the fires in Gatlinburg, and I love, love, love Charley Pride. My grandmother would listen to him all the time, so I developed a fondness through her. I was also invited to appear on the Grand Ole Opry at a show when it was downtown, but not to sing, I can tell you that! They invited me to go backstage and come onstage and talk a little bit. I don’t remember exactly when that was, but it was a long time ago. Little Jimmy Dickens was still alive.”
Nashville is a natural next destination for Deen to bring her latest and greatest edition of Paula Deen’s Family Kitchen to offer endless portions of her Southern-style cuisine served family style at each individual table. In this time of socially distant dining, Deen believes that guests will appreciate the chance to feel like they’re at home, even in a 17,000 square-foot space that can seat 406 at full capacity. “I’ve got a wonderful design team,” she explained. “They can cozy up the biggest of spaces, and they really understand our brand, what our customers expect when they come in. There’s plenty of open space, and each table is private, whether you’re by yourself or a party of 12.”
Think of it like an all-you-can-eat buffet, but just for your own individual party. “I don’t know that buffets are ever coming back,” Deen shared. “We switched to family style at Lady & Sons because we couldn’t come back from being closed with a buffet. We’re so interested in our guests’ safety. It’s #1 for us! The serving utensils are just for your table, and nobody else will ever touch them. It’s working out very well.”
So what can you expect to serve yourself with those pristine tongs? The menu is filled with all sorts of Southern classic dishes which diners can order à la carte or as part of the family-style smorgasbord lunch or dinner which is priced per person. “The Albany” includes your choice of unlimited servings of two main courses plus four of Deen’s famous Southern sides, while “The Savannah” includes an extra protein choice for a small upcharge.
We asked Deen what diners should absolutely not miss when placing their orders. She replied, “People adore our fried chicken! You’ll see it on just about every table, but I can can’t hardly ever leave without having a serving of our fried pork chops.” Those boneless chops are chicken-fried (Thanks for the idea, Zac!) and served under creamy gravy made from the pan drippings. Other choices from the “Down Home Dishes” to consider include slow-cooked beef pot roast, meatloaf topped with crispy tobacco onions, chicken & dumplings, spare ribs and catfish. It’s a good thing you don’t have to just pick one from that list, and remember everyone at the table who goes for the family-style meal will be eating the same dishes.
It’s hard to demonstrate enough self-restraint at an all-you-can-eat meal to save room for dessert, but if you miss out on a slice of Deen’s signature ooey gooey butter cake, you’ll be doing yourself a disservice. Speaking of service, they’ll start serving at the new Paula Deen’s Family Kitchen at 575 Opry Mills Drive on Monday, October 26, and Deen plans to be there to cut the ribbon at the grand opening. Go ahead and renew that gym membership and head on down to check it out!