Nashville is known for a lot of things. Well, it’s really best known as the capital of Country music — the honky tonks on Broadway, the Grand Ole Opry, Ryman Theater, the Country Music Hall of Fame. The list goes on. Nashville is also very much in the South. Not the Deep South but close. That means the food scene is inspired by those old-school traditions. One of my favorites of which is biscuits and gravy.
Over the last three or four trips to Nashville in the last six-odd months, I decided I’d make it my mission to find the best plate in the city. I have a deep love and appreciation for this dish. Every summer when I’d go to stay with my grandma, she’d make me a plate of biscuits and gravy on the first morning of my stay. She was from that Depression generation, carrying a lot of Southern recipes with her even though she wasn’t from the South (she was born and raised in rural and very poor Washington state). It was more about efficiency and turning what little you had into something more. It wasn’t fancy, but it was hearty and comforting.
She’d make some quick bread biscuits with the old can of Calumet baking powder, some Land-O-Lakes butter, and fresh milk she still had delivered from a local dairy. I remember the sweetness of the cream on top of that milk to this day. Then she’d fry up some breakfast sausage links until there was a nice layer of fond on the bottom of the skillet. She’d add in some butter and flour to make a roux. She never used words like “fond” or “roux” when doing any of this — it was more muscle memory and instinct. Then she’d add more of that farm-fresh milk, some white pepper, and a little salt. That was it. It wasn’t revolutionary but it was the way she did it, and I’d kill for one more plate.
I know my grandma’s way was pretty basic. So I’m never really looking to replicate it. Plus, I have my own recipe(s). Beyond that, I always look for a good plate of biscuits and gravy whenever I go out for breakfast, and Nashville has proven to be one of the best spots to do just that.
I’ve enjoyed (for the most part) eight different iterations of the dish in Nashville. I’ve had the crazy high-end, the mid-range greasy spoons versions, the trendy spots, and even the fast-food staples. So without further ado, here’s how eight classic plates of biscuits and gravy ranked in Music City.
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8. Cracker Barrel — Grandpa’s Country Fried Breakfast
Cracker Barrel is one of those places that you just get if you live in the South and/or Midwest. It’s decent comfort food for affordable prices (especially for families). The atmosphere is very agricultural and the dining room can get loud. I went when the store opened for brunch and it was actually pretty quiet and relaxing. Yes, there’s a store attached that sells a ton of kitschy crap and candy. But no one is forcing you to buy any of it.
Moreover, the staff and vibe at these places tend to be pretty chill when they’re not smashed on a Friday night. That’s why I generally only go around opening time for breakfast, especially when on the road in a place like Nashville.
The Biscuits and Gravy:
This was part of a bigger order with Country Fried steak, eggs, grits, and stuffed hashbrowns. Yes, you get two biscuits and a bowl of gravy on the side of all of that. The biscuits and gravy are always served separately with a bowl of gravy on a plate with two biscuits so you have to pour the gravy over yourself.
The biscuits are very standard quickbread biscuits with a sense of buttermilk and flour more than anything else. There’s a decent butteriness and a slightly crispy bottom. Overall, these feel pretty standard but suitable.
The gravy is more a Country gravy than a sausage one. There’s plenty of black pepper and creaminess but that’s about it. The sauce has a nice thickness and feels a lot like the one my grandma would make — it’s a utility gravy. There’s a good balance of seasoning overall and a hint of sausage does come through.
Generally, if you have two biscuits, you’ll need to order extra gravy. There’s never enough in those small bowls and the staff knows that (they always ask if you want extra when you order).
This was very standard biscuits and gravy that more scratches and itch than does anything interesting. There are no real faults — besides the small bowls of gravy — but there’s nothing really to write home about either.
7. Nashville Biscuit House — Full Sausage Gravy & 2 Biscuits
This is the place that comes up when you search “Best Biscuits and Gravy in Nashville.” That meant it was a must. The actual joint is a non-descript little building next to a Krogers in East Nashville (between Greenwood and Eastwood). It’s an old-school greasy spoon with a kitchen hidden away in the back, salt-of-the-earth waitresses, and as many truckers and neighborhood locals.
The Biscuits and Gravy:
The biscuits were pretty smothered here, so bear with me. The outside of the biscuit had great buttery crispiness. There was a real crunch to counterpoint the soft interior. As far as I could tell, the crumb was soft and had a twinge of buttermilk. It was a really solid biscuit overall.
The gravy was lush and there was plenty of it. In fact, I’d say this is the only plate that had a perfect gravy-to-biscuit ratio. The actual sauce was light though. The sausage has a hint of herbal and spice presence. But the gravy really needed both pepper and salt and a fair amount at that.
Together this worked well. The biscuit was the real star of the show, by far. I did end up putting quite a few shakes of pepper and salt on this though to liven it up.
I wanted this to be amazing and it just was okay. The country ham I got on the side was excellent. Anyway, this was good greasy spoon fare but that’s about it. The place really is more about the authentic diner atmosphere, I guess. The only thing that saved this from last is that the biscuit was really good.
6. Biscuit Love Gulch — East Nasty
This is the trendy fast-casual local chain that I was told, more than once, that I had to try. I was already dubious due to that hype. Anyway, I ordered the East Nasty, which has a fried chicken thigh that was supposed to be on the biscuit but was served with the biscuit on the side, which was advantageous as it allowed me to easily judge each component on its own.
The overall vibe of the place was loud and bright. You line up to place your order, grab a number, and find a seat (hopefully). It was super busy on a Sunday morning when I was there. That meant about a 15-minute wait in line and another 15 to get food. Just be warned that this place can get smashed.
The Biscuits and Gravy:
The biscuit was a rolled-out and very well-layered flaky square. I could actually watch the women in the back rolling out massive squares of cold dough and also noticed they were using Italian 00 pizza flour. The overall taste had a very baked-butter savoriness with a hint of flour and milk. The edges were crispy to the point that it was basically puff pastry, which… puff pasty isn’t biscuit. It was really nice and buttery though, so I can kind of forgive that.
The gravy was well spiced and full of quality sausage. There was a great matrix of herbs and spices between the gravy and sausage — sage, allspice, nutmeg, sweet onion, garlic, black pepper, cayenne, and more. For as good as it tasted, it was a little thick. It didn’t really move or pour over and more sat on the biscuit or chicken.
Overall, when tasted together, it was one of the richest and fattiest bites of biscuits and gravy I’ve ever had. That said, it really paired well with a spicy Bloody Mary. Still, this was a lot. But it is hangover food, so I can see why it’s so thick and heavy… and buttery.
There was a lot to like, but the balance felt off and the gravy was just too thick. I also wasn’t a huge fan of the biscuit. It compressed a bit when cut and was more butter than anything else, flavor-wise.
5. Henley at Kimpton Aertson Hotel — Black Pepper Biscuit with Kld Farm Sausage Gravy
The Kimpton Aertson Hotel is a swanky hotel right next to Vanderbilt University. That means that it’s close to great food and partying options in Nashville’s Music Row and Midtown neighborhoods.
Henley is the requisite lobby bar/restaurant with a good enough standing that locals come in all the time to drink and eat. The vibe is very hotel-lobby with modern art, plenty of sculpture, and plenty of space to mingle or find a quiet corner with someone. The staff is fantastic and the menus cover some great Southern classics with a decidedly modern twist here and there.
The Biscuits and Gravy:
The biscuits in this dish were pretty solid. The flaky rounds were perfectly seasoned with black pepper and salt with a hint of I want to say is nutmeg. The flake was even and didn’t compress too much when you cut through the biscuit. There was a nice butteriness but it was minor. The overall texture was soft and layered with a good spicy bite to it.
The gravy was also really well-seasoned with nice little bits of sausage. Black pepper, a hint of paprika, and some allspice (maybe) blended really well with the light herbal feel of the sausage. There was a nice viscosity to the gravy that felt airy but had heft.
The black pepper was the throughline of the gravy and biscuits, which created a nice pairing. It — amazingly — wasn’t overly peppery. Don’t get me wrong, it was pepperier than the average plate, but they made it work.
All of that said, this also needed a few more tablespoons of gravy. The last few bites of biscuit soaked up egg yolk since the gravy was already gone.
This was really good but the balance of gravy to biscuit was just off. I’d gladly eat these any time and just order more gravy on the side. It’s an easy fix.
4. Husk — White Lily Black Pepper Biscuits, Jake’s Sock Sausage Gravy
Husk reached a fever-pitch status in elite dining thanks to the stewardship of celebrity chef Sean Brock. Today, Brock is long gone but Husk remains one of the most interesting food (and drink) programs in Nashville with an outstanding staff.
The joint is in an old house overlooking downtown. The brunch dining room is on the lower floor with two-story high windows looking out onto a garden. The tables are close but the vibe is chill. There’s a great brunch cocktail menu that changes along with the seasonal menu (and that means that biscuits and gravy might not always be on the brunch menu).
The Biscuits and Gravy:
The biscuits were super light and airy with a buttery crumb (no layers here). There was a nice sense of good flour with an almost malted grain essence to them. The butteriness was almost browned with a whisper of sourness still in there. The tops and bottoms had a nice browning with a slight touch of crispiness, which was a nice counterpoint to the ultra-soft interior.
The gravy was spot on. The sausage was nicely seasoned with a balance of herbs and spices. The actual gravy had a lush texture with a hint of pepper, salt, and maybe some nutmeg and cayenne. A small addition of chive added color and a good but minor bite of heat. There was a nice savoriness to the overall gravy that felt both classic and slightly elevated, but maybe not as elevated as you’d expect from a place like Husk (which is Michelin star-rated).
Together, the gravy and biscuit blend nicely. The crumb biscuit is the perfect delivery system for the thick and sausage-y gravy. The spices in the sausage also pair nicely with the mildly spiced gravy, creating a bigger spice matrix on the palate.
The only gripe I had was that there just wasn’t quite enough gravy. I could have used about two tablespoons more. I was left with a bite or two of biscuit without gravy, which was confounding since the biscuits were pretty small.
This was very good but not necessarily the most complex or overall satisfying.
3. Waffle House — Two Grilled Biscuits & Sausage Gravy
It’s Waffle House. You will hear the staff talking about meth or prison. It’s super reliable though.
The Biscuits and Gravy:
This is one of the best deals on this list. The plate is massive. Two biscuits are cut in half and grilled off on the flattop, adding a nice layer of crispiness to the otherwise basic biscuit. The biscuit has a nice crumb and carries a floury and milk flavor profile, which is to say that it is plain. But that flattop grilling in “butter” makes up for all of that plainness.
The gravy is a straightforward sausage gravy with a good dose of black pepper. The sausage at Waffle House has a nice spice to it already and that spice comes through in the gravy with a hint of cayenne, sage, and more black pepper. Weirdly, the gravy did need a shake or two of salt though.
Together, this was a damn near perfect, peppery, and soft bite. The ratio of gravy to biscuit was also exactly right with no gravy left behind. There was also a nice textural component thanks to those grilled biscuits adding a little crunch to the overall bite.
This is way better than it has any right to be for $3. There are no bells or whistles and sometimes that’s just better.
2. Hardee’s — Biscuits ‘N’ Gravy
So Hardee’s in the South (and Midwest) has all the usual burgers and chicken sandwiches and all that jazz that you’d expect. But they also secretly have an amazing breakfast biscuit program. And I really mean “program.” The chain actually has biscuit bakers come in at 4 am every day, specifically to make their biscuits at each branch. It’s the South, biscuits are taken very seriously — even at fast-food chains, evidently. When I heard this, I knew I had to try it.
The Biscuits and Gravy:
This biscuit is legit. There’s a great and soft crumb with a hint of sour buttermilk, a dash of salt, and a powdery sense of that baking powder (I don’t know how else to describe, IYKYK). The outside of the biscuit is crispy all around with a buttery vibe and just the right pinch of salt. Overall, this is a great biscuit.
The gravy, which came on the side, was a standard sausage gravy with just the right amount of black pepper. The sausage was in nice small morsels with a mild spiciness and a solid herbal edge. The sauce was just thick enough but still poured easily and draped over the edge of the biscuit (just). The seasoning was spot on and didn’t need anything. It was so good that I ended up dipping my hash brown bites in the gravy instead of the ketchup [Editor’s Note: In case you hadn’t noticed before now, this man really loves gravy].
The ratio of gravy to biscuit was good for one biscuit pulled in half (with some gravy left over). When eaten together, there was a real harmony. The crispy yet soft biscuit added a nice buttery and textural base to the well-seasoned and sausage-y gravy.
Overall, this had the best flavor and textural balance. The gravy wasn’t the most interesting but it was the most solid of the bunch. The biscuit was one of the best too. The only reason this isn’t number one is that I think the next one just did it a tiny bit better and more interestingly.
1. Gray & Dudley 21c Museum Hotel Nashville — Biscuits and Gravy
Gray & Dudley is another locally enjoyed lobby restaurant and bar thanks to it having both a great bar and food program and the huge gallery it’s attached to via the 21c Hotel.
The ceilings are tall, the kitchen is open to the dining room, and the staff is super well-trained and helpful. There are some nice and cushy booths alongside standard tables, giving you a chance to be hidden away or the center of attention. Naturally, there’s a rad amount of art everywhere and a whole museum’s worth of it is just steps away.
The Biscuits and Gravy:
This was probably the hardest biscuit to judge on its own since it was completely smothered in gravy [and yet he ranks it number one, curious -Ed.]. The biscuits were freshly baked (of course) in big squares — with a crumb instead of a flake — and then broken up. The crumb was legit and had a nice softness with a hint of sour buttermilk and almost brown butter. There was great crispiness to the outside of the biscuit that was likely providing the brown butter essence. There was just the right pinch of salt in the mix as well.
The gravy was the most interesting one by far. The sausage was basically completely broken down (with a couple of large bits) and added an interesting textural grittiness to the gravy. It also allowed the spice and herbs from the sausage to fully season the gravy. The actual sauce had a nice texture and was on the thinner side, so it spread across the plate a bit more. The flavor was a mix of sage, thyme, paprika, nutmeg, and maybe some cinnamon with this faint hint of clam juice, which gave it a kind of (very faint) clam chowder edge. I actually really dug it.
Though, come on with those slipshod knife skills on that green onion.
This was the most interesting dish I had for sure. The gravy was the most complex and the biscuit was huge and had great textural balance. There was also more than enough gravy. In fact, there was a little gravy left over to spoon up and eat on its own (maybe two or three spoons worth) [guys, I’m telling you… -Ed.]. And the gravy was good enough to do just that.