Great food, retro cool paint-by-numbers artwork is at Tennesse’s Lovin’ Spoonful Café.
On a recent trip to Nashville, Tennessee, we took a break from country music and barbecue joints and headed about an hour outside of town to Clarksville. “Is this the Clarksville?” we asked our vintage-aproned waitress as we settled into a cozy booth at the Lovin’ Spoonful Café [lovinspoonfulcafe.com]. “Yes, it is,” she said with a smile, leaving us with visions of Davy Jones, Micky Dolenz and the boys in the band belting out The Last Train to Clarksville so many years ago. Who knows why someone back then was singing about the last train to this pretty Montgomery County town along the banks of the Cumberland River, but more about the Clarksville later.
The Lovin’ Spoonful Café has a loopy flower logo design that looks like sixties pop art. And inside, it’s decorated with floor-to-ceiling paint-by-number canvases grouped by subject. All vintage (do they even make those sets anymore?), they have a burnished patina that wraps you in good vibes of days gone by before you even sit down. And whatever you fancy, you’ll find an area of the restaurant that’s dedicated to it: cats, birds, dogs, ballerinas, tropical sunsets, religious scenes — everything!
“Where did you get all of these?” I asked café owner Jane Burney as the sheer number of artworks overwhelmed me.
“Well, when we opened,” she explained, ”we didn’t have a lot of money to decorate the place, so we bought a bunch of them for very little money — at tag sales, on EBay, wherever. After awhile, we became known for our collection and customers started bringing them to us. I’ve bartered more than a few meals for some of our choice paintings. And I have more at home, so this is only part of the collection!”
It’s a whole lot of fun to look around at the artwork while waiting for your food, but this place is pretty fast and, before we knew it, we were scarfing up the delicious, homey specialties that draw everyone from students at the nearby Austin Peay University to Clarksville office workers and, on Sundays, big tables of church ladies dressed in all their finery.
We were seriously hungry and heard about this place from a few locals so were anxious to start ordering. Some went for the Frito Pie, a layer of salty, crunchy Fritos beneath savory homemade chili, melted cheddar cheese and rich sour cream. Others had the Lentils and Couscous Salad, which also included tomatoes, feta cheese, and homemade retro Green Goddess salad dressing.
Casseroles are big in these parts and The Lovin’ Spoonful knows their way around a deep dish. In fact, they do a brisk business in supplying casseroles for parties, school events and local meetings when smart neighbors realize they couldn’t do any better themselves. We all dug into the Black Bean Tortilla casserole baked between layers of whole wheat tortillas for a nice, healthy touch. With fresh salsa, tangy cheese, guacamole, peppers and onions, it was gooey and delicious. The Vegas Chicken was as warm and wonderful as the best macaroni and cheese.
The Lovin’ Spoonful has specials every day and homemade pies that rival mine — and I don’t often say that. Thick, flakey crust makes a fine home base for whatever’s on the menu the day you arrive. If you’re lucky, you’ll find the rich Chocolate Pecan Pie or Jane’s beloved Fudge Pie, but whatever you find, you can’t go wrong. And if you’re looking for something lighter, try Nan’s Fruit Salad of mandarin oranges (remember those?), apples, pineapple and bananas in a secret sauce from the sixties. Bridge Club, here we come!
The Café is so retro, they don’t even supply an email address on their website, but you can give them a call. The site hasn’t been updated for awhile, so trust me when I tell you there are tons more paintings there now than when the website photos were taken.
If you find yourself in Clarksville, there’s more to do than eat.
About 45 miles northwest of Nashville, Clarksville is the fourth largest city in Tennessee. The majestic Montgomery County Courthouse was totally restored after a tornado caused a whole lot of damage to the town’s pride and joy. Rebuilt in its original style, it’s gorgeous inside and out.
Fort Defiance [ftdefianceclarksville.com] is the local civil war site and the spiffy new museum is filled with photographs and information about all that went on there. Plus, there’s an unforgettable film told in the voice of a woman whose diary was discovered nearby. On a 200-foot high bluff overlooking the Cumberland River, the Fort once fell to Union troops — definitely worth a visit.
The Roxy Regional Theater [roxyregionaltheater.org] is a local institution that puts on regular performances for kids and adults. The actors come from national auditions so the quality is high and the bill is ever-changing. I saw a somewhat avant-garde version of Peter Pan and it was really creative and fun. The Roxy is housed in a retro movie theater so the atmosphere is great. What’s more, they’ve also given an old building new life. The theater is on Franklin Street, which has nice antique and home goods shops, so take a look around before or after the show. — by Leslie Long, RFT Contributor
For more information about visiting Clarksville, visit clarksvillecvb.com.
Lovin’ Spoonful Café
128 University Avenue
Montgomery County Courthouse
2 Millenium Plaza
Clarksville, TN 37040
500 Pine Street
Clarksville, TN 37042
Roxy Regional Theater
100 Franklin Street
Clarksville, TN 37040