When I want a cheeseburger, I want the old-fashioned kind — cooked on a grill or griddle with melted yellow cheese and dressed with a thin slather of mustard, and lettuce, tomato, onion and pickle, all served on a soft bun.
No aioli mayo, no “secret sauce,” no tomato jam, no pimento cheese for me and my burgers!
And I don’t want to pay an arm and a leg for it.
It is not a lot to ask, but thank goodness for Brown’s Diner, one of Nashville’s oldest restaurants and one of the last surviving dives in town, which makes burgers its business.
Brown’s, which opened in 1927 and holds Nashville’s oldest beer license, serves 700 to 1,000 of its griddle grilled burgers every week.
“It’s the best cheeseburger in town,” touted server Sabrina Burris, who said that before she worked at Brown’s, she never ate burgers. But now, with the Brown’s version, she likes them so much that she limits herself to one burger a week. “And I would never eat one anywhere else,” she added.
Beer is a big Brown’s draw, too, with the only draft beer offered being Budweiser ($3 a mug or $11 for a pitcher) along with a few other choices of bottled beers. (The staff said there is no room in the coolers for craft beers or other choices.)
The small rough-and-tumble bar is housed in what was once a mule-drawn trolley car, while the kitchen is in a second old trolley car that was converted years ago. The dark wood paneled well-worn dining room is a cement block structure that was added to the back in the mid-1980s. There is also a fenced-in “patio” out front with several wrought-iron tables and chairs for determined outdoor diners and smokers.
Brown’s has had its share of celebrity patrons over the years — John Prine, Vince Gill, Bill Murray, Kevin Costner, Don Everly and Jordin Tootoo, to name a few.
The establishment has had only three owners, the original owner Charlie Brown, then for almost 50 years, Jimmy Love. The investment group that bought Brown’s from Love late last year vowed to “keep the vibe” and to keep all of the longtime employees, but is planning improvements like an all-season screen porch at the front where the concrete patio is and much-needed renovations to the kitchen and restrooms.
There is no timetable for the upgrades, and there is also talk of adding breakfast to the schedule, which now includes just lunch and dinner. There is also the hope that more regular live music will return in the evenings. (These days, there might be music, but maybe not.)
Speaking of longtime employees, cook/bartender Ron Kimbro has been a Brown’s staffer for more than 35 years, and charismatic server Daphne “Momma” McFarland for 33 years. And newbies like Burris and bartender Austin Layda seem to be seamlessly settling into the Brown’s scene.
By far, the most popular item on the Brown’s menu are the burgers, which are $7.25 for a hamburger and $7.50 for the cheeseburger. The cost for a cheeseburger and fries is $10.94 with tax. But if you have a tablemate, I recommend splitting an order of fries (it is a big order) to bring your tabs down under $10 each — before the tip.
The most expensive thing on the menu is the catfish meal, which is $12 and consists of four pieces of fish, plus fries and slaw. The least expensive menu item is the $4.50 grilled cheese, and there is always the homemade chili and in the winter months a featured soup each day for $6 or $7.
A Facebook review summed it up like this: “This is the kind of place that is all too rare. An older neighborhood diner that makes simple, delicious food. People walk and drive from nearby homes and tourists come to see if the burger is as good as they’ve heard.”
I’m giving Brown’s a thumbs-up for the food, the friendly service and the authentic dive vibe.
Oh, another plus is that there is no need to dress up.
I am looking for more local affordable restaurants in Middle Tennessee to feature, so let me know your favorites. Just email me your recommendations at firstname.lastname@example.org.