Ana and I recently had the opportunity to eat breakfast at Monells at the Manor. We were so glad we did!
Monells had been on our list for some time. We kept hearing that the brunch was spectacular. It accentuated Nashville’s charm and hospitability with its unique communal dining experience and southern fare. We enjoyed the food and dining experience so much that we decided to write a post about it.
At this time, Monells has two locations, one in the historic Germantown neighborhood and the other on Murfreesboro Pike. The Murfreesboro pike location is also known as ‘Monell’s at the Manor.’
While they both are distinctive in their own right, we will focus this post on the Murfreesboro pike location. That location has a unique history dating back to the late 1800s.
The early days
The manor, which now stands next to commercial warehouses and the local airport, was originally built in 1898. At the time, it was called the ‘Colemare Mansion’ because of its founder Colonel E.W. Cole, a former confederate officer. Cole is famous for becoming the president of the Nashville railway society and was noted to be friends with high-profile names at the time, including the Vanderbilts and Biltmores.
The mansion’s layout was created by architect Colonel W.C. Smith (who also designed Nashville’s Parthenon). Smith designed the mansion’s grounds and gardens in line with traditional English gardens at the time. Once built, it soon gained recognition for hosting many notable guests (five U.S. presidents) and hosting lavish events.
The original Colemere Mansion was burned down in 1929. However, Colonel Cole’s daughter built a new mansion with a Southern Colonial style soon after. It is reported that she took inspiration from the Arlington Mansion in Natchez, Mississippi. The mansion was completed in the early 1930s and owned by the family only for ten years. The city of Nashville went on to acquire the property in the late 1930s.
In the 1940s and 50s, the city leased the mansion to be used as a private men’s club. Politicians and wealthy socialites often brought high-profile guests from out of town there for dining, socializing, and secret meetings.
Similar to Skull’s Rainbow Room, there were rumors that the club served liquor during the prohibition era. Their official site notes they had a secret back entrance for discrete wheeling and dealing.
The era of Monells
A second transformation occurred in 1977 when the club became the New Orleans Manor, a restaurant specializing in gulf cuisine.
The restaurant pulled from its New Orleans-inspired roots and offered shrimp creole, frog legs, oysters, and more. It soon became a popular Nashville spot for anniversaries, retirement parties, and work functions. Unfortunately, it closed its doors permanently due to financial trouble in 2008.
The shutdown was short-lived as in 2011, Michael King, who founded the original Monell’s in Germantown, leased the property. This was just in time as the Nashville Airport Authority was planning to demolish the manor.
They officially opened their doors on Easter Sunday in 2011. Monell’s is one of the few restaurants open on holidays, including Thanksgiving and Christmas. On Christmas, they offer a five-course Victorian dinner. In addition, they have recently started hosting weddings and rehearsal dinners.
The atmosphere at Monells
As soon as we arrived, we felt like we were entering a pre-civil war antebellum-styled mansion. This felt much like the Tara plantation from Gone with the Wind.
Upon stepping through the large wooden doors, you can immediately appreciate all of the vintage details. Some noticeable aspects include the hardwood floors, high ceilings, and large windows, which bring in natural light. It all felt warm and inviting as soon as we walked in.
We felt slightly underdressed when we saw the victorian staircase and crystal chandelier in the atrium. However, we immediately felt comforted when a group that looked similar to us walked past in sweatpants. All the customers leaving appeared satisfied, with large smiles on everyone’s faces.
Our hostess proceeded to take us into the main dining hall. The dining room is decorated with antiques and vintage china pieces, creating an elegant yet comfortable ambiance.
I was unsure what was happening when our hostess sat us at a large farm-style communal table. I thought surely this table is too big for us…….
And then a group of strangers with a similar look of confusion yet curiosity sat down. Finally, a group with a less confused look sat down at the end of the table. Upon recognizing our perplexity, they said, “Monell’s is all about getting to know your neighbors and eating delicious southern food”
The food at Monells
A warm welcome
Our waiter came to the table within minutes of us being seated. He proceeded to put down two large pitchers of sweat tea, unsweetened coffee, and juice.
The mother and daughter, who appeared to frequent Monell’s, could tell I needed clarification about the menu. They leaned over to me and said:
“O honey, don’t worry about a menu, food comes out fast and family style. Just be ready to pass to the left.”
You could smell the homemade biscuits and cinnamon rolls that were being made in the back kitchen. They soon arrived with peach preserves, gravy, and warm butter.
The biscuits were so fluffy and warm that I needed to restrain me from eating the entire basket. The whole group enjoyed it, especially Ana, who said the cinnamon rolls were mouthwatering and addicting.
The main course
What happened next was far from what anyone in the group was expecting. An entire breakfast feast came out at once with an aroma hitting our noses of skilled-fried chicken and country-fried ham.
Large plates filled the table with any breakfast food you could imagine. The morning serving included scrambled eggs, pancakes, fried apples, cheesy grits, sausage, bacon, country-fried ham, skillet-fried chicken, hash browns, and corn pudding with all the fixings. We enjoyed almost everything except the scrambled eggs, which might have been slightly overcooked.
The skilled-fried chicken was the meal’s highlight and probably the best fried chicken I have had in Nashville. Our entire table agreed as the basket was empty by the end of a complete pass around the table.
We ate for over an hour and stuffed ourselves until we were full. The check-out process was reasonably straightforward, with our waiter giving us a check that we took to the front hostess.
Each meal was slightly over $40, which was fair with everything we ate.
In conclusion, Monell’s is a must-visit gem that offers all of Nashville’s southern hospitality.
While the communal dining experience can be intimidating, especially for those introverts, it was fun and charming in all aspects.
The show stopper was the skillet-fried chicken which was juicy and crispy with every bite. I almost went to the back kitchen to ask for the recipe.
While we highly recommend the Murferrosbo pike location, we have only heard good things about the Germantown location. That location may be more suitable for those staying close to broadway.
Perfect for: Everyone
Have you experienced the southern hospitality at Monells? Let us know in the comments!