The Food Biz: Right on 'cue

Venerable meat-and-three Swett’s expands menu, adds barbecue pit

Swett’s, the longtime North Nashville staple for down-home Southern cooking, has taken an interesting step after 57 years in business. It’s added a barbecue joint inside the restaurant, a separate corner serving up pork, beef and chicken, all cooked in a sleek new wood-fired smoker out back.

“To quote James Brown, Papa’s got a brand-new bag,” said David Swett, who owns and operates the restaurant at 28th Avenue North and Clifton, which his parents opened in September 1954. The new barbecue journey began, he said, when he was cleaning up the attic and came across his mother’s old recipes for barbecue sauce and rib rub.

The restaurant had dabbled in barbecue over the years, but Swett (pictured here) was inspired to look into it in a serious way. He came across a Texas company that builds large-capacity rotisserie smokers fueled by hickory wood alone — no gas.

“Gas and wood, it’s not the same flavor,” Swett said, contending that gas can give meat sulfurous taste. Since there was a three-month wait to get the new barbecue equipment, he spent that time experimenting with recipes and setting up the restaurant’s former takeout counter as a smaller barbecue counterpart to the cafeteria line that serves up meat-and-three fare.

Smaller, but not too small. The barbecue line opened Jan. 15, and when I checked it out at lunchtime last week, Swett’s had eight barbecue entrees on offer — not just the obvious pork shoulder and pork ribs, but also smoked pork chops, chicken, wings, beef brisket, beef ribs and rib tips. Also on the line was Swett’s version of hot chicken, which looks like regular fried chicken but is infused with spice in the frying oil. There were also seven sides, including fresh turnip greens.

Bear in mind that this is in addition to the long expanse of the existing cafeteria line, with regular (non-spicy) fried chicken, meatloaf and a bunch more options. Swett said customers can order from the barbecue line, the cafeteria line or mix and match.

But he seems particularly proud of the barbecue, pointing out the pink “smoke rings” on the edges of the meat, which many connoisseurs prize.

“We don’t sell ‘sugar barbecue,’ ” Swett said, referring to the syrupy sauce that some places use to smother bland product. While he’s so enthusiastic about his sauce that he plans to bottle it, Swett said the meat is also flavorful on its own. He keeps the smoker running pretty much around the clock to produce all the different types of barbecue.

Swett’s is at 2725 Clifton Ave. (329-4418). Hours are 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily.


ALSO: Texas chain Chuy’s has attracted hungry hordes to Cool Springs and Midtown — can they work the magic at Opry Mills?

Chuy’s pulled a $1.1 million construction permit for work at Opry Mills, which aims to fully reopen March 29, nearly two years after the shopping center was destroyed by Nashville’s great flood. It will join returning restaurants Aquarium and Rainforest Cafe, which are now hiring, according to the Aquarium Nashville page on Facebook. Dave & Buster’s has already reopened.

Meanwhile, another construction permit reveals that Green Leaf’s and Bananas, a two-pronged food court venture combining salads and wraps with smoothies and frozen yogurt, is also coming to Opry Mills.