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Report: Tennessee Grill

I've been meaning to write about Tennessee Grill but it's one of those place half the people get and half don't...and of course I'm hesitant to kill the vibe. It might be the last of its kind in SF.

Tennessee Grill is one of those places that aren’t around much any more – a hole-in-the-wall American diner that makes most of its food from scratch (nothing is over-salted) and yet is inexpensive. It reminds me of old school Chinese American places like Jackson Cafe and Valley Cafe but without a Chinese menu...but the concept/food is similar (including the frozen peas/carrots).

Out in the Sunset District it’s definitely not trendy but that's part of its charm. I’m a fan. Reasonable prices, well-prepared food, the clientele and the diverse staff. I don’t think anything is over $10 bucks…most plates are around $6.25 for a la carte, $7.50 for full.

In the morning it's usually packed with senior eating breakfast...a sign of value. At lunch and dinner I’ve see many single senior men, which I gather is a sort of a default meal plan for these guys...an old school social function, and it's nice to see.

My highlights:

Chicken Fried Steak – cooked from scratch, mashed potatoes, veggies and 4 slices of Boudin’s sourdough and butter. (I have no idea how it compares to stuff in the South but for $6.25 in SF I’m don’t care really.)

Fried Chicken – a full ½, cooked to order and fresh, veggies, mash potatoes.

Typical specials might be roast beef, ox tails, roast pork, corned beef and cabbage or salmon. Prices range from about $7.50 to $9.00. I’ve never had anything bad served except some dry roast pork (maybe 10 years ago) just don't expect anything beyond good solid diner food.

For all full meals, $1.25 more gets you tea/coffee, a big bowl of soup (usually minestrone) or the salad bar (to be avoided).

Burger – The Tennessee special; fresh beef, cooked to order, char-grilled, fries (frozen…only okay) and cheese - $4.10. In my mind this is a huge value and beats Bills because it’s cooked over a charbroiler/grill. Most sandwiches/burgers are in the $5 buck range.

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Tennessee Grill
1128 Taraval St, San Francisco, CA 94116

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  1. Love this place -- must find out when oxtails are served. Bashful Bull on Noriega/19th Av has similar type food, service, clientele and ambience.

    4 Replies
    1. re: Sarah

      There's a Bashful Bull II way out on Taraval by the ocean as well.

      1. re: NoeMan

        Sarah and NM, thanks for the tip. I've never been to Bashful Bull but of course have driven by a million times. Unfortunately I don't live out there any longer so if I'm in the 'hood, I go to TG. I'm going to have to stop in.

        Another greasy spoon breakfast place is New Taraval Cafe, a block from TG. Not as good as TG, breakfast and lunch only but it has a few things going for it -- they roast a fresh turkey every day for hot plates and sandwiches and they serve an Irish breakfast and lots of Irish contractors come in for it. Less expensive as Tennessee (I mean cheap), as hard as that might be to be believe.

        1. re: ML8000

          I'll give it a try. I love Irish breakfasts

          1. re: ML8000

            I just called TG and found out oxtails are served on Thursdays -- yay! Thanks for the tip!

      2. I first heard about this place in a Dan Leone column many years ago and by that time he had led me so undeliciously astray so far too many times that I just wrote it off as another disaster waiting to happen to my tummy. Thanks for another look at it (unless, of course, you're Dan ... :)

        1 Reply
        1. re: Chuckles the Clone

          Or whatever her name is now............

        2. I worked in the neighborhood for awhile, and it was always a treat if I could make the time for a little longer lunch so that I could have the fried chicken. Since it's fried to order you need more than fifteen minutes (my usual lunch time in those days). Always moist white meat, nice tasty and crispy skin, and good mashers. I miss the joint, so thanks for the reminder.

          1. Thanks for the report. Can't wait to try the CFS.

            As I mentioned in the other thread, the owner of Tennessee Grill also has Larkin Express Deli in the Tenderloin. He's been wanting to start a breakfast service there. If he hasn't already, I hope he can get it going soon, as he seems to understand the morning meal well!

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            Larkin Express Burmese Kitchen
            452 Larkin St, San Francisco, CA 94102

            1 Reply
            1. re: Melanie Wong

              Ah I know who you're talking about. He mans the register in the evenings. Seems like a nice guy.

            2. This thread got me hungry, so I just finished breakfast there. Same as always. Hope it always is. Sat next to a guy from Marin who was just passing thru and used to eat here with his parents in the 50's and says it hasn't changed. We were both marvelling at the system.

              1 Reply
              1. re: NoeMan

                I'm one of those passing-thru-ers now that I don't live in the Avenues. In fact yesterday I was thinking about swinging by since I was in the Richmond around 4 p.m....but it was too early, not hungry enough and in the wrong direction. Not having it close by makes you appreciate it a little more. Not changing since the '50s...in this case it's a good sign.

              2. I was at Tennessee Grill today at 11:30. The place was full but no lines. Had the CFS. Any way, I noticed they started serving an Irish breakfast - bangers, bacon, black and white pudding.

                6 Replies
                1. re: ML8000

                  >Had the CFS.<

                  How was it? And the gravy?

                  >black and white pudding.<

                  I assume it's Irish, but what is it?

                  1. re: Mick Ruthven

                    The chicken fried steak is very good...freshly made, hand dipped in egg wash and floured (I saw them do it) ...although the steak could have been frozen but given it's a "less then great cut"...what are you going to say? Brown gravy, house made mashed potatoes, frozen peas - $6.75, large portion. I think it's the best in SF. How it compares to the South, not going to go there. For $6.75 and freshly made in SF, it's sort of pointless.

                    Yes, Irish breakfast...I think I wrote that. There's a large (relatively) Irish population in the Sunset (I guess the weather is like home) so it must be in response to demand.

                    1. re: ML8000

                      >Yes, Irish breakfast<

                      But what is black and white pudding?

                      1. re: Mick Ruthven

                        I am married to an Irish gal and we have a home there (I also have my Irish citizenship), so I am going from 20 years of substantial experience with this stuff and it is still quite a mystery. And I am a bit of a food nut and have always asked about this stuff trying to get details. People tend to be very sketchy about what the puddings really are. Yikes.

                        To me black and white puddings are like sausages, never understood the use of the term puddings over in that time zone (e.g., Yorkshire pudding). The "black" one is definitely a dark "blood" sausage that I usually just taste and only finish if I am truly starving (and very hungover). The white one reminds me of a slice of a large pork sausage and I always eat it. My wife says they are both blood pork sausages, but she admits she honestly doesn't know because she has always hated them and never ate them or wanted to know what was in them. Her Mother and sisters felt the same way, but her Dad and brother loved the stuff. Is it a guy thing? She's not even positive that the white one has pork in it. (Now there's a vote of confidence).

                        Irish breakfast is usually one fried egg (sunny side up with brunt crispy edges like they do in New York ... Yuck), and in addition to the puddings you also get Irish Bacon (aka Rashers, that are really like thin sliced ham cooked under a broiler; technically it is back bacon) and Irish link sausages which are thin sausages like American breakfast pork sausage and not the big fat things the Brits call Bangers. The Irish NEVER call their sausages Bangers. Irish sausages are fantastic in my opinion, with lovely spicing. Each small town has a few butchers that do their own little twist and have loyal, multi-generation cult-like followings. They are different from American breakfast sausages in that the filling is much finer, more like our hot dogs. The Irish sausages you get here are generally mass produced imports from Oscar Meyer-like huge producers that service big city clienteles like Dublin, etc., but they are still better than nothing. About fifteen years ago, there was a guy from Roscrea, the town next to my wife's home town, who moved here and was making his own Irish meat products (Tierney's Meats) as butcher at Shanahan's (now Roxie's) Market on 9th (or 7th) and Kirkham. He sadly died young and I think they now import the mass produced stuff, like all the other Irish shops.

                        Lastly, with an Irish breakfast you get a grilled or broiled small tomato half and sometimes baked beans and of course white toast. The tomato was luxury during the rough economic times of the 50's thru 80's, as a small taste of the tropics, before the mega-supermarkets were loaded with variety all year round.

                        Long answer to your short question. If any chefs out there know the ingredients of the puddings, I'm pretty sure I'd like to know, but I'm slightly apprehensive as well......

                        1. re: NoeMan

                          What a great informative reply! Now I know enough to ask to substitute Irish sausages or bacon for the "pudding" as well as lots of other good info.

                          1. re: NoeMan

                            Great info. Sounds like pudding is in the tradition of tail to snout (look away). Nothing like an inside read.