Varallo’s Chili Parlor & Restaurant | Tennessee Crossroads

Varallo’s Chili Parlor & Restaurant | Tennessee Crossroads


(soft, jazzy music) As fall temperatures finally plunge down into the nippy zone, some of our appetites steer toward cooler weather favorites like chili. Some people will swear the best chili ever is at a downtown family
restaurant called Varallo’s, a place that’s been synonymous
with good chili since 1907. Downtown Nashville is bustling again with a rapidly growing work force. And of course those people
often need a place to eat. While dining choices come and go, this unassuming, modest place has been feeding devoted
regulars since 1907. – I grew up in the business,
so I was about five– – [Joe] Don Varallo is the affable heir to a family restaurant tradition started by his Italian born great
grandfather, Frank Varallo, Sr. He was a linguist and
concert violinist who, after an accident, gave
up music to make chili. – That was the Italian
Restaurant Association. Of course, back then Italians
were real close-knit, so they had arranged marriages. So everybody was kind of related through marriage in some way anyway. – [Joe] Frank, Jr. took over in 1927 while still in his mid-teens. He fed folks daily for
nearly seven decades. – All the theaters were
downtown, shopping, wrestling was real big. So we actually opened seven days a week, 24 hours a day. My grandfather used to joke when they started closing on Sundays. He said he didn’t know what to do ’cause he had 52 days a year off. Said I was spoiled (laughs) – [Joe] Here’s Frank
along with his wife Eva who also worked at their longtime
location on Church Street. Then, as always, the menu mainstay was their famous three-way chili. When Frank and Eva retired in 1994– – Y’all doin’ okay today? – [Joe] Grandson Todd took over and moved to the present
location on North 4th Avenue. All the wall photos are the
same as in the old place. Just like most of the ambiance. Even the menu board is unchanged, although Todd has added some more choices. – We have really good catfish now. Of course, we added
sandwiches like cheeseburgers. Of course you have to do french fries. Then breakfast, we do a big breakfast. We’ve got homemade pancakes, which is actually my grandmother’s recipe. French toast, homemade, we do everything. Sausage mill gravy. It’s the old school breakfast. – [Joe] All well and good, but
what about that iconic chili that put the Varallo
name on the downtown map? – Thank you, Cheryl. – The chili’s exactly the same. We have customers been
coming in their whole lives and they say it’s the same. We got the old pot, it’s
probably about 100 years old. So I moved it down here. Same recipe, everything. Hadn’t changed anything. Something works, you don’t fix it. The pot does the work. You gotta know how to do it. Course we let it, it
has to simmer overnight. You can’t serve it the
same day you make it so the spices get the beans
real good and everything. – [Joe] When people
order chili three ways, what does that mean? – It’s chili, spaghetti, and tamale. We put the spaghetti in the bowl, then the tamale, and then
put the chili on top. – [Joe] Is that the best? – That’s the best. – [Joe] That’s Cheryl McKnight, who’s been a part of the
restaurant family here since high school. – I worked with the grandparents when they were on 9th and Church and after they retired I
moved down here with Todd so all together it’s been 40 years. – I’d be in trouble if she wasn’t here. She knows more than I do (laughs) – [Joe] Varallo’s has
always been a favorite spot for politicians and judges. On this day, Judges Bill
Higgins and Ben Cantrell dropped in to dine and reminisce a bit. – When my office was in
the Supreme Court building, we’d go down there twice
a week and eat lunch. Frank would set us up a table in the back room
where five or six of us, or seven or eight could
eat there together. And Cheryl waited on us. – When I became a judge, one of my first unofficial acts was to judge their chili the best. – There it is, one large
bowl of three-way chili. You know, they make about
25 gallons at a time in that big old vat over there. A lot more in wintertime of course, but the motto here is it’s always chili weather at Varallo’s. I believe it. (upbeat instrumental music) (crosstalk) – You getting meatballs?
Cornbread or roll? – It’s not the chili,
it’s the Varallo family. They’re just loving, caring people. Make you feel at home. It’s a place you like
to come to, feel good. – [Joe] It would be hard to estimate just how many bowls of Varallo’s chili have been served since 1907. Just like counting the
changes in downtown Nashville. Chances are, though,
the name and the chili will be around another century or so. – As long as we can keep it going. Course I have three grandsons now, so you never know. They’re about the right age, about six. When I get ready to retire, we’ll see. As long as everybody keeps
coming, we’ll be here. Thank you.

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