cooks we love

Best Biscuits in Nashville?

By Jill Melton / Photography By Mark Boughton | March 02, 2017
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Lawanna Dowdle in the dining room of Kitchen Notes in The Omni Hotel, home of the biscuit bar.

We know these are fighting words in a town chock-full of biscuits, gravy and mac and cheese, but the biscuits made by Lawanna Dowdy at Kitchen Notes in the Omni Hotel may be the best in town.

LAWANNA’S TIPS TO GREAT BISCUITS


• Have ALL your ingredients cold, even the flour. Especially the flour.
• Mix it gently until you have a shaggy moss. Then gather it up gently.
• Roll out gently. Don’t pound the dough—keep it about two inches high. You want your biscuits to stand tall.
• Don’t twist the biscuit cutter; lift it straight up. (Lawanna prefers a plastic cutter.) This makes ridges in the side of the biscuit, which gives it height.
• Chill the biscuits two hours before baking.

How did a tough girl with a degree in criminal justice end up the biscuit lady at The Omni Hotel’s Kitchen Notes restaurant? Kismet for Lawanna Dowdy. Luck for Nashvillians.

Lawanna Dowdy really wasn’t cut out for the justice world. After a few years seeing incarcerated juveniles firsthand, she turned back to cooking—something she had done since was 14 at an Easter Seals camp. At Kitchen Notes she started out as a line cook making omelets, then quickly became the biscuit maker after stepping in for another cook one day.

But making biscuits suits her just fine. Lawanna’s disposition is about as bright and delightful as the biscuits she makes. And she makes a bunch—750 to be exact—every morning starting at 5 a.m. Four types of biscuits are served up every day: a sweet, a savory, a buttermilk, and a gluten free. The sweet and savory variations change weekly. How on earth does one come up with new biscuit idea every week? For Lawanna, it’s not hard. First and foremost she loves to see people happy, so she listens to any and all suggestions. But she also goes into mad scientist mode, getting ideas from the leftovers in the walk-in fridge. Macaroni and cheese from the day before, collards and ham—both end up worked into the light, fluffy dough. Most any ingredient works, according to Lawanna; however, pineapple, with its high water content, was a challenge. Her first attempt at pineapple biscuits looked more like pancakes, and as a result she perfected a drying process for high water fruits, resulting in less juicy fruit with more concentrated flavor. Her taste testers are the management team, where she sends new biscuit variations for feedback. Lawanna herself always tries them, of course, but she doesn’t eat too many biscuits these days.

Ingredients aside, it’s the technique that distinguishes a great biscuit from an okay biscuit. That, and the temperature of the flour. “Oh, it’s got to be cold. Warm flour will make your biscuits flat.” Who knew? As we go into the kitchen to watch Lawanna make a batch, she’s right at home. She mixes the biscuits effortlessly while talking and greeting other cooks. As she mixes and pats and gathers the dough, a whole lot of measuring isn’t happening. “Need some more milk,” she tells Executive Chef Harker, who, as her assistant, pours a little into the bowl. Once the dough is to her satisfaction (after three additions of milk from Chef), she rolls it out gently into a two-inch-high mound. “You don’t want to roll the dough out too hard, or it’ll make the biscuits tough.” As she flours the dough liberally, she reaches for her plastic biscuit cutter. “It’ took me a while to learn about the twist,” she said. If you twist the biscuit cutter, the biscuits won’t rise high and have the characteristic cracks and ridges along the sides. “Just press down and lift up. I’ve got to teach the helpers about the twist,” she says under her breath. The biscuits go in the oven, and no sooner does she start on another batch of her favorites: cranberry orange. We had to try the cranberry orange, she insists.

Kitchen Notes may be the best-kept secret (to locals anyway) in Nashville. They’ve won the best Patty Melt in town, their shrimp and grits is some of the best around. But it’s the biscuits that will keep us coming back ... and the management team there.

Got a biscuit idea for Lawanna?

She’d love to hear it. Tell us your biscuit ideas and we’ll pick three for Lawanna to make. Send them to editorial@ediblenashville.com and put “Biscuits” in the subject line. If your idea is picked, you’ll get a free lunch at Kitchen Notes the day your biscuits are served.

Photo 1: “There’s macaroni and cheese biscuits, collards and ham, spinach and parm, cranberry and orange, hot chicken, pepperoni and cheese, Guinness and cheddar, lemon and poppyseed . . .”
Photo 2: “You gotta make the flour work for you."
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