April 18, 2016 • FOOD

DJ Dines: The Picnic Café in Nashville

“It makes me hungry just thinking about The Picnic Café!” says Reese, who doesn’t let a visit back home go by without a trip to the storied Nashville breakfast and lunch spot. Now in its 33rd year, The Picnic Café serves classic Southern fare to regulars and foodies alike—think daily quiche specials, pimento sandwiches, cheese wafers, tea punch, ham salad, and caramel cake, not to mention Reese’s personal favorites—chicken salad and frozen fruit salad.


The Picnic Café owner Kathy Bonnet’s personal favorite lunch includes chicken salad, frozen fruit salad with whipping cream, banana nut muffins, cheese wafers, crescent cookies, and Picnic Tea Punch.

Back in 1984, owner Kathy Bonnet, then a special education teacher, started making sandwiches in a borrowed space in Nashville and hand-delivered them to local businesses. Word spread of her swoon-worthy chicken salad, and she was eventually able to open her own spot—first as a small café inside the local Belle Meade Drug Store and later in her current (and wildly popular) standalone place on Harding Pike.

Read on for some thoughts from Kathy, and click here to find the recipe for the Picnic Café’s legendary Picnic Tea Punch.


The collection of blue-and-white plates and platters adorning the walls of the Picnic Café has grown along with the restaurant’s reputation. (It’s not uncommon to see lines out the door.)  “Our best table,” says owner Kathy Bonnet, “is the one shared every morning by ‘The Coffee Club,’ a group of retired businessmen. They keep us laughing and on our toes until lunch begins!”


How do you define Southern cuisine?

It is about traditions, both in the way we eat and the way we make our food. Even as The Picnic Café has grown,  I still make it a point to use the genuine ingredients I learned to cook with at home and working in restaurants—like real Hellmann’s mayonnaise—because I believe classic, tried-and-true ingredients make the best Southern food.

Most popular recipe?

Our famous Picnic Chicken Salad!

How has the Nashville food scene evolved in the 30-plus years you’ve been running The Picnic Café?

It has grown tremendously and it’s very exciting! I also love that at its core Nashville’s people—and the food—still possess such a great gentility and charm that seems to only get better as our great city continues to expand.


As for the Picnic Café’s charming decor: Kathy’s husband’s Provencal roots inspired the blue-and-white theme and charming florals. The food, however, is purely Southern.

What keeps people coming back to The Picnic Café after all these years?

The Picnic has a very loyal customer base that spans generations. On any given day grandmothers, their children, and their grandchildren will come in for lunch or for a special occasion. It’s so nice to feel like we’re part of the family, like we believe them to be a part of ours!


Find the recipe for that famous punch by clicking here!