Any time I travel to a new town, I love to hear from the locals about where they like to eat because sometimes the best food is found off the beaten path.
Featuring the well-known spots around town is easy enough, but it feels like a little treasure hunt to run across those unsuspecting, hidden gem restaurants, usually full of character. I’ve compiled a list here of a few of some of the best restaurants in Franklin you might not notice at first glance but are well worth a visit.
A proper meat-and-three is essential to any southern town, and thankfully we’ve got your comfort food cravings covered! Cool Cafe is located in a shopping center just a couple miles from downtown Franklin, and let me tell you, the banana pudding with a five-inch meringue is worth the stop all on its own.
Owner and Chef Tim Ness opened Cool Cafe about 15 years ago, and he’s been selling 1,500-2,500 pounds of fried chicken per week ever since! The fried chicken is moist, never overcooked, and he even splurges on high-quality oil for frying perfection.
Try it with the creamy mashed potatoes and gravy, home-style green beans, and the “vegetable of the south” mac and cheese. This is southern, comfort food at its finest!
Coffee House on 2nd and Bridge
We are all familiar with the typical coffee shop food menu which usually includes muffins, pastries, and cookies. However, the Coffee House at Second & Bridge located in downtown Franklin has taken that coffee shop menu up a notch or three and lands on my list of best hidden restaurants.
This historic home, turned coffee house with plenty of outdoor seating and charm to boot, has a delightful menu full of homemade crêpes with the most mouthwatering fillings.
This happens to be one of my favorite lunch spots in town, the Morgan’s Monte Cristo Crepe is my go-to order for an indulgent lunch treat. It’s a made from scratch crêpe, filled with ham, Havarti cheese, blackberry jam, and drizzled with maple syrup, basically what my sweet and savory dreams are made of.
My kiddos, on the other hand, prefer the Classic Strawberry Crêpe stuffed with decadent Nutella and fresh strawberries. Honestly, who can blame them?
Pasta and Cream
The name Pasta and Cream is probably enough to sell anyone on this little slice of heaven! Chef Eric Shacklin opened this beloved, pasta forward restaurant over six years ago, and it has been such a hit among locals that he just signed the lease on a second location in nearby Murfreesboro.
What sets the food apart at Pasta and Cream is the fresh, never frozen homemade pan sauces, all made to order and gluten-free! Chef Eric’s favorite menu item is the classic Pasta Carbonara with bacon, peas, and parmesan cheese in a rich cream sauce.
Other top sellers include the Cajun Pasta made with a spicy Cajun cream sauce topped with your choice of chicken or shrimp as well as the Ivan Ala Vodka made with a creamy marinara sauce, a splash of vodka, and sun-dried tomato.
Chef Eric says consistency is what keeps customers coming back, which he credits to his wife always making sure things are prepared with the highest quality.
When it comes to ice cream in Franklin, we have an impressive list of fantastic options, however, I have yet to find a creamier treat than the Mexican-style ice cream and treats served at Paletas Tocumbo.
Kids and adults will be wide-eyed with anticipation as soon as they walk in and see the vast array of frozen treats. The creamy paletas include unique flavors like avocado and kiwi along with more familiar flavors such as strawberries and cream and chocolate-dipped ice cream pops.
The bright pink, cotton candy ice cream is a summer childhood dream. However, for a more authentic Mexican street treat, try the Mangonada, made with mango sorbet with a kick from Tajin (a chile-lime salt), and Chamoy which is made from fermented fruit, salt, sugar, and chile. And wait, there’s more!
They also serve a variety of Horchata, which is a refreshing Mexican drink made from ground rice, condensed and evaporated milk, cinnamon sticks, and vanilla. This creamy and flavorful drink is served chilled, ideal for a hot summer day.
Leiper’s Fork Market/Red Byrd Coffee (Leiper’s Fork)
The scenic drive to the quaint village of Leiper’s Fork is the cherry on top of the treat that is Leiper’s Fork Market. Drive through the adorable shops, art galleries, and eateries, and a little further down the road, you will find this one-of-a-kind market.
This adorable filling station turned general store has outdoor picnic tables with gorgeous country views and plenty of room for kids to run, play, and even swing.
Stop by for a homemade bacon, egg, and cheese biscuit in the morning or a slice of piping hot pizza midday, topped off with some soft-serve ice cream, of course. Being in this market feels like stepping back in time to a simpler way of life, a welcome oasis from daily life.
Another benefit of visiting this market is the Red Byrd Coffee shop right next door. Red Byrd Coffee shop is a tiny house turned coffee shop, which has been featured on DIY Network’s, “Tiny House Big Living.” You can find me sipping on the “Mama Byrd,” a delicious vanilla lavender latte while enjoying the scenery!
The slogan for Maki Mojo is “little place, big taste” and that is truly a perfect description of this little firecracker of a restaurant. Talk about a hidden gem, just down the road from the heart of downtown Franklin, you will find this little cottage with spectacular Asian food by Chef and owner Maki Suntikul.
This is not your typical southern comfort, but boy does the Miso Ramen hit the spot, made with a rich pork broth flavored with Miso and spicy pork and all the tangy fixins’ on top. Another fan favorite is the Veggie Goyza which are crispy pan-fried dumplings, these are also available with pork. If you love Thai, Vietnamese, and other Asian cuisines, you really can’t beat the authenticity of this place.
Not only will you be impressed by the food at these hidden gem eateries, but supporting local chefs creating food they are passionate about is truly a gift to them and our community. Often times the owners of these smaller establishments work right along with their staff to serve the best quality food for their customers and after visiting the restaurants, I guarantee you will be pleasantly surprised by the care and intentionality of the fare.
During the current circumstances, we know that locally owned businesses have taken the biggest hit, so supporting them now is more important than ever. These types of establishments are truly the heart of our community, so give them a shot, and I bet you’ll thank me later!