Tradition may tell us that you have to be in a major metropolitan area to find excellent dining, but I can confirm the best meals are found from small-town chefs serving up food straight from their hearts. Williamson County is no exception, though; with its proximity to Nashville and continuing boom for permanent residents and tourists, those mouthwatering mom-and-pops are interspersed with chef-driven restaurants that combine to delight even the most sophisticated palates.
If you’re looking for a meal that will knock your socks off, here’s a definitive guide to the restaurants (and dishes) that are sure to do it.
Gray’s on Main
The Gray’s on Main marquee can’t be missed during a visit to downtown Franklin, first erected in 1876 when the building housed the Gray Drug Co. After a restoration and reimagination in 2013, Gray’s on Main opened as a multi-level dining and entertainment venue in the heart of Main Street. While any of the meals on the menu are sure to knock your socks off (the brisket quesadilla is my favorite), the carefully crafted cocktails will keep you coming back time and again. Especially their signature cocktail, the Anthym Spirit, which has been named the South’s Best Whiskey Drink.
Looking for the best burger in town? I’ve spent the past 25+ years on the hunt, and I come to you confidently with my opinion. With two locations—one a small building off Franklin’s West Main Street and the other in a strip mall off Carothers Parkway—Ground truly embodies the definition of a hidden gem. Choose your own toppings to enhance the perfectly seasoned patty, and sandwich it all between two soft, buttery buns. Pair your burger with a side of fries (also in the running for the best in town), and be sure to order a side of ranch to dip.
Culaccino may be a newcomer to Franklin’s dining scene, but it’s made quick regulars out of the locals. The first solo venture from executive chef Frank Pullara, Culaccino is a concept perfectly suited for a casual lunch or a special occasion. While the house-made pastas and wood-fired pizzas are menu standouts, don’t skip the burger: an elegant take on the traditional with oven-roasted tomato, pancetta, stewed onions, and ooey-gooey taleggio fonduta.
Me & Loretta’s
What began as Birdie’s in an unfussy Nolensville strip mall soon became a favorite in the small town, thanks in part to its charming, community-minded owner, Wade Breaux. Birdie’s rebranded to Me & Loretta’s, now offering daily brunch, lunch, and dinner. If you’re looking for a decadent dish to serve as a precursor to an afternoon nap, try the French Dip-cheeseburger hybrid, the Velvet Burger, packed with french onion dip, bacon jam, caramelized onions, and Havarti cheese.
Mere Bulles is Brentwood’s most historic restaurant, situated within a home first built in 1937. Today, Mere Bulles is a destination for an elegant lunch meeting or a special occasion dinner, packed with a variety of traditional Southern and seafood dishes. Try the salmon and jalapeno corn cakes, or go all-in with filet mignon. No matter your dish, starting your meal with a cup of she-crab bisque is a locally known requirement.
1799 Kitchen & Cocktails
Dine inside a whiskey barrel at The Harpeth Hotel‘s signature restaurant, 1799 Kitchen & Cocktails. Okay, it’s not a real whiskey barrel, but the designers included nods to Tennessee’s favorite liquor at every turn—with the restaurant’s focal point resembling a wooden barrel and the carpet alluding to the bottom of a crystal rocks glass. Whether you’re a business traveler unwinding after a long day, a local searching for a date night spot, or a visitor wanting to be wowed, 1799 will not disappoint. Try the line-caught halibut prepared in-house and a Franklin Fizz.
Cork & Cow
Let the celebrations ensue at downtown Franklin’s Cork & Cow, best known for its great steaks and seafood, expansive wine selection, and robust cocktail program. Chef Jason McConnell is behind the elevated steakhouse and other staples on Main Street—including 55 South next door and Red Pony across the street. While the menu rotates seasonally, you can’t go wrong with a filet, New York Strip, or a tomahawk with saucy accompaniments and Southern sides.
Coaltown Public House
Picturesque Westhaven has a new American grill at its center, and it’s important to set the stage before getting into the menu. The breathtaking interiors at Coaltown Public House are highlighted by soaring, windowed ceilings bringing in natural light, with porches and an outdoor cocktail area nestled near the lake. Go at sunset on a clear day – you won’t be disappointed. Enjoy the views over a shared charcuterie plate, or enjoy an entree of almond-caraway crusted salmon or roasted airline chicken with an array of sides.
A little less upscale but no less noteworthy than its across-the-street neighbor (Coaltown), Scout’s Pub is a Westhaven staple from local restaurateur Andy Marshall (Puckett’s, Americana Taphouse, and Burger Dandy). Settle in with a craft cocktail during happy hour as you browse the seasonal menu. The fish and chips utilizing their house brew are a menu mainstay, though any of the burgers and pizzas are worth a visit all their own.
Southall is a long-awaited luxury farm and resort between downtown Franklin and Leiper’s Fork, and its on-site restaurant, Sojourner, is now open. Acclaimed Executive Chef Andrew Klamar is leading the concept, and because the property is committed to sourcing ingredients directly from the farm, the menu rotates depending on what’s available. Rest assured, be it any item—oysters, charcuterie, or fried chicken—will surely knock your socks off.