Williamson County may have come a little late to the independent restaurant party compared to our Davidson neighbors, but now things are coming along nicely, thank you very much. But let’s just be honest and say the county, while well wealthy enough to support a plethora of independents, is still pretty addicted to the chains – you’ll still see a whole lot of people pulled up at the Cool Springs mid-levels on Friday and Saturday night, not to mention the obligatory crowds at the standard TGI Fridays, Chili’s and O’Charley’s.
Not that that’s all bad, but it’s something that plenty of people would like to see shift, and one guy – Jason McConnell – has done all he can to change the climate in downtown Franklin.
McConnell had us three years ago with artisan American cuisine at Red Pony and SOL’s high-end, true Mexican ( including fantastic margaritas). When he turned the front room of SOL into 55South, and started serving his own takes on classic cuisine native to I-55 as it runs south from Memphis to N’Awlins, my Louisiana-born husband and I practically moved in. We even celebrated our wedding brunch there.
One thing we’ve needed badly, however, is a really good local steakhouse, and McConnell now comes to our rescue, with something that promises to live up to all the early hype. Those of us who hit the soft opening Tuesday definitely see the potential.
SOL, which offered authentic, upscale Mexican cuisine was delicious, but it never had the impact the other two restaurants did with residents.
Cork and Cow, which takes up the back room at 403 Main while 55South keeps the front, welcomes the upscale meat-and-potatoes crowd with outstanding locally sourced, grass-fed beef, plenty of appealing side dishes (including enough potato options to keep a hungry man happy), rich and sinful desserts, and a connoisseur’s wine list.
And the cocktails are damned impressive. I managed to suck down a Silly Goose ( Grey Goose pear, Domaine de Canton Ginger Liqueur, vanilla, fresh lemon and agave) in record time, grateful my husband was doing the driving. McConnell’s new toy, an in-house carbonation system, promises plenty of girls nights for my friends and I, possibly at the lovely new black bar.
Of course, my husband and I ran into Mike Williams of Collier and McKeel Whiskey in the bar that first night, which made sipping a finger of his locally made whiskey along with Pat and Martha Martin of Martin’s Barbeque at that bar absolutely necessary -along with a long and social visit.
The wine list is heavy on Old World, as is the current compilation of bar spirits, although there’s plenty local, and both lists make changes on at least a weekly basis. McConnell says he’s trying new stuff daily and tweaking.
As you order dinner, you’ll find the requisite add-ons, including seafood (try the garlic shrimp) and the fine details (lemon butter, bearnaise or foie gras butter? Decisions, decisions).
The appetizers are true to McConnell form, start lightly, maybe the warm marinated olives or the carpaccio, to save room for the meal. When it comes to sides, if you remotely like Brussels sprouts, order these. (Yes, there are non-beef entrees, the roast chicken on a bed of polenta is rather yummy, and I have it on good authority that the shrimp and scallop gnocci and the Lobster Fra Diavolo are both worth the order.)
Entree-wise, I’m for a good dry-aged piece of beef ( not so much that those unfamiliar with dry aging are going to be astonished by any gamey flavor, but you’ll be aware of the dry aging). Cork & Cow offers plenty of cuts of beef, and while there’s tenderloin (the most popular, always), I truly enjoyed the sirloin I ordered tremendously. It was perfectly medium rare, glistening with lemon butter and sea salt, and all I could ask for.
The décor has traces of SOL, but the clever use of wood on walls and vintage cleavers gives it a new vibe, and the afore-mentioned elegant black bar is ideal for a little cocktail or craft beer sipping with friends.
Bottom line: Already a very solid start, expect it to get even better. Everything is still being tweaked, and the vegetable offering are decidedly seasonal, so expect change.
Most guests will like McConnell’s level of local sourcing. (You got a local source for him, a favorite farm? Send ’em his way!)
The only serious concern is the noise level, it’s boisterous. Not so much that it interferes with your conversation or your fun, but enough that you are well aware your party is not alone in the room.
403 W. Main St., Franklin
Prices: Appetizers $9-$15, Salads $9-$10, Entrees $20-$45, Extra Sides $6, Cocktails $11
Caveat – a very much abbreviated form of this entry appeared in Williamson Online prior to me posting this one.