By: Angela Roberts, food blogger at spinachtiger.com
The one restaurant I get asked the most about is the new Gray’s on Main. The doors opened in August, with more fanfare than I’ve ever seen anywhere for any opening, setting up a huge expectation.
Located in downtown Franklin’s Main Street, the street was actually closed down one warm Sunday night in August, while thousands of curious fans gathered to see the re-lighting of the original sign, an old marquee that simply says, Gray’s. The original Gray’s opened as a drugstore in the 1930′s, but the building itself was constructed in 1876. Gray’s Drugstore went through at least seven changes in over 70 years, but nothing quite like this.
The lighting celebration included a tour of the building, and all three floors, gaining much approval for maintaining the integrity of the building’s rich history, including the original tin ceiling, while adding a classy silver faux finish to one of the walls, and hanging nostalgic pictures honoring various locals from Williamson County’s history.
Owners, Michael and Joni Cole (whose faces you will actually see when you visit), seem to have a flair for hospitality, making tourist and locals alike feel as though they are in visiting old friends. They put a lot of thought and elbow grease into Gray’s as Michael has done a lot of work himself, proving to be a creative talent in and out of the kitchen. Joni goes from table to table greeting guests and making sure they have a good experience. Most importantly, I’ve watched and they have listened to what diners like and don’t like, making the most amazing edits to the menu in these last few months.
Gray’s on Main, with the help of Jon Yaeger from PourTaste, has intentionally made brandy a star in the cocktail line-up. I love to dine out. It’s a huge source of my home cooking inspiration. This time, I was most inspired to go home and make cocktails, especially the brandy crusta, which may rank as my favorite cocktail of the year. This signature drink is one of five brandy cocktails, and features Pierre Ferrand Amber Cognac, Pierre Ferrand dry curacao, Angostura bitters and lemon. I love it’s velvety texture that left me charmed and ordering a second one in the middle of the day.
There are several seasonal cocktails, including one called Bless Your Heart, and a few French Pressed cocktails, which is very exciting to see.
In keeping with the building’s history, which was erected in 1876, Gray’s has chosen to focus on brandy cocktails because they are paying tribute to the late 19th century cocktail history, as it was then that cocktails were developing and individual drinks versus punches were coming into vogue.
When you get a moment, wander over to Gray’s website and watch Jon’s videos as he prepares a medley of classic cocktails such as the Sidecar and the Manhattan applying his own creative twist.
Of course, we locals appreciate the history, the decor and the charm of having a smart, chic, vintage restaurant in our historic downtown Franklin, but as for me and for you, it all comes down to the food.
I’ve eaten at Gray’s
three four times, in addition to attending the grand opening, because all new places need time to evolve, and I’ve been watching and tasting for a few months now. It didn’t seem fair to write anything until Gray’s grew some legs and went through staff and menu adjustments.
Gray’s has moved items on and off the menu in these last few months. I see the few dishes I didn’t care for disappear and the kinds of dishes I was hoping they would have, come front and center. Bravo to Gray’s for elevating their menu and making some innovative changes such as adding a braised rabbit pasta and a prosciutto pizza to the lunch menu as well as a sea bass with pumpkin lobster butter at dinner.
I can tell you what my favorites were two weeks ago, but as I review the changed menu, I want to run right over there for a lobster roll, braised collards, chicken pot pie, and all of their new desserts. If you thought Gray’s was good when they opened, or if you didn’t have the experience you were hoping for, go back. The new menu is fabulous. The dinner menu has been extended and includes such dishes as seared duck breast, milk braised short ribs and steak and biscuits.
Editor’s Note: Since I published this post, I returned to Gray’s on Main to sample the new menu. It’s all that and more.
Some of My Favorites
The Fried Green Tomatoes over a corn pudding is a good place to start. The breading is crispy, holding firm above the corn and this dish strikes that perhaps overused expression, elevated Southern, but it is what it is.
Braised Rabbit Pasta, herb papparadelle, cabernet crimini sauce. This dish may have moved to my most favorite meal at Gray’s. The rabbit is tender and the wine sauce is perfectly balanced and a little bit lingering, making sure each mouthful makes you want to sing while you’re eating. This is one of the best bites of my year.
Nashville Hot Chicken. Nashville has its very own HOT chicken dish, created and made famous first at a shack called Prince’s. In the last few years hot chicken, not to be confused with chicken wings, is showing up all over town and probably soon on menus around the country.
The basic recipe is a piece of bread topped with fried chicken which is slathered in a slurry of cayenne sauce (mostly lard or hot oil). This version is hot enough, but not killer, and served over toasted sour dough, a nice modern touch and believe it or not, the crunch of the bread will refocus your brain off the heat. Delicious, and in case it’s not hot enough, a side serving of chipotle sauce is there for the dipping.
Shrimp & Grits Over Collard Greens – Smoked Local cheddar grit cake/collard greens/mustard butter. I order this everywhere I go. The shrimp is tasty, and the grit cake firm, but comforting with enough mustard butter sauce on bottom to sop it up. If you love shrimp and grits, you will not be disappointed. We especially loved the collard greens which are finished off with just the right amount of vinegar.
The Octopus Taco was outstanding, tender, amazing, and probably misunderstood by diners, as it wasn’t on the menu the last time I was there. I hope they bring it back
The Grass Fed Burger Sliders. Bacon jam, cambozola cheese, bourbon honey mustard, cooked perfectly with caramelized onion. This might be one of the best burgers in Williamson County, and you all know I’m a big burger fan. (Since I’ve eaten there, it looks like they don’t have sliders, but serve one large burger). I’m sure it’s a winner because they are using local, high quality grass fed beef.
We tried the roasted Brussels sprouts for a side, and I could make a whole meal out of them, they were so good. They are a must order and I doubt they’ll ever take them off the menu.
This is one of the side salads available. There is now a cobb salad and arugula salad.
The dessert menu has just been revamped and so far, the only thing I tried was the moon pie fondue. I’m a moon pie fan, and I enjoyed dipping it into the chocolate. I can’t wait to go back and try the rest of the dessert line up. Chocolate cobbler, bananas foster, moon pie fondue and sweet potato bread pudding. These sound amazing and I’m so pleased to see these sweet additions.
Three Floors, Three Purposes
Gray’s on Main has three distinct floors with different purposes. The third floor, is a private club, called Society, and at $2500 a membership, not a place most of us will ever get to, but no worries, there’s something for everyone. The second floor is a music venue featuring weekly live music, and houses a separate bar area, which when seated close to the window, gives a bird’s eye view to downtown Main Street.
Most of the food is served on the first floor in a casual, vintage setting, but do wander up to the bar area upstairs and feel at home enjoying the brandy cocktails, the wine, the beer or the view. The last time I ate at Gray’s I ate up in the bar area (which might be my new favorite spot). The wait staff was great, friendly and sporting a sense of humor. In fact, every time I’ve been to Gray’s the service has been wonderful, and the food has come out timely.
Gray’s on Main is managing to give Franklin something East Nashville has enjoyed for years, a truly good upscale, neighborhood restaurant, good for date night or just a casual bite to eat or a happy hour excursion.