Williamson County diners happy to stay close to home

Friday, August 9, 2013, Vol. 37, No. 32
By Hollie Deese

Franklin’s Cork and Cow, one of chef Jason McConnell’s restaurants, provides a lovely setting for an elegant meal with Southern fare.

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Back in the early 2000s, there were few fine-dining options in Williamson County, forcing people to drive to Nashville to celebrate special and romantic occasions.

These days residents stay close to home for creative menus and carefully selected wine lists, and Nashvillians are increasingly making the trek south for upscale fusion fare from Wild Ginger or prime aged beef at Cork and Cow.

Mainstay chef Jason McConnell has become a culinary fixture on Main Street in Franklin as diners who have eaten at one of his current three restaurants – southern comfort meals at 55 South, sultry upscale cuisine at Red Pony and Cork and Cow – can attest. Manager Grant Campbell attributes the restaurants’ successes over the years not only to the food, but to the entire experience they aim to create for the consumer.

The current growth of the downtown Franklin area has added to the thriving atmosphere for fine dining.

“We already had a bit of market influence with Red Pony, but downtown Franklin is hopping right now,” he says. “We are very blessed. Red Pony opened in 2006 in a historic building in order to create an unpretentious fine dining space downtown that would give locals an option that didn’t involve driving north.

Cork and Cow replaced one of chef Jason McConnell’s other restaurants, SOL, and he says the transition to a first-class steakhouse has been “a perfect fit.’’

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Cork and Cow moved into the space once occupied by McConnell’s Mexican-Southern concept SOL, which closed last October after six years.

“It did well for us, but we just felt like Franklin wanted something different, and a steakhouse was just a perfect fit,” Campbell says. “And we have not looked back. It is one of the best changes we have ever done.”

A cursory look at the website Yelp, with its multitude of four- and five-star reviews, and it’s easy to see diners at Cork and Cow agree. Plus, the people posting reviews are not only locals, but they are driving in from Nashville too.

“It is a long drive to come out to Franklin for people in Nashville, but we are finding more and more people are doing that drive,” Campbell says. “It speaks to the uniqueness of Franklin, and they are really blown away with the first-class restaurants that we have here.”

Cork and Cow just won the Spectator Award of Excellence from Wine Spectator magazine for its wine list.

“We can go hand-in-hand with anybody in Nashville,” Campbell says. “Our chef is amazingly talented, the food is phenomenal, and the wine list is spectacular.” That sounds like a date night to us.