A girl’s night out…Tennessee style!

Contributed by: Rebecca Gostin

Historic Franklin is full of charm, great boutique shopping, and mouth watering cuisine… thanks to the genius of Chef Jason McConnell.  Chef McConnell graciously offered to send us on a tour of three of his restaurants in one fun-filled evening.

We began at Chef McConnell’s newest establishment, 55 South, home of some good ol’ southern comfort food. Inspired by traditional Louisiana cuisine, his menu consists of fresh oysters, Southern-inspired bar snacks, and main meals such as Jambalaya, Gumbo, and Shrimp and Grits. We had two appetizers here… first, Fried Oysters with Cajun Remoulade. They were so juicy and delicious, I wish that I could stay here and taste everything else on the menu.  Then, the Texas Style Seafood Cocktail – Crab, Scallops & Shrimp in Pico de Gallo Sauce  which reminded me of a Cajun style Ceviche with just enough kick to make me reach for a sip of my Lazy Magnolia!

Next we were ushered across the street to Red Pony.  This was Chef McConnell’s first restaurant and is more upscale than his others, with the same welcoming atmosphere. Our waitress, Allie, explained that the menu is updated every 4 to 6 weeks with a few permanent favorites the neighborhood regulars deem too great to be taken off! 

Allie has been in fine dining for years and is particularly inspired by the ingredients Chef McConnell uses and the way he clearly showcases his raw talent in the creation of these dishes.  This restaurant is a true culinary work of art; beginning with the very first thing we order – drinks! Each cocktail and martini is hand assembled from fresh ingredients, made with as much care as each of the entrees. My personal favorite was The Parisian – St. Germain (an Elderflower liqueur) with muddled lemon and mint, champagne and a splash of Combier Royal. This is an elegant version of a traditional Mojito; a refreshing drink very appropriate for summer. For an appetizer, we had Fried Green Tomatoes, a southern girls true love! Lightly breaded with house made Boursin Cheese, shaved red onion, and Cane-Balsamic syrup, these are a melt-in-your-mouth treat.  Next, we tried the Red Pony BLT  Bacon, LOBSTER, and tomato served over Yukon Gold ravioli with truffled corn cream. The sauce is rich, but the saltiness of the applewood bacon offsets it perfectly. This was my favorite dish of the night.

Our final stop for the evening was Sol, fine Mexican cuisine. Along with homemade chips and salsa, we were given three signature margaritas. One pomegranate, called Jason’s Martini, appropriate since it’s the Chef’s own concoction, the second a traditional margarita with Cazadores Blanco, Gran Marnier, Patron Citronge, Cointreau, and fresh lime, and the third an Orange Julio. Very similar to an Orange Julius, this is perfect as a dessert drink or for someone who doesn’t favor the taste of tequila.

As an appetizer (as if we haven’t had enough already!), guacamole made table side. Fresh avocado is mixed with Serrano Chile, cilantro, red onion, and fresh squeezed lime juice… very authentic to the culture. As we dig in, our waitress Lisa suggests we share a couple of entrees to get a broader feel for the menu. She begins describing her favorites – pork roasted for eight hours with Yucatan spices and chicken with mango relish and chipotle balsamic sauce. These sound perfect, and Lisa was right. They both tasted as delectable as she promised.

As we finished our entrees, Chef McConnell came out with shots of their house infused vanilla tequila – Milagro tequila that’s been soaking with vanilla beans and the slightest bit of brown sugar. The shot was light and easy to drink with no need for a chaser… A perfect end to a perfect night.

At all three of Chef McConnells restaurants, we were treated with true southern hospitality. Chef McConnell hosted us at each restaurant, making sure we were satisfied and offering to make us anything we requested. Both the management and the staff were personable and accommodating. “Southern” truly is the perfect adjective for both the food and the atmosphere.

Craving some good ‘ol BBQ, then make sure to take the gals out to Martin’s Barbeque Joint. Martin’s signature barbecue recipe is West Tennessee Whole Hog, a time-consuming and daunting task for most expert meat smokers – one that Martin has spent nearly 20 years perfecting.

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