Nashville locals know to avoid glittery, gimmicky tourist traps downtown when looking for quality cuisine. But recently-opened restaurant The Row Kitchen & Pub just might bridge the gap between outstanding food and country music culture.
“We’re trying to pay homage to singers and songwriters in Nashville with our cuisine and atmosphere, rather than honkey-tonk it up,” said Ryan Decker, The Row’s marketing coordinator.
But the restaurant doesn’t look like a honky-tonk.
Many of the booths feature bios and photographs of various songwriters, like Harlan Howard who frequented the building before it was The Row.
The building was once home to The Peddler restaurant, and then, for many years, Longhorn Steakhouse. Throughout the Longhorn days, Music Row singers and songwriters would come to eat, drink and kickback together, Decker said.
“Brooks and Dunn were introduced to each other in this building. Earl Bud Lee sold the publishing rights to ‘Friends in Low Places’ for a bar tab here,” Decker said. “There’s a lot of history in this building. It’s the history of working-class poets.”
Server Alex Vucelich agreed The Row aims to honor music professionals in a subdued atmosphere.
“You can’t go anywhere downtown without seeing Willie Nelson and Johnny Cash on the walls, but this place goes a bit deeper,” Vucelich said. “Every tourist might not recognize Harlan Howard or Ronnie Miller from CMT, but we want to honor those people.”
While it doesn’t have the glitz and noise of a downtown honky-tonk, The Row does feature live music Wednesdays through Saturdays, from 8 to 10 p.m., on a small stage in the enclosed patio-bar.
The Row invites local singers and songwriters to play original songs.
“We’re trying to get people in here to express their musical talents with their own songs,” Decker said. “This isn’t some bar where you hear covers of ‘Wagon Wheel’ every night. It’s more like a Bluebird Cafe kind of thing.”
But it’s not just about the music and atmosphere. The Row’s cuisine and drinks have been crafted and selected with Nashville’s culture in mind.
The bar has 24 drafts, all from Nashville or southern breweries. And the bread it serves is from Nashville’s Charpier’s Wholesale Bakery. The cheese comes from Kenny’s Farmhouse Cheese nearby in Kentucky, and the meats come from farms in the region.
The Row’s chefs pickle the vegetables and even make the barbecue sauces and jams in the kitchen.
Alabama native Mike Nguyen, 23, said he could really taste the freshness of his roll burger with pimento cheese and fried green tomatoes.
“It was great southern food, and it came out quick,” he said. “On top of that, we’re used to deep-South hospitality, and the waiter was really nice. Can’t get better than that.”
Other customers agreed, including Christine So, 24, from Michigan.
“We’d heard from some locals that this is the new Nashville experience,” she said. She and her friends split appetizers, including the bacon macaroni and cheese, pimento cheese, guacamole and fried pickles.
“We were so happy. We finished all of our food,” she said. “It was a pretty optimal experience.”
Her friend Natasha Arnold, 24, was satisfied as well.
“I really enjoyed the outdoor atmosphere. They have this semi-enclosed patio area, so you still get the outdoor experience without the rain,” Arnold said. “And splitting it was just $7 a plate.”
More standout menu items include the barbecue pork. It’s pit-smoked in-house and served on a cornmeal cake.
It may not be quite as juicy as Nashville favorites like Edley’s Bar-B-Que and Hog Heaven BBQ, but the homemade sauces make all the difference. The spicy barbecue sauce was zesty but low on heat, and the creamy, savory white barbecue sauce, as Decker said, would be delicious on just about anything.
The Row’s dense country biscuits can’t touch the fluffiness of Loveless Cafe’s famous biscuits, but they’re baked fresh daily and served with blackberry preserves, strawberry preserves and a deliciously-nuanced tomato jam.
The selection of pickled okra, carrots, pickles and beets also make for a flavorful and healthy appetizer.
“We really try to combine interesting flavors while keeping with the Southern classics – things like honey-drizzled chicken, tomato jam on biscuits, and we use our awesome corn cakes instead of the typical white-bread buns,” Decker said. “It differentiates us from the rest.”
Many of the customers leaving The Row after eating weren’t from Nashville, but said they’d want to return on their next visit.
“I couldn’t complain about a thing,” Arnold said. “It didn’t feel over the top with their music thing, and the food was some of the best I’ve had. I couldn’t believe this place was so new.”