My Dear Husband is an adventurous eater but I could tell he wasn’t impressed when we first stepped in one of those Mongolian barbecue/grill places — too crowded, too many choices, too much work. I already had fallen in love with the concept of fill-your-bowl-and-let-somebody-cook-it-on-a-grill at the sadly now-defunct and much-mourned Fire and Ice in Birmingham, Alabama — and after his first taste, Husband joined the fan club, too. I mean, it’s like wandering through a grocery store and choosing your favorite ingredients for the best stir-fry ever and then letting somebody else do all the work, resulting in a bowl of pure perfection. Now Husband and I try every Mongolian place we come across, but our favorite is Genghis Grill, around the Galleria area in Franklin, Tenn. It’s on our must-eat list every time we head that way. In fact, Dear Husband starts talking about it days in advance. After all, who could resist the chance to create your own dish with its own can’t-be-duplicated flavors and the never-fail entertainment value of watching your carefully constructed bowl transform into lunch? Not us. Besides digging in to my freshly cooked bowl, one of my favorite Genghis Grill activities is matching other diners with their food choices as we all stand around the grill and covertly make sure nobody’s bowl is better than our own. Who, for instance, ignored all green items and went straight for meat and potatoes? Who’s the one who went heavy on the shrimp? And which liberal-leaning Greenpeace leftist went mainly with bok choy and tofu with a smattering of bean sprouts? Oh, yeah — that was me.
As Liz Lemon says, don’t you “want to go there?” This is Sol, a funky and fun restaurant on Main Street off the square in Franklin, Tennessee. My husband and I wandered in on a recent late-night meander and instantly were captivated. Only the bar was open so we plopped ourselves down and enjoyed exploring the whimsical Mexican menu — and decor. Both are sort of casual-cool with an eclectic twist. It’s Frida Kahlo meets Iron Chef and obviously a popular gathering spot for the young and hip. We felt right at home (!) and happily devoured some deliciously fresh nachos washed down with cold beer — one of our favorite meals — and vowed to come back when we could work our way through the dinner menu: salmon wrapped in a banana-leaf, fish tacos and a poblano-potato cake especially looked good. We remember this same space when it was an upscale Italian sort of restaurant and marveled at the transition. Downtown Franklin is a happening place, worthy of a visit just to walk and eat and shop. Check out Sol at http://www.solonmain.com/ (that’s where these photos came from — it was way too dark, in a good way, for pics the night we were there) and learn more about Franklin at http://www.visitwilliamson.com/
On that same trip to Franklin, we also ate at Basil Asian Bistro, on Carothers Parkway across I-65 from Cool Springs Galleria. If Sol is vibrantly energetic, then Basil is calmly zen. It’s white tablecloths and quiet conversation but with the same appreciation for fresh ingredients and authentically prepared food. The extensive menu offered sushi, pad thai, curry and other classics. Luckily, we were with our friends Ted and Elayne, who had picked Basil for our lunch and steered us to their favorite dishes — and they were right. My husband and I especially loved the inventive sushi, the crisply cooked vegetables and the strong and fragrant hot tea. Good food and good company can’t be beat. We’ll be back. Go to http://www.basilasianbistro.com for details.
Another option in Franklin, Tenn. — after you’ve checked out the historic downtown area — is The Factory, www.factoryatfranklin.com. It’s a renovated 80-year-old factory full of shops and eateries as well as artists’ spaces set up in the walkways sort of like an arts-and-crafts show. The developer wanted this to be a creative as well as commercial center, and it is. Even though The Factory is an enclosed mall, you’ll feel as if you’re strolling along a hometown Main Street and shopping with local family
businesses — no Gap or American Eagle here. Don’t miss: Stoveworks Restaurant, with incredibly delicious bite-sized spoon rolls served in a basket; Constant Craving Carryout, where you can pick up fresh gourmet food to eat there or take home for supper; and Frisky Berry Coffee Co., where a guitar-strumming folksinger will accompany your afternoon cappuccino. Hmm … food and drink seems to be a theme for me here. But you actually can shop and buy things, too. Probably one of the most “famous” retailers at The Factory is The Viking Store, www.vikingcookingschool.com. Folks come from all over to take cooking classes here and buy some of those wonderful didn’t-know-I-needed-it-’til-I-saw-it kitchen tools (but the store’s being remodeled now and inventory is low). There’s also an antique shop, a consignment store, art galleries, a smocking shop and a couple women’s boutiques as well as, luckily for grandparents, toy stores and an upscale children’s clothing shop.
As a working factory, the building has housed Dortch Stove Works and Magic Chef, and The Factory pays tribute to those roots with touches such as vintage appliances, retro home decor and this oversized wreath decorated with kitchen essentials. (Note my suitcase-like green purse on the bench below for size comparison!)
The exterior of The Factory is landscaped beautifully, and the renovation work to what could have been a dump is a must-see. The Factory is a great place to spend the day. I met friends there at 11 a.m. and we stayed until at least 4 p.m. — talking, eating and wandering around. It seems that’s sort of what the space is meant for: people meeting and greeting and enjoying themselves. And, oh yes, buying things!
I want to live in downtown Franklin, Tenn. And have lots of money. Well, a girl’s gotta dream, right? But even without lots of money, it’s still fun to go to Franklin. So many cute stores! Visit http://www.historicfranklin.com/ to learn more about this historic, renovated, shopper-friendly downtown. Some of my favorite stores include Philanthropy, www.philanthropyfashion.com, a clothing and gift boutique full of creative pieces from around the world, like these candles that look and smell unlike any others. You’ll also find jewelry, handbags, notepads, T-shirts, swingy skirts, throw pillows, party goods and other treasures there. Part of your purchase price goes to causes the store supports, so you can feel even better about shopping there.
At the bright and airy Bathos, www.bathosonline.com, you buy soaps, scrubs, lotions, oils and other goodies in a shop set up like an old-fashioned grocery store.
In fact, this reminded me so much of a tiny grocery near my gandparents’ house in Effingham, Ill., when I was little that I felt as if I’d time-traveled there. Other downtown Franklin spots I love to linger in are Rare Prints Gallery, www.rareprintsgallery.com, where you can wander around and admire and learn from the knowledgable staffers who are happy to talk about their museum-quality offerings and Franklin Tea, www.franklintea.com , a calm and serene sanctuary of international tea. Also try Bijou, a home and gift shop with cheerful fabrics and nature motifs. And this was only one block on one side of the street! Everyone is helpful and friendly — a great day or weekend trip for anyone who needs a break.