I'm Lindsay Ferrier, a Nashville writer with a passion for family travel, exploring Tennessee, and raising kids without losing my mind in the process. This is where I share my discoveries, along with occasional deep thoughts, pop culture tangents and a sprinkling of snark. Want to get in touch? Use the CONTACT form at the top of the page.
February 25, 2019
This post was written in partnership with Visit Rutherford.
Nashville’s restaurant scene is on fire right now, but while this means more options on the food front, it also means higher prices, longer waits for a table, and the disappearance of longtime local favorites that can’t shoulder the skyrocketing rent. Fortunately, plenty of quirky cafes, Southern-style meat and threes, and inventive ethnic eateries continue to thrive in the towns surrounding Music City. Here are ten of our favorites, all within an hour’s drive of Nashville city limits.
Tennessee’s oldest restaurant can be found in the heart of historic downtown Murfreesboro. Since 1900, City Cafe has been serving up hot meals to hungry ‘Boroeans (yes, I just made that word up) and it has all the atmosphere and down-home coziness of an eatery pulled straight from the pages of a Fannie Flagg novel. Southern staples are the name of the game here — Choose from favorites like biscuits and gravy, country fried steak, and fried bologna sandwiches, or opt for one of the cafe’s thick, juicy burgers, clearly a local favorite. City Cafe is open for breakfast and lunch and closes at 2pm. You’ll find it at 113 E. Main Street.
It’s hard to beat this versatile local favorite in downtown Murfreesboro. Whether you’re stopping in for a casual lunch or a romantic dinner, The Alley on Main will not disappoint. Here, the deliciousness is in the details. Menu favorites like the Chicken Parmesan and lasagna are time-honored recipes straight from owner Shawn Hackison’s large Italian family. (The tomato sauce recipe is 120 years old!) Everything served here, from the house-cured pork belly to the carrot cake, is prepared from scratch. The grilled salmon is sushi grade and flown in fresh. And the prices for everything are a total bargain by Nashville standards. We had The Alley Sammie the last time we were in — marinated tenderloin, grilled onions, sauteed mushrooms and cheese on a toasted sourdough roll– and it was incredible!
The Alley on Main is located at 223 W. Main Street.
Thanks to the eclectic Carpe Cafe, it’s definitely worth your while to head to historic downtown Smyrna for breakfast, lunch, or coffee and baked goods. Build your own breakfast burrito (breakfast is served all day!) or opt for the chicken salad croissant — It’s the restaurant’s top seller. I’m personally a big fan of the Mozart French Dip, a toasted hoagie bun filled with roast beef, caramelized onions, and melted havarti cheese. And be sure to save room for dessert — Their cakes and pies are divine.
Since Carpe Cafe’s sales help fund Carpe Artista, which trains and promotes local artists in Rutherford County, you can feel extra good about your purchases. You’ll find Carpe Cafe at 115 Front St, across the street from the old Smyrna Train Depot.
For 75 years, Miller’s Grocery served the residents of Christiana, a bustling whistle-stop community 45 minutes from Nashville. Times changed, the automobile caught on, and Christiana’s businesses died off — but a Southern-style cafe featuring home cooking now inhabits the antique-filled former grocery store and it’s a hit with Tennesseans from miles around. Lunch is served Tuesday through Saturday, dinner with live music on Friday and Saturday nights, and Sunday from 11 to 2, locals flock to Miller’s for a buffet-style Sunday dinner.
Lunch at Kleer-Vu Lunchroom has been a Murfreesboro tradition for more than 40 years. Townspeople form lines out the door for the buffet of traditional Southern soul food, which includes fried chicken and fish, local vegetables, macaroni and cheese, and made-from-scratch desserts. Everything’s a hit here, but special favorites include the turnip greens, barbecue ribs, chess pie, and hot water cornbread.
Kleer-Vu Lunchroom is just a few blocks from downtown Murfreesboro on 226 S. Highland Avenue.
Less than an hour from Nashville in Readyville, Tennessee, you’ll find the 200-year-old Readyville Mill, home to one of the most popular brunch spots in the state. At the mill’s Goodness Gracious Cafe, the pancakes and corncakes are made using organic wheat and corn stone-ground in the mill itself. The brunch menu here is absolutely mouth-watering — Choose from gouda grits, blackened salmon eggs benedict, a smoked turkey, brie, and apple butter sandwich, or many other more traditional favorites.
The cafe is open Friday-Sunday until 2pm; Reservations aren’t required, but they are recommended. The mill is located at 5418 Murfreesboro Road in Readyville.
Open since 1992 in historic downtown Murfreesboro, Marina’s on the Square has long been a date night favorite for locals, but it’s also popular for takeout and business lunches. Here, you’ll find traditional Italian dishes, to-die-for calzones, and what some call the best pizza in Tennessee. Marina’s is located at 125 N. Maple Street.
Looking for authentic Thai dishes and super-fresh sushi rolls? Owned by the same Thai family since 2008, Lemongrass Thai is the real deal and it’s a Murfreesboro favorite. Choose from Thai or Japanese menus and prepare to chow down on beautifully crafted dishes made with fresh fish and hand-grown Thai herbs. Don’t see your favorite sushi roll on the menu? Just ask — The chefs are happy to create a custom roll just for you. You’ll find the restaurant at 220 Veterans Pkwy in Murfreesboro.
Owned and operated by the same Greek family for 32 years, the Parthenon Grille is a Murfreesboro go-to for brunch, lunch, and dinner. Its menus contain a wide range of both Greek and American favorites, including gyro pitas, lamb chops, steaks, seafood, and sandwiches. Customers rave about the Salmon Mascarpone, Oysters Rockefeller, Greek salad, and gyro plate. The Parthenon Grille can be found at 1962 S Church St in Murfreesboro.
You’ll find La Tavola nestled in Smyrna’s up-and-coming historic downtown at 114 Front Street. Expect a classic Italian menu with delicious pizza and calzones as well as crowd pleasing appetizers, tasty entrees like lasagna and spaghetti Bolognese, and phenomenal desserts. We had a very enjoyable meal here on a Smyrna ‘staycation’ and our portions were so huge, we had plenty left over for dinner the next night as well. We also liked the restaurant’s location and small-town, Stars Hollow feel. La Tavola is open seven days a week for lunch and dinner. Ownership recently changed hands, so let’s hope it continues to deliver.