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.
December 20, 2021
Four times a year at an undisclosed (to me) location in Nashville, a dozen men and women holding candles and dressed in black, hooded robes solemnly file into a room furnished only with a massive table and chairs. Silently, they place their candles at the table’s center, sit, and lower their hoods. As they cover their eyes with the satin blindfolds placed before each seat, Nashville restaurateur Austin Ray enters the room and raises his arms to the sky. “Ladies and gentlemen,” he intones grandly, “Let Beer Council commence.” A gong is struck by an aging Grand Ole Opry member and ten M.L.Rose servers enter the room bearing trays laden with dozens of varieties of beer. Over the next several hours, this secret Council will blind taste each beer and vote on whether it should be added to the upcoming menu. Members are only permitted to leave the room after their votes are counted and certified by a panel of dark-suited, wizened accountants who watch, hawk-eyed, from a corner of the room.
Is this description for real? Well. Maybe not. But it’s what I found myself imagining as Austin and his marketing director, Katy Sanders, enthusiastically described their Beer Council to me at a recent gathering. I suppose it’s possible that Beer Council is actually just a group of restaurant and bar staff who meet each season to taste various beers and decide which ones should make the cut, but I like my version better. Either way, I’m dying to somehow infiltrate the beer council and blind test the night away — and I don’t even drink beer.
While I sorted that out, I decided it was time for another visit to M.L.Rose. Since opening as Melrose Pub back in 2008, the cozy neighborhood hang has become a Nashville staple and expanded to four locations — The latest opened in Mt. Juliet earlier this year. I still remember the early days when the beer list was printed out on a single sheet of paper. Today, it’s up to 36 taps and around 50 bottled beers, all separated on the shiny, two-page beer menu into categories like ‘Bright & Crisp,’ ‘Slightly Hoppy’ and ‘Gluten-Conscious,’ so that even someone like me can figure out exactly what to drink — something that’s become really important to me since my infamous ‘excuse me, but this cider tastes like actual shit’ experience from a few years ago.
With so many new places opening all over town, I confess I may have taken M.L.Rose for granted in recent years. It’s achieved a sort of comfy, ‘everybody knows your name’ pub status in my mind — a tried and true option for employee going away parties, TV sporting events, family gatherings, and casual date nights. But after a big lunch at the Sylvan Park location last weekend, I was reminded that the food is far better than you’d expect from a place known primarily for its craft brews and trivia nights.
As I mentioned above, I don’t generally drink beer if there are other beverages to choose from — but at M.L.Rose, I’ll make an exception for a few reasons, one being that the draft menu is filled almost exclusively with beers made here in Nashville. That makes it a great opportunity to try beers from many of the breweries popping up around town. I also really appreciate the detailed descriptions of each beer on the menu. I’ve found them to be spot-on when it comes to choosing what I’d like. Add a top-secret Beer Council that has actually voted in every option on the menu and I’m 100% in. I will be ordering beer at M.L.Rose from now on.
On our most recent visit, my husband tried 3 Floyds Robert the Bruce Scottish Ale (‘full-bodied with roasted, biscuit-like notes and a smooth mouthfeel’) and declared it his new favorite beer. I know I liked it too, because in my notes that day, I wrote ‘It was brown and it was good.’
I was also pleasantly surprised by 3 Floyds Zombie Dust Pale Ale (‘intensely hopped and gushing’), which had a grapefruit zing that brightened but didn’t overpower. I want to go back and try more of what’s on draft some time when the kids aren’t around — On our next visit, I’ll probably opt for a flight so that I can try several different beers and find my perfect match.
I was able to try enough dishes to say with reasonable confidence that I don’t think you can go wrong ordering off the M.L.Rose menu. Everything is delicious. However, there are a few standouts that I’ll be going back for.
No fancy name is needed for this simple yet addictive appetizer, which was a favorite with everyone at our table. Dip these crispy-yet-soft pretzel bites into either warm queso or the horseradish taproom sauce (which is wonderful) and you won’t be sorry.
If there were an award for waffle fries, M.L.Rose would win it for its ANM.L. fries, which could easily be a full meal all by themselves. This is one of the dishes here I now find myself thinking of now when I wake up at two in the morning. You’re looking at perfectly crisp waffle fries topped with ground Angus beef, cheddar and jack cheese, lettuce, tomato, onion and pickle, and drizzled with awesome sauce. I suggest you also ask for extra sauce on the side for added dipping pleasure. I will never again darken the door of M.L.Rose without ordering these fries and that’s a promise.
If you’re craving queso, I don’t think you can do better than the savory skillet queso at M.L.Rose. Loaded with chorizo, corn salsa, pico de gallo, and grilled jalapeño and served with house made tortilla chips, this was another family favorite. It’s also very filling. This is a perfect snack for a cold winter day.
Is a neighborhood bar really a neighborhood bar without wings? M.L.Rose offers up traditional favorites like buffalo wings and cajun dry rub wings, but for those looking to add a little sophistication to their wing-inhaling experience, there are also bourbon bbq wings (tossed in an excellent Belle Meade Bourbon BBQ sauce) and tiki torch wings, tossed in sriracha-coconut sauce and topped with sesame seeds, green onions, sriracha ranch drizzle. Of the two, we preferred the bourbon bbq wings (and we really enjoyed the slaw that came with it), but the tiki torch wings are wonderful as well, particularly if you’re a fan of sriracha. I can also tell you firsthand that both kinds of wings taste excellent cold from the refrigerator the next day.
M.L.Rose is definitely best known for its craft burgers, with good reason. It’s clear as soon as you bite into one that a lot of thought went into each burger’s creation We tried three different varieties on our last visit. The Sgt. Pepper burger was phenomenal, with two smashed patties, habanero jack, grilled jalapeño, chipotle ranch, onion, tomato, and a to-die-for serrano-bleu cheese mixture that took this burger to a whole ‘nother level.
The Southern Belle burger, topped with pimento cheese, bacon, Belle Meade Bourbon bbq sauce, lettuce, tomato, duke’s mayo, and crispy tobacco onions on a sweet potato bun, is a favorite with many loyal M.L.Rose patrons — plus, a portion of the proceeds from this particular burger goes to the Martha O’Bryan Center, so it satisfies both your tastebuds and your conscience.
But the burger that stole my heart and has now become one of my absolute favorite burgers in a city filled with great burgers is the Taproom burger. Featuring two smashed patties, bacon, Swiss cheese, braised onions, horseradish taproom sauce, and pickles on a pretzel bun, this burger sounds fairly simple in comparison to some of the others on the menu — yet after tasting it twice now, I’d swear this particular flavor combination was divinely inspired. Yes, I believe the taproom burger came directly from heaven. This is unconfirmed, mind you, so don’t go quoting me to the New York Times. Just try it for yourself and see if you don’t agree with me.
I’ve made many visits over the years to two of the four M.L.Rose locations and I like that each one has its own vibe. The original M.L.Rose on 8th Avenue has the look and feel of a pub that’s been in the neighborhood forever — and it has by Nashville standards, since it opened way back in 2008. The fact that it’s still around and filled with people every time I go says a lot.
Major pros of visiting this location include a parking deck located right next to the building (if you read my food reviews, you know I believe that easy parking is almost as important as the food itself) and an awesome heated and covered patio complete with a fire pit that gives off plenty of heat on a chilly night. Brunch is offered on weekends and team trivia, recently voted the best in Nashville by readers of the Nashville Scene, is on Tuesday nights.
The Sylvan Park location on Charlotte Avenue has a slightly more sophisticated feel. Located in the old Lavender Motors property, there are lots of nods to the site’s history, including hubcaps adorning the walls and an amazing chandelier made of mufflers. This location also has plenty of free parking, a covered, heated patio, a lovely open-air patio with a fire pit and putting green, and it’s dog friendly. Brunch is served on the weekends and team trivia is on Monday nights.
M.L.Rose’s Capitol View location on 11th Avenue has free garage parking, weekend brunch, and a dog friendly patio. Team trivia is on Wednesday nights. And at the newest M.L.Rose in Mt. Juliet, you’ll find a partially covered patio that’s dog friendly, free parking, weekend brunch, and team trivia on Wednesday nights.
Wondering about the significance of the owl featured in the M.L.Rose logo? I was, too! Austin Ray tells me it was inspired by the Nite Owl, one of New Orleans’ many neighborhood bars that he loved seeing when he visited a friend at Tulane in college. “The image of their sign and their little neighborhood street corner stuck with me until the days when I was creating M.L.Rose on 8th Avenue, 8 years later, in a neighborhood without a neighborhood bar,” he says. So the owl is sort of like a talisman, I guess. I like it!
In summary, I highly recommend M.L.Rose if you’re looking for a bar that’s popular with locals, a great spot for an after-work or going-away gathering, a family brunch/lunch, a great place to watch the game, or a laidback date night. Or if you love beer. Or if you think you might like beer more if you just knew what to drink. Enjoy!