The Food Biz: Whimsical nautical theme

A local restaurant empire expands in Franklin with the addition of Puckett’s Boathouse

The people at Puckett’s always seem to have something new going on. Earlier this year it was the Puckett’s Trolley, a complete mobile-kitchen extension of the two Puckett’s Grocery and Restaurant locations, one in Franklin and one in downtown Nashville. Both restaurants are popular spots serving up Southern food, barbecue and live music.

Just a couple of months ago, Puckett’s owner Andy Marshall told me he was working on opening a Puckett’s in Columbia, as well as a new concept, Gray’s on Main, to fill the old Gray’s Drugstore building in downtown Franklin.

Those two projects are still in the works, but in the interim Marshall has opened yet another restaurant, Puckett’s Boat House, on Main Street at the edge of downtown Franklin. It takes over the space held by Route 31 Cafe and Marcia’s Patisserie.

“This was a really quick turnaround,” Marshall said of the new place, “because the site was a currently operating restaurant.”

The owners of Route 31 and the bakery, Jay and Marcia Franks, approached Marshall about reworking the business Puckett’s-style.

Marshall said he and the team didn’t want to simply replicate Puckett’s. “We decided to think about other kinds of comfort food,” he said. What they hit upon was seafood, especially apt since the restaurant site is near the Harpeth River and used to be known as the Boat Locker.

Gulf seafood, Mississippi catfish, fresh shrimp and oysters — “it just seemed like a perfect match with this location,” Marshall said.

He conceded that the Harpeth is not exactly the mighty Mississippi. “At times it’s no more than a creek,” he noted, laughing. But the nautical theme is expressed somewhat whimsically. In fact, the decor in one of the dining rooms features an actual boat on a serene pond, floating upside-down on the ceiling.

As for the menu, Marshall said they aimed for items that would “bring back good memories of family vacations” on Southern beaches.

Since the soft opening June 4, a couple of dishes have proven especially popular, Marshall said, including an appetizer of hand-breaded crab claws and the hot fish, which comes fried or grilled, with house-made spicy pickles.

There’s also a lineup of Apalachicola oysters prepared various ways, either grilled or raw.

Southern-style desserts are made from scratch, Marshall said, including fried pies and banana pudding. For the kids, there’s a soft-serve ice cream bar, and for the adults, there’s a full-service bar with beer and cocktails.

And there’s plenty of room for everybody — this is not a small restaurant. Marshall said there are 200 seats inside, and 70 to 80 more outside on two patios.

Meanwhile, Marshall said work continues on the two other restaurant projects. He hopes to launch Gray’s on Main later this summer, and Puckett’s in Columbia is expected to open in October.

Puckett’s Boat House is at 98 E. Main St. in Franklin. The phone number is 790-2309. Hours: 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Sunday-Thursday; 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Friday-Saturday. The bar stays open later, serving oysters and appetizers.


Spicy specialty

Nashville’s own spicy specialty, hot chicken — or as Travel + Leisure magazine called it, “Nashville-style napalm” — continues to thrive, and word continues to spread from coast to coast. Nashville has Prince’s and Bolton’s, Pepperfire and 400 Degrees, and a whole annual July 4 festival, the Music City Hot Chicken Fest, to help us count our blast-furnace blessings. (Brooklyn, N.Y., has Peaches Hot House, but we’re not here to talk about Yankee ripoffs … er, I mean homages.)

Now Nashville’s bustling Midtown district is about to get its first outpost of fiery orange poultry. The father-and-son team of Nick Bishop, senior and junior, are working to open Hattie’s Fried Chicken in a space on Broadway behind Gigi’s Cupcakes.

The Bishops already have a restaurant, the Cool Springs meat-and-three called quite simply Bishop’s, which opened in 2007. I reached Nick Jr. there by phone and he told me about the plans for the new Midtown place.

“We both always loved hot chicken, like Prince’s and Bolton’s, so we started playing around with it here [at Bishop’s]. We put it on the board, made it to order for people, and watched it grow.”

In planning Hattie’s, he said, “We wanted to be able to offer all of it, more Southern traditional sides like collards and pinto beans. … We’ll have hot chicken with different levels of heat, plus regular fried chicken and grilled chicken, because I think this area calls for it.”

Hattie’s will also offer a couple other amenities you don’t find at most hot chicken joints, like outdoor seating and beer. “We think it will be a nice draw,” Bishop said.

The Bishops are generational restaurant folks. The elder Bishop is the son of Gene Bishop, who was the CEO of the Morrison’s Cafeteria chain. Nick Sr. worked for that company for many years, including its foray into hospital food service, which is what brought the family to Nashville 20 years ago. Nick the elder retired from that a while back and started Bishop’s.

“Growing up in Nashville, it’s been really cool to watch the culinary scene take off,” said Nick Jr., who lives in the 12South neighborhood. Now he and his dad hope to contribute to that scene and help spread the gospel of hot chicken.

Hattie’s Hot Chicken, 1816 Broadway, Suite B, is expected to open in mid- to late July.