It’s about time I dedicated a post to my favorite restaurant ever.
I’m not normally one to pick favorites, but Rolf and Daughters (R&D to locals) delivers time after time after time. Located in the Germantown neighborhood of Nashville, not far from downtown but far enough where you’ll want to catch an Uber, its unconventional setting in an old burlap factory amid residential streets speaks to its simple aspiration to be a good neighborhood restaurant. It’s far surpassed its own initial expectations, having become a nationally-recognized foodie darling honored by Bon Appetit as its #3 best new restaurant in America in 2013.
My first visit to the Nashville staple was with colleagues on a business trip in 2015. I’ve made a point to go back on all but one visit since, most recently with my family. My latest visit was by far the most special, since I got to share it with my parents and sisters.
Here’s what makes R&D stand out over any restaurant I’ve ever been to, anywhere.
Ever find yourself at a restaurant practically flagging down the waiter for a water refill? Yeah, that won’t happen here. On my latest visit, I could barely take a sip before Steve was back with a top-off (it’s too bad it doesn’t work that way with the cocktails).
But what really sets R&D’s wait staff apart is their command of the food and drink menu. If you measure restaurants in part by how knowledgeable the wait staff are about the menu, you will be more than impressed here. Rolf and Daughters clearly educates its staff about every last detail of the food, down to the provenance of the ingredients. I’ve had a different waiter or waitress every visit, and each time they’ve patiently walked my party through everything, from the smallest details of the ingredients to the overall taste profile you can expect. They even describe the craft cocktails in a way that gives me confidence in my order – which, for anyone else who thinks today’s cocktail menus are all written in Greek, is a total comfort (more on that below).
I can’t claim that Rolf and Daughters has the best or most inventive cocktails I’ve ever tried (that title goes to you, Tiger Fork), but I can always count on them being smooth and pleasantly balanced. The menu usually features one or two twists on classic recipes, along with creations that they invent behind the bar. Many of the liquor infusions, purees and juices used in cocktails are homemade by the bar staff.
On my most recent visit, my oldest sister asked about the flavor profile of a drink on the menu. Our waiter, Steve, patiently walked her through her options that night. When she wasn’t responding favorably to what he was describing, he offered to make her a different cocktail that wasn’t on the menu yet (and for which the restaurant only had ingredients left for one drink). She loved it, and we were impressed at the lengths he went to match a cocktail to her preferences.
If anything, I’ve become so accustomed to Rolf and Daughters’ unique flavor combinations that my expectations continue to rise every time I visit. While I can’t remember the specifics of past meals, I know I can count on each plate having some unexpected element that sets it apart from other restaurants.
Steve described the menu’s inspiration as “Italian and European peasant food” (historically speaking). Everything is made with seasonal fresh ingredients. There’s an abundance of pasta, but some of my favorite dishes have been unexpected pairings of veggies and herbs with seemingly basic meats or sauces. The physical menu sets your expectations to underwhelm (it’s just a listing of ingredients), but the flavors together are unexpected and exciting.
The small menu is organized by the plate size. All appetizers and shareable plates are at the top, working their way from the smallest (homemade sourdough with seaweed butter) to largest (beef short rib large enough to feed two). Signature dishes are at the bottom – four rotating plates of pasta that are just smaller than entree size (so you’ll want to have an app or two).
One of the more memorable dishes from my latest visit was a baked sweet potato with nduja butter, allium and lime. Nduja is a spreadable pork salumi, so it made the dish quite savory. Allium are onions, which were used as a garnish. Those ingredients alone made for a great sweet potato, but in true R&D style, they brought something completely unexpected. A hearty squeeze of lime over the top of the potato brightened up the entire dish and tied all of the flavors together. We all fought over the last bite.
My middle sister’s main dish, a rigatoni with lamb, was the overall winner of the evening. The house-made pasta tossed with lamb and beans might sound like a hearty meal, but in fact it was extremely light. Like the sweet potato, a hearty dose of citrus brightened the dish considerably. I was surprised at how much I loved it, because it’s not something I would usually think to order. I’ve noted it for the next time I go back (hopefully soon).
The setting in an old burlap factory gives R&D a strong rustic/Americana vibe. Dare I say hipster, too? Well, one look at the wait staff and bartenders will confirm that, but not in an obnoxious way. Rolf and Daughters really strives to be a casual neighborhood restaurant, with walk-ins welcome, and long communal tables mixed with smaller booths and two- and four-seaters.
The rustic wood scheme, low lighting and vintage-inspired uniforms for the wait staff create a strong early- to mid-20th century vibe. The space feels expansive because of the tall ceilings, but the actual tables are pretty intimate. I can’t remember ever overhearing a neighbor’s conversation.
The bottom line
If you find yourself in Nashville, do yourself a favor and eat here. R&D certainly isn’t the least expensive dining option in town, but trust me, it’s worth the splurge. It’s an experience that your taste buds will thank you for. I’d recommend taking a small group of people so you can try as much of the menu as possible. I hope you have the opportunity to visit, and if you do, please tell me what you thought of it!
Rolf and Daughters
Location: 700 Taylor Street, Nashville, TN 37208
Hours: Monday-Sunday 5:30-10:00 p.m.
Price: Usually hits around $50+ per person for some small plates to share, a large plate each, and cocktails. Can certainly be done for less but you probably won’t leave full. Small share plates $5-$16, large plates $17-$64.