Main Drag 

High hopes, high horror in Franklin

High hopes, high horror in Franklin

Don’t you just hate it when you spend a lot of money on a new sweater and, after one cleaning, the color fades and the seams begin to unravel? Or when the delivery guy finally brings your new refrigerator and, after the truck pulls away, you notice the dent at the bottom of the door? Or when you’ve finally saved enough money for those great dining room chairs and four of them arrive with wobbly legs? That really, really bugs me.

But you can return clothing and appliances and furniture. Sometimes you can even get your money back or get a replacement. Don’t you wish the same thing could happen with food? Once it’s eaten, a meal can’t be exchanged. Of course, you can return your food and ask for your money back, but who will give you back your time and your wasted anticipation? There’s no fixing a restaurant experience that is simply miserable all around.

That’s exactly what my companions and I encountered on both my visits to 4th & Main, located in the space formerly occupied by Choices in downtown Franklin.

As I never visited Choices, I have no basis for comparison between what used to be and what exists now. The space is pleasant enough. The integrity of the building has been maintained, there’s some nice texture, and the colors are muted and neutral.

The sour notes started sounding when we perused the menu. Maybe it’s standard practice in the restaurant trade, but what is the point of pricing anything on a menu at $6.99 or $12.99 or $24.99? Please, save that sort of marketing for Kmart. It has no place in a restaurant catering to the upper-crust.

Fourth & Main purports to offer “Timeless Dining in Historic Downtown Franklin.” Timeless or time-warped? I was certain the shrimp cocktail would be an updated version of the 1960s restaurant standard, but 4th & Main’s is a faithful and lackluster reproduction of the original: five boiled shrimp stuck into a glass of bland cocktail sauce. The ramaki shrimp, on the other hand, is a slight variation on that cocktail party staple of the ’70s—except for the dry, overcooked shrimp, the greasy bacon, and the sweet barbecue sauce provided as an incongruous accompaniment.

We tried the Louisiana Craw Cakes on both visits. They were better, crispier, and less greasy the second time around, but neither version offered any discernible crawfish flavor.

Both the escargot and portobello starters were visually unappealing, and their taste did nothing to improve upon that first impression. These are pile-ons from the school of excess that brought us baked stuffed potatoes. The escargot—perfectly delightful when simply prepared in a garlic and butter sauce—seemed superfluous to the assemblage of thick tomato sauce with onions and peppers, soggy toasted bread, and a thick cap of rubbery, melted mozzarella. The Brie cream cheese layered between the slices of tough grilled portobello had been nuked into runny oblivion, and it was mired in a sauce that tasted like canned brown gravy.

Salads are included with dinner entrées, or they’re available for $6.99 (not $7) à la carte. At dinner, I’d choose the fresh and simple house salad with its tangy dressing. The frisée salad was an utter disappointment on both visits; the curly greens, which should be tart and crisp, were limp and waterlogged. We could detect no evidence of garlic or anchovy in the mayonnaisy Caesar salad; the orange dressing on the spinach salad was uninspired.

The most successful entrées were the three that involved steak: a grilled filet topped with bleu cheese, a New York strip topped with herbed butter, and pan-seared medallions topped with a brown mushroom sauce. In each case, the meat was tender and cooked to order, and the accompanying sauces provided the appropriate enhancements.

On the other hand, there were quality-control problems both times with the skimpy, fatty, gristly lamb chops. We looked and looked, but the promised lingonberry demi-glace had apparently evaporated into thin air. The French Market salmon, on the other hand, did deliver what it promised, a cacophony of conflicting flavors that had nothing to do with one another. The filet of salmon was coated in salty Cajun seasonings, then pan-seared and placed on a bed of penne pasta in lobster sauce with crawfish-tasso salsa. (On our second visit, the special was another confused concoction of Cajun-spiced salmon with bacon and chili cheese sauce, of all things.)

The hazelnut-pecan chicken gave me a flashback to a recipe my mother might have found on the back of a soup can in the early ’60s—and I assure you that is not a sentimental nod to home-cooking. The shrimp scampi, as described on the menu, has little to do with the real thing—large Italian prawns, usually sautéed in butter and garlic. At 4th & Main, in what is basically a pasta dish, the shrimp were small and hadn’t been anywhere near a sauté pan. They had simply been boiled, shelled, and thrown into the mix of penne, a scant offering of artichokes and diced Roma tomatoes, and a sauce so light it floated away. On the second visit, the shrimp had been sautéed, the artichokes were plentiful, and the sauce was more flavorful.

The side dishes brought up another of my restaurant pet peeves—a rotating cast of four, with no thought given to their relationship with the lead player on the plate. Nearly all entrées come with the all-too-familiar pile of limp, steamed, julienned squash, zucchini, and carrots. Four dishes came with timidly seasoned garlic mashed potatoes; the others are sided either by overcooked linguine or by salty herbed rice.

Several desserts were still partially frozen. One, the peach biscuit pie, was designed to be served that way, but when it came to the table, it was so hard it was impenetrable. Espresso and cappuccino are unavailable, but who wants to linger?

On our first visit, the bill for six, including two bottles of wine and several beers, was $309.10, before tip. The second time around, the pre-tip bill for three, with one bottle of wine and two cocktails, was $157.46. (The two cocktails, by the way, were a piòa colada with no pineapple juice and a mint julep made with crème de menthe and, for garnish, a thick spear of zucchini peel.)

With prices like these—entrées average $19.99—4th & Main isn’t a place where you’re likely to drop by for a casual bite. Management even recommends making reservations, which suggests preplanning. And don’t you just hate it when you finally get a babysitter and you and your spouse go to a restaurant expecting to have a special evening, only to come away disappointed and dissatisfied?

I keep that in mind when I’m writing a review like this one. Sitting in front of my computer, with an unpleasant taste still lingering in my mind, I always feel the conflict between the way I was raised to act and the job I am paid to do. My mother’s words echo in the back of my mind: “If you don’t have anything nice to say, say nothing at all.” On the other hand, my responsibility as a restaurant critic requires me to report honestly on my experiences. In this case, all I can say is, “Sorry, Mom.”

4th & Main is located at 108 4th Ave. in Franklin (791-0001).

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