The Old Carriage House
In the early 40’s John and Evelyn Rotier (Ro-Tear) were operating a gas station in the Belmont neighbourhood of Nashville. After returning from the war, John, wanting to be in the restaurant business, took over a small space that was once the carriage house for the Elliston Mansion. With that, Rotier's Restaurant, a Nashville, if not American legend was born.
If nothing else, Rotier's is a family business. The odd twist here is, it’s in many ways, a two family business. There’s the Rotier/Crouse family that are children and grand children of Evelyn and John. However, if you head into the kitchen you’ll see a fleet of workers that, more or less are all related. These young men and women are brothers, sisters, cousins, second cousins, etc. Though not related to the owners they treat the kitchen like they do own the place.
Students from the local university round out the staff.
Location, location, location. When the restaurant opened and for many years after Rotier's was, more or less, the only game in town. In that part of Nashville there were only 2 other restaurants and neither of those served beer. John had the market cornered. If that wasn’t enough to keep ‘em coming back the hamburger would. Those two things and gambling were the lifeblood of Rotier's in the early days. The restaurant went more “Full service” after the abolition of gambling in the state of Tennessee.
It was the book Hamburger America by George Motz (Moat-s) that put Rotier's on my radar. He’s since featured it in the Tennessee episode of his new show, Burger Land. It consistently wins “Best burger” in the local Nashville magazines. It’s ranked as one of the 10 best cheeseburgers in Jimmy Buffett’s Parrot Head Handbook and the French Bread version is #27 on the list of 40 Things Every Tennesseean Should Try.
The cut stone building sits right at the road on the edge of Vanderbilt University. The original doors have been replaced and now serve as the entrance and windows.
The interior is pretty tight. There isn’t a lot of space or tables and business is usually brisk. Maximizing space is paramount and it has the feel of an old saloon. There is, as is the case with many legendary places, news article after magazine article after award lining the dining room walls that “horseshoes” around the bar and kitchen.
So let’s get a look at what’s coming out of that kitchen.
I opened with a bowl of Chili. While not the greatest bowl of Red I've ever had, this is one solid dish none the less. Tasting mostly of chili powder and very mildly like cumin it was just tasty. As you could see by the picture it came piping hot but not however spicy hot. Not to worry, there's a bottle of hot sauce on the table. A few drops to add a bit of heat really rounded this out for me. The acid in the hot sauce also brightened up the flavours. Quite meaty with very few beans in a broth somewhere in between rich and delicate.
We had decided to split a Pimento Cheese Sandwich but Mrs. Sippi needed to make a few modifications. It comes toasted with mayo, lettuce and tomato. All those modifiers needed to go and we got it straight up on plain white bread. I took a few bites and thought it was excellent. Mrs. Sippi loved, loved, loved it. Proclaimed it the best PC sandwich she'd ever had. I gave her the other half of my half.
She could not resist the Gizzard Dinner. It comes with Fries (frozen but very good) and a salad (it's salad) with home made dressing. I'm no gizzard expert and as such, didn't get much out of them. Mrs. Sippi thought they were good. She then put some hot sauce on a plate and started dipping. That was the "Ah ha" moment for her. She gobbled them down and thoroughly enjoyed them. One of the kitchen staff came out and was talking with her and said that with gravy is the best way. Sean suggested his favourite was was with their home made Blue Cheese dressing. Next time she says she'll try both ways.
Now, the legendary burger. Lemmie tell ya, it's "All that." Simple in nature in that it's just ground beef (not some special blend of cuts), brought in fresh every morning, simply seasoned and done on a flat top. It comes on a simple bun and I added cheese of course. It's just delicious. The classic American cheeseburger completely done to perfection. I skipped the house specialty served on French bread. I dislike sandwich innards squishing out the back when you bite in and suspected this would be the case. Our waitress confirmed my suspicions. There’s also an option to have it on “Grill bread” which means the patty is jammed into a grilled cheese sandwich. I wanted to try the classic preparation on this trip.
For dessert they have a number of options but being the chocolate fiend I am, I couldn't resist the Hershey's Chocolate Cake. Not really what I was expecting, however it was great. First of all, I love the decadent, uber rich cakes you get sometimes. This isn't it. This is the cake equivalent of taking a mouthful of Hershey's chocolate chips and eating them. Very choclately but not sweet and with a nice, ever so slight bitterness. It was nicely frosted and the chocolate sauce on top was just a bonus.
So there you have it folks. One of America's great burgers (not to mention other fantastic options) in a Nashville institution.
You can find Rotier's at 2413 Elliston Pl, Nashville, Tn.
View Larger Map
You can also find them on the web, facebook and Twitter.
Well that's all for now folks, catch ya later in the food court.