Text by Owen Clark (chef de cuisine of Rolf and Daughters). Photos by Danielle Atkins.
I was all alone the first time I walked into Robert's Western World in downtown Nashville.
It falls somewhere between a honky-tonk bar and a dive bar, and it's the last bastion of proper old-school live music in the city—a nice little escape where you can listen to country and two-step. When you walk in, you'll notice the older crowd sitting really close to the stage and way too close to the dance floor, enjoying classic country tunes by talented local musicians.
Further down the bar, near the back, the younger local kids are there to just drink beers, order fried bologna sandwiches, and shoot the shit. They're also the first ones to complain, "Man, it's so loud in here!"
The first time I saw that happen, I thought, Wait a second. I think that's backwards?
Robert's is still carrying the flame for the very idea that you can still play country music in 2015—in front of a live audience, with no cover—and people will be so excited about it that they'll pay you enough to survive. And as a guest at the bar, you can enjoy all of this while eating a fried bologna sandwich. Locals think of it as a kind of a cheesy, touristy thing, which at times it absolutely is. You couldn't pay me all the money in the world to walk in here on the weekend, but during the weekdays, it's low-key and wonderful.
Nashville's known for its hot chicken, booming restaurant scene, and "meat and three" specials, but it's also known for some really good fried bologna sandwiches. There's the one at Martin's, where they take a whole log (or loaf) of bologna, smoke the entire thing, slice it into a pretty thick patty, and deep-fry it. It has a soufflé-like texture that's really lovely, and it tastes super smoky and salty.
But at Robert's Western World, the sandwich contains thin, individually sliced pieces of bologna that are griddled on a flat-top and then stacked with lettuce, tomato, and mayo on toasted, plain-ass white bread. It's like a stellar BLT, but with more substance to it. For those of us in the service industry, it's a nice treat when you're getting off a late-night shift.
Rolf and Daughters—where I cook—is a six-minute drive from Robert's Western World, so I often shoot over as soon as I get off work to have a sandwich and a beer, listen to three songs, tip the band, and leave.
The bar staff are soldiers. They put up with some seriously ridiculous tourists and their drunken shenanigans. Shots of Jameson, Jack Daniels, and Budweiser are the usual drinks people order from the bar. And most of the people who work the bar—many are musicians themselves—have been there for years. There's a guy named Benny who used to cook in the open kitchen and who's in a band called The Tip, which is almost like 70s/80s rock 'n' roll/blues explosion. All the guys in the band look like they were backup dancers for Poison.
These days, I try to stay away from the brown stuff because I'm getting older. I dance better with beer in me, not whiskey.
This post previously appeared on MUNCHIES in January, 2016.