Summer is made for cooking fresh produce, grilling steaks and seafood, and sipping crisp cocktails shared with others under a starry night.
There are lots of foods that come to mind—hot dogs, potato salad, and fresh strawberry shortcake, just to name a few—when one thinks of summertime. For Murfreesboro residents not wanting to eat at home, the city’s ever-expanding food scene has something for everyone wanting seasonal fare.
If you’re not sure where you’d like to eat, then I’ve got you covered. Here are my five favorite summer foods and where you should try them in the ‘Boro.
Just about everyone has a go-to hamburger spot. When the discussion of “Who’s got the best burger?” comes up, the one that always rises to the top of the debate is Jack Brown’s Beer & Burger Joint. The restaurant has won multiple “Battle of the Burger” and “Ruthie Awards” for the best burger.
In a city brimming with burger places, what makes Jack Brown’s burger so good? Two words: Wagyu beef. Wagyu beef is the end result of a selective Japanese cattle breeding process. It’s a culinary tradition that spans 35,000 years, creating a unique flavor and tenderness not seen in other meats. The iconic marbling of Waygu beef is something that gourmands have come to recognize as a sign of quality.
It’s hard to go wrong with any Jack Brown’s burger, but two of my favorites are the Cobra Kai and the El Chupacabra.
Another great option is Buster’s Place. A quintessential dive bar, Buster’s Place has lasted the test of time when other spots have closed up shop. The menu of Buster’s Place has grown over the years, expanding from its bacon cheeseburger into gourmet territory. Their most creative is the whipped feta, bacon jam, and pickled onion burger.
If you’re worried about Buster’s being too highfalutin for your tastes, then fear not. They still make the basic Buster’s Burger.
A new contender in this arena is Whataburger. Whataburger has become very popular, and a petition with 6,0000 signatures requesting a location open in Murfreesboro was sent to the corporate office in 2019 according to WGNS radio.
Whataburger is best known for its signature made-to-order beef burgers, available 24 hours a day. Founded by Harmon Dobson in 1950 in Corpus Christi, Texas as a small roadside stand, Whataburger now has more than 840 locations across 10 states.
The chain has a history in Middle Tennessee. The first Whataburger opened on Dickerson Road in Nashville in the mid-1950s. By the early 1970s, the original Tennessee franchise location had been shut down, but new locations had opened in other parts of Nashville and the surrounding area. Until the Texas-based chain announced a number of openings to occur in 2021 in the Nashville area, the ones in Middle Tennessee had all been long gone.
Per Mashed, the Double Meat Whataburger is their most popular item.
Mission BBQ brings their food truck to many local events, and the lines are always long. In a few years, it has taken over for many Murfreesboro residents' choice of “best ribs in the area.”
The first Mission BBQ was opened in 2011 in Maryland as a means to support the military and first responders. Founders Bill Kraus and Steve Newton traveled the country to try some of the best barbecues in the U.S. Their Bay-B-Back Ribs are fall-off-the-bone tender, seasoned with Old Bay and brown sugar, and oak-smoked for hours. They also offer St. Louis-style spare ribs. After being basted in barbecue sauce that is the perfect blend of heat and sweet, these ribs are smoked for up to 18 hours.
Longtime favorite Slick Pig BBQ has been around since 1995. The restaurant was started in a historic building that once housed the East Main Market by John, Jerry, and Teresa Robinson. A recent make-over offers “The Pig Parlor” for quick carry out service, dine in, and a patio perfect for summer dining. They smoke their St. Louis style ribs in hickory. They smoke their meat between four to 14 hours in one of their five smokers. It is a true Murfreesboro original with a very loyal following. They are beginning to franchise.
Jay’s Smoqued BBQ is the newest place in town to gain traction. Crystal Crawford—a notable foodie who is certified to judge Memphis-style barbecue—wrote a Good Eats review for the establishment. Her review stated, “These are the best [pork] ribs I’ve ever had in Murfreesboro.”
They come off the bone very easily and have just enough smoke. They offer both pork and turkey ribs. Originally started as catering in 2016, they moved on to be a popular food truck called “Pappy J Barbecue,” and then opened their brick and mortar store in Murfreesboro in 2021.
What is summer without the sweet and refreshing taste of ice cream? With the closing of Reeves-Sain Pharmacy, where is a person to go for ice cream and milkshakes?
For anyone who has ventured to Janarty’s Homemade Ice Cream in Smyrna, you know that there is ice cream heaven once again in Rutherford County. Unpretentious in appearance on Smyrna's Front Street, owners Marty Schiff and Janelle Alice know that they're making some of Middle Tennessee's best ice cream. After Schiff retired from touring as a musician in 2013, the two spent four months straight eating ice cream. They've also spent time traveling to renowned ice cream establishments all over the country to research ice cream.
“We want to do one thing great,” said Schiff, “not a lot of things okay.”
And doing one thing great is just what they have done. Their loyal customers and new converts gush with delight. Try the Sweet Lemon Cream!
Another favorite is Hattie Jane’s Creamery on the Square in Murfreesboro. Located next to Puckett’s, they offer ice cream using many local ingredients. While they have a static menu of flavors, they also make seasonal specialties. This year, in honor of Thistle Farm’s 25th Anniversary, they are offering a special Lavender and Honey ice cream, of which 30% of the profits are going to the organization which helps women who are survivors of trafficking, prostitution, and addiction.
While not located in Rutherford County, Nash Family Creamery in Chapel Hill became a big hit when it opened last year. The Nash family has always liked the idea of selling dairy products directly to consumers, as that is how they got started in California in 1929. To gain experience beyond working on the family farm, Cody Nash worked for several different dairy operations across the country that made ice cream and dairy products. After attending ice cream school at Penn State, he was certain opening Nash Family Creamery was the direction he wanted to go.
“The ice cream recipe is something we have been working to perfect for some time,” noted Nash. “A lot of trial and error, along with tasting ice cream from across the country, has gone into shaping our very own recipe. We’re proud of the quality ingredients and large percent of cream in our product, which is missing in a lot of other [ice cream] products nowadays. It’s extra special since customers know where the product is made, and that local farms are being supported by our ice cream.”
Their ice cream is available by the scoop, sundaes, milkshakes, or to-go in pints and half-gallons.
While the best peaches may be coming up from Georgia, some of the best cobbler is made right in Rutherford County. Kleer Vu Lunchroom and Miller’s Grocery A Country Café have been long-time favorites for delectable summer peach cobbler when peaches become available. A forty-year institution in Murfreesboro, Kleer Vu’s peach cobbler makes a lot of “best of” and “you must try” lists. It is a luscious blend of fresh peaches, vanilla, butter, and sugar with a yummy sugar-coated top. Miller’s Grocery is what would be called “a hometown local spot.” Once an actual grocery store in Christiana, the peach cobbler is as good as the friendly service and old time Southern atmosphere.
It may be a bit unfair to list Fried Tater Café for their Peach Cobbler because they do not always have it, but if you are there when they do you are in for a treat. A family owned restaurant located in the restored Old Versailles Grocery originally built in 1810, they are making a name for themselves quickly. Like Miller’s, they are located out in a rural part of Rutherford County, but well worth the drive. They serve an ever-changing menu of good, old-fashioned Southern cooking in Rockvale, Tennessee.
Fried Green Tomatoes
This is the quintessential Southern Summer food, the time to truly eat this when fresh tomatoes are coming from local farms. You can find them dressed up or dressed down. The thing is, they are not a year around menu item, so you have to watch to see when they are added to local menus.
Puckett’s Grocery and Restaurant is a favorite to get the delicacy when fresh tomatoes start to ripen in late summer. Puckett’s roots go back to a 1950s grocery store in Leiper’s Fork, where authentic Southern comfort food was served up with great music. They have been known to serve it with melty pimento cheese. Another place to go is Jeff’s Family Restaurant. It is the freshness of the tomatoes and the flavoring of the batter that makes the dish, so each restaurant has their own twist.
For those who prefer their fried green tomatoes dressed up, Mitchell Murphree at Five Senses has turned the dish into a gourmet delight in previous years.
Everything coming out of his kitchen is a mouthwatering experience. You’ll want to make it a point to pop in when you can.