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When you go and eat at Folk, there’s going to be a moment when you turn to your tablemate, eyes wide, and declare, “Damn, that tastes good.”
Chef Phil Krajeck has a knack for infusing intense flavor into deceptively simple dishes. At his original spot, Rolf and Daughters, that intensity comes through in the bright, balanced pastas and vegetable-heavy starters. At Folk, set in a residential corner of East Nashville, he’s turned up the volume, amplifying the flavor factor across the entire menu, including that most common of comfort foods, pizza.
Folk brings a fresh interpretation of Krajeck’s drive, which is to make deeply good food that he himself wants to eat regularly.
“At the end of the day, I want to do things that are soulful: how we cook, how we source, the things we put things in a glass,” he says. As for the pizzas, he adds, “I’ve always really been infatuated with, and loved eating, it. And I always just wanted to learn about it.”
At its core, Folk is a contemporary neighborhood restaurant. Set in a former elevator manufactory, the brick-walled bar, dining room, and open kitchen are separated by custom built-in dividing walls and shelving that brims with a collection of potted greenery. Large paper lanterns fill the lofty space above the dining room, and a few pieces of custom art punctuate the walls.
The bar is a good place to get to know the neighbors—seats there and at a window ledge are filled with drinkers and diners, while a banquette to one side offers seating for a group. The drinks are built to whet the appetite, not annihilate it—try a flip, like the Ciociaro Sour, to start. And the wine list includes a number of wines that the staff is drawn to, or what Krajeck calls, “minimal intervention wines that are based on agriculture.”
That staff, many of whom came from Rolf, help maintain the same laidback vibe found at the original. From general manager Aria Dorsey and bar manager Shane O’Brien, who add their touch in the dining room, to co-sous chefs Sean Sears and Dauer Ellis, Krajeck has established a team that’s as committed to seeking out soulfulness as he is. And that includes baker Michael Matson, who helped inspire the concept.
Using freshly milled wheat and wood-fired ovens, Matson bakes with an Old World mentality.
“It’s really rare to find people who are good so singularly at such a seemingly simple thing. Baking is its own universe,” Krajeck says.
After Matson delivered a few loaves of bread to Rolf and Daughters a few years back, he eventually joined the restaurant staff and now works out of Folk, baking all of the bread for both restaurants and crafting the pizza dough.
The selection of six-or-so pies seems simple—start with a basic mix of tomato, mozzarella, and Parmesan—but can also go deeper into flavor country, like on Krajeck’s favorite, a clam version topped with herbs, bonito flakes, and chili. The base of them all, the dough, is puffy and charred at the edges, offering heft and a satisfying chew.
Matson’s breads show up in a number of dishes, including a toast for toppings like nduja and alliums, or under the beef fillet americanne, which is like custard of beef tartare. At Rolf, it’s used to make a miso that flavors some of their pastas.
Tricks like that—making miso or koji, or adding fermented vegetable juice to a dish—aren’t tools that Krajeck likes to advertise, but they absolutely contribute to the menu’s amped-up flavor, as does a wise understanding of balance, which the kitchen achieves with bright hits of acid and intense seasoning.
Toast, nduja, allium, oregano, $10
Blue crab with agretti, $14
Fennel with peach, $12
Clam pizza, $20
Neapolitan ice cream, $7
There’s also an emphasis on seafood and vegetables. Krajeck, who cooked for years on Florida’s Gulf coast, was longing to do more with fresh seafood. At Folk, he does so simply in dishes like blue crab with agretti, which puts meaty chunks of the crustacean under a pile of coastal herbs with tangy breadcrumbs and bottarga. Big, juicy royal red shrimp play a starring role in another dish, with just a hint of Old Bay. On the vegetable front, cucumber might be napped with yogurt and dill, while fennel gets paired with peaches.
A short selection of large-format dishes brings lamb meatballs and pork milanesa in to the mix. And desserts, like the rest of the menu, seem simple (Neapolitan ice cream) but get seriously deep (made with flavors of beet, vanilla parmesan, and rye).
Chefs often liken having a restaurant to raising a kid, from the gestation and birth to watching them grow from unruly toddler to mature teen. Eventually (hopefully), they operate smoothly, like a fully grown adult. For Krajeck, now a parent of six-year-old Rolf and newborn Folk, it’s clear that the kids, with their individual personalities, are still cut from the same cloth.
823 Meridian St, 615-610-2595; goodasfolk.com