In the off-season, we eat. Sometimes it’s the meat and veggies we harvested during the season, and sometimes we venture out into the world looking for really great meals. It was actually on the way to the hunting lease that a friend found The Bull and Thistle Pub in Gainesboro, Tennessee. We’ve eaten there three times since, and it’s been so awesome, we had to tell everyone.

Large shrimp and scallops on a bed of risotto and strawberries and asparagus in a white bowl
Sparkling Risotto: Shrimp, scallops, asparagus and strawberries (yes, strawberries) in a creamy risotto finished with a champagne sauce. It was absolutely incredible.

Large shrimp and scallops on a bed of risotto and strawberries and asparagus in a white bowl

Gainesboro is no Metropolis. It’s a tiny town surrounded by rural country in the northern part of Middle Tennessee, about halfway between Knoxville and Nashville. The pub is the brain child of owners Diana Mandli and Loui Silvestri, Floridians who relocated to Gainsboro after falling in love with the area on a vacation. The restaurant runs in the family; Diana’s son, Ben, is the chef, and trained under two native Irish chefs in the restaurant’s first years. Those chefs moved on at the closure of their engagements and Ben continues to infuse the menu with his Irish education and eye for non-traditional flavors that manage to be both interesting and outrageously tasty. And in this day of activism, the pub’s historic ¬†revival of the sleepy town by way of traffic to the town square is an additional check in the positive experience column.

A shank of lamb
Braised lamb shank

The town may be rural, but the food is big-city gourmet and so are the beer and wine lists. At any given time you’ll find dishes like bone marrow canoes, Beef Wellington for two, fall-off-the-bone lamb shank, and Bubble and Squeak on the menu, which changes quarterly. There are nods to Southern traditions as well with dill pickle fries and an absolutely addictive pimento cheese, and of course classic Irish dishes abound. The seasonings are always just right and never overpowering, the textures decadent without being too heavy, and the menu ambitious but never ostentatious. Simply put, this food is so good.

A toffee cake topped with ice cream and caramel rests on a plate in a rich caramel sauce.
Sticky Toffee Pudding

We can’t say enough about the flavors in the food at Bull and Thistle, the thoughtful and creative ways the fresh ingredients are married, and the absolute quality of the meals. Eating this food in what is a fun, vibrant, thoughtfully laid out pub environment is an experience well worth the money. Should you get the chance to go, don’t miss it.

The Bull and Thistle Pub is open Wednesday through Sunday for lunch and dinner and serves brunch on Sundays as well. The lunch menu features more casual pub fare (sandwiches, pretzels, salads) that is no less excellent than dinner. The restaurant holds a standard dining room, bar seating that is excellent for the live music that’s often featured, and a game room fit for the best of parties and gatherings. Check the website for menus and feel free to give them a call if you’re driving in for a meal. The staff couldn’t be friendlier or more knowledgeable. Say hello if you stop by; chances are the owners are there and can’t wait to share their restaurant with you.

The Bull and Thistle pub very generously offered one of our several meals gratis in order that we could experience some of their best dishes. We’re sincerely grateful for the opportunity, and the memories.¬†