A trip to Gatlinburg is a journey into the American South – especially when you sample the local cuisine. The area’s restaurants specialize in the sort of substantial, stick-to-your-ribs fare for which Southern cooking is widely known – a lot of it grilled or smoked. Here’s a succulent sample of our favorite stops, in alphabetical order:
- Alamo Steakhouse & Saloon – You thought the Alamo was in Texas, didn’t you? True, but nearly 2,000 volunteers from Tennessee (hence the state’s nickname) went to Texas to fight in the Mexican-American War – including Davy Crockett. So the steakhouse pays tribute by serving up simply “the most awesome food from [Tennessee] to Texas.” It can be quite the decision to choose from the Chef’s Selections, but in the end we chose to get our carnivore on, starting with the Horseradish-Parmesan Prime Rib Strips. The Orange-Brown Sugar Ribs – braised and slow-cooked – were the succulent main course (though if you’ve got a Texas-sized appetite, you may go for the El Presidente Porterhouse). For dessert, while we were tempted to put the B.T.Y.M. (Better Than Your Momma’s) Chocolate Cake to the test, we instead opted for the towering and tantalizing Muleshoe Mudslide, with layers of brownie, vanilla bean ice cream, caramel and chocolate syrup.
- Bennett’s Pit Bar-B-Que – It’s no mystery why Bennett’s meals are so moist, tender and packed full of flavor. The meat is basted in their own special sauce, then set over smoldering hickory wood and smoked for up to 14 hours. The heat and sauce penetrate deep into every layer of meat, turning it a perfect pinkish color while enriching every juicy mouthful with rich, smoky flavor. Since we’re always after the cuisine that makes an eatery unique, we just had to kick things off with the Southwestern Hot Pepper Cheese Squares (yowza!). And since the Bar-B-Que Pork Shoulder sandwich boasts that it’s the sandwich that made Bennett’s famous… let’s just say we’re still licking the sauce from our fingers. Pair it up with the deep-fried corn and the spicy macaroni and cheese, and you’ve got yourself a feast.
- Calhoun’s Gatlinburg – Winner of the 1984 National Rib Cook-Off, Calhoun’s (pictured) has been pouring its passion for great food, atmosphere and hospitality into every dining occasion for more than 32 years. Your taste buds will sit up and take notice with each bite. Get yourself going with the Chicken Quesadillas (made with three kinds of peppers), then dig into an “Ale” Steak – sirloin married in olive oil, mustard, garlic and Cherokee Red Ale. In addition, there’s plenty of hearty barbecue to be found, from sandwiches to platters. Meanwhile, if you’re looking for something lighter, the Smokehouse salad is a delectable choice. And could there be a better way to close out your meal than with Louise’s Triple Fudge Cake? We think not.
- Cherokee Grill – You might be noticing a theme here. The Cherokee Grill is another exceptional place for meat lovers – an upscale mountain lodge atmosphere with an exterior built of stone and brick, and an interior accented with granite and walnut. Still, the menu is more eclectic than you might imagine, with such sensational starters as the Chicken Tortizza (a tortilla-pizza hybrid, with garlic, tomatoes, spinach and red onions) and the Sauteed Burgundy Mushrooms. The Wedge Salad adds something to the traditional with a helping of jumbo charbroiled shrimp. The steaks – including our fave, the Blue Cheese Sirloin – are served with Tennessee Blue Cheese Grits for an additional Southern twist.
- Crockett’s Breakfast Camp – The quality of Crockett’s food and service stands to honor the legacy of David C. “Crockett” Maples, an original frontiersman, honored soldier and devoted family fan who lived in the Gatlinburg area for more than 60 years in the late 1800s and early 1900s. The entire menu has a frontier flavor, with such specialties as the Elk Mountain Grande Burrito (with chorizo and machaca), the Campfire Steak Burger with Egg (and pecan-smoked bacon), Crockett’s Buckwheat Fruit & Nut Pancakes and the mother lode that we just devoured: Crockett’s Mountain Omelet – a three-egg creation with country sausage, bacon, ham, tomatoes, onions, peppers, jalapenos and cheese, atop Hunt Camp hash. Talk about fuel for the day!
- Crystelle Creek Restaurant and Grill – One of the most unique Smoky Mountain restaurants, offering something for everyone, including families, groups, children or a romantic dinner for two. We recommend starting your meal with the Catfish Bites and the Feta Cheese Dip. For an entrée, it’s a toss-up between the Southwestern Chicken (topped with bacon, onions, peppers and pepper jack cheese) and the Chicken Fried Chicken. For something heartier, we’re partial to the Pork Steak, dusted with a house spice blend and wood-grilled. There’s even a selection of Italian specialties for a unique side trip to the Old Country.
- Log Cabin Pancake House – Take a nostalgic step back in time to when life was simpler, meals were hearty and the people were friendly and sincere. But what truly makes the place special is the selection of French crepes that populates the menu alongside the traditional eggs, waffles and pancakes. You’ll feel like you’re dining along the Seine when you savor such creations as the Orange-Pineapple Supreme (banana wedges rolled in crepes and topped with orange-pineapple sauce), Parisienne Crepes (strawberries, powdered sugar and more strawberries!) and other fruity confections with blackberries, peach or apple.
- The Park Grill – Welcome to the Great Smoky Mountains, where you’ll find hearty fare, an open door, a friendly smile and all the classic flavors of Southern Appalachia. Across the menu, you’ll get a taste of moonshine, particularly when you start with the Lemon Moonshine Calamari, or take a bite of the Moonshine Marinated Chicken Sandwich. Plus, the incredible local favorites – such as the Southern Pecan Chicken and the Hawg Wild! (slow-roasted pork shanks in an award-winning BBQ sauce) – are mouthwatering delights. The Moonshine Cherry Beef Kabobs are a tantalizing treat (marinated in moonshine and pineapple juice), but be sure to leave room for dessert. So many to choose from, but we ultimately went for the Black Bear Brownie Bash (chocolate brownies, vanilla ice cream, hot fudge and whipped cream). Not that we’d turn down some of your Peanut Butter Mud Pie, should you be willing to share.
- The Peddler Steakhouse – Located in the former home of Charles “Earl” Ogle, Sr., a fourth-generation Gatlinburg merchant, The Peddler is steeped in tradition. The menu is straightforward, with simple selections of steak, chicken, fish and shrimp. The appetizers are a little more adventurous, including Baked Brie, Crab & Shrimp Stuffed Mushrooms and Oysters on the Half Shell. For dinner, we’re partial to the Stuffed Shrimp (stuffed with seasoned crab, in a creamy seafood sauce). And dessert is indeed a delight, including such favorites as Hot Blackberry Cobbler, Traditional Key Lime Pie and Strawberry Shortcake.
- Smoky Mountain Shakes N Dawgs – As the name suggests, this popular spot is all about hot dogs and shakes. You won’t believe the combinations they’ve come up with to top your dogs, from Garlic and Slaw to Chicago Style, from Chili Cheese to Hot Pepper. Yet what sold us was the Reuben Brat, plus a handspun shake for a drink and dessert all in one.
- Three Jimmy’s – A favorite dinner and hangout spot which promises fresh, homemade food… and most certainly delivers. For starters, it’s hard to resist their Award-Winning Chicken Wings or the Rockin’ Ribs. While the Premium Black Angus burger was voted the best in Gatlinburg, we had to have a taste of the Three Jimmy, with Burgundy mushrooms, caramelized onions, bacon and smoked Gouda sauce, as well as the Granny Smith Slow-Smoked Turkey sandwich (with a citrus-cranberry aioli). The rich Open-Faced Smoked Roast Beef is another terrific reason to stop by, as is the selection of artisan pizzas, such as the Blackberry Pig, with blackberry-chipotle sauce and hickory-smoked pork.
To learn more about Gatlinburg, visit our website at www.takethreenights.com. For help planning a savory exploration of the Great Smoky Mountains, drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.