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One Hour from Gatlinburg

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I'll be in Gatlinburg soon and I gather from this board that the dining scene there is pretty depressing. I am prepared to drive about an hour or so out of town for dinners. That puts Knoxville within range, and I plan on visiting Hong Kong House there. Do my fellow chowhounds have any other suggestions for good dinner destinations within an hour or so from Gatlinburg? Any style/any price. Thanks.

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  1. We found a great restaurant in Gatlinburg -- Havana Dreams. The owners are Cuban and the food is very authentic. It was almost deserted the evening we were there (although the crappy frozen seafood place had an hour's wait!). Excellent mojitos. We had several different dishes and all were excellent. Unfortunately, I don't think this place will be around long as most visitors to Gatlinburg go for the ribs, fried chicken and burger places.

    1 Reply
    1. re: SheriS

      I have always had great meals at BullFish Grill in Pigeon Forge.
      Even though Gatlinburg is close to Knoxville on a map the drive times can be a nightmare, As someone who lived in that area for 6 years and visit/ go for business several times a year I can't think of a meal in Knoxville worth it.

    2. On I-40 at the Strawberry Plains exit (southeast corner) Puleo's . It's our favorite.

      In town, hard to get to now with I-40 temporarily severed, Regas is the old, classic restaurant for atmosphere and classic food preparations

      .

      12 Replies
      1. re: shallots

        Havana Dreams sounds good. Thanks, SheriS. Shallots, thanks for your recommendation, too. I checked out the website for Puleo's (http://www.puleosgrille.com/menus/pul...). Very eclectic looking, in a Cheesecake Factory kind of way. I'm not sure it is what I have in mind, but I'd be happy to hear more about the place.

        Eyeballing a map, it seems that besides Knoxville, there are a bunch of smaller towns within an hour's drive of Gatlinburg, such as Sevierville, Maryville, Alcoa, Rockford, Newport, and others. Any hidden gems or country inns? Any other must-visits in Knoxville? Thanks!

        1. re: north2south

          Since you mentioned inns, Blackberry Inn is nearby but way out of my price range. Some searches may turn up raves for it. It is famous in a good way.
          Maryville isn't that far, The non-interstate road to Maryville goes past Sam Houston's school house if you've any Texas in your background, where it is and what it was gives interest to that very interesting man. Maryville is the corporate HQ for Ruby Tuesday and their HQ is said to have a teaching/testing restaurant. Again, a search may help; it's just too far out of the way for us.
          If you're from the northwest, I'd suggest a drive home via US 25E. Where it crosses US 11-W, take a side trip up 11-W to Ritter Farm to take home a box of great tomatoes, some sorghum and other local foods. And I think they are doing the great but cheap lunches there this year.
          Then back to 25E, up and over Cumberland Gap (and a visit to the National Park there, then on up to I-75 northbound.

          1. re: shallots

            I cannot help but comment on Blackberry Farm. I do not think that I have had six better dinners any place on the globe. It is not cheap, and one needs to stay there, to dine (or that is how it was). Still, the dining is worth the staying, even when the staying is top-notch. If this is of interest, do a search of this board for my reviews in Oct '07. Trust me, you'll not find better dining within 10 hours drive of Blackberry Farm.

            Hunt

            -----
            Blackberry Farm
            1471 W Millers Cove Rd, Walland, TN

            1. re: Bill Hunt

              Just an update.
              Now that 'The Barn' has opened at Blackberry Farm, they allow non-staying guests to dine there (I have a reservation, but haven't yet dined there - res for next week). The 'Main Dining Room' is still guest only (but is temporarily closed at the time of writing)

              1. re: estufarian

                The Barn was nice, but somehow I missed the old Main House dining room. Now, you have to understand that I am a "status-quo" sorta' person. Do have to admit that the wine service is much quicker at The Barn. In the "good old days," when most wines were ordered, someone had to jump into a cart and travel across property. Get a corked bottle, and it took a while to get it replaced. This could mess up the pacing of a dinner.

                Talking to the kitchen staff, they really like The Barn much better, and the kitchen IS impressive.

                Enjoy and please report. I had plans to do another review, but our schedules got in the way.

                Hunt

                1. re: Bill Hunt

                  Thanks Bill,
                  Indeed this is a 'special' place. And very few diners are there just for dinner. In a twist on the valet parking approach, the car is left at reception, and the diners are transported to the Barn, along lanes and through remote controlled gates.
                  The serving staff (close to the best service I've had this year) assumed we were resident guests (as almost everyone else was) as whenever we commented on a preference (wine or food) they offered to 'prepare something appropriate' for the following evening (guests are required to stay a minimum 2 nights).
                  Classic French in approach, although some California influences (and some Italian too). The menu is changed daily(? presumably because of the minimum 2 day stay, although I can't confirm that). The tasting menu would be the same for each of us, so we moved to the 4-course menu - where we were able to choose different dishes. Food was generally excellent - the Boudin Blanc in particular was exceptional (finest I've ever had) - although it was served as a patty, rather than the sausage I was expecting. The proteins were mostly local and were a little unusual. For example, the chicken had an unusual texture - far from that I get served elsewhere. My initial reaction was that it was both overcooked and extremely moist - certainly unusual, so I enquired further.Turns out it was free-range (which still didn't explain the texture) but raised on MILK! Don't know if I've ever had milk-raised chicken before, but it obviously leads to a denser flesh with a hint of a spongy texture. It tasted great, but the texture was the disarming feature.
                  The winelist was peppered with great names - except they weren't my favourite shippers to go with food (example from Alsace: wide selection of Zind-Humbrecht, but no Trimbach). And some of the 'names' from California were 16% alcohol monsters, which I've rarely tasted and certainly wouldn't pair with chicken (although Boudin Blanc might survive).

                  Overall an excellent meal - and probably the best for a 3-hour drive in any direction. But we hit Chilhowie (for Town House Grill) a few days earlier and that meal hit greater heights (and a few misses too) but for substantially less $.

                  So excellent - but pipped at the post by Town House Grill. (And I understand both are to be featured in NY Times in near past/future).

                  1. re: estufarian

                    Having stayed for 5 nights twice, the menu does change nightly and there is little overlap with the dishes.

                    As for the wine, well I am more a fan of Zind Humbrecht than Trimbach, so maybe I made an impression on them - at your expense. [Grin]

                    We have yet to go to Town House Grill, but base on other recs. plus yours, which I trust 100%, we will.

                    Glad you enjoyed Blackberry Farm, as we have. We hope to go back this Fall, but plans are on hold right now.

                    Thanks for the report.

                    Hunt

                    1. re: Bill Hunt

                      I AM a Z-H fan - but not with food. They are too unpredictable - especially with sweetness level (which is not always mentioned on the label). Great wines by themselves though.

                      Given our food choices (chicken, pork, seafood, boudin blanc) I wanted a weighty white or light red. Having 'bypassed' Alsace, I looked at Chards and Pinots. A White Burg would have been nice, but I wasn't too familiar with many of the shippers (in Canada we are restricted to Government choices). So I escaped to California - and there were zero selections from Santa Cruz (IMO the most food friendly) or Monterey. Santa Barbara fared better - except they all seemed to be 16% monsters (e.g. wide selection of Brewer-Clifton). Good Napa selection - but not my favorites generally - so that left Sonoma. My first selection (Williams-Selyem) also turned out to be 16% - so the sommelier (excellent) found me one at only 14.5%. And, offered to find an appropriate wine for future visits based on my preferences - so I definitely praise the service.

                      All of the above are 'noted' wines - and obviously that's an impressive list - but as I was driving (not a requirement, but the facts) I just didn't want to consume those wines (I know, I could - theoretically- have left about 25% of the botle - but that is not usually my way of coping!).

                      And to touch another point - Town House Grill doesn't have ANY decent accommodations nearby. A B&B might be the best solution, and these will 'appear' as the Town House Grill gets more traffic - but for now you have to look a fair distance away - again not a great idea if one is driving (although I hear tthe 'Grill' is attempting to set up a 'car ferry service' from some of these. Would be a good idea to ask if/when making a reservation.

                      1. re: estufarian

                        I do agree on the ZH. I have had what were reported to be at the Kabinet level, that could have Auslese, were these QmP wines. Still, with those few exceptions, I am more a ZH fan, but that's just me.

                        Thanks for the accommodations report from the Town House. We are not at all fond of doing any driving, so will often dine at a resort, rather than face a highway home. I know that is not a CH response, but everyone's safety is paramount. That is one of the things that I love about Blackberry Farm. Other than the golf cart back to the cabin, there is no driving. If we cannot safely handle the golf cart, there are nice young folk, who will put you into a Lexus and driver you back. This happened when some diner stole our golf cart - Speckled Sussex. We got it back the next day, but with mud all over it!!!

                        Thanks for the info,

                        Hunt

          2. re: north2south

            N2S

            We ate at a Puleo's about 2 weeks ago in Knoxville and were very impressed. We did go to Puleo's Grille (http://www.puleosgrille.com/) and it was great.
            We got a complimentary fried green tomatoes from our hotel. They were fantastic. They came on cheese grits with a sawmill gravy and a tasso gravy. The tasso gravy was especially excellent.

            I had the shrimp and grits. Shrimp and sausage in tasso gravy on cheese grits.

            Mrs. Sippi had the daily special of sauteed scallops on cheese grits with herbed butter sauce.

            Both were excellent

            With 3 beers and taxes it was $48.

            DT

            1. re: Davwud

              It is worth a phone call to the Inn at Blackberry Farm in Walland, Tennessee. It is easily within your driving range. Last time I heard, though, you cannot simply walk in and eat. You have to stay the night, and meals are included in the price of lodging. Last I heard, it was a minimum 2-night stay at about $1,000 per night. I heard they were going to reconsider their policy and maybe allow walk-ins for meals, and that's what makes the phone call worthwhile. The chef who made the place famous, John Fleer, has since left.
              There is another place nearby to Gatlinburg worth going to for breakfast. The New York Times, a cupla years ago, said there are two restaurants in America worth a cross-country drive for breakfast. One of them was in Sevierville. It's called the Applewood Restaurant. The restaurant is on the site of an apple orchard, and does a good job with famous Southern breakfasts - you know, fried country ham, grits, eggs, sausage and gravy, fried apples. Their apple fritters are wonderful, and they come free with every breakfast. So does apple butter, which tastes more of apples and less of spices than any other apple butter I've ever had. There's always a line to get in, but the line moves pretty fast.

              1. re: Potomac Bob

                I believe that the two guest houses, with rooms, rather than cabins, are a bit below that price, but not by much. We did the Nubian Cottage, which was nearly double, though worth it - during high-season. I'm trying to get into wife's schedule to go back this Oct. and the price be damned. It IS worth every $ in all respects.

                Just go back from a week at the Carlsbad, CA, Four Seasons Aviara. It was really good, but paled to Blackberry Farm, in all respects and the cost was almost equal, when you factor in the food and wine at their restaurans.

                Hunt

        2. You might want to check out the corporate dining at the Ruby Tuesday's Head Quarters in Maryville TN. A local news story mentioned some afficilation with Blackberry Farm.

          4 Replies
          1. re: shallots

            Yes, there is a very strong relationship.

            "When Sam Beall's parents, Kreis and Sandy Beall, founder of the Ruby Tuesday casual-dining chain, bought Blackberry Farm in 1976, they were simply looking for a family home. But the nine-room house in Walland, Tenn., proved to be a great spot for hosting friends and business associates." [From BNET]

            Had never dined at a Ruby Tuesday's, until AFTER we stayed at Blackberry Farm. Even at the airport location, it was a definite step above similar. Though the wine list did not rival that of Blackberry, it was surprisingly fun and decently priced. Again, for a similar style restaurant.

            Hunt

            1. re: shallots

              That would be confusing to find for an out of town traveler. The official name of the the place is RT Lodge. http://www.rtlodge.com/

              1. re: Brawny

                Brawny,
                Thank you. I tried googling and got nowhere, but had the memory of reading about it in a local paper.
                That is the non-Ruby Tuesday that I was trying to suggest.

                1. re: Brawny

                  Without mention on this board, I would never have heard of RT Lodge. Now I have some other place to check out, when in the neighborhood, though leaving behind a meal at Blackberry Farm will be difficult.

                  Thanks for the mentions,

                  Hunt

              2. Bill,
                It would be a two hour drive from Gatlinburg, but a beautiful drive.
                TownHouse Grill up in Chilhowie.
                (You may have already been there.)
                http://www.townhouseva.com/index.html

                They are planning to close sometime in July so that the chefs may marry each other.
                With the late sunsets this time of the year, an early dinner starting at 5pm and you'd be back in Gatlinburg fairly soon after dark.

                9 Replies
                1. re: shallots

                  Oh, I remember Chilhowie. Going back some decades, we drove through on our way to the Smoky Mountains. Do not recall anything but a very few mom-n-pops in those days. For me, it would be a great experience, and I appreciate the mention.

                  We've been talking about flying into Hartfield-Jackson, instead of Nashville on our next trip. In the "old days," we'd often go through Atlanta, and sometimes Birmingham. In the two-dozen trips, we did try to pick all sorts of new, different backroads to the Smokies. Hey, there are few better parts of the US to drive though, and if good food is along the way, I'll drive many extra miles, just so long as we don't drink wine!

                  Thanks,

                  Hunt

                  1. re: Bill Hunt

                    Fly into Lexington KY, spend the night (with dinner reservations at Shaker Village at Pleasant Hill, come on down -75 with lunch either at Berea at the Boone Inn or plan to visit the orginal Kentucky Fried Chicken in Corbin KY. Exit onto 25E, come over Cumberland Gap (great underappreciated National Park there) and 25E to I-81 turn right a couple of exits and then the usual road into Gatlinburg.

                    Or 411 up from Atlanta (with a stop at Benton Hams in Madisonville TN) on your way back. A couple of interesting BBQ places on this back road.

                    1. re: shallots

                      Hey, sounds like a plan. I may have to fly into someplace else, since I'm in PHX, but again, driving in that area of the US would be like "old home week" to us.

                      I almost wish that I could ship our car across the middle of the US, and then drive many of the same old roads, looking for great food along the way.

                      That was one great thing about living in NOLA - we got to drive some great back roads and did it about once every two months. Usually, we'd end up near the Smokies, regardless of where we were actually going. Great backroads, and many excellent, albeit not fine-dining, meals.

                      Thank you for the info.

                      Hunt

                      1. re: Bill Hunt

                        Hey Hunt.

                        Drive by and take pictures of the "Original" KFC. It's not really the original but a rebuild. It's still the same ole KFC.

                        Corbin does have an old fashioned root beer stand that is supposed to be really good.

                        DT

                        1. re: Davwud

                          Will do, but you have to give me a bit of geographic help - where are we talking about, specifically. Is Corbin in NC? We've been up 441 many times, but have not traveled 64 to my memory.

                          Thanks,

                          Hunt

                          1. re: Bill Hunt

                            No, Corbin is off I - 75 near the Cumberland Gap in Kentucky. A little north of the Tennessee state line.

                            http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/411458

                            DT

                            1. re: Davwud

                              Corbin Kentucky and London Kentucky are both right next to I-75 (leading to them being called London Corbin, see the Tennessee non-metropolis as a similar 'urban' sprawl).
                              Anyway, London Corbin connects to east Tennessee either by I-75, which often is blocked by accidents slowly cleared, or by the four lane road called US 25E that goes east and then south over Cumberland Gap, past the Powell and Clinch Rivers, up to the top of Clinch Mountain (where the restaurant is famous for its vinegar pie) then down and over to I-81 that is close to Pigeon Forge's main access roads.

                              1. re: Davwud

                                Thanks for the geography lesson. Have not been there. Though we've traveled through Kentucky, never in our Smoky Mountain trips.

                                Hunt

                                1. re: Bill Hunt

                                  Sandy Beall...................

                                  http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi...

                                  They also own Dancing Bear Lodge in Townsend............

                                  http://www.dancingbearlodge.com/