On Frosty Days, Find Comfort Food in Tennessee
Frosty weather drives me to comfort food. I’m yearning for chili or vegetable soup or stew or roast beef and gravy over mounds of mashed potatoes.
In the aftermath of lusciously rich holiday eating, I want simple, down-home cooking with familiar flavors. I found plenty of places in Blount County with country cooking and unpretentious, informal dining. Blount County, a gateway to Great Smoky Mountains National Park, offers plenty of restaurants and accommodations where a welcoming fire and cozy rocking chair are awaiting your arrival.
The sign says “Welcome to Becky’s. Come on in. Grab a seat.” Mounted deer heads, feed sacks and family photographs hang from the walls of Becky’s Grill and Grocery on Laws Chapel Road, located a few twists and turns off of Highway 321.The small eatery is known for its Monster Burgers, but patty melts, hot dogs, corned beef sandwiches and plate lunches are on the menu also. The family-owned business offers a wide range of desserts too. Earthquake Cake and banana pudding are customer favorites.
On a day when I searched for cat head biscuits, I followed Wears Valley Road out of Blount County into Sevier County and landed at Grandmother’s Kitchen. This small restaurant is a perfect jumping off place for a day in the Smoky Mountains. Many folks staying in hotels and cabins in Pigeon Forge and Townsend come here for breakfast. The fluffy biscuits are about the size of a cat’s head, hence the name. They share the plate with gravy, country fried steak and eggs.
Maryville has several noteworthy eateries for simple fare. You can always count on Cracker Barrel for home cooking. The restaurant, part of a chain founded and headquartered in Lebanon, offers bountiful breakfasts and meat-and-three lunches and dinners.
Hamburgers are the specialty of TC’s Grill on Old Niles Ferry Road, Maryville. This former gas station now has a 1950s and ’60s car theme with hot rod displays, stoplight, and checkerboard floors and tablecloths. The hamburgers are huge, causing the fries to topple off the plate. Salads are oversized proportions also. The friendly family atmosphere keeps people at their tables, enjoying the music from the jukebox and visiting with their neighbors.
The Aroma Café is a quirky, little place that — despite the building’s blazing, festive colors both outside and in – you still might miss while driving East Broadway in Maryville. It has true Cuban cuisine with beef and pork plates, sandwiches, and vegetarian specialties, such as black bean soup and sweet plantains. Lively Caribbean music blares, the staff smiles, and the authentic food satisfies the stomach.
Full Service BBQ, a drive-in set in the heart of downtown Maryville, has mainly carryout this time of year. This minimally converted gas station on Washington Street serves food from what used to be the pay booth. In the summer folks eat on picnic tables outside and watch sports on big screen TVs. These days, people pick up servings of pulled pork, chicken, beef brisket, ribs, and smoked sausage links. Side items are Yo’ Mama’s Mac & Cheese, iron skillet baked beans, green beans and creamy southern slaw.
My sweet tooth led me to three locally owned doughnut shops. Richy Kreme Do-Nuts is tiny, totally miss-able shop on East Broadway, but everyone knows where it is. It opened in 1948 so it is a fixture in the community. Doughnuts are not the glazed, perfectly round treats you’re used to. Instead they are handmade and more cake-like. Donut Palace — “where the customer is king” — has equally good doughnuts. Traditional cinnamon rolls, crullers and jam-filled doughnuts are neatly lined up in glass cases and the coffee is freshly brewed.
My favorite is Donut Time, conveniently located on Sevierville Road near Maryville College. It serves a golden baked pastry stuffed with pulled pork, rice and peppery spices. Absolutely delicious! The boudin delicacy is a welcome changed from iced or powder sugar breakfast favorites.
What’s your go-to comfort food?