A grave sin has been committed, which has now become glaringly apparent.

As I’m sure y’all know by now, I am Southerner, born and bred in Texas. So I can take a pretty heavy dose of ‘The South’ without squealing. But during my recent trip to Eastern Tennessee, I squealed. Loudly.

Living in New York, California and the Netherlands with access to superb eats round-the-clock had apparently rubbed off on me when I wasn’t looking. As we drove down the neon, attraction-soaked boulevard that cuts through Pigeon Forge, TN (home of Dollywood), the food landscape looked bleek.

Now let me take a moment to clarify something. This part of Tennessee is remote, and if it weren’t for Dolly Parton, it would still be desolate. Despite the gaudiness and loud decor, Miss Dolly paved the way for thousands of jobs that otherwise would not exist. Hats off!

But back to the meat of the conversation. The food. It took A LOT of searching, digging and stumbling but I was able to find a few choice joints for your dining pleasure. So if you find yourself in Tennessee for vacation, a family reunion or wake up there after a 3 day drinking binge, you’ll know where to eat.

Little River BBQ – Townsend, TN

Little River Bar B Que in Townsend, TN | Nomad with Cookies

One must always begin with BBQ. Almost all trails to good ‘cue in Eastern Tennessee led to dead ends, until we found Little River. It sits, as you might imagine, right on the banks of the Little River. So you can sit on the porch and watch the tubers float by while munching on fried pickles.

What to Get

  • Ribs: saucy, smoked and falling off the bone
  • Fried Pickles: long spears, lightly fried. get the hot mustard for dipping.

Ribs at Little River | Nomad with Cookies

The Bean Trees – Hartford, TN

Bean Trees in Hartford, TN | Nomad with Cookies

This one was certainly hard to find. My cousin took us down a road that made Deliverance flash before me. Convinced no one would ever find my body, the road suddenly opened up to reveal The Bean Trees Cafe. Completely out of place, this cafe was better suited to Berkeley than backwoods Tennessee but came as a welcome surprise. Great beer list, superb coffee and a mouth-watering menu. They even had hummus!

What to Get

  • Triple Grilled Cheese with Tomato and Pesto: piles of cheese melted with sweet tomato and pesto on Texas toast, do not underestimate this sandwich
  • Turkey and Cranberry Panini
  • Fries: pretty darn close to the perfect fry – hand cut, thin, crispy and salty
  • Beer: try one of the rotating domestic or imported microbrews, then make your way down the list

Bean Trees in Hartford, TN | Nomad with Cookies

Old Mill Restaurant – Pigeon Forge, TN

Old Mill in Pigeon Forge, TN | Nomad with Cookies

A couple times during my stay in lovely Tennessee, I found myself in need of some breakfast. I kept coming back to the Old Mill. It’s a typical ‘down home’ kind of place. The dessert case is always filled with pies a foot tall, iced tea is served by the quart, and plates come to the table full of fried green tomatoes. Sit outside in the garden, if you can.

What To Get

  • Quiche: They serve several kinds that change daily, but every one is creamy and decadent, not scrambled and dry. Definitely try the Vegetable Quiche topped with Toasted Almonds.
  • Fried Green Tomatoes: Tender, marinated green tomatoes are coated in a spicy batter, and deep fried. I was almost breathing fire, and it was fantastic.

That’s it for this edition of Eastern Tennessee eats! In the next episode, it’s cupcakes and pulled pork in Nashville. Sign up to get the Nomad feed, and you won’t miss a beat.

6 thoughts on “eastern tennessee

  1. I could have stayed for a week at the Bean Tree. After going white water rafting, it was an oasis in the desert. Not very oftern do you find a place that is so perfect, although they need to get a new stereo. They were playing great music, just couldn't hear it. Also, one correction, the Old Mill Restaurant did a better job on the Quiche than the Old Mill cafe, although it might have just been the kitchen staff as they seem to be owned by the same people.

  2. I work at the bean trees and am so relieved to have found this. We get such a bad wrap on a couple of websites which all of us employees take a bit personally. It is so nice to find someone who appreciates what we do and all the hard work we put into everything. (Also, thank you Jeffry, it is my ipod we use for the music.)

    1. Oh Tennessee is just gorgeous (any time of year). I am tainkg a trip down there at the end of August. I hope I can snag some awesome shots like these. I really love the last one also!

  3. I too, was so very pleased with my experience at Bean Trees. I entered after rafting and was thirsty & hungry but wanted to eat healthy and not wait forever for my food. I was not disappointed. I kicked my feet up had ice water and a cold beer with minutes and my turkey cranberry panini delivered within 10 minutes, piping fresh and oh so flavorful, and perfectly prepared!The wait staff was not put off by my party changing our order from To Go to Dine IN. I enjoyed the background music. The atmosphere as very welcoming & relaxing.

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