The week of April 26th, 2021 my wife, Tori and I took a trip to the great state of Tennessee. Having been born in Talladega, Tori’s Southern roots run deep. For me, not so much. Suffice to say, the first trip of my life to the South, along with experiencing real Southern cooking, was a real treat.
Knowing that we would be eating out at least once a day, we decided to stay away from any restaurant we had back home. That ruled out fast food joints along the lines of Wendy’s, McDonald’s and Little Caesar’s. It also ruled out chain restaurants like The Outback and Applebee’s.
So Tori, being the greatest researcher in the world, did some digging around and found several places that we’ve never heard of. With list in hand, off we went!
Our first stop for dinner was Aubrey’s in Oak Ridge. After perusing the menu, I decided upon buttermilk battered chicken and fries with tartar sauce. At first I was going to pass on the fried chicken as I can get fried chicken just about anywhere. Then I remembered: We’re in the South! Tori and I both ordered the same thing.
When our meal arrived, the chicken breast was aplenty! The buttermilk batter was oh, so tasty and the chicken was tender and juicy. The fries were good, not anything to write home about, but the tartar sauce was fantastically different from what I’m accustomed. It had a flavor that blended in but made the sauce very unique. I will definitely be having it again!
Our next meal was at The Front Porch in Powell. Their special that day was the BBQ pork rib sandwich, which I ordered with fries and tartar sauce. If you haven’t guessed that I like tartar sauce with my fries then you aren’t paying attention. The sandwich had wonderful flavor so it was a good choice. I was feeling a bit underwhelmed at the fries until I realized that these tasted just like they would if I made them at home. Down home Southern cookin’: Gotta love it!
Tori ordered their shrimp and cheese/jalapeño grits. I haven’t cared for the grits I’ve tasted in the past, but these were profoundly delicious! The jalapeño was just enough to bring in some flavor without overpowering the entire dish.
Side note: Who wouldn’t love a place that has a sandwich on their menu called “The Good Momma”?
The next day while we were tooling around, we saw a Cracker Barrel in Rocky Top. I’ve heard of Cracker Barrel but it’s not something I’ve ever seen. I did just find out that there is one in Missoula, but I’ve never seen it and didn’t know there was one down there. Nor do I know anyone who has dined at that facility.
But I digress.
I ordered their chicken fried steak with fries, cole slaw and biscuits. The chicken fried steak was the best I have ever tasted. It had a smoky flavor to it like there was some kind of sausage ground in with the burger. Very, very tasty indeed! Their fries were really good, too. I didn’t even need tartar sauce on them.
The cole slaw was pretty much a standard fare that can be found at most restaurants while their biscuits were great! Overall we had a pleasurable dining experience.
On Thursday we met up with Tori’s brother and sister-in-law so we had dinner at Calhoun’s in Oak Ridge. The fact that it was close to our vacation rental was a plus and being right on the river gave a spectacular view.
For appetizers we ordered their Southern Fried Green Tomatoes and Rocky Top Potato Skins. I hadn’t ever had real fried green tomatoes. Sure, there have been attempts to make them but they were lacking something. Calhoun’s were delicious. They had that nice deep fried flavor with a zing of tartness from the green tomato. Tasty!
Their Rocky Top Potato Skins have hickory-smoked BBQ pork, cheese and bacon in them. If the description alone doesn’t convey the absolute yumminess in them, trying to describe it to you won’t suffice either. They’re really good!
I ordered the Calhoun’s Trio, which is baby back ribs, chicken tenders and hickory-smoked pork, with a side of fries and Tennessee Corn Puddin’. When you are looking at the list of sides and read: “Tennessee Corn Puddin’” something inside just screams to try it. So I did.
The meal was fantastic! My only regret is that I got full after the appetizer, chicken tenders and fries, so I didn’t try the ribs or smoked pork fresh. It was still very good the next day. The corn puddin’ was very good too, though I have to admit, that Tori’s is better.
Our last 2 meals out where at Shoney’s. We ate at one in Pigeon Forge and the other in Alcoa. First I ordered the Philly Steak & Cheese. It was good, but nothing close to any Philly Cheesesteak that I have ever eaten. I’m still waiting for the opportunity to consume a real Philly Cheesesteak sandwich.
At the 2nd Shoney’s I ordered the Smokey Bacon Bourbon Burger (say that 10 times fast) which was really good. Very flavorful!
Over all, my Southern dining experience was pleasant and I’m looking forward to doing it again. It certainly lived up to the hype.
Southern cooking does NOT disappoint!
(Photo by Tori Close)