Looking for some Southern cooking? You’ve come to the right state. Hit the road and start checking these comfort food classics off your Tennessee bucket list.
HOOK, LINE & SINKER
Fish in a land-locked state? You’d better believe it. Catfish in Tennessee gets the Southern treatment, which typically includes battering it with zesty seasonings before frying it to a delicate crisp. Load up on this classic at TWIN LAKES CATFISH KITCHEN in Burns or head to HAGY’S CATFISH HOTEL in Shiloh, where the scenic banks of the Tennessee River compete with heaping plates of hush puppies and all-you-can- eat catfish for the most breathtaking view. In the eastern part of the state, fill your plate with some crispy fried fish at HUCK FINN’S CATFISH in Pigeon Forge.
ALL ABOUT THE BIRD
Sure, Nashville’s got the hot chicken market locked down at places like PRINCE’S, BOLTON’S and HATTIE B’S. But when it comes to plain ol’ fried bird, well, there’s nothing “plain” about what the rest of the state is dishing up. Out on the banks of Reelfoot Lake, BOYETTE’S DINING ROOM serves up unlimited portions of their fried chicken – just make sure you add two other meats to the order (the fried catfish is awfully delicious, too). But it’s hard to top the original location of GUS’S FRIED CHICKEN in Mason (also in Memphis and Knoxville), where a secret seasoning recipe makes believers out of the most skeptical fried chicken aficionados.
Whether they’re accessorized with a pat of butter, adorned with a spoonful of sorghum or used to sop up a pool of gravy, biscuits are the crown jewels of Southern dining. CUMBERLAND BISCUIT COMPANY in McMinnville, BRYANT’S BREAKFAST in Memphis and ARETHA FRANKENSTEINS in Chattanooga dish up fabulously flaky (and delicious!) versions of one of the state’s most celebrated foods.
GET YOUR HAM ON!
Nothing says Tennessee breakfast (or lunch or dinner) like some dry-cured country ham. This salted slice of pork is a Southern favorite. Get your fill at SHIRLEY’S HOME COOKING in Hampton, STAN’S RESTAURANT in Columbia or BEACON LIGHT RESTAURANT in Bon Aqua, where you can choose between red-eye or sawmill gravy along with some delicious sides.
SMOKIN’ & SAUCY
Barbecue is an art form and Tennesseans treat their ‘cue with the seriousness of a Monet. While the slow-smoked meat at places like PAYNE’S BAR-B-QUE, CHARLIE VERGOS RENDEZVOUS and CENTRAL BBQ get Memphis all the press, veer off the beaten path and head to RAMEY’S WHOLE HOG BBQ in Parsons (open March to mid-December). Since opening its doors in 1983, the family-owned eatery has been serving up hickory-smoked nirvana in the form of pulled pork sandwiches, barbecue chicken and ribs. Headed east? Stop in Ooltewah and pig out at COUCH’S BAR-B- QUE, one of Southern Living’s Top 50 Barbecue Joints in 2018. And don’t miss the smoked turkey, beef, sausage and, of course, pork at JACK’S BAR-B-QUE with three locations in Nashville.
STACK ‘EM UP
Pancakes, hot cakes, flapjacks – whatever you prefer to call ’em – this fluffy breakfast staple gets plenty of love in Tennessee, but especially in the Smoky Mountains. At LOG CABIN PANCAKE HOUSE and PANCAKE PANTRY in Gatlinburg, stacks are served all day long, while in Pigeon Forge, SAWYER’S FARMHOUSE RESTAURANT tops their griddled confections with a roster of syrups that are made in-house.
THE PERFECT PLATE
A trio of elements is said to be more satisfying than any other combination. Well, in Tennessee, the same holds true for sides. Enter: the meat-and-three. And it’s fairly simple. You: 1. Pick your protein. 2. Choose three mouthwatering Southern sides like collard greens, mac ’n cheese and creamed corn. 3. Eat like it’s your job. Try BELL BUCKLE CAFE in – where else – Bell Buckle, THE AMBER RESTAURANT and RANKIN RESTAURANT in Knoxville, any of the PUCKETT’S GROCERY & RESTAURANT locations or head to Dyersburg for a seat at DAVE’S ON THE SQUARE.
SO DARN SWEET
The origins of chess pie are a bit murky – some say that it came from a Southern housewife’s response to what she had made: “jes pie”- but regardless, the ingredients are always the same: butter, eggs, flour and plenty of sugar. Appease your demanding sweet tooth with the standout slices at LAMBERT’S SOUTHERN PIES AND BAKE SHOP in Maryville or WRIGHT’S CAFETERIA in Knoxville. If you prefer to end a meal with some Southern comfort, aka banana pudding, head to ELLISTON PLACE SODA SHOP or ARNOLD’S COUNTRY KITCHEN in Nashville or MAMA’S FARMHOUSE in Pigeon Forge.