Eating in Wears Valley, Tennessee — Or trying to, at least!

by Jeff Greene on January 23, 2011 · 8 comments



Smokin' Pig BBQ

We split our recent trip to Tennessee between the Nashville area (see Eating on Music Row, Touring Jack Daniel’s Distillery, and the Bourbon Trail) on the western end of the state and the Smokies on the east end.  We chose beautiful Wears Valley as our base camp, right at the edge of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, but outside of the terribly tacky touristy areas in Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge.  The upside was that it was that it was a beautiful little community, very peaceful and had some amazingly reasonably priced cabins.  The downside was that there were not a lot of options for food (or anything else!) after 5pm mid-week!

Our 1st Night in the Beautiful Smokies!

Believe it or not--it was even prettier in person! This was taken right at sunset as we pulled into town.

Other than the better scenery and serenity, one of the reasons we prefer cabins to hotels is that we have our own kitchen, so we can largely cook our own meals.  But we did have a couple evenings where we knew we were going to be coming home late or too tired from hiking to make a meal, and we do like to sample local fare, so there were a couple nights we planned to go out. By the way–we were very smart to have shopped in Nashville for groceries before we left, as there was not a decently stocked grocery store in town, and Gatlinburg was the nearest liquor store!

The foodie cultural experience we really missed out on was our first night in town.  We went straight from the cabin rental office to our cabin, and cooked dinner at home.  The next morning (a Sunday) we went to the charming little Wears Valley First Baptist Church, where we learned that we had just missed a community fish fry at the church to kick off their revival week the night before!  The pastor talked about how much Southern Baptists like their food as a form of fellowship (among other things, he told a joke about the school where kids were asked to bring something that represented their religious traditions.  First kid said, “I’m a Catholic, and I brought these rosary beads!”  Second kid says, “I’m Jewish, and I brought my yarmulke!”  The third kid walks up and says, “I’m Southern Baptist, so I brought this bucket of fried chicken!”), so we were very sorry we missed the opportunity to break bread with this cute (and extremely friendly) church.

Tennessee Vacation - Day 8

Best food in town? We wouldn't know, as we missed the fish fry, but it was a very nice church nonetheless...

We had noticed in our initial exploration of the town, a Farmer’s Market-looking area at the far edge that featured a big-ass smoker and a sign advertising “Fresh Fried Apple Pies”.  We’d been told by our Nashville host, Stevie, that we needed to have some “fried pie” when we got a chance, and we wound up thinking about it all day the next day.  So after touring and hiking through historic Cade’s Cove in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park on our first full day in the area, we made a bee-line to “Smokin’ Pig BBQ” at Wears Valley Farms, even though we had a whole dinner to cook at home.  But an appetizer was perfectly in line, right? The farmer’s market/store on site was cute, with lots of local squashes and honeys and sauces.  And the fried pie was totally worth whatever rules we were breaking.  If you aren’t southern yourself, and haven’t spent much time there, you may wonder what the hell fried pie is–it’s basically a McDonald’s apple turnover done right!  The crust was flaky, the filling was great, and it was covered with powdered sugar!  Yummy, but not even remotely on any healthy foods list.  But as you’ll see (and already know if you read our previous Tennessee entries), we pretty much threw that “healthy” thing out the window.  On the negative end, we also tried the southern sensation “boiled peanuts”, which we found significantly less impressive, and frankly, as mushy and bad as you might assume.  A friend insisted they’re only really good when they’re in season, but color us skeptical…

Tennessee Vacation - Day 7

How do you pass up high tech marketing efforts like this?

Deep Fried Apple Pie

Fried pie!

Deep Fried Apple Pie

Fried pie up close! My mouth waters just seeing this photo again!

The next day we were heading all the way over the Smokies to North Carolina and back, and was one of or planned “local food” evenings. We were looking forward to having some of the actual bbq at the “Smokin’ Pig BBQ”, after all, they had an excellent looking smoker…

Tennessee Vacation - Day 7

My next smoker upgrade? I'm still sad we never got to actually sample any of the smoked meats at "Smokin' Pig BBQ"

Unfortunately, it appears that the bbq joint closes at 7, or possibly earlier mid-week (it wasn’t really posted), so we were shut out of their pulled pork, ribs, brisket, or any of the other wonderful goodness that appeared on their menu. So we cruised back down the boulevard into town, looking for someplace to eat. And then when we reached the end, we turned around and went back again. We may have made another circuit before we realized that the only two legit restaurants in town were apparently closed for dinner mid-week, and our only options were the “best burger in town” served at the British Petroleum Gas Station, and pizza at the “American Pie Pizza Pies, Sub Sandwiches, Ice Cream and DVD Rentals.

Tennessee Vacation - Day 8

Best burgers in town? Possibly, as we couldn't find any other burgers in town, but in the end we didn't eat here, thinking "burgers" and "British Petroleum" weren't the most appetizing words to be used together

Tennessee Vacation - Day 8

It's pizza, so how bad could it be? Note: We took this and the BP Burgers photo above the next day, but ate their the night before

While the gas station may well literally have had the best burgers in town, as there were apparently no other burger places IN town (no fast food even–another plus and minus for the town at the same time), we decided on pizza and a movie instead. And the pizza was… pizza. Not bad, not great, but edible. The bigger mistake of the evening was our Country Music Hall of Fame-inspired rental of “Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story“, which was indefensibly bad. Fortunately, the Gentleman Jack we had back at the cabin was still good, so the evening wasn’t a total loss…

The next day we hiked a small (and snowy) piece of the Appalachian Trail, did another small hike to Laurel Falls (one of the most popular hikes in the park) and explored a historic schoolhouse, so we felt like we’d earned another “appetizer” trip to town before our cabin-cooked meal. We ran back to the Smokin’ Pig again, and cast our greedy eyes upon the menu.

Tennessee Vacation - Day 7

"Smokin' Pig BBQ" menu, such as it was...

We again had to skip the actual smoked meats (curses!), but picked up fried green tomatoes (our 2nd version of the trip), fried okra, and some bbq wings.

Tennessee Vacation - Day 7

Fried Green Tomatoes!

Tennessee Vacation - Day 7

Fried Okra! Too much okra, not enough spice or sauce

Colleen LOVED the fried green tomatoes (I thought they were pretty good), we both thought the okra could have used a more interesting sauce than simple ranch and was rather bland, and the wings were… okay.

So summing up Wear’s Valley food-wise, it is hard to say that it was exceptional in any way. While we missed the Bear Camp Grill, which looked like it was probably the best restaurant in town, it is only open for dinner Thursday through Saturday.  And Grandmother’s Kitchen, a cute little joint on the north end of town that looked like it would have great breakfasts, didn’t appear to serve dinner at all! So while we highly recommend the valley for it’s scenery and serenity, we highly recommend that you get a cabin and bring your own food and beverages!

Our 1st Night in the Beautiful Smokies!

This may have been the best part of our culinary experiences in the Smokies, but you'd better bring your own, because you can't buy any of these in Wears Valley!

You can see more of our eating and drinking adventures in Tennessee and Kentucky here, and check out our hiking and sight-seeing posts from the area on our outdoors blog here.

 

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  • Cassie

    Glad you liked your visit, just an FYI, Wears Valley is unincorporated , not a town, we like it that way, we don’t have alot of places to eat or alot of activities, thats what makes it so special! If you cut down more trees to make resteraunts and attractions to please out of towners, that would take away the beauty of our mountains that we as locals love soo much, enough has been cut down to make room for cabins! I will have to say that you also made a mistake by not trying the food at BP, it happens to be one of the best place to eat here, they have a little bit of everything to eat, just because they are cooking in a building which also sales gas doesn’t mean the food will taste like gas or be exposed to it, the station is very clean and maintained and the staff is very welcoming.
    I do agree with you about First Baptist, and go further to say that everyone there is very nice and welcoming, you feel God’s love from the moment you walk in, I love this church.
    I see you mentioned that there wasen’t a decently stocked grocery store, well, as a matter of fact , the Kroger on Wears Valley rd  which is about 6mls from the valley always has a wide selection unless you go extremly late at night , thats only because there are only 2 grocery stores in Pigeon Forge that stay extremly busy and this particular Kroger happens to be open 24hrs! and note that the locals usually go early in the morning or really late at night in order to avoid so much traffic from tourist.
    What people from out of town need to understand is that , when you come to PF, you are coming to one of the biggest tourist towns in the world, when you come into a small area such as our Wears Valley that things are small, because its a small community, and the people that live here are happy to have our privacy and quietness, we love that we dont have things here that bring in bumper to bumper traffic, we like our simple life, so don’t knock what we got, cause this is the life we love. A friendly reminder , if anyone doesn’t like our area, the best thing to do is find a diffrent place to visit, research first, find an area that is more you standard, but don’t expect to come to the mountains and have the luxuries of a city ! Our area is what it is, we love it and thats all thats important.

    • http://twitter.com/JTGoirish Jeff Greene

      I’m so sorry you took this as criticism, but I can see why you might.  This was our favorite vacation spot since our honeymoon, and we have since recommended it to dozens of our friends, aside from our blog posts on it.  If you see the post on our outdoors blog here  http://www.greeneadventures.com/2011/10/31/great-cabins-in-the-smokies-affordable-beautiful-cabin-rentals-in-quaint-friendly-wears-valley-tennessee/, you can tell how much we loved the area.  As a food location on our food blog, obviously there wasn’t much to say, as even you admit, and we tried to have some fun with it, but certainly meant no offense.  We hate the crowded places and had to flee Gatlinburg as soon as possible.  Quite places like Wears Valley are what we always seek out and we really did love almost everything about it.  We would take the trade-off of too quiet/too few restaurants over crowded and touristy any day of the week!  We look forward to visiting again as soon as possible, and your tip about the Kroger will make it even easier!

  • Katharine

    I so enjoyed this little write up.  I’m currently sitting in a Wears Valley cabin.  I already saw 2 shooting stars tonight & we had the incredible experience of a 300 pound bear greeting me when I walked out the door at about 9pm tonite…10 ft away.  He was searching for the one random guest that didn’t close their “bear proof” trash can…found one 3 cabins down.  It was incredible & beautiful to see such an amazing creature that close up and not in a zoo (I hate zoos).  As for food….we have stayed in the PF/Gatlinburg area the last 2 years (off of Upper Middle Creek) and I must say…even the top rated restaurants we went to in that area were less than mediocre.  So I agree, if you come here for the cuisine….you will not find it….but if you love the beathtaking beauty, and throwing some steaks on the BBQ after a day of taking in the beauty…you will love it.  The liquor…agree….stock it up before you come lol.  We went to that Kroger that Cassie speaks of last year…to find out…no liquor.  Had to make a mad dash to Gatlinburg.  I did some extra research this year on restaurants in the area….not Wears Valley…but found a few more that had great reviews…we’ll see.  Not to sound like a food snob, but, when you come from large metropolitan areas (I’m from Chicago)….just not the same in the food dept….and of course that would be the case in a remote area like this.  Come ayhow…plan some great things to BBQ..the view will make up for it. 

    • http://twitter.com/JTGoirish Jeff Greene

      Katharine–we agree 100%!  We really loved the area, but getting a scenic cabin with a kitchen and a grill was definitely the better call than trying to find good eats in town every day.

  • Gina

    There is also a grocery store in Wears Valley called Smoky Mountain Grocery at 4104 Wears Valley Road. They have been there over 2 years. They also have a delivery service where you can call or go online and place your order, tell them where your staying, and they shop at all the major grocery stores, get anything you want and have your cabin or condo stocked before you arrive!!! check them out at: http://www.smokymountaingrocery.com

  • Smokies Cabin

    I hope you’ll come back soon. Definitely use Smoky Mountain Grocery Delivery and eat at the new Elvira’s Cafe. It’s really good, fresh food!

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