What To Eat in Tennessee
Between the Mountains of the east and the cotton fields of the west, in its cities and small towns, Tennessee’s incredible diversity is reflected in a state menu that has something for everyone. Barbecue? Memphis just might have the nation’s finest, both wet and dry. Fried chicken? It’s glorious in Nashville, hot chicken especially! Country ham is served throughout the state, as are superb southern vegetables as part of a meat-and-three lunch in which meat is frequently abjured in favor of a fourth vegetable.
Created in Nashville, and still best there, hot chicken is crisp-fried and imbued skin to bone with peppers' fire. It originated at the still-thriving Prince's Chicken Shack a couple of generations ago when proprietor Thornton Prince's girlfriend, wanting to get even with him for his carousing one night, sopped his fried chicken in a painful amount of pepper. Instead of screaming for mercy, he yelled for joy; and hot fried chicken soon became Prince's trademark. Hot chicken always is served with white bread, which sops up the spicy juices and becomes a delicious hot companion.
Many southern states make a big deal of country ham as well as of biscuits. Nowhere are the two put together with more panache than in Tennessee, where the full presentation also includes red-eye gravy (ham drippins and black coffee), sorghum syrup. fruit preserves and, of course, a couple of eggs.
A term used through much of the South but especially in Nashville, "meat and three" quite simply refers to a menu template that lists two to five entrees and one or two dozen side dishes. From these lists, a diner picks one entree and three sides. Among the sides will be vegetables, but also congealed salads, macaroni and cheese, spaghetti, and rice. Cornbread, hoe cakes, biscuits and/or dinner rolls are always provided on the side. Variations include meat and two or meat and three without the meat, meaning an all‑vegetable plate of three or four selections. While it is possible for a meat and three meal to be simplicity itself -- meat loaf with mashed potatoes, glazed carrots and butter beans -- the list of side dishes likely includes a number of souped-up vegetable casseroles in which squash, broccoli or spinach is transformed into a luxurious indulgence by use of butter or margarine and bread crumbs; also, greens and cabbage tend to be enriched by massive infusions of pig in the form of fatback, country ham or neck bones.
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Dino's is a shot-and-beer dive, but its burgers are a Nashville treasure, and its short, simple, smart bar menu doesn't miss.
Charming bakery in the Smokies just outside Pigeon Forge, Bakin Bishop makes fantastic cupcakes with even more fantastic icings. Each one assembled to order.
Grandmothers Kitchen is a serene oasis of true country cooking and genuine hospitality. Smoked meats are great; coconut pineapple cake is a must-eat.
In the rolling country north of Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Carver's is known for apple fritters, fried pies, and lovely local produce for sale.
Litton's hamburgers range from minimal beef patties to a Thunder Road burger with pimento cheese, onions & hot pepper, Desserts: good pie & Italian cream cake.
Thunder Road Burger
Red Velvet Cake
Key Lime Pie
Italian Cream Cake
German Chocolate Cake
Coconut Cream Pie
Caramel Pecan Cheesecake
A vintage lunch room on old Cotton Row, Little Tea Shop is a Memphis experience all food lovers should have, from pot likker to fudge-topped frozen pecan balls.
Leonard's is where the Memphis pig sandwich was invented, in 1922: barbecued pork on a bun topped with cole slaw.
Sawyer's Farmhouse Breakfast is a reliable, full-menu breakfast spot on Pigeon Forge's bustling Parkway. Pancakes are a specialty.
Supple spaghetti noodles topped with thick, salty red sauce headline at Louis Original, Knoxville's old-school Italian-American restaurant favorite.