Daily Archives: August 12, 2007

Knoxville – Home of the Dew

Named for George Washington’s Secretary of War, Henry Knox, Knoxville is home to the Tennessee Valley Authority (created by FDR in 1933 to provide “electricity for all”) and is also the adopted home of “Roots” author Alex Haley.

Riverboat, Knoxville

But most importantly, Knoxville is the birthplace of the hyper-caffeinated sparkling beverage, Mountain Dew!

Slang for moonshine, Mountain Dew was invented here by the Hartman brothers in the 1940’s and was originally intended to be used strictly as a mixer for whiskey. Below is a picture I found online of a vintage advertising banner, which, incredibly enough, featured a hillbilly with a giant jug of hootch. Awesome!

Vintage DEW flag!

Located at the western edge of the Great Smoky Mountains, where the French Broad and Holston Rivers converge to form the headways of the snaking Tennessee River, Knoxville is truly “Do The Dew” country, with beautiful, flowing rivers everywhere you look.

Riverfront, Knoxville

We stopped here for dinner and a quick driving tour on our way to Nashville and were not disappointed. Home to the University Of Tennessee, Knoxville is a hip college town with a thriving music scene and a beautifully-restored downtown.

Although we arrived too late to visit the Women’s Basketball Hall Of Fame (which had a super cool giant basketball out front) or seek out the Alex Haley statue downtown, we did come across a huge line of big old “Claymates”, emphasis on the BIG and OLD, waiting in line to see Clay Aiken in concert.

Claymates!

Pictured above is one of their many festively-adorned minivans. The driver actually slowed down so I could get this shot as we passed them. Nice gals, those Claymates!

For dinner, we settled on a cool-looking place with a sweeping view of the river, called Calhoun’s – Taste of Tennessee.

Calhoun’s, Knoxville

Christine, Mom & Courtney @ Calhoun’s, Knoxville

Although famous for their ribs, we were saving our rib lust for Memphis, so Mom and I ordered the hot wings, which were good, but a little sweeter than we were used to. To wash it down, we shared a pint (yes, I said shared. We still had a three hour drive to Nashville ahead of us) of their Bohemian-style lager, Thunder Road Pilsner, which was hoptastic! Really good stuff.

But the true star of the meal was the side of Tennessee Corn Puddin’ (their spelling, not mine) that came in a small, unassuming ramekin with Christine’s Southern-Fried Catfish dinner, pictured below.

The Creamed Corn Casserole from Heaven!

I’m not kidding, I could do some seriously nasty things to that creamed corn puddin’, it was that delicious. Even Courtney — who ordered a salad — loved it. Pictures do not do that heaven-sent puddin’ justice. Whew…amazing stuff.

So, our bellies full, Clay Aiken probably well into his second encore of “Mandy”, we hit the road to Nashville.

Cool coffee billboard, Knoxville

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Cracker Barrel & Waffle House

No trip to the Old South would be complete without a stop at one or both of these fine dining establishments. And while native Southerners might scoff at that statement, trust me, to a couple of born and bred Californians, these places are downright exotic!

Cracker Barrel!

Cracker Barrel serves heaping, artery-clogging portions of fried, boiled, and mashed Southern staples. It’s not great food by a long shot, but, depending on what you order it can be pretty tasty (the Chicken Fried Chicken pictured below is amazing — the chicken and dumplings, a little less so) and the prices can’t be beat.

Plus, you literally can’t miss the place…we counted almost 20 locations on the drive from Raleigh to Nashville alone. But the real star of Cracker Barrel is the front porch and Old Country Store.

Chicken Fried Chicken Dinner

Just the fact that they have a wrap-around front porch at all is cool enough, but when you couple that with the fact that they actually sell the rocking chairs (most start at around $149.99) out there, well, how can you not love this place?

And the porch is just the beginning. Step inside the swinging front doors and you find yourself in a country store straight out of “Little House On The Prairie”.

The Old Country Store

Loaded with cool vintage candies, jams, toys, Southern spices and seasoning packets, cookbooks and a plethora of John Deere merchandise for the home, this place rocks. And, since they have been a proud sponsor of the Grand Ole Opry since 2004, their collection of Cracker Barrel exclusive CD’s leaves Starbucks decidedly in the dust. So, go for the food, but stay for the store. And no, the rocking chairs do not count as a carry-on item. We tried.

Now, for the pinnacle of our vacation breakfasts, our old standby…Waffle House.

Waffle House!

Simple, cheap and delicious, Waffle House is truly heaven-sent. Where else on this planet can you get a single freshly poured waffle for only $2.70! Yeah, you heard me, Denny’s, $2.70! Incredible!

Anyway, I usually order the chocolate chip waffle ($.35 extra, but worth it) with a side of eggs and hashbrowns and Christine gets the pecan waffle with a side of bacon. But everything we’ve ever tried there is fantastic. And that sweet slab of country ham pictured below is like, death-row-inmate-final-meal spectacular! A must try!

Chocolate Chip Waffles & Country Ham!

And when you go make sure to bring tons of quarters, because aside from the kick-ass breakfast selections, most locations also have a jukebox. And this is no ordinary jukebox, friends, for this one comes equipped with a whopping two rows of songs about Waffle House. Seriously!

This place is so good, people write songs about it! And the music is great. None of the singers are really famous or anything, but the songs are hilarious: “I’ll Take Mine With Hashbrowns”, “Working At The Waffle House”, and our all-time favorite, “Grill Operator” sung to the tune of Sade’s “Smooth Operator”. Trust me, you never heard music like this at McDonalds. True road trip classics!

Waffle House jams!

So, save the fancier, bigger-budget food for dinner and get yourself some Waffle House waffles ASAP. You won’t be disappointed!

On the web front, Cracker Barrel has a pretty cool website with tons of hillbilly stuff for sale and an e-mail newsletter called Front Porch News, which sounds kinda rad.

But if you really wanna experience these places online, check out the Waffle House tunes for yourself at: http://www.wafflehouse.com/musicmachine.asp

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The KFC Buffet

Wow…who knew? We never actually ate of one of these strange Sizzler-meets-the-Colonel hybirds — for some odd reason, the ladies vetoed me every time I asked — but man, did we see a lot of shiny red, white and blue billboards along the Interstate.

KFC Buffet?

So, although the pleasure of dining here will have to wait till next summer, I did pop over to document the place for the ages when we stopped for gas near the Tennessee border. And, man alive, what a site.

I think the pictures say it all…yikes.

KFC disaster!

KFC disaster #2

 

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The Adventure Begins!

Here we are at the very start of our trip in Mom and Courtney’s driveway in Cary, North Carolina.

Hitting the road at the crack of 1:00pm — which is way early for the four of us — our bags are packed, the animals left in the able hands of a sweet, newly-single Scottish lass with an ear for Elvis (“Who doesn’t love Elvis?” was her heartfelt reply to my query about his popularity on her shores) and our iPod is literally bursting with classic country jams.

To paraphrase Paul Simon’s immortal “Graceland” (which would receive almost as much airplay in the car as Cher’s version of “Walking In Memphis”): “The Mississippi delta was shining like a national guitar, [we] are following the river down the highway to the cradle of the Civil War, [we’re] going to Graceland, Graceland! Memphis, Tennessee, we’re going to Graceland!”

Truer words were never sung!

Hitting the road!

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