Where there’s smoke

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The smell of barbecue and the sound of live music make these restaurants favorite stops for tourists and locals alike

Mabus Jackson, Kevin Willis and Jesse Black perform at The Smokehouse in Monteagle. Photos by Cathy Black

Mabus Jackson, Kevin Willis and Jesse Black perform at The Smokehouse in Monteagle. Photos by Cathy Black

You’re sitting at a large table with some of your favorite people, leaning back on mismatched chairs after a long, busy week. The barbecue smoke lingers around you, and you’re surrounded by old barn wood and discarded road signs. Your mouth still stings from the pepper, and you’ve been washing down good food with a familiar beverage.

Someone with a scratched-up guitar has been singing over the background noise of chatter and the light clinking of bottles and glass. It’s on a night like this — in a place like this — that you want to be told some stories by someone who has lived, someone who has survived some storms and whose eyes were open wide enough to absorb the details and pass them along. You want a road-worn poet to provide the soundtrack to this night, to wake up all your senses so you can file this night away and review it all for years to come. The satisfying peace of a full belly and the buzz of this moment in time mingles with the music of local, real people, and you know you are in Tennessee.

They’ve been called roadhouses and juke joints, but there’s more than meets the eyes and ears when you visit these favorite Tennessee restaurants. We’ve spotlighted three popular, award-winning places that serve mouth-watering dishes and showcase great local talent while you eat and drink. Barbecue, banana pudding and live music — is there anything more “Tennessee” than that?

The well-known sign at The Smokehouse serves as a beacon to the local and traveler alike who wants good cooking and live music in a friendly environment.

The well-known sign at The Smokehouse serves as a beacon to the local and traveler alike who wants good cooking and live music in a friendly environment.

The Smokehouse Restaurant and Trading Post

As the region of middle Tennessee grows in population, it seems harder to find those places we once called “quintessential Tennessee.” Nashville in particular has grown so much in the last few years — an estimated 80 people move to Music City every day — that longtime residents hardly recognize their own town.Thankfully, there are still some places that protect the traditional tastes that made Music City and her surrounding areas great. The Smokehouse Restaurant and Trading Post in Monteagle is one of them, serving its famous barbecue and hosting Nashville’s aspiring singer-songwriters with “Music on the Mountain” every Friday and Saturday night.

Jesse Black

Jesse Black

Thankfully, there are still some places that protect the traditional tastes that made Music City and her surrounding areas great. The Smokehouse Restaurant and Trading Post in Monteagle is one of them, serving its famous barbecue and hosting Nashville’s aspiring singer-songwriters with “Music on the Mountain” every Friday and Saturday night. Jim Oliver started the place in 1975 after operating other successful restaurants and bars in the area since 1960 along the famous Dixie Highway, the artery that provided a steady stream of commuters from Chicago to Miami. That stream has now shifted to nearby Interstate 24, with Exit 134 taking you into the heart of Monteagle. In just minutes, The Smokehouse Restaurant will greet you majestically on West Main Street.

Jim Oliver started the place in 1975 after operating other successful restaurants and bars in the area since 1960 along the famous Dixie Highway, the artery that provided a steady stream of commuters from Chicago to Miami. That stream has now shifted to nearby Interstate 24, with Exit 134 taking you into the heart of Monteagle. In just minutes, The Smokehouse Restaurant will greet you majestically on West Main Street. Oliver passed away in 2007, but family members have taken the reins and continue to steer The Smokehouse in the same direction as the venue’s creator. They serve good, hearty food and provide a getaway from fast-paced urban life. Patrons of The Smokehouse are satisfied to know they have spent some quality time in “quintessential Tennessee.” It’s also a lodge and convention center.

Oliver passed away in 2007, but family members have taken the reins and continue to steer The Smokehouse in the same direction as the venue’s creator. They serve good, hearty food and provide a getaway from fast-paced urban life. Patrons of The Smokehouse are satisfied to know they have spent some quality time in “quintessential Tennessee.” It’s also a lodge and convention center. Monteagle is a small, picturesque town seated among the mountains and rolling hills of the Cumberland Plateau, about 100 miles southeast of Nashville. It sits squarely in the corners of Franklin, Grundy and Marion counties and has somewhere around 1,500 residents. The Smokehouse is a noted destination for the residents of Nashville and Chattanooga (just 50 miles away) as well as a favorite of longtime locals who crave the bygone.

The Smokehouse in Monteagle

The Smokehouse in Monteagle

Monteagle is a small, picturesque town seated among the mountains and rolling hills of the Cumberland Plateau, about 100 miles southeast of Nashville. It sits squarely in the corners of Franklin, Grundy and Marion counties and has somewhere around 1,500 residents. The Smokehouse is a noted destination for the residents of Nashville and Chattanooga (just 50 miles away) as well as a favorite of longtime locals who crave the bygone. Friday and Saturday nights at The Smokehouse can be a bit raucous, with music pouring out of the place and mixing with the happy chatter of friends and family. Well-known songwriters will come to sing the familiar, and young up-and-comers like Jesse Black bring the new. Black, just 18 years old, has been a regular at The Smokehouse since he was 13, sitting in with others on guitar and mandolin or singing his own original songs. Raised just a stone’s throw from the Alabama and Georgia borders on the local bluegrass and country music of the Chattanooga area and learning what he absorbed from iTunes and YouTube, Black is among a new generation of musicians whose influences literally span the globe. His set might include everything from Bill Monroe to the Eagles to Old Crow Medicine Show.

Friday and Saturday nights at The Smokehouse can be a bit raucous, with music pouring out of the place and mixing with the happy chatter of friends and family. Well-known songwriters will come to sing the familiar, and young up-and-comers like Jesse Black bring the new. Black, just 18 years old, has been a regular at The Smokehouse since he was 13, sitting in with others on guitar and mandolin or singing his own original songs. Raised just a stone’s throw from the Alabama and Georgia borders on the local bluegrass and country music of the Chattanooga area and learning what he absorbed from iTunes and YouTube, Black is among a new generation of musicians whose influences literally span the globe. His set might include everything from Bill Monroe to the Eagles to Old Crow Medicine Show. “The Smokehouse has a warm and friendly atmosphere,” says Black, “and you feel at home on the stage. The audience comes to listen to the music but likes to have a good time, so it’s the perfect balance of the attentiveness of a Nashville listening room and the energy of a concert hall.”

“The Smokehouse has a warm and friendly atmosphere,” says Black, “and you feel at home on the stage. The audience comes to listen to the music but likes to have a good time, so it’s the perfect balance of the attentiveness of a Nashville listening room and the energy of a concert hall.”Because The Smokehouse was where Black first played one of his original songs, his fondness of the place goes beyond the food or the

Because The Smokehouse was where Black first played one of his original songs, his fondness of the place goes beyond the food or the ambiance.

“My favorite thing on the menu is definitely the buffet on catfish night (Fridays),” Black says. “The buffet has so many food options, and you can eat as much as you want.”

Photographfee-11

Photo courtesy of Sweet P’s Barbeque and Soul House

Sweet P’s Barbeque and Soul House

Knoxville has long been host to what we think of as quintessential Tennessee arts and culture, championing all things Appalachian. It has a marvelous cultural tone for a city its size and does well to expand the town’s diversity while also maintaining a local charm. Sweet P’s Barbeque and Soul House is a not-so-hidden gem just south of the city on the Little River. (A downtown location called Sweet P’s Downtown Dive also exists with the same great menu but does not host live music.) Featured on Travel Channel’s “Man vs. Food” just one year after its opening in 2010, Sweet P’s gained instant notoriety as a fun restaurant with an attractive local vibe.

Malcom Holcombe

Malcom Holcombe

Sweet P’s Barbeque and Soul House is a not-so-hidden gem just south of the city on the Little River. (A downtown location called Sweet P’s Downtown Dive also exists with the same great menu but does not host live music.) Featured on Travel Channel’s “Man vs. Food” just one year after its opening in 2010, Sweet P’s gained instant notoriety as a fun restaurant with an attractive local vibe.Live music is a regular feature at the Soul House, with Tennessee-based artists and hardcore troubadours like Darrell Scott, Malcom Holcombe and Webb Wilder taking the stage, sometimes with their bands, sometimes alone with just a guitar and their musical takes on life and love.

Live music is a regular feature at the Soul House, with Tennessee-based artists and hardcore troubadours like Darrell Scott, Malcom Holcombe and Webb Wilder taking the stage, sometimes with their bands, sometimes alone with just a guitar and their musical takes on life and love. Owner Chris Ford loves Southern American cuisine and started a catering company in 2005. He opened Sweet P’s in 2009 with business partner (and cousin) Jonathan Ford. Sweet P’s was an instant success, focusing on smoked foods but not stopping there. The menu features Cuban sandwiches, muffulettas, burgers, burritos and banana pudding you won’t soon forget.

Owner Chris Ford loves Southern American cuisine and started a catering company in 2005. He opened Sweet P’s in 2009 with business partner (and cousin) Jonathan Ford. Sweet P’s was an instant success, focusing on smoked foods but not stopping there. The menu features Cuban sandwiches, muffulettas, burgers, burritos and banana pudding you won’t soon forget.

Members of the Jackson Area Plectral Society play Oldtime music in the ice cream parlor at Casey Jones Village. Photo by Doyle Freeman, courtesy of the Jackson Area Plectral Society

Members of the Jackson Area Plectral Society play Oldtime music in the ice cream parlor at Casey Jones Village. Photo by Doyle Freeman, courtesy of the Jackson Area Plectral Society

Casey Jones Village

Jackson’s diverse makeup might surprise you. It’s the birthplace of singer Carl Perkins, game show host Wink Martingale and football player Ed “Too Tall” Jones. But Jackson’s most famous resident is probably Casey Jones, the ill-fated railroad engineer whose fatal crash resulted in folklore that outlives him to this day. Countless songs, stories and poems have been written about the man who died at age 36 trying to save his passengers. Not far from his grave is a village bearing his name that offers antiques shopping, buffet meals, homemade ice cream and the popular Casey Jones Home and Railroad Museum. If you’re one who likes three square meals a day served buffet-style in a down-home environment, The Old Country Store at Casey Jones’ Village is for you. One of West Tennessee’s biggest attractions for families, antiques shoppers and historians, Casey Jones Village is a destination unique to Tennessee and steeped in tradition.

 

Jackson Area Plectral Society

Jackson Area Plectral Society

If you’re one who likes three square meals a day served buffet-style in a down-home environment, The Old Country Store at Casey Jones’ Village is for you. One of West Tennessee’s biggest attractions for families, antiques shoppers and historians, Casey Jones Village is a destination unique to Tennessee and steeped in tradition. Brooks Shaw took the recipes

 

Brooks Shaw took the recipes of his mother (everyone called her BaBa) and looked fondly at the past while shaping the future of this friendly little corner of West Tennessee. Serving pure, honest Southern cooking in a warm, cozy environment, Shaw’s little restaurant grew into a community with a definite Southern state of mind. The antiques collection boasts 15,000 items, and the homemade ice cream hits the spot on a muggy afternoon. Bluegrass and Oldtime music jams are hosted frequently by the Jackson Area Plectral Society. (Plectral comes from the word “plectrum,” which is an old term used for wood or bone picks for plucking stringed instruments,) The group, founded in 1989, is dedicated to the preservation of Oldtime string music and hosts open jam sessions on Thursday nights at Casey Jones Village as well as occasional gatherings inside the ice cream parlor at The Old Country Store.

Bluegrass and Oldtime music jams are hosted frequently by the Jackson Area Plectral Society. (Plectral comes from the word “plectrum,” which is an old term used for wood or bone picks for plucking stringed instruments,) The group, founded in 1989, is dedicated to the preservation of Oldtime string music and hosts open jam sessions on Thursday nights at Casey Jones Village as well as occasional gatherings inside the ice cream parlor at The Old Country Store.There are so many things to see and do across Tennessee, we never have room to give you more than just a taste. So search the internet and ask your fiends for recommendations for more great restaurants in your area sure to stir all your senses.

There are so many things to see and do across Tennessee, we never have room to give you more than just a taste. So search the internet and ask your friends for recommendations for more great restaurants in your area sure to stir all your senses.


Getting there

Here is contact information for the featured venues, but please search out other great spots in your area.

The Smokehouse Restaurant
848 W. Main St., Monteagle, TN 37356
800-489-2091 | thesmokehouse.com

Sweet P’s Barbeque and Soul House
3725 Maryville Pike, Knoxville, TN 37920
865-247-7748 | sweetpbbq.com

Brooks Shaw’s Old Country Store
56 Casey Jones Lane, Jackson, TN 38305
731-668-1223 | caseyjones.com

Jackson Area Plectral Society
jacksonareaplectralsociety.webs.com

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About Author

Robin Conover

Robin Conover has spent the last 23 years documenting the people and places of Tennessee with The Tennessee Magazine. After graduating from Murray State University, Robin began working for magazine in October 1988 as a communications specialist and photojournalist. She now serves as TECA vice president of communications and editor of The Tennessee Magazine. Her interest in preserving the environment and Tennessee’s beautiful natural areas has led her down many miles of trails to capture thousands of images. Robin is currently a board member of the Friends of Radnor Lake, a nonprofit in Nashville. Robin’s images can be seen in greeting cards, calendars, books and at a few fine-art shows she participates in each year.

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