Anyway, Melanie happened to be visiting her parents in Tennessee for spring break, the same week we were there. We agreed to meet up for lunch, since we were going to be in Townsend for the day (she lived in the next town over). She asked where we wanted to go, but since we aren’t familiar with Townsend, we asked her to “take us where the locals go.”
“Well,” Melanie said, “Not much to choose from in Townsend.” But her mom said that all of her friends go to The Back Porch (7018 E Lamar Alexander Pkwy in Townsend). So we agreed to meet there.
Let me tell you, when you leave the tourism of Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg behind, Tennessee feels like the deep south. And I’ve never felt it quite like I did when the four of us walked into the Back Porch in Townsend. (The Back Porch doesn’t have a web site. But here’s a link to Trip Advisor about it.)
The restaurant is really a house that has been remodeled a bit. It has a nice, big old front porch (which I’m still confused about, given the name) with some rockers. We walked boldly into the restaurant, with our CabinConnection.com gear proudly displayed. As we opened the door, we could see patrons (I’m willing to bet, almost all “regulars”) dining, and it was as if we’d entered another country. I’m talking cowboy hats and the deep accents that the kids can’t understand. And I’m sure that for just a split second, as we walked in that door, everyone stopped and looked at us before quickly resuming their conversations. It was like we were oozing northerness.
When we told the hostess that we’d have three more joining us (my friend has two daughters), she said she had just the place but it would be a minute. Now Front Porch has cute decor — classic country — and the place is neat and clean. But it’s a remodeled house. Spacious it’s not. Diners eat in several rooms and the hostess desk is where the front hall would’ve been. Except in this house, there wasn’t one. The front door just opens into one of the main rooms. Basically, while the hostess readied a table for us, we stood right in the main restaurant, inches away from diners busy dining. Again, we felt incredibly out of place.
After a few minutes, the hostess led us out a side door to another porch (really a side porch, I suppose). It was completely empty, so there was plenty of room. It was perfect for us — away from the curious locals and with plenty of room for the kids to move around.
Melanie and the girls joined us within a few minutes. The craziest thing — Melanie came through that door a different person — my north-Indianapolis-suburban friend looked the same, but this Melanie spoke like a true southerner. She saw our faces and laughed. She said that accent came right back when she was down here.
Onto the restaurant — the food was very good! Down-home style cooking was the specialty. The menu was limited, but prices were low to moderate. I chose a club and my husband decided to try one of the specialty burgers. Melanie was not so lucky. Vegetarian food was not easy to come by at The Back Porch.
Finally, Melanie settled on a vegetable platter, which included a choice of four vegetables. Now, our server was really nice. I can’t remember her name, so I guess she didn’t stick out to me too much, but she was more than adequate. But what happened next was just funny.
Melanie asked which vegetables had meat added. The server wasn’t sure, but went to check. When she came back, she said with certainty that the coleslaw and potatoes did not. She wasn’t sure about most of the rest. We laughed — it seemed crazy that they didn’t know what was in the veggies — but good-natured Melanie said she’d risk it with the collard greens (more about those later).
The meal came. Club sandwich — great! Burger — my meat-loving husband was very happy. The kids devoured their chicken fingers, then stole extra fries from their little friends (who I’m still not entirely sure I’ve ever seen actually eat). All was well, until we looked closely at the collard greens. Of course, big hunks of bacon! (One, I’m sure, was larger than a matchbox.) Like I said, Melanie’s good-natured, so she said that bigger are better because she can pick them out easily.
Now — collard greens. Do you know what they are? I looked it up on Wikipedia — collard greens are various loose-leafed cultivars, related to cabbage and broccoli. Huh? I’ll tell you, I wouldn’t have even known it was a vegetable except that they use it in the Veggie Tales theme song.
Melanie, apparently, loves collard greens. She sat there eating them quite happily. At some point during lunch she paused, turned to me and asked me if I wanted to try them, for the southern experience. I quickly said no. The collard greens were limp and dark green, looking suspiciously like cooked spinach. But then I reconsidered. It would be an experience. I tried a bite, tentatively. YUCK! Worse than cooked spinach. Do NOT recommend! But at least I tried…
We finished our meal with a berry cobbler that was FABULOUS! By far, this was my favorite part of the meal.
But it was all good. If you’re looking for something with character, something locally owned and small enough that it doesn’t even need a web site, look no further. Give the Front Porch a try on your next visit to Cades Cove. It’s an experience, that’s for sure. We sat out on the porch for quite awhile, chatting and enjoying refills on our drinks. There was a light breeze, the kids were actually behaving and the day was perfect.
But then, we love those unique local dining experiences. What’s your favorite locally-owned restaurant in the Smoky Mountain area?