Gastronomical Adventures – A Culinary and Cultural Journey through the Tennessee River Valley

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The Tennessee River Valley Mapguide has put together a list of top places to dine with an experience to showcase the region’s diverse culinary scene.

Nestled in a giant natural cave, Rattlesnake Saloon offers casual dinners, old-fashioned Western charm and stunning views. (Photo credit: Glenn Wheeler)

Mealtime should be about creating memories while offering an authentic and unique experience that cannot be obtained anywhere else.

According to the World Food Travel Association, “food tourism is the act of traveling for a taste of place in order to get a sense of place.” The Tennessee River Valley region, while an outdoor mecca with its beautiful scenery and endless recreation opportunities, is also very much a place for a cultural and gastronomic adventure with its diverse culinary scene.

”Dining out should be much more than just eating and drinking. Here in the Tennessee River Valley, living is centered around meals and this should be no different when visiting a destination. Mealtime should be about creating memories while offering an authentic and unique experience that cannot be obtained anywhere else,” said Julie Graham, spokesperson for the Tennessee River Valley Stewardship Council.

The Tennessee River Valley Mapguide has put together a must taste and experience list to showcase the region’s diverse culinary scene. Each of these locally owned establishments provide a unique culinary experience while connecting visitors to the local culture.

Housed in a historic 1800s log home, Old 23rd Restaurant in Big Sandy, Tenn. is a unique destination for visitors looking for authentic southern fare. Meals are made from scratch using old family recipes and local antiques and memorabilia are displayed throughout the restaurant.

Serving homestyle favorites, Clinch Mountain Lookout Restaurant’s claim to fame is its vinegar pie. For almost 60 years, the restaurant has been serving this unusual treat. The pie first appeared during the depression when lemons were relatively rare and expensive and resourceful homemakers learned to substitute vinegar for the tart flavor found in lemon pie.

Litton's Market and Restaurant is a Knoxville favorite dating back to the 1940s, and today, the old-time diner style restaurant is known for its burgers featuring freshly-ground beef and buns made in house.

Located in a historic trolley barn in downtown Chattanooga just steps away from Ross's Landing on the Tennessee River, Big River Grille and Brewing Works pays tribute to the riverboat heritage of the city and features made from scratch regional cuisine and beer made on-site by the on-site local brewer.

Dinner on the Diner allows patrons to enjoy fine dining while the train travels through the scenic Tennessee countryside on a railroad excursion.

Dutch Maid Bakery in Tracy City is on the historic registry for being the oldest family owned bakery in the state of Tennessee. Serving breakfast and lunch daily, the bakery uses the same traditional recipes that the Baggenstoss family has carried on for several generations.

While in Murray, Kentucky, stop by the Maple Street Market for unique made in Kentucky products and locally produced goods. Cooking classes featuring locally grown produce and goods are also offered throughout the year.

Led by chef/proprietor Sara Bradley, runner-up on season 16 of Bravo’s competitive cooking show Top Chef, Freight House’ s rotating menu features locally sourced meats, dairies, fruits and vegetables and Kentucky Blue Snapper sourced from the region's rivers for a farm-to-table dining experience. The building that houses the restaurant was originally a freight depot.

This fifth-generation German bakery features traditional Old-World methods and family recipes. With roots dating back to 1873, Kirchhoff's Bakery, Deli and Market has been a part of Paducah’s history, supplying the daily bread for locals’ tables through 1957. The deli reopened in 1997 and uses ingredients from the local farmer’s market to make fresh artisan breads, pastries, sandwiches, soups and salads.

Located in Grand Rivers, Ky., Patti’s 1880’s Settlement is famous for their two-inch thick pork chops, mile-high meringue pies and flower pot bread. With six gift shops in a recreated log cabin village, beautiful gardens, winding streams, miniature golf, remote control boats and a 26-foot tall rock wall, the restaurant is a destination in itself.

Nestled in the valley between the Cumberland and Blue Ridge mountains, downtown Dalton is Georgia’s fifth largest downtown district. From Southern cuisine, to pizza and beer, to quaint cafes, to Mexican and fine dining, Downtown Dalton has no shortage of culinary offerings to tickle any taste bud.

With its focus on nature and fresh ingredients, Wildflower Café is the go-to place in Mentone, a cozy little town located atop Lookout Mountain. The restaurant is featured in the book "The Southern Foodie: 100 Places to Eat in the South Before You Die." Be sure to visit the Country Store for local artwork, handmade cards and other gift items and mementos to take back home.

Main Street Café is housed in the town’s old City Hall in downtown Madison, a suburban-Huntsville city. Enjoy lunch in one of the two previous jail cells while feasting on homemade casseroles such as Poulet de Normandie, Georgia Chicken and Cheesy Meatloaf.

Rattlesnake Saloon is a unique eatery nestled beneath a natural stone bluff that once sheltered Native Americans in northwest Alabama. Known as the watering hole under the rock, this is a place the whole family can eat, relax and enjoy connecting to local history.

The Freight House, located in the historic L&N freight depot in downtown Hartselle, Ala., offers views of passing trains and an opportunity to learn about the role of the railroad industry in North Alabama.

Save trip ideas and plan a trip easily with the Tennessee River Valley Geotourism MapGuide, an online guide of authentic places and adventures that have been recommended by locals. For additional dining options, click here.

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Julie Graham
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