From the Magic City to the Marble City, join us on our first Southern Road Trip winding through the Smoky Mountain foothills in search of the best eats along the way.
Where to Eat
We Have Doughnuts: This downtown doughnut stand, dreamed up by old-fashioned doughnut champion Phil and Sara Amthor and friends, is constantly inventing delicious seasonal flavors, but you can always count on four classics: buttermilk, chocolate, double chocolate, and brown butter.
Brick & Tin: This local hotspot takes the ingredients of fine dining and serves them in a more accessible way—on a sandwich made with their fresh-baked bread. The Mountain Brook location’s menu has expanded to include salads and entrees for lunch and dinner, and folks fill up the tables whenever the doors are open.
Ted’s Restaurant: Ted’s Restaurant is the perfect spot to experience the rich Greek heritage in Birmingham’s food scene. Owners Tasos and Beba Touloupis originally bought the meat-and-three from “Mister Ted” Sarris, and they have maintained the deliciously fresh menu and added many of their own from-scratch recipes. You can’t go wrong with their fried chicken, and be sure to get the stewed okra and tomatoes—the recipe is straight from Tasos’ mother.
Ovenbird: The newest offering from chef Chris Hastings, this restaurant offers inventive small plates that incorporate local, seasonal ingredients exemplifying the tastes of the region. We recommend the crème brûlée, brûléed in a miniature cast-iron skillet at the table with the kitchen fire poker—a happy accident turned tradition that came about when the chef realized his blow torch was out of fuel.
Saw’s Soul Kitchen: The word “dive” might be the first that comes to mind when entering this Avondale neighborhood staple, but the second is “mmmm,” because you’re three bites into your plate of pork and greens over cheese grits.
Where to Stay: Grand Bohemian Hotel Mountain Brook: Part of the luxury Kessler Collection, the Grand Bohemian Hotel in Mountain Brook is close to downtown, shops, and restaurants, and features water-themed décor, a rooftop restaurant overlooking the Birmingham Botanical Gardens, and its own art gallery. Take time for a wine blending class or a course at the cooking school.
Where to Eat
Pruett’s Bar-B-Q: Opened in 1976, Pruett’s Bar-B-Q has been serving pulled pork, burgers, and delectably fried catfish ever since. Half the folks sitting at those checkered-cloth tables have been coming here since the place opened, and a quick glance at their plates will tell you what to order: catfish! If you’re running low on time, don’t worry—next door to the main restaurant is Little Pruett’s, where you can drive through for a quick bite. 256.547.4118
Fort Payne, Alabama
Where to Eat
Vintage 1889: Built into Ft. Payne’s historic Big Mill building, this café serves the flatbread tomato pie, pimento cheese BLT, and home-cooked pork skins of your Southern dreams. Enjoy the open-air courtyard while you finish your meal, but make time to explore the sprawling antique mall while you’re there.
Where to Eat
Milk and Honey: This spot usually has a line, but the Farmhouse Biscuit with house breakfast sausage, Benton’s bacon, and tomato jam is worth the wait. If you’re feeling adventurous, try the Elvis, a creamy peanut butter, caramelized banana, and local honey treat.
Easy Bistro & Bar: Try as many things as you can from the impressive menu at this chic restaurant in Chattanooga’s bustling downtown (we suggest the beef brisket), but don’t dare leave without ordering the cornbread—a perfectly golden brown slice made with pork fat and served with sorghum butter sprinkled with popped sorghum kernels.
The Blue Plate Diner: This modern diner is a fun stop for locally sourced food and great people watching. The fried chicken plate is a Southern classic, but if breakfast is more your thing, try the high-rising cornmeal pancakes and splurge with Benton’s bacon on the side.
Where to Stay: The Chattanoogan Hotel: The perfect place to stay in its namesake city, The Chattanoogan Hotel is close to everything—downtown, the North Shore, the Riverwalk, and more. Complete with The Broad Street Grill, The Foundry Lounge, and an onsite spa, this hotel might tempt you to stay indoors for a day.
Visit the Moon Pie General Store on Broad Street to try as many of these Chattanooga-made sweet treats as you can eat.
Where to Stop
Sweetwater Valley Farm: This farm’s delicious cheeses are drawing attention from many of Knoxville’s best chefs. A little off the beaten path, follow the signs to the driveway (be sure to stop and look out for the crossing train) and explore all of its offerings, from sharp yellow Cheddar to buttermilk to smoked Gouda.
Where to Eat
Olibea: Named after his two oldest children, Jeffrey DeAlejandro’s popular breakfast spot serves a delicious mix of Southern and southwestern dishes. The chicken biscuit—fried chicken on top of the best biscuit I’ve ever eaten—is served over gravy with a side of breakfast potatoes and house-cured bacon. Eat here for breakfast, and you may not be able to eat again for the rest of the day—but it’s worth it.
Buttermilk Sky Pie: Meredith and Scott Layton have combined their family pie recipes and offer seasonal and classic flavors in multiple sizes. Get a to-go box with a few flavors—my favorites are buttermilk, coconut cream, pecan, and the I-40, a combination of pecans, chocolate chips, and grated coconut.
Litton’s Market and Restaurant: You can’t come to Knoxville without a stop at Litton’s. Their burgers and desserts are known far and wide, and the Litton family continues to pass down their culinary and hospitality secrets to each generation.
Knox Mason: Chef and owner Matt Gallaher spent time at Blackberry Farm before eventually opening his first restaurant in his hometown of Knoxville. Since then, his efforts have been a driving factor in area restaurants incorporating locally sourced, high-quality ingredients into their menus. Be sure to order the fresh pork rinds and the Sweetwater pimiento cheese to start your meal.
Where to Stay: The Tennessean: This downtown development plans to open in April, but make your reservations now—it will be the embodiment of Southern luxury, and its proximity to all the spots you want to visit will make it a necessity. Beautiful design based on the winding Tennessee River, sweeping Knoxville views, and impeccable service are just a few things to look forward to.