Food & Drink

Eat Like a Local in East Tennessee

Five must-visit restaurants

It was the State of Franklin, on land ceded by North Carolina in April of 1784. With a capital in modern-day Greeneville, the mountainous northeastern corner of Tennessee was a minor republic that survived for a few years before it slipped, rattled by political and cultural turmoil, back into the union.

East Tennessee is still pretty independent. Nobody knows that better than Fred Sauceman, a professor at East Tennessee State University and the author of the three-volume Place Setting series. His books are the definitive guides to eating and drinking in the rocky cradle of country ham and skillet cornbread. These are five of his favorite stops for first-timers.

  • The Grease Rack

    “A former service station, this restaurant is closely tied to the community. Several dishes are named for people who have helped it along over the years—like Harold Smith, who worked at the nearby Stokely plant and handled maintenance. He loved fried onions, so Harold’s Steak is a sixteen-ounce strip steak covered in grilled onions and pickled banana peppers. The Wormy Steak took its name from Carroll “Wormy” Cureton, who ate the 2 ½-inch-thick strip every week and never gained an ounce. The small anteroom lit in blue-green and the buzzer on the door are reminders of the time when the restaurant was a private club, to circumvent liquor laws.” Find The Grease Rack on Facebook


  • The Bean Barn


    “In the early 1970s, you could leave Greeneville High School and eat lunch anywhere you wanted. Many of us opted for the Bean Barn, where we ordered Beans All the Way: beef stew topped with lard-seasoned soup beans and onions. Employee Reagan Walker came up with that combination in the 1950s. The floors creak, the light bulbs are uncovered, and the counter and tables are packed with people from all walks of life coming together to enjoy a belly-filling, soul-sustaining mountain repast.” Find the Bean Barn on Facebook

  • Ridgewood Barbecue

    Bluff City

    “Grace and Jim Proffitt opened this restaurant as a beer joint in 1948. When the county went dry a few years later, they abandoned beer for barbecue. The only cut of pork on the menu is fresh ham—no ribs, no shoulder. It’s smoked over hickory wood for about nine hours, then chilled. Come serving time, it’s warmed on a grill with the sweet-and-spicy secret-recipe barbecue sauce. Instead of a salad, regulars get blue cheese dressing with saltine crackers. And there is no dessert. In the words of the late Grace Proffitt, ‘People’s too full.’” Find Ridgewood Barbecue on Facebook


  • Clarence's Drive-In


    “Around 5 a.m., the cooks start frying Swaggerty’s sausage, a key ingredient in the light brown gravy. ‘Over or on the side?’ servers ask. Most diners choose ‘over,’ which means their fresh biscuits come smothered in country gravy. Clarence’s has one of the region’s best and most extensive breakfast menus, including two more East Tennessee essentials: fried pork tenderloin and fried bologna.” Find Clarence’s Drive-In on Facebook

  • The Farmer's Daughter


    “On every table at the Farmer’s Daughter is a squeeze bottle of Arland Johnson’s sorghum syrup, made in the adjoining county. In the kitchen are about sixty cast-iron skillets for baking cornbread with stone-ground meal. By meal’s end, some fourteen dishes will have come to the table, changing with the seasons: chicken in buttermilk gravy, country ham, cooked cabbage. In the springtime, each table will get a cup of raw green onions in ice water.”