WETS-FM Public Radio, August 2006
East Tennessee State University
by Fred Sauceman, WETS-FM Staff
Late summer assumed its quickened rhythm this week. Cooks toted Spam concoctions, homebaked breads, and pickled okra to the Appalachian Fair in Gray, Tennessee [August 21-26, 2006]. Campers staked out spots a week and a half before the race at Bristol Motor Speedway. University students bought highlighters for book-marking. High school football abandoned two-a-day practices for Friday night reality.
Left: There's a natural affinity between barbecue and racing, as this sign shows, from a barbecue cookoff in Tryon, North Carolina.
This week we welcome thousands of race fans to our region, commonly called the Tri-Cities Tennessee/Virginia. While youíre here, we encourage you to sample the cuisine of the Mountain South. Bristolís Exit 7, Kingsportís Stone Drive, and Johnson Cityís North Roan Street offer a fine array of national chain dining. All of these restaurants will extend a welcoming hand to NASCAR aficionados. But save some time and tummy space for tastes distinctive to this place.
A natural affinity exists between NASCAR and barbecue. Itís an ironic relationship, though, since NASCARís a sport based on speed and barbecue is among the slowest of cooking styles. Tailgaters around the track will be cooking up some fine pork shoulder this weekend. For diners without smokers the size of cabooses, though, the region offers several satisfying barbecue options: Prattís and Broad Street in Kingsport, Pardnerís in Piney Flats, The Firehouse and Dixie in Johnson City, Mikeís in Mountain City, and Stanís in Greeneville among them.
Right: Larry Proffitt, whose mother Grace and father Jim opened the Ridgewood in 1948, is presented an award for his family's work by Lisa Elliott, a student in the "Foodways of Appalachia" class at East Tennessee State University.
But the king of them all, in my book, is The Ridgewood, which has a Bluff City address and is only a short jaunt from the track. If youíve never entered an East Tennessee hollow, or ďholler,Ē The Ridgewood sits in a perfect one, Bullockís Hollow, scented by the aroma of hickory fire. In addition to its longevityóthe restaurant first opened in 1948ówhat makes The Ridgewood distinctive is the fact that pork shoulder isnít barbecued there. Instead, itís fresh ham, cooked about nine hours over hickory, then spiced, sliced, and sauced. The sauce, by the way, is available for sale at the restaurant, and it makes a fine salad dressing.
Iíll mention one chain. Itís a regional enterprise, and weíre mighty proud of it. There are 20 locations of Palís Sudden Service in East Tennessee and Southwest Virginia, and theyíre all crowned with a yacht-sized hot dog. Palís, founded 50 years ago, is the only restaurant company in America to have won the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award, which means youíll get your food fast, the order will be right, and it will emerge from immaculate surroundings. A unique item to try is the Sauceburger, a cousin to the now extinct Biff-Burger. The Sauceburger is dressed with a heated mixture of ketchup, mustard, pickle relish, and spices.
If itís cafeteria fare youíre after, Mountain City, in the extreme northeast corner of Tennessee, is home to Cookís, where the fried chicken and roast beef recall grandmotherly Sunday dinners.
One of the oldest restaurants around is Johnson Cityís Peerless, a favorite steakhouse of Rusty Wallace. Trademarks of the place, which opened in 1938, are saltines and butter as appetizers, Greek salads sprinkled with green peas, and American beefsteak, cooked on a shiny metal grill, in beef fat.
On the Virginia side of Bristol, hamburgers at The Burger Bar are all named for Hank Williams songs, since, as the story goes, Hankís driver stopped there on New Yearís Eve 1952, the last night of the singerís life.
Sterling Marlinís favorite cheeseburger is served up at Kingsportís L.E. Clarkís Grocery, home of The Big Hack, a hamburger named for the late Hack Cleek, who, at the time of his death earlier in 2006, was the oldest active fire chief in Tennessee.
There are a number of not-to-be missed regional products to take back home, too. The signature soft drink of Northeast Tennessee is Dr. Enuf, manufactured for over 50 years. Full of the Vitamin B family, the formula was created by a chemist in Chicago whose coworkers were complaining of being tired. Now itís marketed as a New Age beverage.
Farmers markets and roadside stands sell lots of locally produced honey, and you can occasionally find a honey stand out in the countryside run totally by the honor system.
This yearís sorghum cane crop isnít yet ready for squeezing into syrup, but you can find jars of last yearís at produce markets. Johnsonís Sweet Sorghum, made in Limestone, Tennessee, marries perfectly with hot biscuits.
Finally, sweeten up the trip home with some pure sugar stick candy. Red Band, in various flavors, is available in grocery stores and markets. The Helms company in Bristol, Virginia, has been making stick candy since 1909. Some of their products, including peanut butter sticks, are sold at Dixie Pottery near Abingdon, Virginia. Hoarse race fans should also know that Helms is the worldís leading manufacturer of medicated lollipops.
Copyright © 2006. WETS.org
WETS-FM Public Radio, East Tennessee State University
Johnson City, TN