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Driving down Interstate 26 last weekend, my mind resonated with everything I had ever heard (or learned) about Unicoi County and the town of Erwin.

Of course, there’s the incredible scenery…where you can see the ghosted peaks of the Unaka Mountain Range separating Tennessee and North Carolina. There’s the “Grand Canyon of the East,” a vastly deep gorge carved by thousands of years worth of flowing waters from the Nolichucky River. There’s that good old story of “Murderous Mary,” the crazed elephant that was hung from a railroad derrick…

And I wandered through every recollection I’d ever had about this place, there was one thing I just couldn’t seem to figure out: “What the heck is so special about apples anyway?” Read the rest of this entry »

I’ve been craving seafood for a few days, but being a bit of a seafood-connoisseur (or seafood-snob, whatever you want to call it), I tend to think you can only get incredible seafood on the coast.

And boy, was I wrong…

I heard some people talking about Riverfront Seafood Company in Kingsport, and decided, okay, I’ll give this place a shot.

So when I got there, I realized that even though it’s not overlooking the Atlantic Ocean, it DOES create a nice atmosphere with a water-front view of the Holston River. And from the back-deck seating area, you’re actually looking at the “Long Island” of the Holston (Kingsport’s original namesake). Plus, it’s one of those ‘hybrid’ decks, that can be air-conditioned on hot days—like today—and open up to enjoy the breeze when the weather’s more comfortable.

And I’ll admit, it was quite a lively scene—with geese swimming in the water, and a family of ducks sliding down the little rapids. In fact, I got so caught up in watching the wildlife, that my waitress, Susan, had to come back twice to get my order!

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Last week, the good folks in Greeneville invited me to the opening of the Smithsonian’s “Journey Stories” exhibit at Nathanael Greene Museum.

Nothing could have prepared me for what I’d learn, taste and experience over the next 24 hours. Subsequently, it’s a tough story to tell, because it’s actually 3 stories in one. But I’ll give it a shot.

Story #1: What is “Journey Stories”?

For the past 400 years, the story of America has been one of courage, resilience, and continuous movement. From colonial emigration to westward expansion to the abolition of slavery, Americans have always relied on one staple of freedom: the right to move about as they wish.

“Journey Stories” is a traveling Smithsonian exhibit that documents these eras throughout the history of America. The interactive exhibit gives an in-depth look at what it took for our ancestors to pack up, say goodbye to loved ones, and reinvent themselves in a new setting. Through photos, “told” audio stories, artifacts, and first-hand accounts from travelers, “Journey Stories” documents the periods of colonization, early independence, slavery, westward expansion, railroads, flight, and even the modern transportation of commercial goods. It’s a testament to the bravery and can-do attitude that continues to define our country.

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Jonesborough is famous for its historic and incredibly charming downtown, and the quaint little restaurants and bistros that are found all along Main Street. One of those, the Cranberry Thistle, is especially fascinating in its own right.

First and foremost, its a local favorite (you might have expected that). The most popular dish is the Blue Plate Special (go figure), which is soup beans, fried potatoes, turnip greens, fried cornbread…served with onions and Tennessee chow chow. I also have it on good authority that the chicken salad (served with homemade cranberry chutney) and the pot roast are delicious.

HOWEVER, nearly everyone who comes in knows about the resident ghost, Margaret. (Don’t scream yet, she’s harmless, mostly…)

Story goes like this: around the turn of the century, a young lady named Margaret was killed, and her body washed up on the banks of the Nolichucky River. Years later, when two sisters named Jo and Nancy moved to Jonesborough, they moved into the residence where Margaret had lived. The sisters would see and hear Margaret quite frequently, though she never really presented a problem. But a few years later, the sisters decided to move out, and soon thereafter, started the Cranberry Thistle.

Well, it turns out the new residents didn’t appreciate having Margaret as a roommate, and had the building exorcised. With apparently nowhere else to go, Margaret took up residence at the Thistle, where she is seen frequently by customers and staff. She’s described as mischevious, and is known to call people by name, say “order up,” and even toss around bread slices!

But even with all the paranormal activity, the Cranberry Thistle is one of Jonesborough’s local gems, and definitely worth your while!

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First thing’s first, and that’s breakfast. So I stopped in downtown Greeneville at this little diner called Tipton’s Cafe. It’s all the southern-soul-breakfast goodness you could ever ask for, and quite popular amonst all those “in the know.”

And when I say the atmosphere is intimate, I’m talking knee-bumping up-close-and-personal intimate. But the food is worth it, and the locals love it!

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I’ve been to fresh-food markets before, but this one (in Cosby) even has its own restaurant, overlooking an orchard. Just look at that view.

Oh, and most orders come with “apple cider, apple fritters, apple butter, and apple-cider rolls.”

How ’bout them apples?

And over in the market, you can get everything from sweet potatoes to bananas to tomatoes, to…you guessed it…apples. Ah yes, and the fried apple pies are incredible.

And if you’re into southern hospitality, just look at that sign on the wall…

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