Paula Deen’s Family Kitchen opened in Pigeon Forge in 2015, seemingly on the heels of Deen trying to reinvent herself after being let go from The Food Network. You could say that this restaurant is one that might feel out of place in the area, but for the sake of this review, I’ll simply focus on the restaurant. 

Which —  is really nothing if not an experience. 

I took my mom there for Sunday lunch. The wait time was only 15 minutes, and you get a text when your table is ready. I appreciate the text method, because it means you can sneak off and sip moonshine samples across the street at Ole Smoky if there’s a long wait. (And if you show up for dinner, you’ll probably be waiting somewhere to the tune of about three hours.) They do not accept reservations. 

The line wrapped around Paula Deen's Family Kitchen on Christmas Day (Photo by Morgan Overholt/TheSmokies.com)
The line wrapped around Paula Deen’s Family Kitchen on Christmas Day (Photo by Morgan Overholt/TheSmokies.com)

 

Since our wait was short, I looked around Deen’s shop full of stereotypical southern memorabilia and cookbooks. After I received the text, we went up the escalator to wait in another line and checked in at a desk. Then we waited in a third line for our party to be called. It sort of feels like waiting for a ride at an amusement park — the kind where you think you’re about to get on, but instead, around the corner, you find another section of line. 

It’s quite the operation for a restaurant, but for the most part it moves pretty smoothly, even though you kinda get the feeling you’re being herded like cattle.

The Gift Shop at Paula Deen's Family Kitchen
The gift shop at Paula Deen’s Family Kitchen (Photo by Alaina O’Neal/TheSmokies.com)

 

The most important thing to know about this restaurant is that the food is served “family style,” which means everyone at your table must agree on the main entrees and sides. 

There are two main choices, “The Albany” and “The Savannah” — which is a fancy way of saying “pick-2” or “pick-3” for the main entree. 

To be honest, I wasn’t completely blown away by this place, but it’s not all bad. So here’s some pros and cons: 

 

The pros

  1. This restaurant is at a prime location in The Island in Pigeon Forge, so it’s really easy to plan your day around your meal, and parking is free. There’s plenty of things in the area to keep you entertained while you wait, and in some spots of the restaurant you can have a view of The Island’s water feature and/or wheel for a lovely backdrop. 
  2. The appetizer biscuits are fantastic. 
  3. The “family style” seems to be one of their selling points, and it is an interesting take for a restaurant. (Not unheard of, but different.) 
  4. The food keeps coming with unlimited helpings, so you’re sure to leave with a (very) full belly. 
  5. Everyone chooses their own dessert at the end of the meal. 
Bread and Sweet Tea (Photo by Alaina O'Neal/TheSmokies.com)
Bread and Sweet Tea (Photo by Alaina O’Neal/TheSmokies.com)

 

The cons 

  1. The “family style” bit, although unique, doesn’t necessarily feel super practical. If someone in your party has food allergies or dietary restrictions, good luck finding something that can work for everyone. And in case you’re wondering, kids don’t get their own special menu items, either. I understand that we’re supposed to feel like we’re gathered around for a traditional meal at home, but isn’t one of the main perks of eating out, that everyone can order what they want? 
  2. The food is really just okay. For the sides, we ordered the broccoli casserole, creamed corn, creamed potatoes and mac and cheese. For the main dishes, we ordered the fried catfish and chicken and dumplings. Out of all of those things, I enjoyed the catfish, macaroni, corn and potatoes. The rest was just…not bad. 

For example, let’s start with the chicken and dumplings. I have to rely on my mom’s opinion here because I didn’t try them due to caution around my peanut allergy. But, we didn’t have an option because my mom doesn’t eat red meat, so that left us with one entree that could work for both of us. (See what I mean about the dietary restrictions?) 

The interaction went something like this:

Waitress: “The chicken is fried in peanut oil.” 

Me: “What about the chicken and dumplings?”

Waitress: “Yeah, that’s the same fried chicken.” 


Wait, what? 

Did this restaurant just admit to using fried chicken in their chicken and dumplings? I don’t claim to be a great cook, but even I know that traditional, southern chicken and dumplings is not made with leftover fried chicken. 

But even without this interesting little revelation from our waitress, my southern mama could instantly tell that the dish was sans yummy chicken broth, and she was not amused. 

For the sides, we ordered the broccoli casserole, creamed corn, creamed potatoes and mac and cheese. For the main dishes, we ordered the fried catfish and chicken and dumplings. Out of all of those things, I enjoyed the catfish, macaroni, corn and potatoes. The rest was just…not bad. (Photo by Alaina O’Neal/TheSmokies.com)

 

Other “Down Home Dishes” include options such as beef pot roast, fried chicken, meatloaf and ribs. For lunch, the pick-2, ahem, “The Albany” starts at $17.99 per person and the pick-3 is $19.99 per person. Kids are $9.99. If you enjoy paying more, the same menu options are available for dinner for about $3-4 extra per person and $1 extra per kid. 

Breakfast is is the least expensive option, starting at $14.99 per person, and does actually offer a different menu. 

Hours: Breakfast: 8 am-10:15 am; Lunch: 11 am-4 pm; Dinner: 4 pm-10 pm, (11 pm on Fri-Sat) 

Location: 131 The Island Dr #8101, Pigeon Forge, TN 37863

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