These are the 3 Best and Worst Meals I’ve Ever Had in Pigeon Forge (Out of 100s)

ribs at calhouns in pigeon forge tn

I've eaten hundreds of meals at dozens of restaurants in Pigeon Forge, TN. These are some of the best, and worst, I've ever had (photos by Morgan Overholt/TheSmokies.com)

I’ve eaten hundreds of meals in Pigeon Forge, these are the best, and the worst, I’ve ever had

As someone whose culinary memory in Pigeon Forge goes back to the days of Chef Jock’s and beyond – that’s more than 30 years, I’ve had countless meals in countless Pigeon Forge Restaurants. Most of them were chiefly forgettable but pleasant experiences. I’m fairly easy to please. As far as movies, music, food and travel, I try hard to find something to enjoy in life rather than something to complain about.

So, when racking my brain for the best dining experiences I’ve had in Pigeon Forge, a few stand out for being excellent while a handful of others are memorable for coming up short. 

There are dozens of restaurants within the Pigeon Forge city limits. And while not everything is going to appeal to everyone, the vast majority of experiences I’ve had in town were good and some were great to excellent. In this article, we’re going to talk about some of the better experiences – and some of the worst – I’ve had in Pigeon Forge. 

IN THIS ARTICLE

3 Best Meals

I want to start with a couple of caveats. First, inevitably, when we do these lists some people miss the boundary portion. They’ll ask about places in Sevierville or Gatlinburg or Newport and how could I possibly miss those? These are experiences within Pigeon Forge city limits. Some will insist that we’re being paid to list these restaurants. I have never been paid by – or even comped by – a Pigeon Forge restaurant to review their stuff. I could list dozens of favorite or positive experiences with restaurants in Pigeon Forge. Narrowing it down to the three best was tough. But here we are. 

Local Goat's Deep Fried Deviled Eggs
Have you tried the Deep Fried Deviled Eggs at Local Goat? (photo by John Gullion/TheSmokies.com)

1. The Local Goat 

The Meal: Deep-Fried Deviled Eggs, Fried Green Tomatoes, Hawaiian Ribeye, Crème Brûlée with a Bloody Mary

In a city where the dining scene can far too often be characterized as safe, the Local Goat stands out. Sure, most of the menu is American fare, but there are enough interesting choices to make the Goat unique. The Deep-Fried Deviled Eggs and bison meatloaf aren’t for everyone, but I admire the gumption. The Local Goat is an American Restaurant in the best sense. It’s a melting pot of tastes from different cultures across the country and the world. Everything on the menu is excellently prepared and I’ve never been disappointed.

The particular best meal I’m thinking of came on Father’s Day a couple of years ago. We started with the deviled eggs and fried green tomatoes. I had the Hawaiian Ribeye – Soy-ginger- pineapple marinated 14oz. – and closed with the Crème Brûlée. Paired it all with a Bloody Mary. Perfect meal. Local Goat is located at 2167 Parkway in Pigeon Forge.

the country reuben with a side of brocolli
The Country Reuben at Junction 35 (photo by John Gullion/TheSmokies.com)

2. Junction 35 

The Meal: Brussel’s Sprouts Skillet, Country Reuben and a Bloody Mary

After shopping at the Mountain Mile in Sevierville, we tried to stop by a different restaurant in the complex. But that one was booked up. So, we walked into Junction 35, which I had considered more of a distillery than a restaurant, only to be shocked by the quality of the food.

Despite the typo, I got the Brussel’s Sprouts Skillet – they are not sprouts that belong to Brussel, guys. They are flash-fried and tossed in caramelized brown molasses and sweet chili sauce. Had another excellent Bloody Mary. Ordered the Country Reuben – Pastrami brisket, Swiss cheese, whole grain mustard, sauerkraut, and house sauce served on toasted rye bread – and was delighted. At the moment, I declared it the best sandwich I’ve ever had. I’m not sure – given time to reconsider my position – that I can stand by that declaration. Best sandwich? That’s like picking the best sunrise. It’s an impossible task. Let’s say here that I’m a Reuben aficionado and have ordered Reubens in a lot of restaurants. This one stands with any I’ve ever had. Look for Junction 35 at 2655 Teaster Ln #280 in Pigeon Forge. There’s also a Junction 35 at the Tanger Outlets.

ribs at Calhoun's restaurant
Calhoun’s cooks up some fantastic barbecue and ribs (photo by Morgan Overholt/TheSmokies.com)

3. Calhoun’s 

The Meal: Smoked Sausage and Cheese Plate, Hickory-Smoked Ribs with a side of Spinach Maria.

Calhoun’s is an East Tennessee staple. It’s even something of a family tradition. And so, when thinking about the best meals I’ve had in Pigeon Forge, it’s hard to exclude this favorite place. I forget the occasion, but it was a fall Sunday because NFL football was on. Maybe we’d been up in the mountains doing some leaf-peeping. I can’t be sure. Started with the Smoked Sausage and Cheese plate – Kielbasa, sharp cheddar and pepper jack cheese, pimento cheese, spicy pickles, pickled onions with spicy mustard and went with hickory smoked ribs with a side of Spinach Maria. The kids got the tenders and Leslie got the pork plate.

It was familiar but also a unique East Tennessee experience. I like that. Not a lot of things in Pigeon Forge are unique to Tennessee or East Tennessee. Calhoun’s is and it’s excellent and I appreciate it. If you’d like to try it as well, the location is 2532 Parkway in Pigeon Forge.

3 Worst Meals

We started best off with a caveat, and I want to stay the same for worst. These meals weren’t necessarily that bad. I’m pretty easy to please. In this case, I ate these meals without complaint and left satisfied. However, if given the option to choose differently, either another selection on the menu or another restaurant selection.

Captain Jim’s is OK, but there is better seafood in the area (photo by Morgan Overholt/TheSmokies.com)

1. Captain Jim’s Seafood Buffet 

The Meal: The Seafood Buffet

For a long time, I was a seafood snob. My grandparents in Florida lived next door to a professional crabber and we’d get crab claws straight off the boat. He also hooked us up with local shrimpers. As a result, I got used to partaking in the freshest seafood possible. If you weren’t within punting distance of an ocean or impressive enough that I believed you were shipping in the best and the freshest, I wasn’t interested.

With this in mind, I’ve loosened those standards over the years. Therefore, when some friends suggested Captain Jim’s, I was game. The buffet seemed well kept – nothing under the heat lamps too long and everything was fine. But it was just that … fine. When I want a seafood meal, I’d like it to stand out. Given the option of going back to Captain Jim’s or hitting a place like Pinchy’s or Chesapeake’s, I’d rather pay the extra money and get the better experience. Captain Jim’s is located at 3985 Parkway in Pigeon Forge.

a plate of fried chicken, soup, mac and cheese and a biscuit
Both shows offer a four-course southern-inspired meal that is just OK (media photo/Pirates Voyage)

2. Pirates Voyage Dinner Show

The Meal: Fried Chicken, Vegetable Soup, Mac & Cheese, Ham, Corn on the Cob and Ice Cream.

Can we make a pact, you and I? Will you keep this one under your hat? My kids LOVE going to the Pirates Voyage Dinner Show. They LOVE it. And so, this year, for Father’s Day, they surprised me with a trip to the scurvy seas of Pigeon Forge. My kids had a great time. Me? I enjoyed the show and I especially enjoyed watching them enjoy it. But the meal? It was just OK.

Of course, I get that the dinner shows in Pigeon Forge are much more about the shows than the dinner. I also get that amongst the dinner shows, Pirates probably has the best meal. But still. The best part was the vegetable soup. We also got a fried chicken breast that tasted as if the oil needed to be changed, a dollop of mac and cheese from an ice cream scoop, a chunk of ham and a mealy half of a corn on the cob. While the meal was unfortunate, the show was entertaining. The divers and acrobats were really good, and the animal acts were neat as well. I must say our server went over the top in keeping up with our section. The best part of the night, however, was just watching my kids enjoy it. It was a great Father’s Day, mealy corn-on-the-cob and all. Pirates Voyage Dinner Show is located at 2713 Parkway in Pigeon Forge.

sweet tea with basket of biscuits
We do at least like the biscuits at Paula Deen’s (photo by Alaina O’Neal/TheSmokies.com)

3. Paula Deen’s Family Kitchen 

The Meal: Most of the dishes here were bland or less than authentic. The biscuits were the best part of the meal.

I’ve been to Savannah. I’ve eaten excellent meals in Savannah. So, when you tell me we’ve got a celebrity chef from Savannah making Southern classics, family style? I have fairly high expectations. Maybe even unfair expectations. And so, we find Paula Deen’s Family Kitchen in Pigeon Forge here on our list. Did we have a bad meal at Paula Deen’s? No. but it was disappointing. I’m sure I’ve had worse experiences on a late-night run to Taco Bell. But with those places, you know what you’re getting. Paula Deen’s promise was more.

My biggest complaint? It was bland. One thing I should never have to do to country cooking is add salt and pepper. Maybe it’s a function of trying to prepare Southern food for masses whose palettes aren’t ready for real Southern flavors. Maybe it’s a better business model to err on the side of bland and provide salt and pepper and hot sauce for people who want a little more flavor. Other staff members complained that some of the dishes were not authentic Southern food. I just know that I left Paula Deen’s thinking I could have had a similar meal at the Shoney’s for significantly less money. But if you want to try Paula Deen’s, it is located at 131 The Island Dr. #8101 in Pigeon Forge.

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder and so is taste. These are the best and worst experiences I’ve had but they have little bearing on what your favorite meals should be. Are you a fan of Paula Deen’s? Do you find the Local Goat overrated? Then that’s your truth. Live it. And these are mine . but seriously, don’t tell my kids, OK?

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