Let’s be honest here, folks. The people of Sevier County know the routine.
For generations, visitors have been coming to the Great Smoky Mountains. And for generations, the people of Sevier County have made their living off the tourist trade.
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What food do people want when they come to the Smokies?
Well, a few things are obvious. They want mini golf and go karts. They also want outlet shopping. And they want pancakes.
They want so many pancakes there are literally two Reagan’s House of Pancakes located 1.6 miles apart on the same side of the Parkway in Pigeon Forge.
I can map directions from Reagan’s House of Pancakes in Pigeon Forge to Reagan’s House of Pancakes in Pigeon Forge and the estimated time to get from one to the other is about four minutes.
By the way, you drive past the Red Rooster Pancake House, a Shoney’s and Sawyer’s Farmhouse breakfast in those four minutes. There’s an IHOP about a quarter of a mile past the second Reagan’s and a Flapjack’s Pancake Cabin about a quarter mile ahead of the first one.
So, there are a lot of places to get pancakes in the Smokies. It’s what the people want.
What food is Pigeon Forge known for?
The gut reaction – especially after the previous paragraphs – is to say pancakes. But I don’t really think of that as a signature dish for the area. I view it more as a product of commerce, the merging of supply and demand.
Pancakes and breakfast foods are generally not expensive to prepare and therefore cheap to buy. However, they are still quite good and filling.
And I’m not being facetious here. I’ve been going to Pigeon Forge and living near Pigeon Forge for coming up on 40 years. But I can’t think of a real signature dish.
Some might say barbecue. That might be true for the larger region, but does Pigeon Forge have a specific flavor or barbecue type? I don’t really think so.
Thus, if I had to name a signature dish, I’d say pancakes. But I don’t really think Pigeon Forge has one.
Where are the best places in Pigeon Forge to get lunch?
First, we are bound for this thought exercise by arbitrary borders. While you’re driving from Sevierville to Pigeon Forge, you probably won’t even notice you’ve changed municipalities.
But you have.
Even though it’s not far from the Hard Rock Cafe to the Apple Barn Cider House, one is in Pigeon Forge, and one is not.
So, while Sevierville offers a great many lunch spots – thinking of you Pinchy’s and Preachers Smokehouse – they aren’t on this list.
Editor’s Note: We’ve also made a printable checklist available here for you to take with you on your next Smoky Mountain vacation.
27. Downtown Flavortown
I have to admit, I don’t have a lot of positives to say about Flavortown. Certainly, the games and bowling are fun in an adult arcade kind of way. However, I will say something that’s supposed to be all about vibe and celebrity and, well, flavor.
In particular, I find the whole enterprise is trying a bit too hard.
Maybe I just haven’t had enough of the adult beverages to get the full appreciation of Spaghetti Meatball Waffle.
But even there, Fieri came to the pancake capital of the world and started hawking waffles.
26. Paula Deen’s Family Kitchen
We’re not off to a strong start for the celebrity chefs on our board. I don’t love the idea of family-style dining at lunch. Specifically, it’s too heavy.
You’ve got mini golf and go karting to do. In fact, you might go to the mountains for a hike. You may not want meatloaf and fried chicken weighing you down.
25. Hard Rock Cafe
I was born in 1974 and came of age when the Hard Rock Cafe was the coolest thing around.
When I went to Paris and London as a teenager, did I go to the finest restaurants around? Nope. I went to the Hard Rock so I could see the lyrics sheet to “Paperback Writer” and a scarf worn by the lead singer of Deep Purple.
Therefore, while I enjoy the Pigeon Forge Hard Rock, it doesn’t have the vibe or the juice of real Hard Rock. That said, I liked it better when it was in Gatlinburg where Blake Shelton’s place is now.
24. Mama’s Farmhouse
This restaurant has more family-style Southern cooking made just a little too bland for my liking. In my opinion, many of these places steer away from real flavor to appeal to the mass audience.
For example, it’s like the radio-friendly version of Straight Outta Compton by NWA. Sure, you get kind of the gist, but it just doesn’t hit the same.
23. Huck Finn’s Catfish
While I don’t like catfish, many people in my family do like catfish. Therefore, when those people come to visit, we often go to Pigeon Forge for all-you-can-eat catfish platters, fried chicken platters and vittles.
What are vittles you might ask? Something the Beverly Hillbillies used to say a lot.
But, according to Huck Finn’s, they are scratch-made hushpuppies, fresh-made-daily coleslaw, white beans with turkey ham, pickle spears and sweet onion slices.
22. Cheddar’s Scratch Kitchen
Cheddar’s is a member of the Darden Family of Restaurants, which include LongHorn Steakhouse, Olive Garden and Red Lobster. It’s a chain that can be found in a lot of places, so it’s not necessarily unique to Pigeon Forge.
The menu features classic American night-out food, burgers, steak, seafood and ribs.
21. The Old Mill Pottery House Cafe
In the same family as the Old Mill Restaurant, the cafe offers slightly lighter options. The Shrimp and Grits are good as is the Open-faced Roast Beef.
They called it Beef Manhattan when they served it in the elementary school cafeteria, but it’s still pretty good without the fancy uptown branding.
20. Old Mill Restaurant
Southern specialties like fried chicken, chicken and dumplings, pork chops and meatloaf are found at Old Mill. Try the Southern Fried Beef Liver if you really want some down-home flavor.
And they also offer some lighter fare if you don’t want to go back to your hotel and sleep immediately after lunch.
19. Mel’s Classic Diner
A meal of burgers, fries and milkshakes is the lunch of champions. Also, they’ve got a great patty melt. I love a good patty melt.
18. Frizzle’s Chicken Farmhouse
This is a breakfast place that stays open for lunch. Be serenaded by animatronic chickens while you eat eggs, omelets, sausage and bacon. It’s truly a unique dining experience.
17. Bennett’s Pit Bar-B-Que
I’ve struggled with where to place Bennett’s. There’s a lot of variety to like here. However, if I’m in the mood for barbecue, I’m looking at Calhoun’s first and then maybe driving outside of the arbitrary Pigeon Forge boundaries that we’ve set for some Delauder’s or Preachers.
Still, Bennett’s is a solid lunch choice.
16. Smoky Mountain Brewery
It’s classic pub food done well. The menu has burgers, sandwiches, pizzas, salads and calzones all with house-made craft beers available if you want such a thing.
15. Blue Moose Burgers
This family sports grill serves classic American fare like burgers and chicken wings. It’s a classic lunch place for a football Saturday or Sunday where you can keep track of multiple games at once.
14. Bullfish Grill
Here in the top 20, I don’t think there’s a lot of difference in quality and we could legitimately rank some of these places higher. In fact, I like the Bullfish Grill just fine. It’s steak and seafood. Certainly, those are two very good things.
But – and this may be a quirk of imagination – I think of Bullfish Grill as a dinner destination. Certainly, if we were ranking dinner spots, Bullfish could well be in the top 10.
I guess what I’m saying here is you’re in good hands with Bullfish.
13. Big Daddy’s Pizzeria
Whoever does the marketing for Big Daddy’s is not afraid to go all out.
At the heart of Big Daddy’s is a 550-degree, wood-fired flame inside of a one-of-a-kind brick oven … We’re so committed to that freshness that there isn’t a freezer on the premises.
I appreciate the freshness, but I might like some ice. Also, they’ve been making brick ovens for a LONG time. Are you tellin’ me y’all got some state-of-the-art bricks up in here? Y’all got them space-age bricks?
Despite the hyperbolic claims, they serve a dang fine pizza. In fact, maybe it IS the bricks.
12. JT Hannah’s
This is a nice, classic lunch spot. And it’s also good for families.
The menu is pretty classic and there are not a lot of surprises.
11. Harpoon Harry’s Crabhouse
There’s a lot to like about Harpoon Harry’s. I love good seafood, a good basket of fried shrimp and love that they serve sushi.
However, is it a top 10 lunch spot? I think it is. Could you make a case for it to be higher? I think so. Could you make a case for it to be lower? Maybe.
Hey, ranking things is hard.
10. Sawyer’s Farmhouse Restaurant
Sawyer’s is another breakfast place that stays open through lunch. Lunch features sandwiches, chicken tenders and burgers plus the breakfast menu. It’s quite good.
9. Mellow Mushroom
The Mellow Mushroom is my favorite chain pizza place in the region. They use good ingredients to make interesting pizzas, and it’s not the same regular old options you get at a lot of other places.
Why is Mellow Mushroom here and Big Daddy’s at 13? Both are great pizzas, but my son, JP, has a ton of food allergies.
He spent years watching the other kids have pizza while he got breadsticks. Mellow Mushroom was the first place that had a dairy-free pizza he could eat that was like an actual pizza. They’ve earned my loyalty.
8. Pigeon Forge Deli
Sometimes for lunch, you just want a sandwich from a great sandwich shop.
This deli boasts of pretzels and sub rolls, soups, pot roast, chicken salad and more made from scratch. But it’s the sandwich menu that keeps locals coming back.
7. Alamo Steakhouse
I started not to rank the Alamo Steakhouse. Personally, I don’t think of a steakhouse as a lunch option. But Alamo has a lunch menu, and it’s excellent.
Alamo – and its steak – are among the best restaurants in the area. So, why am I ranking them 7th? I think all the restaurants in this part of the ranking are legitimately great. At this point, it comes down to personal preference.
I will say the Alamo’s French Onion soup and Black N Bleu salad would make one helluva lunch.
6. Local Goat
Judging by the parking lot alone, the Local Goat may be the most popular restaurant in Pigeon Forge.
Of course, the food is excellent. The menu is also interesting – pushing boundaries beyond the safe and norm.
Want to be adventurous? Start with the deep-fried deviled eggs and follow with the Bison meatloaf.
5. Puckett’s Restaurant
I could build a credible lunch just from the starters.
The starters include Pimento Cheese Bites, Smoked Sausage and Cheese and also some Fried Green Beans. Lunch entrees include Southern-style classic barbecue and more.
The Piggy Mac is one of the most popular dishes. It’s cherry wood-smoked pulled pork in an iron skillet, topped with white cheddar mac n’ cheese and biscuit crumbs.
I just realized as I wrote about Puckett’s how similar the menu – at least in broad strokes – is to Calhoun’s. The barbecue pork is considered the best in East Tennessee – though there are some mom and pops that might challenge that.
I also love the sausage and pimento cheese appetizer at Calhoun’s. Maybe I have a type. The ribs are excellent, but a little too heavy for me for lunch.
3. Brick & Spoon
Here is another spot that serves brunch-style offerings throughout the week. Yes, please.
The lunch entrees include crab cakes, pasta and seafood as well as burgers and “samiches.” Why does it bother me when a restaurant offers vittles but not when it sells samiches? I don’t know. I’m complex.
Also, the “samiches” include grown-up grilled cheese and also shrimp and avocado, and no one is asking me just to gnaw on raw onion like my Papaw used to do.
2. Wild Bear Tavern
German food sometimes gets a bad reputation. In fact, we need more German restaurants around. Bratwurst? Delicious. Strudel? Delicious. Schnitzel? Also delicious.
The Wild Bear Tavern offers a variety of Teutonic favorites, but I’m not sure I’d make it past the appetizers.
The charcuterie board served with cured chorizo, leberkäse, honey ham, Gouda cheese, brie cheese, Swiss cheese, pickled red onions, marinated mushrooms, candied walnuts and dried cranberries is calling my name.
So is the sausage sampler with German brätwurst and a selection of sausages served with rotkohl, sauerkraut, an assortment of dipping sauces and a Bavarian demi-loaf.
I can’t do a credible German accent, but I would very much like to walk into the Wild Bear and demand all their finest sausages in a heavy German accent.
1. Junction 35 Spirits
Half distillery store, half kitchen and bar, Junction 35 is the best lunch spot we’ve found in Pigeon Forge in a long time. They offer gourmet burgers and more.
The Country Reuben has Montreal beef brisket, Swiss cheese, whole grain mustard, sauerkraut and house sauce on toasted white bread. It was the best I’ve ever had.
We also had a Brussels Sprout skillet that was fantastic as well.
What is your favorite Pigeon Forge lunch destination? Let us know in the comments.