Brazilians have a word – saudade – that doesn’t have an exact parallel in the English language.
Saudade is the idea of longing, with a certain kind of melancholic desire, for happiness that has passed, or more accurately never existed.
Specifically, it’s a type of nostalgia for the way we wished things were or the way we perceived things to be – even if that perception was skewed. That’s a lot of words, I think, to describe a feeling.
Perhaps the best way I can tell you how to feel saudade is by listening to “The Girl From Ipanema” by Astrud Gilberto, João Gilberto, Stan Getz and Antônio Carlos Jobim from 1963. The song carries a wistful melancholy that is hard to convey.
A more American version – a much more American version – is Bruce Springsteen’s 80s classic “Glory Days”.
The Boss doesn’t aim to capture the feeling in the same way as the Jazz – Bossa Nova fusion from Brazil. He embodies saudade in his lyrics looking back on a glorious past with alcohol-tinged regret. Were Bruce’s glory days that glorious? I don’t think so and I suspect neither does Billy Joel who sang, “The good old days were always good and tomorrow ain’t as bad as it seems.”
What is a mom and pop restaurant?
I’m thinking about saudade because of this idea of the mom and pop restaurant.
Today, the term is really just code for a restaurant that isn’t a chain or is owned by a single restauranteur or family instead of a restaurant group. We call these places mom and pop, but we’re still attached to the idea of a certain kind of place.
A soda fountain and a burger grill. The employees wear paper hats and striped shirts and everybody looks like they’re auditioning for a revival of “Grease”.
As a culture, we do a lot of nostalgic longing for an idealized version of the past. For some of us, it’s the 50s. For others, it’s the 60s or certainly the 80s.
And given the chance, I’m prone to ramble on about the superiority of the music and culture of the 90s. I imagine that someone, somewhere even looks back fondly on the 70s but we all KNOW that is certainly longing for happiness that never existed.
But this idea of mom and pop restaurants is based on some reality.
Gatlinburg, TN remains home to the ultimate mom and pop place, the Pancake Pantry. Spoiler alert, it will be No. 1 on our list.
In 1960, a pair of Hoosier tourists came to downtown Gatlinburg. They bet the family’s future on opening a pancake place in the heart of the Smokies, right next to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
June and Jim Gerding were more than Indiana visionaries determined to start a hotcake revolution. They were literally a mom and pop. In fact, they started more than an institution, they started a trend. Pancake Pantry was the first pancake restaurant in the whole state and now there are approximately 154,000 in Sevier County alone.
Gatlinburg mom and pop restaurants
So, if you want to eat at a mom and pop place in Gatlinburg, just know it’s like Larry Bird at the first NBA three-point contest, everybody else is playing for second.
Today, mom and pops are more likely to be a certain type of restaurant. Places like pizza joints, sandwich shops, fast food with burgers and fries and Mexican restaurants. They’re places where you can get hot dogs or some barbecue. Particularly, they are unique places with low overhead and affordable prices. They can be found off the beaten path.
You may not find them on the lists of the best restaurants in the area, but often because of certain prejudices about what type of food merits being on a best-of list. But you can find great food at a hidden gem.
If you want to try something local and support small business efforts, here are some of the best places in Gatlinburg to do it.
6. The Atrium Gatlinburg
The Atrium is a breakfast and lunch place that is open 7:30 am to 2 pm Wednesday through Sunday. Breakfast offers the usual variety of savory or sweet options, such as pancakes, bacon and French toast.
The Famous Apple Pancake is recommended and it’s served with apples and brown sugar along with apple syrup.
Lunch brings burgers, sandwiches and fried chicken. Sides include French fries, fried okra and fried green tomatoes. Nothing overly fancy but delicious food. It’s a great place on any given day to start your vacation with the most important meal of the day.
5. Three Jimmy’s Good Time Eatery
Stick to your ribs comfort food is the order of the day at Three Jimmy’s.
The menu is loaded with favorites like chicken pot pie, open-face roast beef and a variety of barbecue and grilled items. The pizzas and sandwiches are also worth the drive off the strip. It’s some of the best pizza in the area. The award-winning wings, fried mushrooms and the legendary smoked Gouda macaroni and cheese are highly recommended.
It may not be the best bbq among local restaurants, but it’s still a great place to get some great barbecue and enjoy a hearty meal.
This is a local favorite that’s perfect for the whole family. Good time? You’ll have a great time.
4. The Wild Plum Tea Room
Based on the tea houses of the mountains of Austria, the Wild Plum Tea Room is a dining experience unlike any other in the region. The recipes are passed down through families and neighbors and the atmosphere is far from the typical high-paced turnover of Gatlinburg restaurants.
“We want you to sit back, relax for a while, take in the area as it was meant to be, eat good food, maybe talk with others and enjoy our hospitality,” The Wild Plum website says.
The menu is sandwiches, soups, salads and burgers with unique touches including Lobster Pie and Hot Pimento Cheese Dip. Everything is made fresh daily.
If you want to try The Wild Plum, you have to plan ahead. Reservations are required to dine in and are not accepted the day of. The restaurant is open Thursday, Friday and Saturday from 11 am to 3 pm. That’s it.
But you’re guaranteed fresh food and reasonable prices.
3. Smoky Mountains Creperie
I remain legitimately confused that in a place in which the pancake reigns supreme that more creperies haven’t taken a toe-hold.
When in Paris, my favorite places to eat are the little Creperie stands that pop up all over the place. Crepes have a reputation in America as being chiefly a dessert sort of deal, but I’m here to tell you savory crepes are incredible. My favorite in Paris was the ham, egg, cheese, mushroom and a little bit of salt and pepper.
At Smoky Mountains Creperie, there are a variety of sweet and also savory crepes. My wife, Leslie, loves the Nutella and Bananas crepes.
The menu will change seasonally because they only use the freshest ingredients that can be locally sourced.
Don’t be afraid to order to go. Crepes are great on-the-go food. On your next trip, give it a try.
2. The Hofbrauhaus Restaurant and the Cheese Cupboard
On the first floor is a cheese shop that opened in the Village Shoppes in 1969. You can buy a variety of cheeses, snacks, gourmet mustards and kosher dill pickles which sounds a lot like heaven.
But it gets better. On the second floor, you’ll find the Hofbrauhaus Restaurant, styled after a German Pub, literally one of my favorite things for a restaurant to be styled after. I could stop at the words Famous Super Reuben – the perfect sandwich – but we’ll go on.
You can also get a specialty sandwich such as a traditional hoagie, pastrami or bratwurst and wash it down with a cold beverage and a beer. Certainly, it’s one of the most unique restaurants in the area and should be among the region’s most popular places.
1. Pancake Pantry
You already know it’s the perfect place to go on your Smoky Mountain vacation. It’s an institution for a reason. In fact, it remains king of the pancake houses.
What is your favorite mom and pop eatery in Gatlinburg? Let us know in the comments!