It had been a rough day last Thursday. I got in the car and drove to North Carolina without telling anybody.
It’s only about 45 minutes one-way, and I chose the North Carolina line.
I like letting my mind wander, and often I find driving is perfect for falling into the soothing recesses of my gray matter. It reminds me of going out on Florida fishing trips with my papaw when I was younger. And he was, well, alive.
Papaw lived on the coast not far from a natural spring that winds its way out to the Gulf. At first, there are fancy houses and boat docks and restaurants and the like. But as you go farther out, society falls away and the land is rough and the waterway outside of the channel can be shallow and dangerous.
It’s wild Florida out there, mostly unchanged from the days before the Conquistadors arrived. It’s easy to imagine yourself going back in time if you have a mind that’s just waiting for an excuse to wander right there on the edge of a vast, wild wilderness.
As a result, I feel the same way on the edge of the Smokies. Even though I don’t often get off the well-worn path.
I can Walter Mitty myself on the precipice of a great wild adventure along with the likes of the Horace Kepharts, Davy Crocketts or Daniel Boones of the old world. The mountains, in some ways, are like the sea. They are seemingly endless and timeless and full of unexplored or underexplored potential.
I see The Park Grill – the unofficial restaurant of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park – as my port. It’s the perfect launching spot for an adventure in the park or the perfect destination to return to civilization after a day of wild exploring.
Where is The Park Grill in Gatlinburg?
The Park Grill restaurant is located right next to the entrance of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park at the top of the Gatlinburg strip. While other national parks have restaurants and such within, the GSMNP is something of an oasis.
You best stock up before entering because you ain’t gonna find a 7/11 within.
The Park Grill ownership has leaned into the concept of a Smoky Mountain outpost.
“We’ve designed our restaurant to feel like you’re dining in the heart of the Smokies, using wood from old spruce trees to form the exterior and stone from fences in Cosby to create a rustic mountain lodge atmosphere for the interior,” the Grill’s website explains.
Is The Park Grill related to The Peddler Steakhouse?
A sister restaurant to the more upscale Peddler, The Park Grill steakhouse is full of the classic flavors of the Smoky Mountains but is also sprinkled with a dash of the Peddler’s panache. Plus, as the unofficial restaurant of the National Park, it has a great atmosphere.
And it is a great place for wedding receptions or rehearsal dinners as it is just a short walk from downtown Gatlinburg, TN.
Not that The Park Grill is without its own panache. The grill was built with Idaho spruce timbers harvested from the top of Payette National Forest. The trees were already dead before being taken out of the park and brought to the precipice of another.
These people are very proud of their wood. The website goes into minute detail about how the timbers made the journey from Idaho to Gatlinburg.
“Throughout every step of the process, there was a scale model of our restaurant in hand to ensure perfection to the goal in mind. It took seven flatbed trucks to get all the wood to Gatlinburg to begin building our beautiful restaurant,” the site explains.
“…The wooden exterior isn’t the only interesting aspect of our rustic mountain lodge. Inside our restaurant, guests will find stonework that is the perfect complement to the wooden features. All of the stone used came from rock fences in the Cosby area of Tennessee! From our wooden exterior to the stonework inside, to the handmade rocking chairs on our patio, every part of our restaurant was carefully crafted to form a special mountain lodge where visitors can find comfort and food in the Smoky Mountains.”
What to order at The Park Grill
That rustic feel only adds to the atmosphere of excellent service. In fact, some might even say the best service in Gatlinburg.
But you don’t click on a story about a restaurant to read only about the wood and stone. You want to hear about the great food, the friendly staff and banana pudding.
Let’s get to the good stuff.
Like many restaurants in the Smoky Mountains, The Park Grill’s menu is a bit at odds with itself.
Are we upscale dining? Or are we having classic mountain food? Are we feeding Gatlinburg shoppers or hikers who’ve been up and down the GSMNP trails for hours? Is there a significant difference between the two?
The Park Grill, happily, decides it can be all things for all seasons. It offers delicious foods from a variety of backgrounds. Fried Pickles and Fried Green Tomatoes, Pretzel Bites and Crispy Fried Chicken Skins right next to Hillbilly Peanut Hummus and Shrimp and Crab Bisque?
All right, it’s gonna be that kind of a party.
The Park Grill specialties
The specialties include Smoky Mountain Shrimp which I was tempted to reject on the name alone as well as yard bird and a variety of BBQ.
I recommend the Hickory Grilled New York Strip. The hickory adds just enough unique flavor to make the steak really stand out for $28.99, at the time of this writing. The fact is you can’t be a sister restaurant to The Peddler Steakhouse and not do a great steak.
The Moonshine Chicken, a boneless breast marinated with pineapple and moonshine, is another favorite at $21.99. The Moonshine Chicken and fried shrimp combo meal are hard to beat.
They have an extensive salad bar with a fantastic variety of fresh vegetables. It’s delicious food.
Burgers and sandwiches include the Moonshine Chicken sandwich that works surprisingly well.
The star of this section, however, is the four-nickel bologna sandwich for $9.99. Some people might have a hang-up ordering a bologna and cheese sandwich at a nice restaurant.
I am not one of those people.
A thick slice of fried bologna and cheddar cheese? Yes, please.
And to bring the whole Walter Mitty, mind-wandering adventure thing full circle, what’s better before heading out on a grand adventure than a good bologna sandwich?
Click here to view the full menu.
Have you eaten at The Park Grill? What do you love about it? Let us know in the comments.