There was a time back when things were a little wilder – yes, it was the 90s – that the culinary options in Townsend were rather one note.
And while I can’t speak for all of the restaurants, at least one served as cover for more than just traditional downhome cooking.
I was once recruited – because I had a truck with a bed cover – to help move illegal gambling machines around the remote edges of Blount County. After one successful delivery, we drove to a well-known local eatery to be reimbursed.
While maybe not a front, the restaurant served as the hub for not only homestyle cooking, but illegal gambling and moonshine (mountain traditions like no other).
Decades have passed. The proprietor of that particular eatery has passed as well.
Times have changed. Townsend has changed, too.
What restaurants are in Townsend TN?
Today, there are more culinary options for visitors and, I presume, fewer outlaws hiding in plain sight.
Still, the variance in Townsend isn’t as pronounced as it is in Wears Valley, just a few miles away. But the effort to provide good, interesting menu options beyond meatloaf and mashed potatoes is much appreciated.
Without further ado, here are the best restaurants in Townsend, Tenn.:
1. Trailhead Steak & Trout House
It’s right there in the name. They got steak. They got trout. There’s a house. It’s everything you need for a night out in Townsend.
The menu has three main categories: Burgers, steaks and fish and pork. If I’m being honest, the first time I looked at it, I did a double take.
I thought fish and pork was a menu option, like surf and turf. I was taken aback. While I embrace surf and turf as a concept, I rejected fish and pork immediately.
The steak selections are fairly basic; filet, sirloin and ribeye, but they’re well prepared.
There are appropriately several different types of fish, salmon, trout and catfish prepared in a variety of ways.
There is also a Frenched pork chop. I don’t know what that is, but it sounds like the pig went out happy.
2. Dancing Bear Appalachian Bistro
I love a good bistro and this one, located in the Dancing Bear Lodge, is home to a great one, but accessibility is a bit of an issue.
The Bistro is only open from Wednesday through Sunday from 4 to 9 p.m.
You got to work a little harder if you want to sample the Bistro’s creative and delicious menu options. This is Townsend’s finest culinary destination.
Try the Appalachian Hot Pot with Scottish salmon, diver scallops, charred sweet peppers and snow peas in a clam chowder broth or the Oyster Mushroom Pappardelle made with hen-of-the-woods (aka the dancing mushroom), Loudon County mushroom cream sauce and parmesan cheese.
As someone who used to write for the Loudon County newspaper, I can attest the region is well-known for its mushroom cream sauce.
The seared rainbow trout, beef tenderloin, lamb chop and Bistro Burger offer more traditional menu items.
The Dancing Bear is our favorite Townsend restaurant for a romantic night out in the mountains, having been named one of America’s “25 most Romantic Restaurants” by Tripadvisor.
It’s the Loudon County mushrooms. They’ll get you every time.
3. Burger Master
Not everything has to be fancy.
Sometimes a burger and an old-fashioned soft-serve ice cream are perfect after a day in the mountains.
Burger Master – known to old timers as “The Chalet” – is a summer dining destination that operates on a limited schedule up to Memorial Day when summer starts, and the ice cream flows in all its glory.
The menu isn’t complicated. Hamburger, cheeseburger, hot dog and fries.
They’ve added a veggie burger and a BLT, but you pretty much know what you’re gonna get before you arrive.
There is nothing better than pulling up to a picnic table when the bright blue sky is dotted with fluffy white clouds and the sun is illuminating the green mountains and having an ice cream as a cooling breeze drifts through.
It’s like something out of a painting, a slice of Americana that never really existed but somehow was always right there. It’s perfect.
4. Apple Valley Café
Pancakes. Burgers. Sandwiches. All right, I’m in.
The Apple Valley Café plays along some of the same themes as the Burger Master, just slightly more upscale and with wider variety.
I’m partial to the Carving Board Ham Sandwich and, if I’m feeling feisty, the Beer Garden Nachos.
It also may well be Townsend’s best breakfast spot.
The Grand Daddy, a massive breakfast sandwich, is perfect if you’re planning on not getting a lot accomplished the rest of the day.
Don’t eat the Grand Daddy and plan a major hike. That’s all.
The milkshakes are also especially good, but maybe not for breakfast. Or maybe for breakfast. I’m not here to judge.
Wash the Grand Daddy down with a strawberry milkshake and a fried apple pie for dessert. Just spend the rest of the day in a hammock digesting. It’s your vacation. You do you.
Have you tried any of the Townsend restaurants from the list? Let us know in the comments!