I grew up not far from the small community of Walland, in Blount County, Tenn.
When I was old enough to run the roads and free enough to drive myself to Sevier County, I had the choice of 411 into Sevierville, Wears Valley Road into Pigeon Forge or through the National Park into Gatlinburg.
Wears Valley was always my favorite. The views were the best and I’ve always been fascinated by the hillside cemetery at Headrick’s Chapel.
It’s beautiful but impractical, with graves dug right into the side of the mountain.
I’ve been curious about the planning of that cemetery for decades now. I can’t imagine entering into eternal rest feeling like you’re about to Jack and Jill right outta the coffin.
I don’t want to give the wrong impression. Wears Valley wasn’t barren then. There were a handful of antique shops and a couple of restaurants.
But unless I was going to Metcalf Bottoms to tube or picnic, Wears Valley was a conduit, not a destination.
I just never had much reason to stop in the valley as there were always more interesting things in the bookend communities of Pigeon Forge or Townsend.
Times have changed.
Wears Valley isn’t yet the strip in Pigeon Forge, but it’s far from the relatively obscure mountain valley of my youth. Today, Wears Valley is home to much more.
There’s wine and ‘shine, shopping and many more attractions than when I was a kid.
Add in a wide variety of restaurants that are worth the drive from Pigeon Forge or Townsend, and Wears Valley is the place to be.
Here are the top five best restaurants in Wears Valley, Tennessee:
5. Hillbilly’s Restaurant
Hillbilly’s goes hard at three things: Breakfast, bizarre menu font choices and alternative spellings. This restaurant isn’t going to wow you with options.
For breakfast, it’s pancakes, biscuits, eggs and meats. For lunch, it is burgers, sandwiches and the odd salad or two.
There’s no dinner. The restaurant closes at 2 pm. It all feels appropriate for the setting. If you’re not country and are unfamiliar with the joys of a fried bologna sandwich, then live a little, overlook the painfully clever spelling and order Cuzin Bo’s Dream.
4. Geppetto’s Italian Restaurant
Just when you thought you had all the answers when it came to dining off the beaten path in the Smokies, the good people at Geppetto’s went and changed the questions.
When everybody else is serving down home country fare, what did Geppetto’s do? They went southern: Southern Italian.
Dovetailing nicely with Hillbilly’s, the restaurant is open until 10 pm through the week (except on Mondays) and 11 pm on the weekends offering sandwiches, pizza, pasta and more.
I don’t care if I’m in the hills of Tuscany or the mountains of East Tennessee, give me a good Italian sausage with peppers and onions and I’m a happy guy.
3. Wears Valley Social
Life is like Wears Valley Social, a food truck park located in Wears Valley, you never know what you’re gonna get.
Food trucks are all the rage for culinary geniuses with a vision and a love of low overhead.
The Park, located at 3209 Wears Valley Road, offers a weekly schedule of area geniuses who gas up their truck and come to cook culinary delights for the tourists. Authentic tacos, seafood, chicken wings, BBQ and more are among the offerings at this nomadic foodie destination.
2. Elvira’s Café
I’ve known of two Elviras in my life. First, was the campy 70s and 80s era celebrity Elvira, Mistress of the Dark.
Second, whoever the Oak Ridge Boys were singing about back in the day. It’s possible, I suppose, that the Oak Ridge Boys were singing about the Mistress of the Dark, but it feels unlikely.
Anyway, Elvira’s Café is more than simply a place to irritate your children singing oom-papa, oom-papa, mow, mows. It’s a dang good place to eat in a beautiful setting.
You can eat at Elvira’s anytime and get a good meal, but I’m a big fan of their breakfast options. You can’t go wrong with the Mountain Man Omelet or, if you’re in the mood for daintier fare, one of Elvira’s savory crepes is the go-to choice.
Hi ho Silver, away!
1. PawPaws Catfish Kitchen
God bless the people of Louisiana.
They’re acolytes, carrying the good message of Cajun and Creole cooking to the masses. How did a former tugboat cook find his way to Wears Valley and begin slingin’ Cajun culinary masterpieces? I don’t know. I don’t care. It doesn’t matter.
Gumbo, jambalaya, red beans, etouffee, muffulettas and po’ boys. None of these things belong nestled up to the mountains of Wears Valley, but somehow it all fits. The house specialties are catfish Acadiana, and catfish Orleans.
They are works of art and should be on permanent display in the Louvre.
Come hungry and be ready to stay awhile. Take your time. Order some Boudin Balls as an appetizer and live your life like it’s supposed to be lived, eating Cajun food in the mountains of Tennessee.
Which one is your favorite Wears Valley restaurant? Let us know in the comments!