Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Culinary Creations on Moonshine Ridge

One day during our first week near the Smokies, we were driving down Highway 321 from Townsend to Pigeon Forge. It was getting late and my stomach kept saying “Feed Me!!!, Feed Me!!!" There on the right appeared Moonshine Ridge Country Store and Garden Café. Expecting only subsistence food, what a surprise when we walked up to the window to place our order and took a look at the menu--while short and leaning heavily toward salads and sandwiches, there were some real flashes of creativity.

The Garden Café is open for breakfast and lunch (9:00 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.) and seats twenty-four at inside tables and another ten on the small porch.

We returned again today for lunch and this review will discuss both of our lunches. The first trip, Chuck ordered the Mountain Man sandwich--smoked turkey, shaved country ham, and provolone cheese served on a garlic ciabatta roll (shown on the left in the photo). With the Mountain Man, he ordered the seasoned potato wedges and baked beans. My choice was Eve’s Special Reuben--grilled marble sourdough rye with sauerkraut, corned beef, Swiss cheese and their “special sauce”. My Reuben came with kettle chips and I added a side of slaw.

Today, I chose the Smokey Pig BBQ sandwich (top, in the photo) with seasoned potato wedges and slaw. Chuck’s choice was the the shaved roast beef with melted provolone cheese on an onion and garlic ciabatta roll. Again, he added the potato wedges and baked beans. (The photo shows the kettle chips that had been served by mistake with the sandwich. Chuck--Mr. Potato--ate both types.)

While the corned beef on my Reuben was thicker than I prefer, I learned a new cooking trick that I intend to copy. The sauerkraut is cooked with smoky bacon that mellowed the sharp taste of the kraut. Since Chuck is not as big a kraut fan as I am, this may just be the trick to get him to eat it more often.

As I’ve written before, I usually prefer the pulled pork to the pork barbeque, but today’s sandwich was the best barbeque to date. I think this was a light touch with the sauce--along with a not overly tangy but slightly spicy sauce. The three different sides--potato wedges, slaw, and baked beans--were above average.

To me, the stars of both of Chuck’s sandwiches were the rolls. It has been difficult finding good bread in either Virginia or Tennessee--most breads and rolls are of the soft fluffy variety. But these had heft without being heavy and the onion and garlic flavors complimented the meats.

As you can see from the photo, the kitchen is small and more than three staff in there at a time is a crowd. We stopped by to praise the maker of the sandwiches for her creations, but, shyly avoiding the camera, she ducked below the counter with only the top of her head showing.

After lunch we wandered into the Country Store and had the chance to talk with Carol (left), one of the owners of the cafe and country store. Moonshine Ridge has been open for just over a year and initially the bulk of their business was the sale of home décor items. As the nation’s economy has ebbed, food products have become the main seller. Moonshine Ridge stocks a large variety of local jellies, pickles, sauces, and condiments along with specialty dried pastas, natural peanut butter, and a delicious sunflower butter.

In one corner was Aunt Tipsy’s Fudge. Strong willpower was needed to turn away--if only I had more storage space for everything I wanted to buy from the store. But I did walk out with a bag of tomato/basil pasta and a jar of dill pickles.

So to rate--I appreciate those who adhere to the KISS philosophy (keep it simple, stupid) and don’t try to over-reach. Given its size and small kitchen, the Garden Café stays with basic food with unexpected flourishes. Chuck and I agree that the Garden Café at Moonshine Ridge warrants 4.5 (out of 5.0) Addies and hope that time permits a return for breakfast. I have a hunger for their “cathead” (giant) biscuits smothered in sausage gravy.

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