Gatlinburg is a city that rarely sleeps, and it seems there’s a new and unique activity at every turn. One can visit repeatedly and still just scratch the surface of all there is to do. Adding to the excitement is the enormous and eclectic array of restaurants found in the area. From carnival-esque food and casual eats to white-napkin restaurants, eating one’s way through Gatlinburg is an activity in and of itself, especially for foodies like me.
I decided to eat my way through Gatlinburg on $40 a day (hat tip to Rachael Ray for the idea). It’s amazing how many different and delicious meals and snacks can be had on a budget. Before I get started, please note that I didn’t include the word “healthy” in the previous sentence. While nutritious food is available in Gatlinburg, I opted for flavor and nostalgia over calorie counting (sorry, doc). While I now need to run a few (ok, many) miles, I’d have to say it was a worthy trade off. Check out my finds below.
My morning meal consisted of fare from two different restaurants, because why not? I started by grabbing a vanilla latte from Smoky Mountain Coffee Company, and boy was it delicious! I love this little coffee shop and consider it an oft-overlooked gem in this bustling city. Located at the top of the hill in Calhoun’s Village, SMCC boasts cold brew, drip coffee, and espresso drinks, along with some gorgeous handmade mugs and candles. This veteran and family owned/operated business deserves a shout out because their coffee is absolutely delicious, costs are reasonable, and the staff is super friendly. (TOTAL COST, 16-oz vanilla latte: $4.45)
My second stop was at an establishment that really needs no introduction: The Donut Friar. They’ve been serving delectable (albeit calorie-laden) donuts and other sweet treats for over 50 years, and it’s a must-stop shop for all. They’ve got a wide assortment of styles and flavors, but I’m a purist at heart so I opted for the sour cream cruller. When I say that it melted in my mouth, I’m not exaggerating; yes, it might be due to the fact that the dough had been fried in a vat of oil moments before, but I’d say it was worth it. The bite of cruller, chased with a sip of my vanilla latte, made my knees a bit weak. The Donut Friar is open daily from 5:00am-9:00pm, and it’s especially well known for its cinnamon bread, which sells out quickly each day. Make sure you swing by next time you visit! (TOTAL COST, sour-cream cruller: $1.49)
After a stroll through town to try and get a few steps in, I decided to chase my donut and latte with…more fried food (again, sorry doc). I am a sucker for carnival food, and a footlong corn dog (known as an Ogle Dog) from Fannie Farkles was calling my name. Made using a closely guarded secret recipe, this corn dog honors one of Gatlinburg’s founding families, the Ogle family. All ingredients are locally made exclusively for Fannie Farkles, and the taste simply can’t be beat. Along with corn dogs, they offer cheesesteaks, sausage subs, Hawaiian shaved ice, and more. Fannie Farkles is on the Parkway in downtown Gatlinburg, making it an easy pit stop when you’re strolling the strip. (TOTAL COST, Ogle Dog + a bottle of water: $10.48)
My corn dog was delicious, but all that salty left me craving something sweet. I needed a bit of a pick-me-up, so I swung by Carmelcorn, a Gatlinburg staple since 1961. Serving an excess of eleven million visitors each year, Carmelcorn is widely hailed as the best fresh popcorn shop in the southeast. They offer Carmelcorn (with or without peanuts), Cheesecorn, traditional buttered popcorn, Toffeecorn, Kettlecorn, and even seasonal flavors. They’re always experimenting with new flavors, so you never know what you’ll find when you walk through their doors. All flavors are popped and prepared fresh daily to ensure peak freshness, setting this brand apart from others. You can even shop online! Place your order and it will then be popped, prepared, and shipped straight out to you in an airtight container, ensuring freshness. Again, being somewhat of a purist, I opted for traditional Carmelcorn, and it was to die for. Check them out when you’re next in town, or head over and place an order on their website from the comfort of your home. You’ll be glad you did! (TOTAL COST, bag of Carmelcorn: $8.07)
I know what you’re thinking: how can she possibly have any room left for dinner? I understand; I, too, asked myself the same question. However, sometimes one must soldier on for the sake of the task at hand, and if there’s one thing I’m not, it’s a quitter. I remained committed to finishing out my $40 day, and I knew just the place for my final meal: Split Rail Eats. Located in the Great Smoky Arts & Crafts Community on the outskirts of town, Split Rail Eats is another locally owned and operated restaurant that dishes up creative takes on down home favorites. It never disappoints. While it closes most days at 6:00pm, they offer carry out from 6:00-9:00pm on Fridays and Saturdays, which sounded perfect to me after a long day. I placed my online order and headed over to pick it up, mouth watering a bit already. I decided to try the Hot Seoul sandwich, which consisted of chicken that was brined in a Korean marinade and grilled, then topped with provolone cheese and slaw, all served on a potato bun. For my side I chose their famous cucumber salad (because vegetables), which is sweet and vinegary and utterly fantastic. Split Rail Eats is in its fifth year and going strong. It’s a favorite among locals, and for very good reason. I highly recommend it. (TOTAL COST, Hot Seoul sammie & cucumber salad: $14.50)
And that, my friends, is how to eat your way through Gatlinburg on $40 a day. Was it challenging? Yes. Was it calorie-laden? Double yes. Was it delicious and oh so fun? Without a doubt! I discovered new and tasty treats, learned more about the history of the city (wait until you read about the Ogle and Gatlin families feud), and enjoyed spending a day out and about in one of my favorite places. Win, win, win!
In the end, I spent just under $40 ($38.99, to be precise). Once you tack on tax, I might’ve gone over by a dollar or two, but I’d say it was close enough. And anyhow, I stopped counting a while ago. I was too busy enjoying the food.
(Article by Jordan Watts, Marketing/Communications Director, Mountain Laurel Chalets)