9 Lakes, dining, downtowns, history, moonshine, National Parks
Newport, TN – A Smoky Mountain Culinary Legacy and Adventure
Adventure abounds in the Great Smoky Mountains of East Tennessee. Wild rivers, majestic mountains and dense forests lure millions of people to the region each year. One often overlooked gateway community to the Smoky Mountains is Newport, a town steeped in an culinary history that transcends time and the imagination.
Moonshine, the moon pie, canned staples and even Gatorade are all woven into this Southern Appalachian community where the hometown spirit for good food makes it a great start for an adventure on this side of the Smokies.
What’s brewing Downtown
Just the name “Fruit Jar Alley” conjures up thoughts of the days when your grandmother spent hours making strawberry jam or other fruity treats. While this store along Newport’s Broadway doesn’t serve up food, it is a place “bringing the past home” by offering a wide variety of clothing, home décor and specialty items.
The boutique is just part of what’s bringing people to Downtown Newport these days. In the back of the building, you’ll find the Back Alley Grainery and a person who might just be one of Newport’s most famous residents. Eric “Digger” Manes, a regular on the TV Show “Moonshiners” grew up in Newport. He is known for his work with legendary moonshiner Popcorn Sutton, whose cardboard cutout stands proudly in this store which sells home brewing supplies. When “Digger” is there, fans of the TV show are sure to come by and say hello, possibly asking for an autograph, or a picture.
Canned tomatoes, beans and thousands of bottles of Gatorade
For more than 100 years, the canning industry fueled the economy in Newport. The Stokely Brothers started with a few thousand cases of tomatoes. From there, they expanded into one of the country’s largest canning operations. Eventually the product lines included Pork-n-Beans and even the sports drink Gatorade. During the Gulf War in 1990, under the Quaker brand, the Newport plant provided 20,000 cases of Gatorade to American troops stationed in Saudi Arabia. Con-Agra, the last owner closed the plant in 2022.
Just minutes away in the community of Chestnut Hill, a dog named “Duke” still tries to reveal the secret family recipe for Bush’s Baked Beans. When you see the sprawling plant and the giant can of Bush’s Baked Beans, it’s easy to see how big the recipe is in this neck of the woods. Visitors can get a taste of the Bush family recipes at a restaurant, gift store and visitors center across from the cannery.
The man, the myth and the legendary Moon Pie
Marshmallows and graham crackers are the stuff legends are made. Near one of the entrances to the sprawling Union Cemetery in Newport, you’ll find the grave of Earl Mitchell, a salesman for the Chattanooga Bakery, the force behind the Moon Pie. According to the company website, Mitchell got the idea for the Moon Pie after a conversation with a Kentucky Coal miner in 1917. The miner wanted a snack “as big as the moon” and Mitchell delivered with a snack that would fit in a lunch pail. A small marker at the foot of Mitchell’s grave gives him credit for “inventing” the Moon Pie.
Steaks served up with a Speak Easy Feel.
Pull up to “The Grease Rack” on Morrell Springs Road and you might wonder why the parking lot is full. The blue cinder block building with no windows and a neon “OPEN” sign might not seem like a place where you’ll find some of the best steaks in the Smoky Mountains. Venture inside and you’ll understand why people from all over come to eat here.
Back in 1972, Earl and Joyce Woods decided to open a grill and bar in an old Texaco gas station, hence the name “The Grease Rack.” Today, their son, Buddy and his wife LuAn run the restaurant known for its down-home charm and mouthwatering cuisine.
Buddy loves getting to know customers and let them know about the restaurant’s rich history. He tells a story about the days when it was basically a private club, a way Buddy’s dad, Earl managed to serve alcohol there in the middle of a dry county. That’s one of the reasons for the solid door with the peep hole up front.
Today you can order up “Earl’s Special”, a 14 oz. New York Strip named for “The Grease Rack’s” founder. And if they have it, be sure and get a bowl of the ham and bean soup, a true taste of the Appalachian Mountains.
Continuing your culinary adventure
Newport may be small, but it’s big on flavor and adventure. You’ll find plenty of places like “Big Boys” for hearty country cooking or more great steaks and seafood and Fox and Hounds. (It just happens that after a certain time of day, you have to ring the doorbell there to get in there}. Downtown, the Rustic Cow serves up ice cream and coffee with the Bistro at the Cow next door offering up lunch and dinner. Nearby communities like Hartford and Cosby offer up even more adventures on this side of the Smokies.
Guest writer- Clayton Hensley