Welcomed to Tennessee with Barbecue and Baseball

Tony Gore offers up his fried green tomatoes at his BBQ joint in Kodak, TN.
Tony Gore offers up his fried green tomatoes at his BBQ joint in Kodak, TN.

I’m settling into a comfortable Hampton Inn in Kodak, Tennessee, where from my window I can see the green field of the home of the Tennessee Smokies, an AA affiliate of baseball’s Chicago Cubs. We got to enjoy a game tonight when the home team trounced the visiting Montgomery Biscuits.

Sitting right down front, it was baseball at its best, with the typical minor league shananigans like the twisted bat race where youngsters spin around a bat and then try, dizzily, to win a footyace. A hot dog eating contest in the stands was shown on the jumbotron, and the crowd, while sparse, was quite enthusiastic rooting for the hometown Smokies.

As we flew into Knoxville, we saw a giant band of mountain, a ridge called Bluff Mountain that stretches for miles. There were grooves between the green trees in the gentle mountains, carved eons ago–these are the oldest mountains in the US, carved by glaciers.

Over smoked chicken salad, lima beans and home made baked beans, we met a local man named Tony Gore, who owns a barbecue joint called Tony Gore’s Smoky Mountain BBQ and Grill. Out front was his shiny gold Prevost tour bus, that he takes on long trips to arenas and churches in the south where he sings gospel songs and plays piano. He’s not a thin man, and his restaurant slogan, “never trust a skinny cook” rings true. On the menu are gigantic slices of pie, fried green tomatoes and hushpuppies as well as melt in your mouth bbq pork and ribs.

Matt Szeczur of the Tennessee Smokies gets a hit at the stadium in Kodak, TN.
Matt Szeczur of the Tennessee Smokies hits a double at the stadium in Kodak, TN.

Like much in this part of Tennessee, it’s all out on a big road, there isn’t much of the city centers that we are used to in Massachusetts. I was told that Sevierville’s center consists of a courthouse, a lot of lawyer’s offices and a yarn shop, it’s not the place we’ll be spending our time.

The Great Smoky National Park is the most visited park in the US, this area sees 11 million tourists pass through each year. The park is the kind you can drive through, and the big attractions are Dollywood, Gatlinburg, Sevierville and Pigeon Forge.

Up and down the big two-lane main highway are attractions for tourists: several helicopter tour operators, a giant zipline, (one of eleven in the area), a waterpark and all manner of other ways to recreate on vacation.