Go straight for the sides when you try these Tennessee restaurants.
Automatic Slim’s, Memphis
Made from yellow onions soaked in buttermilk and rolled in a mixture of flour and seasonings, this heaping pile looks a bit like shredded tobacco (hence the name). The taste is zesty and subtly sweet, thanks to that buttermilk. The restaurant’s menu is as eclectic as its decor: New works by local artists are rotated every two months. Open and serving the onion rings ($5 a plate) until 3 a.m. on weekends.
Insider Tip: Try pairing the casual onion rings with the more sophisticated roasted duck.
Boathouse Rotisserie & Raw Bar, Chattanooga
Lawton Haygood, owner of Boathouse Rotisserie & Raw Bar, constructed his first commercial wood grill in the 1970s. Since then, he has been perfecting the process, cooking up everything from tilapia to quesadillas. And there’s no better example of his skill than his wood-grilled green beans, one of the top sellers at this casual restaurant perched on the banks of the Tennessee River. The dish consists of nothing more than haricots verts (French for green beans), a splash of olive oil, and a dash of kosher salt. But a three-minute blast from the flames of the grill results in tender, slightly singed beans with a deep, smoky flavor. The green bean side runs $3.50.
Insider Tip: For scenic river views, ask for a table on the restaurant’s large deck. Don’t let the cold weather deter you—the deck’s enclosed and heated during the winter months.
Miss Mary Bobo’s Boarding House, Lynchburg
When the dinner bell rings at Miss Mary Bobo’s, a surefire hit is the ever-present bowl of fried okra. The restaurant—based in an elegant, Federal-style home just down the road from the Jack Daniel Distillery—changes its family-style menu daily, but proprietress Lynne Tolley insists on serving this favorite Southern staple every day. Miss Mary Bobo’s fries okra better than anyone, with a crunchy cornmeal crust that locks in that moist, unique taste. “Our secret,” says Lynne, “is to not crowd the skillet. You want to let each bite get crispy; otherwise, you’ll end up with one big, soggy ‘okra fritter.’ ” For $19 here, you get two entrées, six vegetables, bread, dessert, and a beverage.
Insider Tip: Lynchburg ladies serve as hostesses for each table. Chat yours up to learn about growing okra and cooking advice.
Puckett’s Grocery & Restaurant, Leipers Fork
The facade of Puckett’s, a country market and eatery 30 miles south of Nashville, is humble. The attention to detail that head chef Jack McPhail gives to his down-home fare is anything but. Case in point: The squash casserole combines yellow squash, breadcrumbs, Cheddar cheese, organic eggs, and a hint of Creole seasoning. It may be the very reason the Puckett’s grocery aisles have gradually been replaced by dining tables since the store opened in 1953. Squash casserole costs $2.99.
Insider Tip: To enhance your Puckett’s experience, stop in on Thursday evenings for the restaurant’s weekly Creole Shrimp Boil and Open Mic Night. The event draws participants from Nashville—including some songwriters behind country music chart-toppers.
Ridgewood Barbecue, Bluff City
Pulled pork is Ridgewood’s barbecue fame, but locals know the baked beans are the real star at this roadside joint. Served in a homey ceramic crock, the beans at Ridgewood boast the addition of pork and barbecue sauce. The recipe is a secret so hush-hush that in three generations of Proffitt family ownership, it’s never once been written down. “Today, the only two people who know it are myself and my daughter, Lisa,” says owner Larry Proffitt. The baked beans run $2.50.
Insider Tip: It’s easier to get a table on a Monday, Tuesday, or Wednesday.