Savor a slice of small-town living in Bell Buckle, just off I-24 in Middle Tennessee. With antiques shops, an old-time ice-cream parlor, and a cast of charming locals, this place warms the spirit like a slice of oatmeal cake (a sweet town treat). Roll into Railroad Square, the town's main plaza, and spend the day shopping and snacking.
Start the afternoon at Bell Buckle Cafe. This neighborhood joint teems with regulars who treat visitors like welcomed curiosities. Expect a friendly "Where are you from?" and "What brings you to Bell Buckle?" as you peruse the broad menu. Then choose from down-home dishes such as chicken-fried steak and smoked pork chops (a house favorite) as well as pizzas and burgers. For closers, don't miss the oatmeal cake with caramel sauce. The combination sounds strange, but this specialty--which tastes like a less-rich German chocolate cake--makes for an outstanding dessert. "We don't give out the recipe, but a lot of people try to get it," says Jeanette Heinike, who co-owns the cafe with husband J. Gregory.
With your appetite sufficiently satiated, start scouring the shops. Begin at Kati's Krossroads, next door to the cafe. Attractive displays highlight vintage clocks and clothing as well as country-inspired pieces that range from Christmas decorations (sold year-round) to handmade baskets and wreaths.
Also along the square is Sweet Retreat, where eclectic pieces come in many prices. Pick up a yellow-and-white, tulip-patterned quilt for $450, or spring for a queen-size, horse-themed quilt for $1,000. Less expensive finds include assorted Tyler Candle votives (starting at $1.95).
Continue along to Phillips General Store for eye-catching displays of just about everything. "We like to say, 'There isn't a thing here anybody needs, just things they want,' " says owner Billy Phillips. Take, for instance, the colorful pieces in the 1950s kitchen area such as vibrant dishtowels and a mustard yellow picnic basket ($45). Scope the Bowling Treasures section for quirky old trophies and colored bowling pins.
When it's time for another shopping break, go around the corner to Bluebird Antiques & Ice Cream Parlor, Billy's second venture, for jams, jellies, sundaes, and more antiques. Hop onto a stool at the original 1886 soda fountain, and order some of the richest ice cream in Tennessee (made with 20% more cream and 20% more sugar than most).
Once you've circled the square, head down Main Street to the Livery Stable Antique Mall. Peruse the patio furniture out front as well as the stained-glass windows, Fostoria ware, and other collectibles inside. Fans of jadeite should check out the store's mugs and plates ($8 to $15).
When you're seeking a fun day trip of antiquing in a quaint Southern town, you'll ring in good times in charming Bell Buckle.
For more information: Contact Bell Buckle Chamber of Commerce at (931) 389-9663 or www.bellbucklechamber.com.
This article is from the July 2004 issue of Southern Living. Because prices, dates, and other specifics are subject to change, please check all information to make sure it's still current before making your travel plans.