Last Friday, my family took a little weekend vacation up to Roan Mountain State Park. My mother recently changed jobs and is now working for Tennessee Parks and has learned a lot about the park system since the switch. Did you know that Tennessee has the largest number of State parks in the US? Well, neither did my wife and I, so we decided to go explore the North East section of Tennessee and visit Roan Mountain.
We left Friday evening with the intention of driving as far as we could before getting too tired. I secretly wanted to get in the neighborhood, but figured that we’d stop just outside of Knoxville. The ride itself went really smoothly once we navigated around all the traffic within Nashville. Construction is going hard and heavy around where Interstate 24 and 40 meet and there’s monster traffic all around it. I led us through as many back roads as I knew and brought us out onto 40, just near the airport and at the end of all the congestion.
Dinner In Knoxville
Around Knoxville we started discussing dinner options. No one was really hungry for any style of food in particular, so that left just about any option open. Holly and I were in Knoxville for her birthday last December and we started discussing all the restaurants we either saw, or dinned at in the Greater Knoxville area. There were two restaurants in particular that we remembered wanting to try that were located fairly close to one another in downtown Knoxville. So I exited the Interstate and drove around downtown for a mini tour.
The first restaurant was located in Old Town, but we couldn’t remember the name of it (and as of this writing, I still cant 😛 ), so we headed down Gay street and eventually down into Old Town proper. There was an average amount of activity, but as we rounded the corner, I suggested that we go take a look at the other restaurant I had in mind – the Riverside Tavern. Turning back onto Gay street, we went back the way we came and then headed down by the river’s edge and pulled into the parking lot of the Riverside Tavern. One look at the location and the design of the restaurant and the decision was made – this is where we would eat dinner.
The Riverside Tavern is located right next to the Tennessee river and has a spectacular view of the waterview, the bridge and the buildings on the other bank. As we sat down at our table located on the covered deck, we could easily see the JFG neon sign quietly blinking in the distance. It was the perfect view for dinner in Knoxville. As we reviewed the menu, we could see the fog rolling in off the water and giving the boats docked on the side of the river a misty white backdrop. An old steam boat, probably some sort of tourist attraction, reminded us that we were still in the South and gave us a sublime atmosphere as we enjoyed our dinner.
We started with the Crab cake appetizer. It was served with toasted sesame noodles. There was a hint of spice on the noodles, yet the dish wasn’t hot. The spice simply opened up the palette and when combined with the crab cake made everyone’s eyes roll back into their heads. If the rest of the meal lived up to the appetizer, we knew that we were in for a real dining treat. Luckily, the rest of the meal was of the same caliber. I enjoyed the Prime Rib sandwich and I have to say that the prime rib almost as good as Houston’s and that’s quite a complement. Served on a buttered and toasted poppy seed and onion hoagie roll, the meat quite literally burst from the sides of the bread. It was as if it was too good to be contained by bread. I felt like I was using each half of the hoagie as oven mits trying to maneuver the prime rib into the au jus, horseradish sauce and finally into my mouth where it melted. It’s one of the best sandwiches I’ve ever had and it was a perfect match to my glass of New Castle Brown Ale.
Ending The Day
With full bellies, we headed out from Knoxville and back onto I-40. It was a little after 10pm CST, but we were now in the Eastern time zone, so it was after 11pm and the group decided it was time to bed down for the night. Unfortunately there was something going on in town and all the hotels that we tried were full, or unwilling to be hospitable by discounting a smoking room. I suggested that we continue on and make the change to I-81 before we looked for another room and that’s what we did. Sure enough, a few miles down the road on I-81 and we found a Days Inn at a very good rate and called it a night.
Just before heading to bed, I called Dan to catch up on things. It was 1pm his time and 12am my time, but he told me all about his recent adventure and we both had a good laugh. It sucks that there’s such a huge gap between us, both in time and distance, but it was nice that we’re still able to stay in touch.
Breaking The Diet And My Coolness
The next morning we woke up around 7am, packed up and got back on the road. At the next exit, we spied a Cracker Barrel and with nary a word said, pulled in for a hearty breakfast. Knowing that the rest of the weekend would entail nothing but food that we shouldn’t have, I tried to choose a South Beach friendly breakfast, but my will power simply wasn’t strong enough and I chose the Uncle Hershel breakfast. I’m a sucker for Cracker Barrel’s pork chops, what can I say? 🙂
Back on the road, we continued making our way to Roan Mountain. Just as we entered the town of Elizabethton, my phone rang and it was my good buddy Ken Duffy. He was on his way to New Orleans to visit his Grandfather and as he often does, he calls me to catch up and pass the time. The start of our conversation went a little something like this:
Ken: Hey dude. What’s up?
Me : Oh hey Ken! Umm, we’re actually on our way up to Roan Mountain up in the northeast corner of the state.
Ken: Sounds cool. What made you decide to go up there?
Me : There’s the Rhododendron Festival up there this weekend.
At this point Ken burst into uncontrollable gales of laughter. I could just see the tears running down his face as he tried to wipe them while still driving and talking on the phone. I didn’t realize how that sounded until after I heard the words come out of my mouth and I too had to laugh. This may not be as funny to you, maybe you had to be there, but I think Ken summed it up nicely:
Ken: Dude, you sound SO married.
And he was right, I didn’t say that there was tons of hiking, fishing and mountains to climb, I said what Holly had told me when I asked the very same question – there was a rhododendron festival. LOL After a little more catching up, we signed off and about 30 minutes later we were entering the Roan Mountain State Park
At The Mountain
I’ve become accustomed to seeing hills since moving to Nashville, but I’m still a little be awestruck when I see mountains. Roan is located in the Appalachian mountain range, just south of the Smokies and is the second highest mountain in the Appalachian range. Mt. Mitchell is 399 feet higher. Our first stop was at the conference/recreation center where we inquired about our cabin. While we were waiting for an answer, the lady behind the counter said to someone who had called on the phone, that during the summer, they only rent cabins by the week. I gave a look to my Mom, who explained that since she worked for Parks, this was one of the perks, we could rent a cabin for only one night. Nice. The cabin was still being cleaned and wouldn’t be ready until after lunch, so we left the car in the parking lot and walked down the hill to the festival.
To be continued…