There is good news and bad from Gatlinburg.
Bruce Tuttle got here Sunday, and left Monday without ever turning a card. His 98 year old mother was in hospice, and took a turn for the worse. The magic of cellphones let me find a flight for him and book a ticket while standing in front of the convention center. Bill drove him straight to Knoxville and he was home before she passed quietly Tuesday morning.
The five of us have continued playing, one player sitting out. We won the opening KO event, and the Tuesday-Wednesday morning Swiss teams. It’s a marvelous way to begin a tournament.
Wednesday afternoon we began another KO, and lost miserably in the first round. Since none of us wanted to play that evening, I thought we should go to Pigeon Forge (10 miles away) and try one of the dinner theaters, places that serve a vast dinner of fried chicken and pulled pork and follow with a wholesome, good-old-boy show full of clean humor and country music.
Okay, nobody wanted to do that.
Eventually, I managed to convince Bill and Danny to go to the Smoky Mountain Opry show, a 2 hour review with music and dance.
For dinner, I looked online for “best restaurant Pigeon Forge”, but didn’t want to go to the Pigeon Forge Deli. We settled on the Old Mill, a restaurant built adjoining an 1830 grist mill. Happily, Mike and Bob agreed to join us for dinner, so I called for a reservation. Silly me. “We don’t take reservations honey, it’s first come first served. But don’t you worry, we’re not busy tonight.”
Driving into Pigeon Forge, we noticed a vast number of old cars parked facing the road–it’s the weekend of the annual car show, where people from all over the US arrive with their restored (or not) old cars to see and be seen, buy, sell and swap.
The restaurant is huge, with a long zig-zag ramp that I expect is filled with expectant diners in the busy season. We were promptly seated, given ginormous menus to choose from and drink orders taken. The key to these places is fast turnover–you don’t sit around waiting for service, ever.
The decor is, well, southern. Perhaps it is best described by the salt and pepper shakers–they are perfectly fitting with everything else in the joint:
To get us in the mood, a plate of corn fritters hit the table–they are included in every meal.
Wanting to have the full experience, I opted for the chicken pot pie. First came salad, then a cup of corn chowder. Then the pot pie:
When I was a kid I always preferred the Banquet frozen pies to the Swanson because the former had both a top and bottom crust. I would have preferred that this one have a bottom crust as well, but it was still pretty darn good. Lots of chicken, lots of veggies. No mushrooms. A thick crust that was like they covered the dish in biscuit dough and baked it.
A large dish of mashed potatoes and one of green beans were placed on the table, family style. Mike ate his green beans, but that’s the kind of guy he is. He’s going to live forever or die trying.
Danny had the chicken and dumplings, which he said he enjoyed although it wasn’t all that appetizing to look at:
This dish had plenty of stringy white chicken meat, some small amount of veggies and lots of creamy sauce. The dumplings, like my crust, tasted like biscuit dough. I think they just make one batch of dough every day and use it for everything.
Dessert was included. Most of us had the blackberry cobbler, Dan had the pecan pie. Everything comes with ice cream on top. The cobbler was the better choice.
We were talking with our server, and I asked her what they paid her. I had heard that some places paid the federal minimum to tipped staff and wanted to know if anyone really did so. Indeed, she said she made $2.13 an hour. That partly explained the insanely low prices.
My dinner–soup, salad, drink, entree, biscuits, fritters and dessert, came to $23.96. If I tipped 15%, I would have left an additional $3.60. I don’t know how the restaurant can possibly make a profit on that, and I surely don’t understand how the waitress can make a living. I would be ashamed to pay anyone that little.
The whole operation is built to get the customers in and out and turn the tables as often as possible. Part of that is that you don’t pay your waitstaff, you pay the cashier on the way out. I left the kind of tip one would leave after a meal in San Francisco, and I think my compatriots did pretty much the same. I hope we made that young woman’s night.
The Old Mill is quite the experience. The food is decent, the service is lightning fast, the portions are huge and the prices are tiny. It’s the perfect Pigeon Forge experience. Go early and tip lavishly.