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Gatlinburg Now

Gatlinburg News, Opinion, and Wonder

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January 2016

Restaurant Review: Smoky Mountain Brewery

I am going to review Smoky Mountain Brewery and give it a fair shake, even though it is usually our first stop when we are finally settled in at our hotel in Gatlinburg. I hope that you the visitor will appreciate the honesty I give to this establishment, as I have seen this business at its best and not so good, so here goes.

I guess I can start by giving you a short history of the Brewery. The first location opened here in Gatlinburg in 1996 and has been brewing their own crafts beers, spreading out to include four locations: Turkey Creek (west Knoxville), Maryville, Pigeon Forge, and Gatlinburg. The Gatlinburg location is described as a Bavarian-style ski lodge/beer hall that has an upstairs seating area with live bands appearing weekly and trivia nights. Of course, there are plenty of TV’s around tuned to whatever sports event is being broadcast while you are visiting.

Our first visit was in June 2011, and that visit set the tone for future trips being one of the first in line for restaurants in town. They serve your typical bar food, in addition to, by most accounts, as some high quality steaks. What really lit up our taste buds though, was the pizza we dove into on that maiden trip. As far as thickness is concerned, it is a thin cracker-like crust, but it is so tasty—buttery I would say—that it really melts in your mouth, and almost makes the toppings irrelevant, but we still love the pepperoni and cheese just the same. Beware, it can be a bit greasy at times, so extra napkins should be requested. The wings with Thunder Road sauce were good but not pizza good, and the Beer Cheese and pretzels were again, not the best, but still good enough to warrant a future order.

Despite the pizza being one of the best in town, the service has been a bit of a teeter-totter. Our lack of attention given to us in 2014 almost caused us not to visit last year. We were seated and it took a good 20 minutes before a server even acknowledged us, and the service continued its slide throughout. All the while, the brewery wasn’t even busy at the time so we weren’t provided with an excuse. In 2015, we had the best service there by a mile; our server was very friendly and was timely with drinks (she didn’t charge us with them too, by the way) and seemed to really enjoy her job. So again, we received a mixed bag of service but the food (pizza) is almost always outstanding.

No, I wouldn’t dare forget about their beers they brew in-house. Smoky Mountain Brewery has a good variety of beers to please even the beer snob (unlike myself). They include their mainstays: Mountain Light, Velas Helles, Cherokee Red Ale, Tuckaleechee Porter, Black Bear Ale, Appalachian Pale Ale, and Windy Gap Wheat Beer. My favorites are the Helles and Cherokee Red; both seem to fit my middle ground of how I like my beer—drinkable but not watered down and bland. Even the Mountain Light is refreshing without sacrificing taste; reminds me of Miller Lite, but without the preservatives added, which is another shining star on their beer mantle.

To summarize, we have visited five times and seen the service take a nosedive and rebound to Smoky Mountain heights. The food has never really disappointed, and the beer likewise. We really do enjoy coming here, and while it is sometimes not the first stop in town anymore, I have a koozie and a beer glass at home that says how much this restaurant means to me when I have a hankering for beer and pizza. Thanks for reading and I hope you return to read more Gatlinburg opinions and news.

Ober Gatlinburg hosting Special Olympics Winter Games

Competitions for the 31st Annual Tennessee Special Olympics Winter Games will be held January 31- February 2 at Ober Gatlinburg.

On Sunday night the public will be welcome to attend the Opening Ceremony, which kicks off at 6:45 and features the March of Athletes, the Special Olympics oath, a welcoming speech, and the presentation of colors. For those that want to witness the traditional lighting of the Special Olympics flame, that ceremony will take place at 9 a.m. Monday morning.

The number of athletes competing in the games totals 150, and they will be competing in the following events: Alpine skiing, snowboarding, and speed skating. The participants will be placed in divisions based on age and ability.

Special Olympics Tennessee has 14,000 participating athletes and provides year-round training and competition opportunities in 19 sports. Their mission statement also gives them continuing opportunities to develop physical fitness, demonstrate courage, experience joy, and participate in a sharing of gifts, skills, and friendship with their families, other Special Olympics athletes, and the community. Athletes can train as early as six years old but cannot compete until the age of eight.

The Special Olympics is obviously a big deal throughout the country, and it would not be possible without the work of the many volunteers that lend their time to help children and adults with intellectual disabilities achieve their dreams. I say come out and support these athletes at Ober Gatlinburg, if you are here during this time. It may give you an even broader perspective that you may not have imagined you could receive when on vacation.

 

Gatlinburg vs. Pigeon Forge: My Argument for Which is the Better Place to Visit

I get on the forums for several websites pertaining to the Smoky Mountains fairly often, and there are many questions regarding where to stay and do activities in the area. I’d like to delve into this matter by expressing my opinions on the locations most visitors end up staying when traveling to the Smoky Mountains; Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge. I obviously am biased, since this is a Gatlinburg site, but I am going to be as fair as possible.

The Place to Stay

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I can’t speak for the quality of hotels, cabins, and such around Pigeon Forge, but I can say that they offer a wide range of options for your needs. By far the most publicized and most highly rated hotel in Pigeon Forge has to be the Inn at Christmas Place. It is a picturesque Bavarian-style structure with 145 rooms, and their theme is Christmas all year-round. We would love to stay here sometime in the future, and it is consistently ranked as the best in Pigeon Forge.

Gatlinburg really doesn’t have an answer to that except for maybe the Park Vista hotel, which has amazing views of the mountains. There are plenty of hotels in Gatlinburg with great views, being that the Smoky Mountains are at the doorstep, but there are many that are average or sub-par at best. Our favorite place in town is Summit Manor Condos, but we also like Zoder’s Inn and Old Creek Lodge. Many of the cabins in the area offer the same kinds of amenities as the ones near Pigeon Forge, so this is kind of a push, in my opinion, but I would give the slight edge to Gatlinburg just for the mountain views alone.

Places to Eat

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We’ve eaten at many of the Gatlinburg restaurants; some of which we wish we could have at home in Ohio. Some of the best pizza we have ever eaten has been here at Smoky Mountain Brewery and Best Italian. I would put Big Daddy’s and Mellow Mushroom in the very good category. Steak brings us to Cherokee Grill along with their awesome side dishes. Also, you can’t ignore the many treats on the Parkway, which are too numerous to mention individually. Breakfast is hands down a winner here with amazing options which include: Crockett’s Breakfast Camp, Pancake Pantry, and Log Cabin Pancake House in that order.

Pigeon Forge provides a slightly more unique feel with the best example of this being the The Pottery House Cafe and Grill in the Old Mill District. The plates you eat on are hand made next door, and the food that is placed there is delectable at worst. It has been our first stop on our vacation since 2012. Pigeon Forge has Smoky Mountain Brewery, Mellow Mushroom, and Big Daddy’s as well, but their second best option might be located at the Island. Poynor’s Pommes Frites offers authentic German food fast, and it is highly received from visitors and locals alike. Speaking of local, one might also try Mel’s Diner, and there are, of course, pancake houses here as well.

Verdict: Gatlinburg

Things to Do

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Ok, Gatlinburg is known for the Arts and Crafts Community and the artisans that make these items by hand, but the Parkway has shopping that people love to hate, or hate to love. The $5 T-shirts shops in town are an example, and they are numerous and scream tourist trap, but they exist because we love a great deal, even on vacation where money isn’t as coveted. There is also the new Mountain Coaster, which PF also has, and plenty of putt-putting and arcades to keep the kids at bay. The Smoky Mountains are next door which is a huge advantage, but for the sake of argument, I must not factor them in the argument, since I am talking about the town itself. I mustn’t forget about the Moonshine Distilleries, which began with Ole Smoky Moonshine. Always a good time there with free samples if you know what I mean.

Pigeon Forge is the mecca when it comes to theaters and live entertainment. We have enjoyed the Titanic exhibit and Country Tonight theater, but the Dixie Stampede is the top attraction among them all, with an unbelievable dinner show that we will attend in the near future. There are plenty of souvenir shops in PF too, with the only exception being getting in the car instead of walking everywhere in Gatlinburg. The kids will love Pigeon Forge more, in my opinion, because not only is their putt-putt golf, but there are more go-kart places that you can shake a stick at here.

Veridict: Pigeon Forge for the kids; Gatlinburg for adults

Overall, we love Gatlinburg more, because there are more adult-oriented activities here, but a strong case can be made for a stay in Pigeon Forge. Whatever place you decide to stay when on vacation here, you should have no problem finding enough things to do, whether you’re here two days or two weeks. Enjoy your stay, and your comments are always welcome.

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