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Gatlinburg News, Opinion, and Wonder

5 Options for Choosing Local Instead of Chain Businesses in Gatlinburg

Sometimes the choices can be a bit overwhelming when you are searching for a place to eat in Gatlinburg. This may result in you getting a bit comfortable with the places you normally stop and visit in your day-to-day busy lifestyle. I would like to steer you toward making decisions that will help the local business owner in town and give the local economy a boost, as well. Here are five businesses that will aid in that cause, instead of visiting the familiar chain establishments.

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Chain: Pizza Hut

Better Option: Best Italian

Sure, we all love Pizza Hut when it comes to good pizza — and Gatlinburg has one right on the Parkway — but I would like you to try Best Italian, instead, when you are visiting town. Best Italian has two locations: one in the Elks Plaza, and one directly off the Parkway. We have not had a better pie in Gatlinburg than here, and we are frequent pizza eaters, so this comes as high praise. They have plenty of good Italian dishes, as many of locals can attest to, but our standards are the Garlic Rolls — which come served with a generous dusting of parmesan, and dipped in a small pool of olive oil — and, of course, their pizza. We ordered a large extra cheese pizza last time, and they were VERY generous with the cheese. Let’s just say this is one of our first stops when we arrive in Gatlinburg.

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Chain: McDonald’s

Better Option: Old Dad’s General Store

I know what you’re thinking; why would I want to go to a convenience store, instead of a place where I know what I want every time. I’m glad you asked because Old Dad’s is more than just a general store, it boasts a grill inside that serves a good hearty breakfast too. You can have everything from a bacon egg and cheese biscuit to a fried green tomato BLT — all for breakfast at a reasonable and comparable price to McDonald’s. They also have a super friendly staff that welcomes you, even if you’re just in to pick up a newspaper.

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Chain: Dunkin’ Donuts

Better Option: Donut Friar

There are plenty of Dunkin’ Donuts scattered across the country, but there is only one Donut Friar. They are located in the Village in Gatlinburg, and they have the absolute best donuts I’ve ever eaten. Opening at the pre-dawn 5 a.m. hour, they serve the early riser and stay open until the evening to accommodate the day crowds. My wife isn’t a big donut eater, but I’ve managed to convert her by introducing her to one of my favorites, the Chocolate Chipper donut. Even with an abundance of breakfast places in town, here you can grab a quick bite and take some back to your hotel room.

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Chain: Texas Roadhouse

Better Option: Cherokee Grill

I will be one of the first to admit that Texas Roadhouse has some mighty tasty steaks, along with their rolls, but there is one place in Gatlinburg that has them beat, in my opinion. We didn’t discover Cherokee Grill until our second trip, and it didn’t take long for us to wonder why we didn’t go the first time. The steaks and the grilled chicken are AMAZING! But I don’t want you to think they don’t have good side dishes. Their Neva’s Potatoes is a twice-baked potato that’s full of flavor, and their spinach mac and cheese hits the spot too. Also on the menu are crab cakes, trout, and shrimp for the seafood lover. Their atmosphere gives off an upscale feeling, but don’t be put off by that, they are most certainly a casual restaurant that welcomes all families. It is our favorite dinner splurge on our vacation, and I highly recommend you try them.

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Chain: Starbucks

Better Option: Coffee and Company

Starbucks is one of the largest chains in the country and Gatlinburg is represented with one, but there is one coffee shop in town that you may not see or be aware of as a visitor. Coffee and Company has been in business in Gatlinburg since 1993, and they are a tiny shop in the Village that is a left turn out of The Donut Friar away. The first time I arrived here, I walked into the open door, even though it wasn’t quite their posted open time, and I got a Coffee 101 lesson when I told the owner I wasn’t sure what to get. I settled on a basic Shot in the Dark, which has an espresso shot, and I walked away not only satisfied with my pleasant tasting coffee, but I was happy that someone cared enough to help me with deciding on the perfect cup for me, which it was.

I hope that you found this a helpful read. I know how difficult it can be to veer off from your normal routine and try something different; however, when you are on vacation, I strongly believe that this is the time to try new things and knowing you’re helping small businesses can give you a special feeling. In our case, it keeps us coming back to Gatlinburg year after year.

 

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The 3 Best Places for Pizza in Gatlinburg

After mulling over topics to write about, I decided to finally rank my three favorite pizzas in Gatlinburg. Many times I’ve mentioned a few of these places, but I never really gave you an opinion of how I really felt about how they stacked up against each other–until now. I am going to rank them based on how I feel they’ve delivered in two different areas and then rank them, overall. What I am not going to do is rank them based on customer service, ambiance, or cleanliness of the restaurant. This is strictly how well they’ve executed the most popular Italian pizza pie. Here goes:

Toppings

3. Big Daddy’s

I ranked Big Daddy’s number 3 not because the toppings aren’t good; they are, but it did make for a greasier than normal pizza. We like to dab the excess grease off anyway, and we took our time with this one. The sauce is excellent with the marinara being made in-house; the cheese is also very good, and the pepperoni was also better than average, but let’s be honest, it’s pretty difficult to mess that up.

2. Smoky Mountain Brewery

If I was to rank these pizzas a few years ago, I may have ranked SMB third. But not this time. I am not sure if they changed up their pizzas a bit, but the first few times we ate here the toppings fell off way too easy and made it nearly impossible to dab without taking them off via the napkin. The toppings this previous visit were high quality; standing out were the unbelievably tasty garlic-roasted tomatoes that offered just the right amount of garlic and made the cheese and sauce stand out, even though I don’t believe they needed much help from the start, anyway.

1. Best Italian

It’s not often you can eat a pizza with just cheese on it and still feel like you’ve eaten the best. They certainly live up to its name in the pizza category. We ordered a pepperoni pizza the first two times we’ve visited, but we went with just extra cheese the last two visits, and boy, they really pile it on with the sauce complimenting it quite nicely. Throw in some seasoning and your taste buds will shift into overdrive. It deserves the number one ranking on my list of best toppings.

 

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Smoky Mountain Brewery personal pizza

 

Crust

3. Best Italian

This might surprise you, but I don’t have them number 1. They are still excellent; don’t get me wrong. However, it is still lacking that extra something that I want in a crust. Maybe it was due to the fact that it was just a bit on the soggy side this time. Overall, I have to give them merit based on what they’ve delivered in the past, so I docked them a little on that, but the flavor still shines through its weaknesses.

2. Smoky Mountain Brewery

This was hard for me. In the past, I might have told you that this was my favorite, despite the fact that it was a bit messy; however, what I loved was how buttery it tasted at the bottom–it was something I had never experienced before with a pizza. This is not a knock on them with this ranking. I actually enjoyed the crust more this time without the extra flavor on it; it was still nice and crispy, and I found myself (and my son) wanting to come back again to see if it still delivers like it did this last time.

1. Big Daddy’s

There’s something to be said about wood-fired pizza in a brick oven. Amazing. You simply cannot find a better crust in Gatlinburg working with those elements. You get the character in a pizza by eating a crust that’s a bit charred, but not in such a way that it’s burned. It is not. Big Daddy’s is ranked on Trip Advisor as one of the top restaurants in Gatlinburg, and I would have to agree with those people…at least as far as the crust is concerned.

 

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Big Daddy’s Pizza

 

My Top 3 Overall Are…

3. Smoky Mountain Brewery

I know what you’re thinking: How can you rank them third when you had them second on the toppings and crust? Well, that gives you a sense of how close these places are when it comes to picking a favorite. Remember: I picked Big Daddy’s third in toppings and first in the crust. It just depends on how much weight I placed on a category. Altogether, I love each and every one of these pizzas, and the Brewery–despite its great showing last time–has to be placed third, as difficult as it was.

2. Big Daddy’s

This is where I placed Big Daddy’s because they delivered so supremely on their crust. The marinara as a sauce was a real standout, plus they get bonus points for making it from scratch. I know many places around here make their ingredients in the back too; however, how many times can you really tell if it’s scratch made or not. Well, at Big Daddy’s you can, and it makes for a great pizza.

 

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Best Italian in the Elks Plaza

 

1. Best Italian

Number one is still Best Italian back in the Elks Plaza. They dropped off slightly last time, but it is still the same great pizza we remember when we took our first bite a few years ago. They are very generous with their toppings, and their crust is just good enough to make their pizza our favorite in Gatlinburg.

I can’t even begin to explain how ungodly difficult this was for me to compile. I think I changed my mind as I was writing this. Heck, I may even write a new post in a few months explaining how wrong I was with this list. Anyway, I hope you enjoyed this as much as I enjoyed writing this. Feel free to agree or disagree with me in the comments. Thanks for reading and stay tuned for more. I have more rankings I would like to do based on places to go for breakfast, and I would like to do one about steak after we’ve visited a few more restaurants. See you again soon!

 

 

2017 Smoky Mountain Songwriters Festival

This is the time of the year that some of the most famous hit songwriters in country music history come to Gatlinburg to perform. Many of them have written songs for legendary country artists including Garth Brooks and  Johnny Cash just to name a few. The now annual event is in its 6th year of entertaining tourists and locals with national and local songwriters. You will be hard-pressed to go anywhere from August 16-20 without hearing or being somewhere a songwriter is performing.

The Smoky Mountain Songwriters Festival in Gatlinburg features 150 shows by over 100 different artists: some of which are local, and some will be coming from as far away as California. You can find these artists performing outdoors, in restaurants and hotels; most of which you can see without paying a ticket. There are three special events for the Songwriters Festival that you may not want to miss and are sure to be worth the price of admission.

Con Hunley will be singing some of his songs at the Glenstone Lodge on August 19 at 8 p.m. The East Tennessee native had a string of 20 songs that hit the charts in the 70’s and 80’s and continues to write songs today. You can still purchase tickets for his concert for $25 and doors will open at 6.

Sylvia is no stranger to the Smoky Mountain Songwriters Festival, and she will be performing a matinee at the Glenstone Lodge at 4 p.m. prior to Con Hunley taking the stage. With her hit song, “Nobody”, she established herself as a major songwriter and musician in the 80’s. She also has a new album coming out, and joining her on stage will be her guitarist, John Mock.

The most famous songwriters coming to Gatlinburg for a ticketed event will be a songwriter for Johnny Cash, Jim Glaser; Bobby Tomberlin, Diamond Rio songwriter; Tony Arata, famous for “The Dance” by Garth Brooks; and Pat Alger, a multiple hit songwriter for Garth Brooks. This “Celebrity” round of songwriters will start performing at the Glenstone Lodge on August 18 at 8 p.m. This is sure to be a treat for anyone who has been a fan of country music or Garth Brooks through the years.

There are so many artists coming to Gatlinburg this weekend, it is staggering. I won’t list all the performers coming to town, but if you are one of the lucky ones who scheduled your vacation for this time, I recommend you check out the Songwriters Festival website at www.smswf.com to see the entire list of performers. Many of these performers are not household names in contrast to the ones I’ve mentioned, but they are looking for a little support and recognition by coming to this Festival, so take the time to listen to some great music; some will even enjoy having the pleasure to talk to someone who enjoyed their music. It’s a great gathering of artists you won’t want to miss.

Opening Soon in Gatlinburg: Anakeesta

Anyone who has visited Gatlinburg in the past year has seen the work that has been progressing right across from Ripley’s Aquarium. As you can see from the picture, it is the new Anakeesta development that is set to open in mid to late August–just a few weeks away. An exact date has not yet been set, but make sure you visit or just Like their Facebook page to get the news directly on your news feed. Let me describe for you what you can anticipate from the newest activity-filled attraction in Gatlinburg.

The word “Anakeesta” comes from the Cherokee word for “place of the balsams.” They are a little similar to Ober Gatlinburg, but there are stark differences too. Ober gives you the option of parking up on the mountain if you don’t want to pay to ride the tram. It is also a ski resort, which Anakeesta is not. Also, since there is no parking area on Anakeesta Mountain, visitors must ride either a 4 person open-air chairlift or an enclosed 6 person chondola to get to the top. There will be onsite parking next to Anakeesta before getting on one of the lifts, but you can also park nearby in the McMaster parking garage, where it is $6 or $7 max and $1.75 per hour in the enclosed garage

Once you reach the top of Anakeesta Mountain, you will find a myriad of options for the $20 cost to ride to the summit. There is a treetop canopy walk plus a neat children’s treetop playground; both of which are included in your price of admission. Additional costs are on the zipline, mountain coaster–which will be done later in the fall–and a gem mining activity. Each of them looks like mountains of fun that adults and kids will be sure to enjoy as part of their experience.

Firefly Village will provide a nice combination of retail and dining options. At their opening, Anakeesta will have ready plenty of dessert varieties at Pearl’s Pie in the Sky, and the BBQ cuisine will be represented by Summit Smokehouse. Shopping will include a whimsical boutique store called Catching Fireflies, and Great Outdoors Trading Company–a store that rivals NOC but on a much smaller scale–for all your outdoor or hiking adventures that await you in The Smoky Mountains. An amphitheater is also being planned for next spring, and it will feature dazzling views of Mt. LeConte. There will still be plenty of wonderful views for you to enjoy up here, even if you make this part of your upcoming trip to the Smokies after Anakeesta’s opening.

Right now the workers are getting things ready as best as they can, and Anakeesta owners and managers are also hard at work, gathering the proper people into their hiring process to make sure guests have a memorable and all-around spectacular experience at Gatlinburg’s newest and more ambitious projects in recent memory. For a full description of fun activities your family can enjoy, visit their website at www.anakeesta.com. Thanks for reading, and keep checking in for the latest Gatlinburg activities, tips, and viewpoints!

 

3 Hours in Gatlinburg

If you remember from last year, I wrote a post that described my brief Gatlinburg visit, which was a too short seven hours. This one was a similar trip which only afforded me the opportunity to spend a late afternoon/early evening visit to our favorite vacation spot. I won’t go into too much detail about the reason behind our road trip, but it relates to the same reason I took last year’s late summer excursion. Only this time I didn’t take it alone; I had my son in tow.

The day started early–but not too early–as we left home at around 7 in the morning. We arrived in Sevierville–our destination for our 2 day stay–just before our check-in time, but we still managed to get in our room before 3. I was very happy our accommodations were free, being as I am a Choice Privileges member, I turned in pretty much all of my points for our stay. The hotel, Clarion Inn Willow River, was very nice with hotel amenities such as a balcony with a nice view, lazy river, outdoor pool, indoor pool, and ample sized 2 queen rooms.

Since my son and I only snacked at the rest stop for lunch on our way to Sevierville, we were starving, so we left for Gatlinburg shortly after we got settled into our room for the next couple of days. Not long after getting onto the Parkway, it became abundantly clear I wish I would have taken the back way to Gatlinburg or Pigeon Forge. Traffic was awful even for a weekday, but it is July so that can be expected. It started to get manageable once we got near The Old Mill area. The spur leading into Gatlinburg was also pretty easy-going, and we decided to park in the garage at light 3 in Gatlinburg. I initially thought about trying to lurk down River Road to nab a spot for free but after being in traffic, I quickly nixed that idea and suddenly didn’t mind paying a few dollars for parking.

It was a bit weird knowing we weren’t going to be in town long; everything is so familiar, it feels natural to be there–like it would if we were living here, and I was running into places picking up our favorite things, which we were actually. We walked past Anakeesta noting the progress they were making; they are planning on opening next month, but stay tuned if that doesn’t materialize. I had forgotten about the Craftsmen’s Fair going on at the Convention Center, so I told my son I wanted to check it out. Well, here’s this: I also forgot that it was $7 to get in, and I found that out as I was attempting to walk into the gymnasium. Oh well, I couldn’t justify spending the money if all I wanted to do was see who was there–and did I mention we were…STARVING!

Our planned destination was Smoky Mountain Brewery–not an unfamiliar place to us, but a place we hadn’t eaten at in two years. We got seated right away, and I wanted to try some of their new craft beers as part of my sampler and some old favorites. I wasn’t a big fan of the citrus, which I believe Josh–our fantastic server–described as a summer shandy, but the other one, which is one of their IPA’s, was very good. I also had to have two of their mainstays, which are my go-to brews: Cherokee Red and Helles.

 

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Personal pizza with garlic roasted tomatoes and green peppers at Smoky Mountain Brewery

 

 

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5 beer sampler at the Brewery

 

My son and I decided to get personal pizzas, which provided us the luxury of each of us getting what we wanted on our pizzas. Zac ordered a pepperoni, and I opted for a new topping–garlic roasted tomatoes–and green peppers. I had never before ordered garlic roasted tomatoes on a pizza before due to the fact we don’t have that option at our pizzerias at home. I like tomatoes but these were so flavorful and went super well with the peppers, sauce, cheese, and crust. I felt like I was eating the perfect pizza; it was one of the best ones I’ve ever eaten, and I’ve had some good ones in Gatlinburg too–very, very high marks were given. I even gave my son a couple garlic tomatoes for him to try, as he can be quite picky, and even he gave it a big thumbs up–maybe even higher praise there. I was also happy to meet Bobby Fricks, who does all the social media for Copper Cellar Restaurants. He does a fantastic job and is one of the reasons why I have continued to maintain my social media presence. My hat’s off to you, sir! Wait…I don’t wear hats, oh well, thanks anyway.

So after a very tasty and memorable experience at the Brewery, it was time to run our errands for gathering treats to bring home with us. Chocolate Monkey was first. There we bought my wife’s favorite fudge, Monkey Butter, along with the ones Zac and I decided to buy: Cookies and Cream and Peanut Butter Pie. Chocolate Monkey has great fudge and you get one block free when you buy two. They also have a VIP card, which we have, that gives you 10% off as well. All you have to do is ask for one; we have had ours for several years. Everyone in there is super nice–including the manager who is a familiar face in here every time we go.

 

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Our favorite place for ice cream and fudge

 

Of course, no visit to Gatlinburg should be made without stopping at The Donut Friar. No surprises here with what we bought for the road. I will say that these donuts are still good and still seem fresh after 3 days–that’s right, you heard me…3 DAYS! Our local donut place has very good donuts, and they are not edible after just a day.

Unfortunately, with just the few hours we had, there were no moonshine tastings, no Crockett’s Breakfast, no hiking, and no, well…time. Still, we enjoyed our three hours. Heck, any time being in our happy place for any amount of time is good enough for us. I hope you enjoyed my latest edition of Gatlinburg NOW. You all know I will have another post sometime soon. Thanks for reading!

Crockett’s Breakfast Camp Offers a Unique and Amazing Breakfast Experience

Are you burnt out on Pancake Houses in the Smokies?

Do you want a hearty breakfast with plenty of options?…and good prices?

Do you just want something…a little different?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, then I believe you may want to give Crockett’s Breakfast Camp a try in Gatlinburg. I have eaten here with my family eleven times total in the four years it’s been open, and it has become our number one option for breakfast when we are on vacation in Gatlinburg. We love everything there is to offer at Crockett’s, and I’d like to explain why you should try them.

Ambiance

The restaurant exists as an homage to David C. “Crockett” Maples, a soldier and frontiersman, whose story can be found here. Inside the restaurant is a recreation of a mountain camp that he might have survived in during harsh winters in the nineteenth century Smoky Mountains. The seating inside is made of wooden benches with longer ones to accommodate larger groups of people. While inside, you can hear the sweet sounds of bluegrass music that further enhances the feeling of being in a mountain-style camp. I also can’t forget about something that is unique to Crockett’s in contrast to other traditional breakfast establishments–the menu. It is basically a newspaper that you can take with you that bears the name of what Gatlinburg used to be called: White Oak Flats Daily Post. It is dated Wednesday, November 24, 1886, and it features a few short articles of true Smokies stories of the past. These stories are on the front and back of the paper, while the menu is page 2 and 3 on the inside–pretty cool, right.

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Service

The service we have received has been nothing short of excellent each and every time we visit. We recognize a few of the servers as having been there on our very first visits, so that should tell you what they think about working there as well. We see it in their faces even when we usually arrive at shortly after 7, which is when they open their doors for business. The cooks are usually very fast, as our food never arrives much more than five minutes after we order. They even have a small area with retail items for sale, and they will help you decide which souvenir you want to buy if you’ve enjoyed everything as much as we have. I finally broke down and bought a handmade pottery mug for my morning coffee on our last trip. Last year I purchased a T-shirt from the shop that I proudly wear back here in Ohio.

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Food and Price

Now let me tell you, you better have an appetite when you visit Crockett’s Breakfast Camp, because it will more than likely keep you from eating anything else tempting you on the Parkway until dinner…or maybe even the entire day. I’ve talked in previous posts about Crockett’s only briefly, but I can’t emphasize how tasty everything is. You can have a giant Cathead Biscuit with your choice of meat, cheese, and egg with corn pone and a side of your choice for just $5.95–a steal if you ask anyone who’s been here. The skillets–one of which I had on our very first visit–have in them a meat entree, eggs, grits, biscuit, another side, and an Aretha Frankenstein Pancake, which is every bit as big as it sounds; it’s an inch thick and is made with cornmeal, so you’re basically eating a super-sized piece of cornbread.

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I’ve had a different menu item every time we’ve visited, and I can say they are very diverse in their selection. Last spring I enjoyed what could be described as more of a Mexican dish: Crockett’s Breakfast Quesadilla which is 3 scrambled eggs, cheddar and jack cheese, Pico de gallo and smoked bacon grilled in a flour tortilla; and it’s served with refried beans and Mexican rice. This meal filled me up more than any meal I’ve eaten here, and it was only $8.95. The skillets which I mentioned earlier vary from $11.95 at their cheapest to $14.95, and that’s only because your main entree is Rainbow Trout–more proof of how diversified they are with the menu.

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One of my favorite menu items is actually their waffles. I’ve had three of the five waffle offerings (that’s a mouthful–pun intended), and those are all in the $8-$9 range. Here is a list of all the toppings you can order on–or in–your waffle: strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, pecans, bananas, bacon, Fuji apples and cinnamon candies–even Greek yogurt and granola; let’s even throw in a side of caramel sauce for good measure (once again, pun intended). So…are you hungry yet. Wait…I know you want me to mention their cinnamon rolls which you can hungrily gaze at them making in the window when you walk inside. That’s right, you won’t believe how good–and how huge they are. My wife and I believe we will never eat another cinnamon roll as good as Crockett’s makes…EVER!

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I can honestly say there is only one menu item I won’t order off the menu–and that is their eggs benedict. Yes, that’s right, they also make these ranging from $8-$10, and they include: White Oak Flats Eggs Benedict, Corned Beef Hash Benedict, and Florentine Benedict. I only like my eggs scrambled so if this sounds like something you might enjoy too, their menu is online here.

Final Thoughts

I believe if you look on any restaurant review site, Crockett’s Breakfast Camp is either number one–or one of the highest rated restaurant in the Pancake Heaven that is Gatlinburg. I actually think very highly of Pancake Pantry and Log Cabin Pancake House; however, if you want a one-of-a-kind experience that I believe is unmatched, then I recommend you try Crockett’s Breakfast Camp for an all-around fantastic breakfast.

Don’t be afraid to like my post if you enjoyed this review. I am on Facebook and Twitter as well as Instagram. Thanks for reading, and I will return with another post soon!

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