Ovation 2014: Favorite Restaurant

Honoring local restaurants for consistent service, food quality and/or unique dining experiences. 



Smith County

When Timberloft owners Donna and Kevin Jones were looking for lessons in how to best slow smoke a brisket – so that it would be perfectly juicy, moist and tender – they hightailed it to Texas. Even with a background in corporate kitchens, the Jones’ wanted to establish their own unique flavor. Those lessons seem to be paying off. Timberloft is now 17 years running as a favorite “upscale-casual” restaurant in Gordonsville in Smith County.

“We strive to make the highest quality food,” Donna said. “We don’t have to bow down to some corporate entity when it comes to keeping our numbers a certain way. We go for what we really want to present, which is really good food in a really nice atmosphere.”

Diners are usually a mixture of locals and I-40 travelers alike. They come for the ribs, brisket – which is self- proclaimed as the best in the South – smoked prime rib, and everything in between. There’s even an on-site pastry chef who whips up “yummy” desserts. And on Sunday nights, patrons also come for the live music scene. Most recently, singer/songwriters have been invited to the restaurant to play, offering an alternative to the stereotypical “loud, noisy bar scene.”

“You can go to Nashville and hear music all day along, but you’re usually in a bar atmosphere, where it’s super loud,” Donna said. “This is more personal.”

470 Gordonsville Highway

Gordonsville, TN (615) 683-5070




White County

A five-time Ovation Award winner for “Favorite Restaurant,” there’s not much to say about Foglight Foodhouse that hasn’t already been said.

That doesn’t mean there haven’t been changes. In the last several months, the Foglight has increased its outdoor seating, added an outdoor walk-up bar and put more beers on tap. The food is as mouth-watering as ever, and staples like parmesan stuffed mushrooms, cowboy lollipops and catfish continue to be crowd pleasers.

“The current menu is probably fundamentally the most solid, customer-driven menu of hot sellers we have ever had,” said owner Edward Philpot. “It’s essentially an amalgamation all of the best selling entrees we’ve ever had plus some of the nightly specials we’ve come up with over the years. Every item is a big seller. I’ve got nothing that’s a slow mover or low in profit margin.”

But if you’re looking for Philpot’s go-to’s in particular, try the smoked lemon rainbow trout, salmon Savannah – or anything Cajun. “Our best selling entrees are the Cajun stuff,” he said. “If we got rid of Cajun, we’d go out of business.”

275 Powerhouse Road

Walling, TN (931) 657-2364

Warren County

To say you serve the best barbecue in Warren County is quite a bold proclamation, but Joe and Chris O’Neal, owners of Collins River BBQ & Café, are standing their ground.

Entrees include pulled pork, smoked wings, pork loin, prime-rib, smoked turkeys, hams, chicken, cowboy lollipops and chicken wraps, served with either potato salad, baked beans, coleslaw, casseroles, baked cinnamon apples, corn soufflé, cornbread salad, pasta salad or green beans. Delectable desserts include cheesecakes, pies, cobblers and brownies.

And to top it off? A cold Calfkiller beer to wash it all down.

117 E. Main St.

McMinnville, TN (931) 507-3663



Putnam County

Fajitas are always a top-selling favorite at El Tapatio. The restaurant was the first Mexican restaurant in Cookeville when it opened in 1992, a time when “Restaurant Row didn’t even exist,” said Maria Alvarez. El Tap added two more locations over the years, one in Sparta in the late 90s and a second Cookeville eatery around 2005. Around 100 are employed in all.

“We stay busy all the time at all three locations,” Alvarez said. “Sales are steady. We’ve never had our sales go down. We are thankful people have come to our business all these years.”

900 S. Jefferson Ave.

Cookeville, TN (931) 372-0246



Jackson County

The Bull & Thistle is still very much a newcomer to the Upper Cumberland restaurant scene, but no matter – its unique menu, laid-back vibe and live music are bringing in both new and repeat customers in just the first full year of business. The pub opened in March 2013 after two years of renovation. But today, that historic downtown Gainesboro locale is a showroom for small-town charm. Not to be overshadowed, the menu features Celtic cuisine prepared by five-star authentic Irish chef Barry O’Connor.

“We continue to be amazed by the warmth and hospitality of our friends and neighbors in Jackson County, and love being here,” staff members said. “It’s a thrill to meet guests who drive to the pub from all parts of Tennessee, Kentucky and often farther to enjoy Chef Barry’s cuisine. Here’s to many more years in historic downtown Gainesboro.”

102 S. Main St.

Gainesboro, TN (931) 268-7170


Putnam County

In January 2013, Drew Blalock and Blue Hensley reached a milestone in their ownership of Crawdaddy’s West Side Grill, a New Orleans-themed restaurants that’s been a mainstay on Cookeville’s West Side. Five years at the helm – and the future looks bright. Even with the addition of several other eateries in the immediate area in recent years, from Father Tom’s, Seven Senses, West Side Deli, World Foods and more.

“There are a lot of things happening on the West Side, and a lot of people have asked, ‘have all these new restaurants popping up around you hurt you any?’ But it’s not hurt us at all; it’s actually helped us,” Blalock said. “It’s brought a lot more people to the area.”

Sales are up 265 percent from the end of 2007 to the end of 2013. The restaurant features a menu that’s “literally got something for everybody.” Popular dishes include Garden District medallions, topped with a Madeira wine cream sauce; the carpet bagger filet, an 8-ounce, center cut tenderloin topped with lump crab cream sauce; California sea bass, grilled and served with a lemon basil cream sauce; and many, many more.

Blalock attributes the growth to the staff.

“We have great people working here, and also, there are great people who walk in the front door,” Blalock said. “Our job’s pretty easy; it doesn’t feel like we’re coming to work. It almost feels like you’re just coming home, and you’re the host of the party.”

53 W. Broad St., Cookeville

(931) 526-4660

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Liz Engel is the editor of the Upper Cumberland Business Journal. She can be reached at liz@ucbjournal.com

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