Honoring local restaurants for consistent service, food quality and/or unique dining experiences.
BIGHT OF THE BEND JACKSON COUNTY | 106 E. Hull Ave., Gainesboro | (931) 361-1601
Bight of the Bend may be Gainesboro’s best-kept secret, but once word spreads about its mouth- watering barbecue, it might not stay that way for long.
Kent Birdwell, a Jackson County native with a banking background, opened the eatery in 2013, not long after moving back to his hometown following years abroad, largely in humanitarian efforts. The menu – clean, straightforward and simple, with only six or seven regular items – is inspired by the recipes, people and cultures he experienced along the way.
“Everything is homemade and fresh,” Birdwell said. “More and more people talk about how much they love my food. It’s not your everyday barbecue, but they love the flavor of the ribs, the rub and my barbecue sauces. It makes you feel good.”
That’s not to say learning the restaurant business has been easy, especially given Bight’s unique formula. Birdwell, a financial analyst by day, only operates the Bend on Friday and Saturday nights. Traffic is sometimes unpredictable. Food is prepared daily, so Birdwell says reservations are strongly encouraged.
“It just goes back and forth,” Birdwell said. “A lot of Gainesboro folks are supporting me now, but I still run into people (locally) who’ve never heard of me. I’ve been advertising more, and that seems to have helped a lot.
“It has been quite fun, especially the last six months, with the crowds,” he added. “I wanted this to be a place where families and friends come and enjoy really good food as a group. And in a cozy, festive atmosphere, and it seems that’s what it’s turning into.”
CRAWDADDY’S WEST SIDE GRILL PUTNAM COUNTY | 53 W. Broad St., Cookeville | (931) 526-4660
Cookeville may have more restaurant options than ever before, but Crawdaddy’s West Side Grill continues to stand the test of time. Sales have steadily improved since owners Drew Blalock and Blue Hensley took over operations in 2008. This year, business is up 11.4 percent.
“We really encourage people to eat local,” Blalock said. “Everyone likes to talk about all the restaurants in Cookeville, and there’s so many great places to eat. We’re just happy to be a part of it.”
Menu must-tries at the New Orleans-themed eatery include the carpet bagger filet, an 8-ounce, center cut tenderloin topped with lump crab cream sauce; Garden District medallions, topped with a Madeira wine cream sauce; California sea bass, grilled and served with a lemon basil cream sauce; and many, many more. Blalock said they’re also planning to roll out a new menu. Stay tuned.
BULL AND THISTLE JACKSON COUNTY | 102 S. Main St., Gainesboro | (931) 268-7170
Bull & Thistle has quickly become a culinary success. Since its 2013 debut in downtown Gainesboro, the restaurant has established itself as a destination location – and owners Diana Mandli and Loui Silvestri have the data to prove it. Upward of 80 percent of guests come from outside Jackson County. Another 15 percent drive between an hour and an hour and a half to dine, according to survey data.
So what are all those out of towners eating? During any given weekend, between 60-80 orders of the porterhouse T-bone steak, cooked Cajun style; the Bull & Thistle filet; around 1,200 plates of fish and chips a year; and another Celtic go-to, bangers and mash.
“It takes a restaurant of this size, even in the best locations, three years to really start getting its feet,” Silvestri said. “It’s been a little bit over two years, and we’re pretty much on track with that, and when you consider we’re in a remote location, that’s pretty remarkable.”
Make room for more: Neighboring boutique, The Vault, which Mandli and Silvestri also opened as part of their Gainesboro revitalization efforts, will transition into an emporium, selling soups, cheeses, breads and more, all from the Bull kitchen.
Big picture, Mandli and Silvestri continue to work to make Gainesboro a culinary destination. Coupled with the addition of fellow Ovation Award-winner Bight of the Bend, located just steps away, it certainly seems possible.
“We’re encouraging both the chamber and city council to provide as many incentives as possible to bring other restaurants to the area, now that they know it’s viable,” Silvestri said. “Customers should have a choice, whether that’s Italian food, Asian, whatever. At this point, we’re hoping to see an expansion of that.”
JOHN’S PLACE PUTNAM COUNTY | 11 Gibson Ave., Cookeville
Not too many restaurants can boast such a historic legacy. But John’s Place, a National Register of Historic Places addition in 2011, has certainly stood the test of time.
Originally established in 1949 as Ed’s Place, a grocery store and restaurant that served Southern fixings like fried chicken, catfish, corn bread and biscuits, it played a major role in local African-American history.
Today, the unassuming cinderblock building still serves up its signature John Dog, a hot dog steamed in beer and dressed with homemade relish, which remains a top- secret family recipe to this day. Visit after 6 p.m. on a Wednesday you’ll be served a typical country meal.
“Everything is made from scratch,” owner Mary Alice McClellan said.
FOGLIGHT FOODHOUSE WHITE COUNTY | 275 Powerhouse Road, Walling | (931) 657-2364
It’s business as usual at the Foglight Foodhouse, another off-the-beaten- path eatery serving the Upper Cumberland. The restaurant, located in Walling on the banks of the Caney Fork River, is best known for its eclectic decorum, menu and mood.
Foglight fans certainly have their favorite dishes, but new items have been added, too. Among the most popular: The Bleu Winged Olive, a rainbow trout dish; an oyster appetizer called The Fried Wally; and Darling Billy Bread, thick, toasted French bread with goat cheese, clover honey and sea salt.
Another addition this year is The Back Porch Beer Bar, which opens at 4 p.m. Fridays and 3 p.m. Saturdays for guests in waiting. Chef and owner Edward Philpot said it was a project “long in the making.”
“We did a trial run last summer, and it was a huge success,” he said. “Having a permanent (bar) was a clear decision.”
Philpot says he expects continued strong, organic growth. Business was up 15 percent last year, and he anticipates a more than 20 percent uptick in 2015.
About the awards
The Upper Cumberland’s annual Ovation Awards honor the top businesses and individuals in the region. Among the 29 total awardees in 2015, 20 are first timers. Ovations were awarded in seven categories overall, including:
- Spirit of Entrepreneurship
- Excellence in Manufacturing
- Excellence in Tourism Promotion
- Best Individual Citizen/Excellence in Leadership
- Favorite Restaurant
- Favorite Retail Establishment
- Excellence in Professional Services
Ovation Award winners are nominated by Upper Cumberland Business Journal readers and selected by the UCBJ staff. The awards were first founded in 2008.