Oct 7, 2020

A commoner dines at the Smoky Mountain Trout House, Gatlinburg, Tenn.

Before Pigeon Forge and Dollywood became tourist phenomena, there was Gatlinburg,Tenn.  As the closest town nestled in a valley just before you reach Smoky Mountain National Park on the Tennessee side, perhaps Gatlinburg was long ago destined to be – and remains – a huge family tourist destination, even if it seems overloaded today with cheesy artificial attractions designed mainly to take your money (e.g., Ripley’s Believe It Or Not, a space needle, and a museum devoted to salt and pepper shakers).  

The scenery in and around Gatlinburg, however, remains undeniably beautiful and, at times, breathtaking.  And fortunately, there are still enough places to go in town that pre-date most of today’s tourist traps, where you get a genuine sense of downhome hospitality. 

We were very fortunate to find such a place for dinner on our first night in town – the Smoky Mountain Trout House.

Coming south from Pigeon Forge, if there’s an intersection that signifies your arrival in downtown Gatlinburg, it’s where U.S. Highway 321 comes to a T and intersects with U.S. 441.  The Smoky Mountain Trout House is mere steps north of this intersection, with its building seemingly nestled into the roadside scenery.  

The traffic is heavy all hours of the day here, so use appropriate caution.  However, there’s a small parking lot with several spaces devoted to the Trout House across the street, a rarity for any business in downtown Gatlinburg given the scarcity of real estate.

Aside from its appearance of naturally fitting in with the landscape, the Smoky Mountain Trout House appealed to me specifically because of its menu, which I had studied online while researching our family trip to Pigeon Forge and the surrounding area.  If you like trout – and I do – your choices here are plentiful.  And if you don’t usually eat trout, well … you should probably try the trout here anyway.  The steak and chicken options are pretty minimal. 

Once inside, you might feel a little stuck in the 1970s, but I found the interior to feel appropriately rustic for a restaurant largely devoted to one of America’s favorite fresh fishes. 

In addition to the stuffed trout mounted or dangling from the ceiling, the fireplace gives the place a nice, cozy vibe. 

As we were among the first diners to arrive for the evening the service was especially prompt and welcoming, and before long we had a platter of fries and hush puppies to munch on in advance of our entrees …

… which were also complemented by some truly delightful creamy cole slaw and easily the best sweet tea we had in the Gatlinburg/Pigeon Forge area (trust me, we tried it everywhere we went!).

The trout, of course, was every bit as good as one would hope.  They’ve been cooking it her since 1975, so you wouldn’t expect otherwise.  I couldn’t resist trying the “Old Smoky” and was instantly glad I did.  It was a nice-sized whole fish, hickory smoked, and its insides lined with bacon bits.  A little squirt from a fresh lemon further enhanced the super moist flavor of the fish.  A side of sauteed mushrooms and onions comes with the "Old Smoky," which you can slide right onto the trout or simply enjoy “as is.”  Either way, it’s a perfect pairing with the smoked fish.  It should come as no surprise that I had emptied my plate by the time I was finished eating – skin and all.        

Punky went with a simpler preparation – a blackened trout paired with a baked potato that would compare well with any steakhouse offering – and she might have enjoyed her entrée almost as much as I did mine.   Even the Kiddo was happy with her order, and she is by no means a fan of trout.  But she was able to load up on one of her favorite vegetables available on the appetizer menu – the fried okra.  When combined with the soup of the day, a stuffed red pepper soup, she had a complete and satisfying meal.   

After one visit, it’s easy to see why the Smoky Mountain Trout House has such a devoted following.  People seek this place out every time they visit Gatlinburg because the food is good, the experience is authentic and the folks running the place are seem to put their heart into every meal.  If you’re looking for a place to dine in Gatlinburg before or after hitting the busy downtown strip, this is it. 

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