Stone-ground grains for the baked goods served at two restaurants here come from an historic gristmill right next door.
story & photos by Bakery Boy
Talk about fresh ingredients! Much of the grains used in the bakery and kitchens for two restaurants at Old Mill Square in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, come from an 1830 gristmill still in use a stone’s throw away. Not that anyone would throw one of the massive 2,000-pound granite millstones that reduce whole wheat and corn to flour, cornmeal, and grits—stones turned by a giant waterwheel rigged to harness the Little Pigeon River.
Head baker Jay Connatser and his crew work in a corner of the Old Mill Pottery House Café & Grille, a corner that just happens to include floor-to-ceiling windows with a view of the nearby mill. “We get fresh flour delivered regularly from where it was milled just a couple of hundred feet away,” Jay says as he pulls large and aromatic loaves from the oven. “As an artisan baker, I like the sound of that, and our customers seem to appreciate it too.”
At the Pottery House Café and the adjacent Old Mill Restaurant, a pair of country-style family places popular with visitors to the nearby Great Smoky Mountains, the biscuits, corn bread, pancakes, hush puppies, muffins, grits, and breads all include fresh-milled grains. The bakery also produces terrific pies (coconut cream, chocolate pecan, lemon meringue, peanut butter), rich layer cakes (carrot, chocolate), daily quiches (one with meat, one all vegetables), as well as brownies, cookies, and other goodies.
“Besides supplying the two restaurants and a retail counter so people can take our baked goods home, we also get to experiment,” Jay says enthusiastically. “I came up with the olive bread used for the pimiento sandwiches. Fellow bakers designed the focaccia, onion-rye, cranberry-walnut, and some of the other loaves we make.”
TOUR THE MILL Whether you go before or after eating at one of the restaurants or just check it out while passing through, it’s worthwhile to tour The Old Mill & General Store. You’ll see antique equipment—an ingenious system of shafts, belts, millstones, pulleys, grain elevators, chutes, and sifters—still in working order. For 180 years millers have filled, weighed, and tied each sack by hand, stacking bags of yellow and white grits, cornmeal, a variety of flours, and pancake mix. These travel a few feet to the store, a few yards to sibling restaurants, or thousands of miles to anywhere by post. Tours start in the mill store; call 865-453-4628 for details.
LIKE ’EM? BUY ’EM! The beautifully turned, glazed, and fired plates, bowls, salt-and-pepper shakers, and other serving pieces at Old Mill Square’s restaurants—and even the bathroom sinks—are handcrafted at adjacent Old Mill Pigeon River Pottery. Buy some to take some home if you like.
IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD Pigeon Forge is clearly a tourists’ town geared toward entertaining visitors who come to be near the Great Smoky Mountains National Park (just south of town) but who don’t particularly care to spend much time outdoors. Attractions include…
Dollywood amusement park
- Dixie Stampede dinner rodeo
- Elvis Museum tributes to the King
- WonderWorks scientific marvels
- Belz Outlets factory discount shops
Live-performance theaters more than a dozen featuring music, comedy, inspiration, mystery, and magic shows
- Titanic a detailed partial re-creation of the doomed ocean-liner
These represent just the tip of the iceberg (chilling Titanic reference intended). For a complete rundown of what’s available check with the Pigeon Forge Department of Tourism at www.mypigeonforge.com or 1-800-251-9100.
LOCATION Old Mill Square, 175 Old Mill Avenue, Pigeon Forge, TN 37868; 30 miles southeast of Knoxville. From U.S. 441, the main north-south route in town, turn east at Traffic Light #7 (they’re numbered for direction-giving convenience) and go three short blocks.
HOURS The Old Mill Restaurant is open 7:30 a.m.-9 p.m. daily; 865-429-3463. The Old Mill Pottery House Café & Grille serves lunch 11 a.m.-4 p.m. daily, dinner 4-8 p.m. Sun-Thu and 4-9 p.m. Fri-Sat; 865-453-6002.
INFO www.oldmillsquare.com or 865-428-0771