Mountain City Tile owner Brian McClure had always dreamed of opening a restaurant, a dream he fulfilled in late February with the opening of Mountain City Café in Middle Valley.
Inspired by restaurants McClure had visited in Gatlinburg, Tenn., Mountain City Café blends the charm of a mountain town eatery with the wholesome feel of a family-friendly Sunday lunch spot.
He said cook Tracy Bennett, who holds a culinary degree from Johnson and Wales and is well-known in the area from the kitchens of other local restaurants, was his first choice in running Mountain City.
"I don't rely on [knowledge from culinary school] too much," said Bennett. "I cook like I eat at home."
"I believe he could cook an old boot if he could marinate it," said McClure.
Bennett said the restaurant serves "beefed up country cooking," a blend of his Polish upbringing with his newfound Southern roots.
His specialty is his fried shrimp, which Bennett said is owing to his use of domestic shrimp as opposed to Asian varieties coated in a very light, crunchy coating that lets the shrimp's flavor shine through.
"People come from everywhere to eat his shrimp," said McClure.
The restaurant's hand-cut chicken fingers are made using the same batter and have become one of Mountain City's best-selling items, said Bennett.
Other popular dishes thus far include comfort-food favorites such as meatloaf and chicken and dumplings. Bennett said his surprise hits are his homemade soups, which many people order to eat in combination with the restaurant's full salad bar. While he typically cooks based on instinct rather than from a recipe, he said he now writes down what he puts in his soups because customers have started to put in requests for their favorites.
In addition to regular menu items, the restaurant also features daily entrée specials which include chicken pot pie on Wednesdays and catfish on Fridays, as well as special sides such as pork pot roast with glazed cabbage.
"We try to appeal to everyone and mix it up, keep a little variety," Bennett said.
Mountain City recently added breakfast to its offerings, and Bennett said his pancakes are already drawing raves.
"They can't figure out what's in them," he said, refusing to reveal his secret ingredient.
Another unique dish is the Redneck Eggs Benedict, an open-face English muffin topped with smoked ham, cheddar, two poached eggs and Bennett's extra-cheesy take on hollandaise.
McClure's mother is responsible for Mountain City's made-from-scratch desserts such as the gooey chocolate Coca-Cola Cake.