ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
Photo by Anne Braly / A dinner of fried catfish, baked potato, turnip greens and corn muffins at the Dunlap Restaurant.

I've had grits cakes in New York City, pimiento cheese in Minneapolis and even Southern pecan pie at a hoity-toity bakery in Marin County, California. But to be truly Southern, food needs to have a sense of place. Dunlap Restaurant, just over the mountain in Sequatchie County, checks all the boxes — a small-town eatery that welcomes strangers as if they were family, serves meals starting at 5:30 in the morning and has a menu fitting for the clientele it serves.

(READ MORE: Photos: Independence Day 2022 in Dunlap)

 

THE MENU

The doors open early for a classic country breakfast — hash browns, biscuits and made-from-scratch gravy, country ham and eggs, stacks of pancakes and even an impressive waffle made with malted milk powder and topped with strawberries and whipped cream, if you want it.

The lunch menu, also available at dinner, features plates of meat-and-three choices and daily specials, as one would expect of a Southern restaurant. There's also a choice of sandwiches from burgers and barbecue to Philly cheesesteak, corn dogs and chicken filet.

The choices expand at dinner to include a number of fried options, from seafood to chicken, along with several steaks, a hot roast beef platter, grilled pork chops and spaghetti.

Photo Gallery

Dunlap Restaurant is the quintessential small-town draw

 

 

THE ORDER

There's perhaps no dining experience more quintessentially Southern than chowing down on a big platter of fried catfish. There's an art to making good catfish, and that involves having a good balance between breading and fish. Some restaurants overdo the former so the taste of the latter is lost in all the breading.

Dunlap Restaurant has figured out that perfect balance, serving two large fillets on a plate with a choice of two sides and corn muffins or hush puppies. I chose a baked potato, turnip greens and corn muffins. The baked potato was outstanding — large and very tender inside, served with tubes of sour cream and those little tubs or margarine with no taste. The greens, though well cooked, needed more seasoning.

 

THE SERVICE

Service is as sweet as the tea that fills glasses from table to table. My server was prompt and took my order quickly, delivering hot catfish and a steaming baked potato wrapped in its foil jacket in under 15 minutes. I didn't need a refill on my water, but I did ask for cocktail sauce rather than the tubes of tartar sauce that come with the catfish, and, of course, more sour cream for the baked potato. No problem.

If you go

— Where: Dunlap Restaurant, 17238 Rankin Ave., Dunlap, Tennessee

— Hours: 5:30 a.m.-7:30 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 5:30 a.m.-8 p.m. Friday-Saturday, 6 a.m.-7 p.m. Sunday (all times Central)

— Price range: $3.75-$9.25 (breakfast), $2.99-$19.50 (lunch and dinner).

— Alcohol: No

— Phone: 423-949-2595

— Online: thedunlaprestaurant.com

 

THE SPACE

Dunlap Restaurant is not a fancy place. It's a brick building that fronts busy Rankin Avenue (old State Highway 8), the main drag through town. Inside, the cinderblock walls are painted white, and there are several black vinyl booths and tables, along with stools at a counter. Vinyl tablecloths in a green-and-white checkerboard pattern cover the tables. The place has the feel of a diner, minus the grill and fry station typical of diners. There's a room off to one side filled with extra tables, something I would imagine the restaurant needs for overflow crowds when the daily special is an all-you-can-eat fish fry.

The restaurant, though old, is clean, though a good sweeping to pick up dropped paper napkins and straw wrappers was needed.

(READ MORE: This couple is restoring buildings, revitalizing downtown Dunlap)

 

THE VERDICT

Dunlap Restaurant has been around for going on 60 years, so obviously they're doing something right. It's just over Flat Top Mountain, a beautiful drive along Highway 111 that, as you come off the mountain headed into Dunlap, offers stunning views of Sequatchie Valley.

Contact Anne Braly at abraly@timesfreepress.com or annebraly.com.

ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT