I’m happy to have Tio Wally (long-time Me So Hungry reader) aboard to send in his eating adventures from across America. Here he is in Lebanon, Tennessee.
Greetings from Lebanon, Tennessee
N 36° 11.084′ W 086° 16.051′ Elev. 595 ft.
Over 4,000 coffee mugs adorn the walls of Uncle Pete’s Restaurant. The collection began when truck drivers began bringing mugs to Uncle Pete, starting in 1955 or so. Because the collection is so large, the proprietor of Uncle Pete’s has a dream of one day getting into the Guinness Book of World Records. I don’t know if Uncle Pete is still alive but I do know this: If the man has gone to that great ceramic mug showroom in the sky it would unequivocally prove the adage “You can’t take it (4,000+ coffee mugs) with you.”
Although I generally avoid truck stop-type places — too many damn trucks! — I’ve taken to parking/sleeping at Pete’s Restaurant and Truck Stop when I’m in the neighborhood. It’s a puny, funky old place and, thus, pretty quiet.
On this particular day I woke up really hungry and decided I’d finally try the restaurant even though its food is touted as “Real Home Cookin’” or some such; I tend to be extremely wary of anything advertised as “home cooking” because I don’t know whose home it’s referring to.
As luck would have it the home cookin’ at Pete’s is quite good. Even though I ordered standard breakfast foods, there was ample opportunity to screw it up. But my eggs were perfectly cooked and, more so, they actually knew how to make grits!
I have a thing about grits. I love ‘em. But most places don’t have a clue as to how to make them. And for reasons known only to the NSA and, perhaps, The Flying Spaghetti Monster, Georgians are the worst makers of grits on the planet. More often than not grits are served either with the consistency of watery, gulag-worthy gruel or a sticky clomp of impenetrable gloop. But Pete’s were perfect.
(I don’t know where I got the idea but whenever I made grits I’d make extra, take the leftovers and put them in a dish lined with plastic wrap (they’ll stick like super glue to any surface) and put them in the refrigerator uncovered. The idea is to let the moisture evaporate; overnight works. Then I cut it up into my favorite shape and fry it just as you would polenta. I usually put a dash of salt on it if they were plain, though I’ve pre-made them with butter and sugar mixed in as well. Though I never got around to doing it I suspect they’d also be great with chopped green onion and minced celery or whatever mixed in.)
I ordered Mama’s Choice, the “Uncle Pete’s Breakfast”: three eggs, grits, sliced tomatoes, biscuits and gravy, hash browns, and two pork chops ($8.99). As I said, the over-easy eggs were perfect. But the gravy was kind of disgusting: no sausage, no flavor, just a bunch of white corn-starch goo masquerading as a food. (It’s unfair that I critique biscuits and gravy, I think. I have a sister who, though not professionally trained, is a world-class cook and baker, so I know what biscuits and gravy are supposed to taste like. I’m spoiled.) And the hash browns were kind of greasy with margarine prep. But the biscuits were passable, and the thin-cut pork chops perfect.
A real treat, curiously, were the tomatoes. While they weren’t garden fresh or anything, the thick-sliced fruit was flavorful and … who’d a’thunk of serving sliced tomatoes at breakfast? Uncle Pete? His Mama? I dunno. Nevertheless, lightly salted they were very tasty and very, very refreshing.
Although it was a lot of food I nearly ate it all. Thankfully, I had the good sense not to overeat and take a biscuit, a cut-to-fit piece of pork chop and a tomato slice and make a pork chop-and-tomato biscuit for later. And it was good.
As I was leaving Uncle Pete’s I noticed a sign (no picture, sorry) that read “Spring is in the air …” announcing that Vegetable #7 of the side choices was deep fried green beans, nine to an order! I thought that sounded good, perhaps they’d be tempura or beer battered or something.
I also noticed another sign at the entry that read “Breakfast Specials Served Anytime: $3.99 and up”. Per my usual modus operandi I’d asked about specials when I first sat down: “No specials on Sundays,” the waitress said, “Sorry.” Evidently Sundays don’t qualify as “anytime.” C’est la vie.
And so we roll.
Uncle Pete’s Restaurant and Truck Stop, 1210 Sparta Parkway (I-40 Exit 239), Lebanon, Tennessee
Tio Wally pilots the 75-foot, 40-ton(max) land yacht SS Me So Hungry. He reports on road food from around the country whenever parking and InterTube connections permit.