Ovation 2012: Favorite Restaurant
Liz Engel Clark
Friday, Jul 6, 2012
Putnam County, international grocery and delicatessen
Sharon DeFosche, owner of World Foods in Cookeville, isn’t shy when it comes to bragging about her restaurant’s pizza. But let’s not forget about the mouth-watering Reuben, freshly-baked bread and made-from-scratch gyro. When it comes to the food here, it’s all about high quality for a great price.
The DeFosches first started their restaurant back in 1999 but sold the business in 2002. Since they were owners of that historic and cozy North Cedar Street building, they jumped at the chance to bring World Foods back when the storefront became vacant in 2011.
Today, their loyal customers are sure glad to return to the ambient, old-world eating place.
“The community has been really wonderful in welcoming us back,” DeFosche said. “It feels like we’re long, lost friends.”
While the menu contains the freshest of the fresh, the grocery offers specialty-ordered items from around the world – items not found anywhere else. In essence, that’s exactly why they started the business in the first place.
“We search for good quality ingredients, and that’s what sets us apart,” she said. “Somebody asked me why I would open a business in this economy and my answer was, people still eat, and they like to go out, and we try to give a good value for your dollar.”
22 N. Cedar St., Cookeville
For Gary Prater, it’s always been about barbecue. It was barbecue when he was working at a national chain restaurant – but running a catering business on the side – and it’s still barbecue today, nearly 20 years after he quit that restaurant job to start his own eatery, Prater’s BBQ in Morrison.
In addition to its “Ovation” nod, the eatery has a shelf full of other awards: Tennessee Magazine named Prater’s the “Best BBQ in the State” for the Middle Tennessee region; Rolling Stone magazine said eating at Prater’s BBQ was the No. 1 thing to do at Bonnaroo. Prater’s has been enjoyed by governors, congressmen, even former Vice President Al Gore, Prater said, whose plane would be stocked with BBQ when flying into Nashville.
When you dine, expect the usual suspects of shrimp, catfish, steak and chicken. But, if you want the true blue experience, you’ve got to try the BBQ, babyback ribs and wings. It’s always on the menu.
“Everything is done ourselves,” Prater said. Every rib, for example, is cooked by him personally, and the meats are smoked “slow and low.”
“I just like for it to be unique,” he said. “The recipe I came up with years and years ago, it’s different. You don’t even need sauce with your barbecue.”
As the restaurant nears its 20th anniversary, Prater says he’s looking to share the wealth. The restaurant may start shipping its food all over the United States in the “very, very near future,” he said.
“We just try to get better everyday.”
9576 Manchester Highway, Morrison
Rustic, funky but with a sense of home. That’s the Foglight Foodhouse in a nutshell, a three-time Ovation Award winner for best restaurant.
Not much has changed since we last visited in the way of the menu – there’s still Cajun, fresh seafood and ribeye steaks – but beer sales seem to be picking up steam at the Walling eatery that overlooks the Caney Fork River.
Foglight was the first to sell Calfkiller beer, brewed in nearby Sparta. Now it’s the only place between Knoxville and Mt. Juliet that sells growlers, half-gallon, refillable glass jugs filled with your favorite version of Calfkiller.
While beer is still a growing part of the restaurant’s gross sales – which, in 2011, were up 39 percent over 2010, making it the Foglight’s best year ever – it’s also brought a whole new kind of clientele.
“A lot of people, the only reason they go out to eat is because they can have a few beers, and we weren’t able to capture any of that market before,” said Foglight owner Edward Philpot. “I know for a fact beer sales will be up this year, between 6-10 percent over last year, easily, because it takes awhile for the word to get out.”
All Foglight food is cooked to order, just how the customer wants it. It’s all about making every evening an experience, Philpot said.
“We want people to feel like they’ve gone to somebody’s house and that they’re taken care of,” he said. “I think that translates, not only through the food, but also through the service. As cheesy as this sounds, my customers’ happiness is my absolute No. 1 goal, because that, ultimately, is what makes them want to come back.”
275 Powerhouse Road, Walling
The White Possum Grille
While dining at a restaurant named “White Possum” may seem unsavory to some, rest assured. The name is simply a throwback to some of Middle Tennessee’s country ways.
The White Possum Grille, located in Smithville and adjacent to Center Hill Lake, gets its name from a story dating back to the Prohibition Era, when making and distributing moonshine was illegal. It was current restaurant owner Rawlin Vanatta’s great-grandfather, Sheal Malone, who ran across the “Omen of Doom” in an albino possum and immediately stopped participating in his “trade” out of superstition.
Vanatta based the name of his restaurant on that tale because cooking is a throwback to many other country ways of Middle Tennessee. While dining here, you may also hear the slogan, “Put a shine on it,” – that’s because Vanatta also uses a little moonshine to finish off some of his signature dishes.
The White Possum Grille prides itself on hand-crafted items, such as hand-cut steaks, hand-battered chicken, hand-rolled dumplings and more. There’s also signature dishes like the Shinin’ Flat Iron steak, a New Orleans Swai and the BlackJack Surf and Turf.
“We offer something people would typically go miles to get,” Vanatta said.
“Consistency is the key,” Vanatta added. “We set ourselves apart because we create your meal instead of just throwing something together. We want you to taste with your eyes before you ever taste with your mouth.”
108 W. Walnut St., Smithville
Crawdaddy’s West Side Grill
Since Drew Blalock and Blue Hensley bought Crawdaddy’s West Side Grill in 2008, sales have increased an average of 25 percent each year. And by consistently delivering on the three greatest rules of restaurants – great service, great food and great atmosphere – the future looks bright.
New Orleans-themed, but with something for everybody, their mouth-watering dishes include Garden District medallions, topped with a Madeira wine cream sauce; the Carpet Bagger filet, an 8-ounce, center cut tenderloin topped with lump crab cream sauce; California sea bass, grilled and served with a lemon basil cream sauce; and many, many more.
“Our food is really good,” Blalock said. “I’m proud of what our chefs do in the kitchen, and they take a lot of pride in what they do.
“Service wise, we try to serve people like they’re our friends, not our customers,” he added. “We try to be on a first-name basis, and we enjoy doing that.”
53 W. Broad St., Cookeville
Owner Jon Josephson first opened Spankies as JJ’s Deli back in 1972, focusing on sandwiches and foosball. In the years following, the deli became better known for its pizza, and in the ‘90s, it was molded into the full-service restaurant that it still is today.
Considered the hub of the Cookeville dining scene, Spankies has managed to maintain its loyal following, drawing in an eclectic mix ranging from professionals to college students. Whether they come for the daily food specials, the nightly drink deals or the live music, they’ll always be greeted as friends.
Come for lunch and order a salad or sandwich or come for dinner and enjoy the signature Chicken Stix, Jack Daniel’s chicken or just snack on the spinach artichoke dip. And definitely don’t skimp on the always-available cheese bread.
“Our big thing is local,” manager Steve Jones said. “We are a local restaurant, and there are many other local places in town, and we try to support the community as well.”
203 E. Ninth St., Cookeville
For more than 41 years, Nick’s Restaurant has been a staple in Cookeville, with its wide variety of delicious food, made fresh and kept simple. Signature items include prime rib, hand-breaded fried mushrooms, homemade French onion soup, hand-cut steaks and the famous ice cream pie.
Nick’s also offers private facilities and is able to host many events, including meetings, rehearsal dinners, wedding receptions and birthday, retirements and graduation parties.
“We’re lucky to have a large restaurant so that we don’t have to rush people in and out. They’re able to enjoy a quiet atmosphere,” said Nick Philson Jr., whose father, Nick Philson, founded the business.
And, he believes, that’s one of the things that sets them apart.
“We just try to serve good food,” Philson said. “We’re honored (to do so), and we appreciate people’s business over the years. Nobody appreciates it more than a small, local business.”
895 S. Jefferson Ave., Cookeville