Perched on the side of Highway 321 (the beaten path), Friendly Falls is a contradiction. (Wait--let's clear that up. There's no contradiction in the name. It's friendly. There are falls. If you've read the other reviews you already know this; if you haven't read the other reviews, go ahead--I'll wait. Back now? Good--let's dig deeper.)
Friendly Falls as a venue and a restaurant manages to be a hybrid of both hillbilly and hippie sensibilities. It doesn't take itself too seriously--and yet it's dead serious. It's sincere and silly at the same time. Condiments for your meal are stored at the tables and eating counter in vintage kid's lunchboxes. You're requested to crush and recycle your cans, while they collect can tabs for St. Jude's Childrens Hospital. The music (as heard during our visit) is an eclectic mix of country and jazz and 40's big-band standards. The little shop offers handicrafts created by local avocational artisans. You can borrow a can coozie from their frankly startling collection to use while you eat.
And you should eat.
It's a small kitchen. The menu is appropriately small--if one watches certain "Impossible Nightmare" shows on television one has seen consulting chefs excoriating owners for having too large a menu. The solution is to have a small menu--and then rock that menu.
They rock that menu.
(An aside: the hand-cut fries at Friendly Falls rival the best hand-cut fries I've had anywhere. Factory fries are easy: open bag, pour frozen fries into basket, fry. You have to want to do hand-cut fries. The fries are a dollar more than just getting the chips. Spend the dollar. Seriously.)
A departing patron recommended the barbecue as we walked up--"if you like that," he added. Why yes--yes, I do. And I did. The pork was tender, it had just the right amount of sauce, and the ratio of meat to bun was perfect. I asked for a side of the cold corn salad because I'm a fan of that, and it was fresh and crispy and *almost* everything I want in a cold corn salad. (I like a little fresh jalapeno pepper in it. They had Tabasco sauce available. Life was good.)
My son chowed down on the grilled bratwurst, and my wife enjoyed the veggie sandwich. We sat at the counter, eating a great lunch and looking down on what is arguably the best dining view in the entire Sevierville-Pigeon Forge-Gatlinburg area. (Despite the Wears Valley address, it's closer to Pigeon Forge than Wears Valley, at least as I read the odometer.) I was wearing my big dumb grin as I sat there, because it was all so improbably right. (I was glad to be facing the falls because the sight of my big dumb grin is an acquired taste--or so it's been hinted.)
Underlying all the quirky little touches is an ownership that clearly wants to create a space where you will enjoy yourself, and to which you will want to return. Unlike a lot of venues on 441 and 321 South beyond it, the identity of the place is authentic. Despite some transcendently weird touches (the yellow "magic kitchen" stove in the garden area comes to mind), Friendly Falls is a refreshing change from kiddie race tracks and themed dinner theatres.
My wife says that it was a great place to have lunch after a morning spent hiking around Cade's Cove because it was calm, comfortable, and serene. To which I add: and real. In a tourist region, that takes it off the beaten path.
Did I remember to mention that the food is great?
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