The deep heritage of Appalachia’s foodways is the spiritual foundation of the Dancing Bear Lodge Appalachian Bistro, an upscale, farm-to-fork eatery in Townsend, Tennessee with an awful lot to recommend it.
When it opened in the summer of 2015, the Appalachian Bistro marked a new location for Mark Oldham’s “Elevated Appalachian Cuisine” concept, first on display at the Historic Storefront Inn. Celebrating the culinary traditions of this vast and distinctive region of America—which include the indigenous ingredients and preparations of American Indians, the imported influences of Euro-American settlers, and centuries of homegrown techniques and dishes preserved by the isolation of the mountains—is part of the M.O. here.
Townsend and the Black Bear Lodge make the perfect setting for this take on Refined Appalachian Cuisine, given the bistro claims as home base one of the iconic landscapes of the Appalachians: the Great Smoky Mountains. For anyone adventuring in Great Smoky Mountains National Park (for which Townsend’s an entry point), the Appalachian Bistro serves as a fabulous place for a more upscale meal that celebrates place at a deep-rooted level.
The Dancing Bear Lodge Appalachian Bistro puts an emphasis on locally sourced ingredients—and, indeed, some of them come right from the property, thanks to the productive on-site gardens. This high-end, farm-to-table cuisine nods in spirit to the “forest-to-skillet” fundamentals of regional Appalachian cookery while providing a caliber of gastronomy you’d likely associate more with a large urban center than quiet little Townsend.
The Appalachian Bistro’s fancy appetizers (“Little Bits”) include such delights as Coconut Curry Shrimp Bisque and the Burgundy Braised Beef & Mushroom Ragout Ravioli. Don’t skip the salads, which often feature the restaurant gardens’ bounty. The main courses, meanwhile, cover “Farm & Sea” territory, from the Pork Osso Buco to the Bacon-wrapped Maine Diver Scallops. And the desserts demand attention, as well—not least the chocolate bread pudding and the creme brûlée.
The bar offerings include a slew of craft cocktails: Harvest Moon, Wild Trillium, The Empress Takes Flight, and others. There’s a very respectable wine list, fine locally brewed craft beers, and an exceptional spread of spirits, including a connoisseur’s lineup of bourbons.
Besides the elegant indoor dining spaces, the Dancing Bear Lodge Appalachian Bistro offers a pleasant, woodsy yard that includes a downright irresistible fire pit—both cocktail-friendly and s’mores-ready!
Let’s drill down on some of the representative highlights of the Dancing Bear Lodge Appalachian Bistro kitchen—keeping in mind that this menu, attuned to the seasons and the availability of ingredients, regularly changes:
Easily one of the best-known dishes at the Dancing Bear Lodge Appalachian Bistro, the playfully named Appalachian Lunchable is an honest-to-goodness smorgasbord. It comes complete with a mosaic of deliciousness, including deviled eggs, house cheese spread, pickles, crackers, country ham, buttermilk biscuits, and some incredibly flavorful Benne Seed Bacon—and we haven’t even covered the full assortment.
Cast Iron Confit Duck Leg
This is a dish as lovely to look at as to savor. The duck comes backed up with pearl onions, lima beans, stewed tomatoes, crispy bits of country ham, and candied apples.
Prime New York Strip-Steak Sammich
The Dancing Bear Lodge Appalachian Bistro knows how to cook a steak, and this is an awesome package to deliver that succulent strip—complete with fresh-grated horseradish mayo, herb cheddar cheese, crispy onions, and arugula.
When the occasion (or your appetite) demands a little more upscale of a Smoky Mountain-area restaurant, you can’t do much better than Townsend’s Dancing Bear Lodge Appalachian Bistro. And spare some time for the fire pit, you hear?
-Parking can be a little tight at the Dancing Bear Lodge Appalachian Bistro, and we definitely recommend making dinner reservations as well.