Country Roads, Pork Chops and Bonaroo Wine
Exit 97 is probably most used as the hopping off point for a trip to the Jack Daniel’s distillery in Lynchburg. While that is a fine destination, even closer to the interstate is the charming hamlet of Bell Buckle. Even better, if you’ve got time to kill, you can take Nolensville Rd. out of town and enjoy a trip through the country to Eagleville. Turn left on Highway 269 toward Christiana and wind through the hills full of ancient barns and long lines of white picket fences surrounding the stately farms of the area.
Perhaps best known as the home of Webb School or as the locale of the RC and Moon Pie Festival each June, Bell Buckle is worth a visit at any time of the year. The tiny downtown features quaint boutiques, a soda shop and its anchor tenant, Bell Buckle Cafe.
When Greg Heinike purchased the small cafe in 1984, there wasn’t much going on in the town of about 400 inhabitants. After a career in restaurant management and ownership, Heinike decided to settle down somewhere that offered the slower pace of a small town lifestyle. “Restaurants were the one thing I did well,” he recalls. “I’d planned just a little low-volume spot and pumped money into the place for six months.”
The vibe of the cafe changed considerably when Heinike began to invite friends from the music industry in Nashville to come play in his restaurant on weekends. A live radio show called the “J. Gregory Jamboree” began to broadcast the shows over the air from WLIJ in Shelbyville, and suddenly visitors flocked to the Bell Buckle Cafe, which required an expansion to hold the crowds.
While the music may have attracted them, the food keeps them coming back to the charming dining room decorated with guitars hanging from the ceiling and photographs of famous visitors like Waylon Jennings and Jessi Colter adorning the walls. Heinike’s brand of upscale comfort food includes Southern classics like a memorable smothered pork chop. Actually, it’s pork chops since each order of the smothered chops comes with two pork porterhouses. Other highlights include fried catfish, pulled pork barbecue and a popular ribeye steak. One of Heinike’s past restaurant concepts was a chain of pizzerias, and he is particularly proud of the pizzas featuring his housemade crust.
For such a down-home eatery, the Bell Buckle Café delights diners with unexpected extras like spicy green beans served with a cucumber wasabi sauce and the option to torque up your turnip greens with a green chili pepper sauce. They’re not afraid of a little heat in the kitchen.
On special occasions like Easter Sunday and Mother’s Day, the Bell Buckle Cafe spreads around the corner to the nearby banquet hall that Heinike also owns. With the extra space, the kitchen staff really pulls out the stops for a massive and massively popular buffet featuring at least 30 food items plus a dessert table covered with sweet treats like oatmeal cake with caramel and a delectable chocolate zucchini cake.
Reservations for these special Sunday feasts are essential, since over 500 people can file through the buffet between 11:00 am and 3:00, so call the cafe at (931) 389-9693 to let them know you’re coming.
While Nashvillians may soon have the chance to purchase wine in grocery stores, another change to the liquor regulations to allow for Sunday wine sales was not successful getting through the legislature. But did you know there’s a loophole in the existing law? Production wineries fall under the auspice of the Department of Agriculture and are allowed to sell their products seven days a week, so if you find yourself in a jam for some grape squeezin’s on a Sunday, there is a solution just a few miles down the interstate from the Bell Buckle exit.
Bean’s Creek Winery is visible from I-24 at exit 111, so it’s a convenient stop. More importantly, they’re making some exceptional juice there featuring both exotic varietals sourced from Tennessee farmers as well as more traditional grapes like Merlot, Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon imported from Washington state.
Bean’s Creek Winery opened in 2004, but owner and head vintner Tom Brown had 30 years of experience making wine at home beforehand, so he figures the current vintage is his 40th. Brown’s experience shines through in many of his award-winning wines, especially those that feature Tennessee grapes like Chambourcin and Cynthiana. A dry red blend called TN Midnight Sun showcases both of those grapes along with Syrah. Each varietal contributes characters to this delightful wine with a hint of smoked cedar on the nose from the Cynthiana and backbone from the other two grapes offering essences of black cherry and pepper.
The winery is also known for their sweeter wines made from Muscadine grapes and fruits like strawberries, peaches and blackberries. Popular seasonal offerings like Bonnaroo Red and Bonnaroo White are named in homage to the thousands of music lovers who camp at the annual summer music festival held a stoner’s throw from the winery.
Also notable is the fact that Bean’s Creek is one of only three Tennessee wineries to manufacture sparkling wine using the traditional methode champenoise where the juice is gently carbonated in the bottle through a very manual process of adding sugar and yeast and then rotating the bottles three times per day in a riddling rack to clarify the wine. The result is a delightful series of sparklers with tiny bubbles that offer a luscious mouth feel similar to the most famous French champagnes. Tastings are available in the winery/gift shop daily for a nominal price with special sparkling wine samplers available on weekends only.
Bell Buckle Cafe
100 Main St. Bell Buckle, TN 37020
Bean’s Creek Winery
426 Ragsdale RoadManchester, TN 37355