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Out to Lunch: Bubba Gump a fun, lively place to visit in Gatlinburg

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By Bethel Poston

During the Christmas season, and on our birthdays/anniversary (all the same day), my wife, Carol, and I like to spend a few days in Gatlinburg. Our getaway place is the Riverhouse Motor Lodge on the river, where we have stayed for many years.

Our South Knoxville furniture friends, Jerry and Mickey Pease, joined us for our latest visit.

They looked forward to our “Out to Lunch” visit to the Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. Restaurant, on the Parkway at Airport Road, next to the Convention Center.

So we could play Santa to our granddaughter, Shelly, her husband, Josh Ritter, and great-grandson, Knox, we asked them to meet us. They live in Charlotte, N.C., and traveled over as part of a visit to Josh’s parents in Robbinsville, N.C.

Shelly’s parents, our son, Barry, and wife, Judy, also traveled from Tellico Village for this gathering.

Mickey and Jerry decided to share the Shrimper’s Heaven, described on the menu as, “hand-breaded coconut shrimp, chilly shrimp, fried shrimp and Japanese style tempura shrimp with fries.”

Dipping sauces included Asian, Cajun marmalade and cocktail.

The shrimp was served in multiple paper cones, transported in a fancy metal carrier that was placed on the table for easy access.

Even with both of them enjoying the generous presentation, Mickey asked for a takeout box for a later snack.

We also had a takeout box for leftovers of Carol’s Mama Blue’s Southern Charmed fried shrimp, served with fries and cocktail sauce for dipping. The huge serving had the largest shrimp I have seen.

I didn’t take out any of one of my favorites, shrimp po’ boy, because all that was left was part of the bread.

“Just like the ones in New Orleans,” the menu boasts. “French loaf bun stuffed with warm popcorn shrimp and served with fries.”

The shrimp had a distinct spicy zing.

Carol and I both added a cup of she-crab bisque.

Tosha Humphrey, manager of the servers, was quick to point out how to use the colorful flip sign on our table.

One read: “Run, Forrest, run,” to tell the servers we didn’t need anything.

If we needed something, we flipped it to the other sign: “Stop, Forrest, stop.”

During our visit, the servers sang “Happy Birthday” to a customer. Bubba Gump is a lively, fun place.

The restaurant is a byproduct of the 1994 movie, “Forrest Gump.” Forrest, played by Tom Hanks, was naïve and slow-witted, but an athlete. He became an All-American football running back at Alabama.

After graduating, he joined the Army where he met Benjamin Buford “Bubba” Blue, and they agreed to form a shrimping business. Bubba was killed in action.

Forrest bought a shrimp boat after his discharge and started a business named the Bubba Gump Shrimp Co.

Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. Restaurant opened in Gatlinburg on June 7, 2007.

The two-story building can seat 273 customers. An elevator offers access to the top-floor dining area, with a great view of downtown Gatlinburg. There is an outdoor patio on the upper level.

Barry is not fond of shrimp, so the half-pound All-American burger and fries caught his eye. “Sorry, no shrimp on the classic!” the menu declared.

There is also a barbecue burger with sweet and tangy barbecue sauce and cheddar cheese.

Judy landed on the tossed chicken Cobb salad with grilled chicken, greens, Roma tomatoes, Gorgonzola cheese, hardboiled eggs, bacon, avocado and red wine vinaigrette.

What a surprise — for a small charge, you can substitute shrimp for the chicken.

The Dixie-Style baby back ribs, slow roasted and brushed with Bubba Gump’s homemade barbecue sauce, appealed to Josh and Shelly to share. It was served with fries.

Knox, who will be 2 in March, can’t yet read, but I’m sure he’d enjoy the yummy “Run, Forrest, Run” smoothie on the kids’ menu. It’s made with fresh oranges, strawberries, bananas and non-fat raspberry frozen yogurt.

Another tempting item was jambalaya. The blackened chicken, shrimp and Andouille sausage, sautéed bell peppers, onions and rice are in a spicy sauce, with tomatoes and green onions on top.

The new shrimp stack pasta is described as “grilled shrimp and penne pasta tossed with a lemon garlic sauce and sprinkle of feta cheese.”

Another new item, chipotle-crusted tilapia, comes with lobster butter sauce and jasmine rice.

I think Carol and I would get over-stuffed on the appetizer, Run Across America Sampler. It includes dip and chips, chilly shrimp, spicy chicken strips, hush puppies and Mama Blue’s shrimp.

Due to being so full I didn’t check the desserts, or I would have ordered a serving of Mama’s bread pudding.

Strawberry shortcake, ice cream caramel spice cake and chocolate chip cookie sundae also sound very tempting.

For a complete menu, go to www.bubbagump.com.

The restaurant opens every day at 11 a.m. and stays open late. Call 865-430-3034 to confirm time.

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We, and many of our friends, believe a visit to Gatlinburg wouldn’t be complete without breakfast at the Pancake Pantry — even if you have to stand in a long line outside waiting for a table. They can seat up to 185 customers.

Jim Nall, a member of our Kingston First Baptist Church Sunday school class, has been encouraging Carol to try the apricot lemon crepes.

The crepes are a blend of diced apricots, blended with pecans, flavored with fresh lemons and topped with powdered sugar and whip cream.

Carol resisted and went for her favorite, a veggie omelet with pancakes.

I had the pigs in a blanket: link pork sausage wrapped in buttermilk pancakes, served with gobs of butter and a never-ending supply of warm maple syrup.

Mickey chose a stack of wild blueberry pancakes sprinkled with powdered sugar and served with blueberry compote syrup.

Jerry ordered a traditional serving of bacon with two country-fresh eggs over easy and a stack of buttermilk pancakes.

I also enjoyed my visit with owner Jim Gerding. He and his wife, June, opened the Pancake Pantry in 1960. They vacationed in Gatlinburg in previous years and decided to take the entrepreneurial leap.

They moved from Indiana to open Tennessee’s first pancake specialty restaurant. Jim had no restaurant experience. With 8-month- and 3-year-old sons, they began to build their lives and business in Gatlinburg.

“We buy 17 tons of sausage a year, and now employ 50 employees,” Jim said. “We serve real butter and honest-to-goodness whipped cream. Everything is made from scratch.”

Today they own The Village, a collection of 27 unique shops and boutiques beside and behind the Pancake Pantry.

This part of my article qualifies to be called “Out to Lunch,” since the Pancake Pantry also serves lunch. For a complete menu check out www.pancakepantry.com, and see their selection of burgers, gourmét sandwiches, soups, salads, and their unique pancakes.

Their photos of servings on the website will temp you for a visit — or a revisit.

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Bethel Poston is a Roane County businessman and entrepreneur who writes about places of interest in our area. E-mail suggestions and comments to postonplace@bellsouth.net.