OUT to LUNCH: Bush’s proves it knows beans about good food

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By Bethel Poston

This “Out to Lunch” adventure is filled with scenic countryside travel, a museum visit, educational films, shopping at an “old time” general store and, of course, outstanding food.

You might even enjoy getting to know more about TV personality Duke the dog, famous for being denied his attempts to sell the secret family recipe for Bush’s Baked Beans.

“You need to visit and write about Bush’s Family Café in Dandridge,” our longtime friend, Lucille Hatcher, told us last year. “My Sunday school class ate there recently, and it was delicious.”

We first met Lucille and her late husband, Carl, around 1960 as owners of Carl Hatcher Furniture in Sevierville. They, along with my wife, Carol, witnessed my first airplane ride as we traveled to Italy with a group of East Tennessee appliance dealers.

She, plus her daughter and son-in-law, Becky and Marty Duncan, met us for this “Out to Lunch” visit to Bush’s Family Cafe. Marty and Becky now run the furniture business.
MapQuest will tell you travel Interstate 40 east from Roane County and take exit 415 toward Dandridge.

I wanted to take a more scenic route, so in Knoxville I took Alcoa Hwy., then hung a left on Gov. John Sevier Hwy., and a right on Hwy 411 (Chapman Hwy.) toward Sevierville. In case you don’t remember, the Henley Bridge to Chapman Hwy. is closed for reconstruction.

In Sevierville, Hwy. 411 is known as Dolly Parton Parkway. We kept on Hwy. 411 East, enjoying the picturesque countryside and soon arrived at 3901 Hwy. 411 in Dandridge – Bush’s Family Cafe.

Local folks know that the Bush Brothers operation is really in Chestnut Hill, about 10 miles south of historic downtown Dandridge, the Jefferson County seat. Be sure to allow some time to spend sightseeing in historic Dandridge; we did.

I told our greeter, Dennis Strange, that I was going to be table-hopping and interviewing customers for an “Out to Lunch” article. He led us to a particular table.

“This is the best table, with the best server, Marylin Thomas, who is also manager of the café,” he said.

Our friends hadn’t arrived so I left Carol to study the menu while I visited with Doug Hill, Jeremy Engelberg and Opie Reed, who are regular customers at Bush’s.

Doug lives in Knoxville and is in sales for Grainger Industrial Supply Co. He had two fillets of catfish, fried to a golden brown, with onion rings and coleslaw. He eats at Bush’s once a week.
Jeremy lives in St. Louis and is in sales for Acuity Brands Lighting.

On his first trip to Bush’s, he was making headway on locally smoked and shredded pork, smothered in zesty barbecue sauce, and piled high on a bun. His sides were fries and Bush’s bourbon and brown sugar grillin’ beans.

Opie lives in Newport and is facilities manager of Bush Brothers.

His choice was a grilled chicken sandwich with lettuce and tomato. Of course, he had some beans and assured me he didn’t get an employee discount.

Marylin had just about convinced them all the homemade peanut butter pie was gone, until she teasingly bought each of them a slice.

While I was talking at this table, our friends arrived, and Carol was encouraging them to select different dishes to help with my article.

Served to each of us with our “never empty” iced tea was a sample serving of Bush’s bourbon and brown sugar grillin’ beans. There are eight other bean variety options on the menu.

Becky chose the pulled pork plate, commenting on the sweet barbecue sauce. Her sides were pinto beans and sweet potato fries. Marty went for the fried catfish plate with pinto beans and slaw; and Lucille had a classic grilled cheese on what looked like oversize white bread.

“These hushpuppies have onions and peppers in them,” Marty said as he had the last bite and boxed one of the catfish fillets to take home for a later snack.

Carol and I almost had to flip a coin to see who would order Wednesday’s Special of the Day — open-face hot roast beef sandwich with potatoes and gravy, plus a side of cole slaw.

Carol chose the pre-battered country-fried steak with gravy and told me to order the special. Her sides were fried okra and slaw, plus a dinner roll.

The beef was so tender that when I put a fork in it to hold for my knife to cut a bite, it just fell apart.

Dennis tried to tempt our table with an offer of a banana split topped with vanilla, chocolate and strawberry ice cream, covered with pineapple and strawberry sauces, chocolate syrup, whipped cream and a cherry on top.

We also passed on the hot fudge brownie sundae.

Carol and I shared a slice of chocolate pie that tasted like my mother used to make.

Marty had a slice of their signature dessert, pinto bean pecan pie. Made with Bush’s pinto beans, a few special ingredients and loads of crunchy pecans. Becky had buttermilk pie, and Lucille passed on a dessert.

The café, which was built two years ago, is attached to the original A.J. Bush & Co. General Store.

The General Store, founded in 1897, is open for shopping to pick up goodies, gifts, Bush’s products and souvenirs.

The museum next door leads you through a giant replica can of Bush’s Baked Beans, showing the bean’s journey from beginning to end.

The adjoining theater features Jay Bush and his dog Duke on the big screen as they star in the fun-loving movie, “History of Grilling.”

You can also find out your weight in beans and snap a photo with Duke.

Marylin has been the manager since the café opened. She told me the most popular items are the barbecue, with pinto beans and cornbread served with relish and a slice of onion running a close second choice.

Bush’s Family Café is open from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday to Saturday; it’s closed Sunday.
Sixty-seven chairs are available inside, and 52 on the outdoor patio.

Call 865-509-3485 or check out www.bushbeans.com for more informa-

“My favorite meal is whatever’s the daily special,” Jefferson County Sheriff Bud McCoig told me. Serving his first term as sheriff, he has been with the sheriff’s office for more than 30 years.
Eating with Sheriff McCoig were Jefferson County Sheriff’s Deputies Kyle Loveday and Bud Stansberry.

All three were having the special of open-face roast beef sandwich, which I had just finished and recommend highly.

Special change daily, and I did find out the special for Tuesday is four hand-breaded, all-white-meat chicken tenders with mashed potatoes and green beans.

Hot sandwiches on the menu are a hearty half-pound hamburger, corned beef Reuben, toasted BLT, Philly cheesesteak, Southern-fried bologna and hoagies with a choice of ham, turkey or roast beef.

Again I resisted ordering one of my favorites, the Chestnut Hill hot dog covered with Bush’s Chili Magic.

Bush’s Chili Pot is tempting for a future cold winter day visit. It’s described as “fresh ground beef, chopped onion and diced tomatoes, slow-cooked with Bush’s Chili Magic (kidney and chili beans).”

In addition to standard beverages, cold sandwiches available are crunchy chicken salad, country tuna salad, a ham-and-turkey club and Tennessee pimento cheese with a special sauce.

Telling some friends about our visit to Bush’s Family Café, two couples have already asked if we will go back with them.

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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.