Bell Buckle, Tennessee: if you’re looking for something worth stopping for on the two hour drive between Nashville and Chattanooga

Bell Buckle, TN is a very cute, tiny (population of under 400) town located well away from any highways, but on an active train line. It is a well-preserved historic town full of well maintained Victorian homes, many of which have very pretty gardens, as well as a well maintained downtown (it is a whistle-stop town on the train line from Nashville to Chattanooga) that has done everything feasibly possible to be appealing to tourists.

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Approaching the town you pass some impressively palatial homes, which is not what one expects to see in such a small town in Tennessee. Then, the moment you drive into town you’ll have to slow down to 15 mph, as you pass The Webb school. Looking at it I could tell it was a fairly affluent boarding school (its tuition is between 40-50K a year, which is up there with the price of sending your kid to University) whose presence in the town, I was pretty sure, probably explained why the homes I was passing were SO nice. That said, when I got home and did some research; I discovered that it was in fact a college prep boarding school, founded in 1870 (one of the oldest ones in the south); and that the school had been moved to Bell Buckle in 1886 (because the town was dry while its original location was going wet); and, that it was at one point SO good that it was responsible for producing more Rhodes scholars than any other secondary school in country (that said, I was looking on their website that lists where their current crop of seniors will be going for university, and the list was NOT a very impressive one — the public high school I went to, it does way better).

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This was on the sidewalk in front of one of the shops

A little further up the road you’ll come to a still active train line (none of the trains I saw actually bothered to stop at the town, confirming its whistle-stop status), and a small collection or historic storefronts which make up the “down town.” I parked my car and walked around, exploring the shops.

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This, plus one shop, is pretty much all of downtown, like I said, tiny

In every shop I entered I asked what the history of the town was, and none of the staff seemed to know. In each case they said they were actually new to the town, or didn’t actually live in town. Which was interesting.

The shops consist mostly of women’s clothing shops, shops that promote local artists,

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antique shops and

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and four different food places, a coffee shop, an ice cream and sandwiches shop (with homemade fried pie), a meat and three and ladies high tea place…. with the exception of the coffee place (which was just a coffee place), all of the other three places were so southern as to represent stereotypes of the south, or tourist trap heaven.

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Again, how more Old South can you get than Pulled pork, Fried Green Tomatoes, Pimento Cheese  — oh right, Fried peach pie
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Again, not sure a place can get more stereotypically Southern than RC Cola and Moon Pies

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This is supposed to be the best restaurant in town, a traditional Southern ‘meat and three‘ but the guy in the wellness store told me that everything they serve is actually produced by Sysco foods (i.e., almost nothing is made by them, it all arrives in bulk already made), which is kind of shocking as it apparently is one of the major draws to the town (one store owner told me that it alone generates most of the towns income), and was, according to their resturant web site, listed as one of the top 10 resturants in the state

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I ordered a $5 bowl of Chili and got a bowl so big I could only eat half, the pancake looking thing is actually corn-bread flat cake (known as a johnny cake or a hoecake).

The shop that surprised me the most was the Wellness Emporium place that sold things like tonics, Kombucha and CBD Hemp oil. The guy when talking to the women described how he runs an organic farm and produces most of his products himself.

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Lodge Cast Iron outlet store; South Pittsburg, TN

A brand new Lodge pre-seasoned Cast-iron pan that normally sells for about $25.00 (well, $17.98 via Amazon prime) for $5…. so yes I stopped! That said, not sure this store is worth going out of your way for — unless you are a hard core Lodge Fanatic (which a lot of cooks are).  — while there are two other Lodge outlets in the state, this is the one adjacent to the only Lodge Cast Iron factory in the nation.

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Got to love this statue outside of the store, it’s made of various of their products fused together (I believe the legs are things for cooking corn)

Last time I headed from Chicago to Orlando I came via Nashville, where I have some friends. After I left them and headed south to Chattanooga I passed what advertised itself to be an actual factory for Lodge Cast Iron products, with an honest-to-god outlet store (as in a store adjacent to a factory where you can buy slightly imperfect items at a 20% discount, rather than one in an outlet mall selling last season’s stuff). At the time I promised myself that next time I drove by that place I would stop in.

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Today I was driving from my friends in Georgia back to my friends in Nashville. I had stopped at the “welcome to Tennessee” center at the state border to find out what (if anything) was there was worth stopping at between the two places (since I was in no rush) and there was pamphlet advertising that with this coupon you could get a 10.25″ imperfect cast iron pan (which they normally sell for about $15), for $5!

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The normal price for a blemished pan on the left, the price with the coupon on the right

So I headed to the store, all excited about the great deals I was going to find.

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While the store is very nice and has pretty much every item Lodge makes, MOST of what it has is new perfect items at full prices. For example when I got home I found that this Carbon steel skillet was selling on Amazon for $45 with free shipping, so NO not worth a special trip for. (And I found that was pretty much always the case.)

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However, the moment you walk in the door a staff member greets you and points you in the direction of what you’ve actually come for, the discounted imperfect stuff, which is relegated to one badly lit aisle at the end of the store (not any of the well-lit and attractively displayed items).

 

The 10.25″ pan that the coupon was offering for $5 was selling for $14.95 without the coupon, and like I said above I found it for sale on Amazon (in perfect condition) for $17.98, so without the coupon… not really such a deal.

That said, I bought THIS “Lodge L8GP3 Cast Iron Grill Pan, 10.25-inch”, which Amazon says has a list price of $28, that they are currently advertizing for $23.61, selling in the imperfects aisle for $14.95… so a savings of $8.66. So, a savings, but I’m not sure one that’s worth going out of your way for.