Monday, December 19, 2005

Mel's Diner (Pigeon Forge, TN)

When I took a Greyhound bus with my friend Nick from Cincinnati, OH to Hollywood, CA a couple summers ago, we ate dinner twice at an amazing restaurant titled Mel’s Drive-In.  I feel obligated to differentiate between the multiple versions.  The one in Hollywood I visited is linked directly with its West Coast neighbor in San Francisco, where they filmed George Lucas’ first, and best (eat that, Star Wars fans!), film titled American Graffiti.  The restaurant serves as the local hangout in the film, and the atmosphere at the real locale resembles that 1950’s-era style splendidly.  Mel’s Diner also captures some of that spirit, although, instead of your typical eatery, here you eat inside a long trailer.  It’s not the most spacious place to eat, but on a Friday night, people are talking loudly and having a good time, and if you want an upbeat fun ambiance, you can’t do much better.

Pigeon Forge is filled with so many restaurants, so when it comes to narrowing one down as a selection, it can be quite difficult.  Mel’s, on appearance and uniqueness alone, sold us almost immediately.  The interior is fantastic, there’s lots of neon lights, and old advertisements, posters, and other decorations from the 50’s literally everywhere, including the bathroom stalls.  One long slender walkway is about it when it comes to floor space, mostly inhabited by the busy servers and waitresses, which splits the restaurant into two sides.  On our side (facing the front), in each booth, was a pane of glass that served as a large mirror.  It was neat, and I used it as an opportunity to score a picture of Amanda and I; she kept getting distracted, though, not used to constantly having a reflection of herself nearby, mimicking her every infinitesimal move.

The menu had a large variety of items, so for someone like me, who enjoys so many different tastes, it was a challenge reducing my selections to I eventually made a decision.  I went with meatloaf, given the circumstances and setting, I felt it was somewhat an inspired choice.  It was accompanied by Texas toast and my choice of two side items, which I opted for mashed potatoes with gravy, and a personal favorite, fried okra.  The meal was good—there were just so many strong flavors, it was like a battle for taste supremacy in my mouth.  The food sat a little heavy in my stomach afterwards, which, come to think of it, is about exactly what you’d expect from meatloaf at a roadside diner.  We split a chocolate shake, which was an essential ingredient in our eating experience.  Imagine Link, scurrying around dungeons in Legend of Zelda, without sword, rupees, and a whistle—that would have been us without our delicious shake.  Except, come the end, we’d have just been recipients of a smaller bill, not a grudge match with a pig faced fuck named Ganon; but, I digress.  Amanda got a chicken salad sandwich and fries.  The sandwich was overwhelmingly large, and thus a winner, and the fries, while warm, was delectable also.

In conclusion, this was a superb night out; the restaurant, complete with vinyl seats, neon lighting, and retro d├ęcor was just so much fun, and the food was adequate, if not a little better than anticipated.  This is one of those places I hope to revisit in the future, whether it is with friends, family, or perhaps, kids of my own.  There’s a lot of charm at Mel’s Diner, that’s what separates it from the pack, and makes it special.  If you can’t make it out to Tennessee, try to find a Mel’s of your own; no, not a place sharing the namesake, but a restaurant that’s kind of under the radar, a place where you can feel comfortable in, and eager to share with others, or keep smugly all to yourself.

Overall Grade: A 

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