State's best found around Bedford County
If you're looking for the "Best of" middle Tennessee and you live in Bedford County, you don't have to travel far to find it. Tennessee Magazine, published by the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association and Duck River Electric recently announced the winners of its annual Best of Tennessee Readers' Choice Awards, and both Bell Buckle and Wartrace made their presence known.
With a circulation of more than 545,000, The Tennessee Magazine is the most widely circulated monthly publication in Tennessee, and whose readers were the ones to vote on their favorites. Voters had more than 500 entries to vote on.
The awards are divided by state regions, and in Middle Tennessee, Bell Buckle Café was honored for serving the best "Home/Country Cooking" and the Webb School Arts & Crafts fair was named the best of its kind as well. Over in Christiana, Miller's Grocery got the nod for its desserts (red velvet cake, anyone?).
Runners-up were also named, with Bell Buckle winning that spot in the "Festival" category with the RC Cola Moon Pie Festival -- not bad, considering what placed first was the massive CMA festival held in Nashville, which draws about 65,000 visitors a day and brought about $30 million to Nashville this year. Valley Home Farm in Wartrace, with its neat pick-your-own strawberry fields, won the runner-up spot in the agritourism category.
"I look forward to this contest every year," says Robin Conover, editor of The Tennessee Magazine "Our readers vote for their favorites in 34 categories. Whether you are looking for great barbecue, an art gallery or a county fair, you'll find our winners among the best Tennessee has to offer."
Bell Buckle Café
"This is the first year we've gotten it," said Jeannette Heinike, who owns the café with her husband Greg and runs it with two of their four daughters. "We've been hoping! One of my waitresses, Sandy, saw it in the magazine and told me, then they sent us a certificate. I brought it down today and we're going to hang it up.
"When the café went up for sale, we decided to buy it. Greg wouldn't even let me look at the kitchen -- it was in pretty bad shape."
They spent months renovating and remodeling, then reopened to an appreciative crowd. Since then, thanks to friend, songwriter Angela Kaset, they've added live music, which brings in even more people.
But what brings them back, said Heinike, is the food.
"We wanted good country cooking, but we wanted some things that are little different from the norm," she said. "Nothing comes off the menu, either. I hate it when I go to a restaurant and they no longer have something I like because it got taken off the menu. We'll add to it, but nothing comes off."
Of course, during the big festival days, such as the Webb School Arts & Crafts Fair or the Moon Pie Festival, they offer a slightly smaller menu.
"We try to offer our fastest foods so we can get people in and out," said Heinike.
Even in these tough economic times, the café has done well, and its a rare day that doesn't see the parking lot full in Bell Buckle.
"Nights and weekends especially," she said.
It's many satisfied diners who cast their ballots in the magazine's contest, and she is grateful.
"It's kind of a word-of-mouth thing," she said. "We're very thankful for the magazine and the voters and the customers. We've got great customers!"
Webb Arts & Crafts Fair
For 35 years now, visitors have come from across the south to experience the Webb School's annual Arts & Crafts Fair. From the small, on-campus fundraiser for the students, it has grown into a massive collection of several fairs being held at once, drawing tens of thousands of people to the tiny town, population 400+.
"The Webb craft show -- it just happens," said Jenny Hunt, a bell Buckle alderman and longtime member of the Chamber of Commerce. "It's great to get first place on something that, well, after 35 years, it's such a well oiled machine it just propagates itself."
The fair is held the third weekend in October every year (Oct. 15-16 this year).
"It's great after 35 years, it's still fresh and people come out. In Bell Buckle, we've had to fight hard to stay small and keep our uniqueness and I think other people appreciate that," said Hunt. "If the Webb craft show or RC Moon Pie were held somewhere else, I don't think it would have as much success."
Say "red velvet cake," and anyone in the know is going to sigh and say "Mmmmmiller's Grocery." or for that matter, "pie" or "Snickers pie." Located in Christiana, just across the county line into Rutherford, the restaurant has been tantalizing taste buds since 1995, when the old general store, previously owned by Stanley Miller, was bought and converted into a popular eatery.
So popular, in fact, that this is not the first time it has graced The Tennessee Magazine's "Best of" list.
"We've won several times for our desserts and our food," said Debbie Barner, one of the owners. "The pies are probably the most popular."
So popular, in fact, that the recipes are a closely guarded secret. The website warns that it won't release any recipes of food still on the menu.
RC Cola & Moon Pie Festival
What began as a way to lure Olympic-bound tourists off the beaten path has evolved into a Bell Buckle tradition. Organizers such as Bell Buckle's first lady Carla Webb and local business man Billy Phillips came up with a variety of activities that promised to leave you sweating, sated, soaked, or all of the above.
The day kicks off with the 10-mile run and is followed by activities such as live music and clogging, a parade, games that include Moon Pie tossing and watermelon seed spitting, and the ever popular Synchronized Wading, although it's been absent from the event for the last two years.
"The plot is the always the same," said Webb in a previous interview. "Moon Pie is longing for RC and the wily Goo Goo Cluster does her best to steal him away."
It seems appropriate -- two of the characters of the Best Event runner-up are "Best ofs" in their own right. Moon Pies were named the Best Product made in East Tennessee and Goo Goo Clusters were the runners-up for Best Product made in Middle Tennessee (losing out to Jack Daniel's.)
Valley Home Farm
Over in Wartrace, things have slowed down for the Potts family at Valley Home Farm. A pick-it-yourself strawberry farm, they pay for the peace and quiet now with a rush as soon as the berries ripen and doesn't end until the last one is picked.
It's the farm's second time to make runner-up for the Best of Agritourism/Pick-Your-Own category and Nancy Edwards couldn't be happier.
"I think it's a confirmation that they're going to a good place," she said of the votes they received. "We are certainly thrilled to have the recognition!"
She credits her brother Bob Potts, with a lot of that.
"He works hard on the farm all year and people know that," she said. "They know we work hard at it."
The family has owned the land since 1958 and five generations have contributed to the upkeep. About 18 family members still live on and/or work at the farm today.
Considering farming is dirty work, the Potts family keeps it clean, and Edwards believes that's a factor in its popularity.
"It's easy to come to. It's clean, and it's a welcoming place," she said.
Next year, their season won't end quite as early.