Road trips live and die by two ingredients: the tunes on the radio and the food when you stop. Plug into Spotify, eat at the usual roadside chains and you’ll miss all the local flavor. Cruise the backroads, spin the dial, order the chef’s special, and you’re bound for a real trip. In Tennessee, adventure comes easy. Honky tonk floods the airwaves and soulful grub abounds. And then, of course, there’s whiskey. Lucky for you, Mantry’s your designated driver on this tour. We’ve mapped the route, planned the stops, and packed a hell of a road lunch. So pour out a shot, roll down the windows, and crank up the country. Let’s roll.
JM Thomason Hot Chicken Rub // Nashville, TN
A Nashville staple since the 1930s, the city’s eponymous hot chicken puts other fried fowl to shame — acronym-ed birds that shall not be mentioned here cower in their cardboard buckets before its blistering crust of garlic, cayenne, and onion. JM Thomason’s been peddling rubs like this for decades, and their blend packs just the right punch. Rub on, chill, then dredge in a whisked mix of eggs, buttermilk and, if you want even more heat, a squirt of hot sauce. Then dust with flour and fry. For an authentic Nashville plate, toss onto a slice of white bread and top with pickles. No silverware, extra napkins, and lots of ice water.
Smoked Onion Jam // Blackberry Farm // Walland, TN
A match-made-in-heaven blend of two southern-grown heirlooms: sweet-as-an-apple Georgia vidalia onions and sesame-like benne seeds, an African grass brought over by antebellum slaves and more or less forgotten until now. Add to that another Dixie staple — barbecue smoke — and you get this perfectly tart, savory spread.
Country Ham // Father’s Country Ham // Bremen, KY
Stop for breakfast south of the Mason Dixon and you’ll find no fancy pour-overs, sizzling moka pots, or frou-frou latte art — it’s coffee, black, and country ham, hot. Bremen’s has made their dry-cured southern-style prosciutto the same way since 1840. They like theirs soaked in red eye gravy: browned bacon bits simmered in a half mug of joe and splash of water. Serve with biscuits made for sopping, and hold the ‘spro.
“Old Fashioned” Cocktail Caramels // Shotwell Candy Co. // Memphis, TN
Named after the company founder’s great-grandpa Shot, who kept his general store’s candy barrels brimming with caramels for sugar-toothed local kids, and perfected after months of simmering and stirring dozens of test batches in tarnished brass pots, these caramels are old fashioned indeed — right down to their grown-up cocktail-inspired infusion of bitters, orange peel, and booze.
Buffalovin’ Wing Beer Bread// Soberdough // Nashville, TN
The first thing we do when baking is open a beer — it’s a long, patient process, usually (and doesn’t often end well). When the dough don’t rise, booze helps lift the spirits. This bread is so simple, though, you won’t need the liquid courage — but it will. Mix the pre-weighed and sifted dough with a bottle of beer (for this hot and cheesy buffalo-wing-inspired loaf, we like a snappy American IPA) and toss in the oven. Then crack another cold one — that wasn’t so hard, was it?
Tennessee Moonshine Cake // Chattanooga Cookie Co. // Chattanooga, TN
You Yankees might munch hifalutin rum cake, but down south they douse their sweets in the local nectar — white dog moonshine. Dessert and nightcap in one, these cakes are moist and fluffy, kissed with lemon, and soaked in warming, white-corn-sweet mountain dew from Gatlinburg’s Ole Smoky distillery.