Laurie and I were out driving around looking for 'The Gentle Barn', a farm animal rescue operation here in East Tennessee, and we passed a truck stop along the Interstate. We observed that it had a big restaurant off to one side and we commented that we’d have to give it a try.
So a couple of days later we decided to go out to dinner and we invited friends Linda and Norm. They are the only couple we are aware of who knows more about restaurants in this area than we do! Despite Linda’s personal rule which states “Never eat where people pump gas!” she did agree to give this truck stop/travel center mecca a try…
This is the truck stop/travel center that we’d chosen for our dinner excursion… Most of the big TA/Petro travel centers include either an Iron Skillet Restaurant or Country Pride Restaurant to provide people fuel. There are also a few other restaurants serving other TA/Petro travel centers. In any case, there are about 65 Iron Skillet locations across the country.
TA/Petro is not a small operation! They claim to be the largest full-service travel center companies in the USA. They have about 250 locations with sales in the billions… In addition to the travel centers, the company owns Minit Mart Foods Inc. convenience stores and the Quaker State and Lube restaurant chain.
This is a 24-hour 7 days a week operation…and it was a bustling place when we stopped by for dinner. A lot of truckers apparently make this a regular stop along the Interstate! The dining area was spread out and extensive.
Let’s not ignore the shopping possibilities at this ‘travel center’. A large retail space occupies the other end of the building opposite the Iron Skillet Restaurant. That large display case features leather purses and wallets.
Diners can order from the menu or they can choose the buffet option. I avoided the temptation to overeat by staying away from the buffet. We all commented on the size of the salad bar (top photo) and the scope of the choices it offered. There was discussion about returning just to sample that particular dining option…
In addition to the buffet, the menu itself is huge! You can order breakfast anytime, plus there are burgers, other sandwiches, Skillet baskets, pasta, steaks, seafood, chicken and more.
Norm went for breakfast, ordering the Meat Lovers Omelette, 3 whipped eggs packed full of ham, bacon and sausage then normally smothered in sausage gravy and then topped with shredded cheese. He opted for his gravy on the side. Omelets are served with a choice of home fries, hash browns or grits plus toast or a biscuit. Norm went for crispy hash browns and rye toast. He enjoyed his omelet, liked those crispy hash browns and thought that the sausage gravy was better than average. His only wish was that the cheese had been inside the omelet as a binder for all of that meat.
This was Linda’s diner… It’s a large bowl of the Navy Bean and Ham Soup paired with a Parmesan Crusted Grilled Cheese Sandwich. She thought that the soup was very good and she liked her grilled cheese sandwich too.
I had ordered a bowl of this soup with my meal. I also thought that it was very nice with bits of ham and plenty of beans. It was thick and flavorful plus the Iron Skillet had Tabasco available to kick it up a notch!
Laurie ordered the Soup and Parmesan Grilled Cheese Sandwich but she went for the Cream of Tomato Soup instead of the bean soup. She liked her soup and her sandwich. I tried the tomato soup and it was not as creamy as it was chunky with pieces of tomato throughout. Of course, the important thing was that my wife liked it!
Little service issues popped up here and there. On the positive side, I’d forgotten to pick up a soup spoon when I got my bowl of soup from the buffet and an alert server noticed me ‘pilfering’ silverware from the adjoining table and he brought me a spoon. On the other hand, the kitchen sent tomato soup instead of the bean soup with Linda’s order so the waitress had to get her a bowl of ‘replacement’ soup.
Since I’d avoided all of those calories and temptation by staying away from the buffet, I of course ordered a “light” meal for myself… This is the Chicken Fried Steak with white pepper gravy and Eggs with crispy hash brown potatoes. I had buttered rye toast on the side.
You will note that the first photo lacked the egg component of this dish. Apparently the kitchen messed up the order and our waitress had to have them fry up a couple eggs which I had her slide on top of this creation before I added my Tabasco. One ‘over-easy’ egg was overcooked but the other still had a runny yoke. Nevertheless, I enjoyed this massive breakfast offering. The breading on the chicken fried steak was better than average as was the pepper gravy. I really liked the crispy hash browns.
Despite a couple of issues, our waitress was just fine. It took a bit too long for our orders to come out of the kitchen but we weren’t in any hurry. The amount and quality of this comfort food was better than average and it was a good value for the money. We will return to try the buffet!
This particular TA/Petro Shopping Center and Iron Skillet Restaurant is located at Exit 369 (Watt Road) off of I-40/I-75. Address: 722 Watt Road, Knoxville TN. Phone: 865-693-6542. Iron Skillet’s website is found at http://www.ta-petro.com/amenities/restaurants/iron-skillet.
Just click on any of the photos to enlarge them…
Thanks for stopping by for some comfort food!
Take Care, Big Daddy Dave