A Saturday morning in Monteagle—what to compare it to? A summer’s day? Well, no; this one was in autumn. If, on the spot, I had to compare my morning on Saturday, October 23 to anything, I’d compare it to a rollercoaster ride (you know, like Six Flags), but rather than a ride of turbulent G-forces, this was a rollercoaster ride of emotions.
I started off my morning with earnest plans to visit the Sam H. Werner Military Museum, located right off Highway 41 past Mi Casa as you drive from Sewanee to Monteagle. It was 11 a.m., and I was hyped: the posted hours of operation online were 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturdays, and they claimed to be open. However, upon my arrival, I was immediately unsettled—something uncanny and strange was going on: the entire concrete parking lot outside the museum was empty, save for my car and me.
Walking into the museum, I had no clue what to expect, least of all a total inability to enter the building. Posted on the front glass door was a white sign reading: “Please enter through side door.” Indeed, as I checked out the side of the building, there was a white door with a large “Entrance” sign written on it, which I took to be the entrance. But, rather alarmingly, it was located behind a pad-locked chain-link fence: totally barred, with no way in. I hurriedly checked the other side of the building—perhaps I had made some fatal checking-the-wrong-side-of-the-building mistake—but indeed on the other side there was a pad-locked chain-link fence as well. No way in. What was going on?
I examined the terrain beyond the fences. On the left side of the building, there was a large brownish-green field with three old and rusty-looking cars at the back—I believe one of them was an old military Jeep, which is cool, I guess. I then checked the right side of the building, where there were way more things, and way cooler! There was a little old helicopter, which made me think, How neat! There were another three trucks, and then lots of various carts and carriers, as well as these (once green, I believe) brown and rusty pulley-looking things, and I thought, Ah, yes! The military.
I tried the pad-locked fence a couple of times, but couldn’t find a way in. I peered into the glass door at the front of the building, and the lights were on, but no one was around and the door was locked. There was a main office space with a desk, some chairs, and various paperwork strewn about; then there was a hallway that led down into the bulk of the building, with four different doors off on its side leading to places unknown to me, unexplored lands akin to the “New World” fantasies of colonialist Europeans in the sixteenth-century. I could only stand there and wonder: what military enlightenment might await me around those mysterious corners? An unsated curiosity and cold hollow frustration bit at my heart.
Disheartened and dismayed by this tragic development, I mozied on over into downtown Monteagle for lunch at the new Smoke House Patio Grill. And man, let me tell you: this odyssey absolutely salvaged my morning, pulling it up by the bootstraps and elevating it to glory. This new restaurant space is tucked away behind a parking lot that itself is tucked away behind the ruins and rubble of the old Smoke House restaurant that burned down in April earlier this year. Driving past these scarred vestiges of debris harrowed and haunted me; in front of the vast open space of ruin stood a besmirched and blackened tree, conjuring up images of the White Tree of Gondor that Pippin foresaw burning in The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King. It stood there, proud and alone, a reminder of what had happened, but most importantly: a survivor still alive.
This symbol proved to be the perfect prelude to the Smoke House Patio Grill itself. As I pulled down into the parking lot and walked into the restaurant, I was promptly greeted with hospitality and warmth, and felt immediately at ease. It was so refreshing to see the “Open” sign and think about these business owners rebuilding from the rubble. I thought, Yeah, baby. The Smoke House is back.
The atmosphere in the new Smoke House Grill is simply excellent. The customer service was wonderful, and the staff’s kindness rippled out and permeated through the rest of the restaurant. The vibes were elite. Since the restaurant was located in a tucked-off corner so far away from the main highway, the place took on an intimate air, and felt very cloistered, cozy, and secure, like a nice little hole-in-the-wall hideaway. Green, orange, pink, blue, and red Christmas lights hung over the restaurant, providing the light and also a cozy sense of holiday reminiscence and nostalgic comfort, like sitting in a home away from home.
It also felt like entering a time machine: the decor and ambiance evoked a 1960s and 1970s type beat: there were dozens of vinyl records on the wall, 45s and 33s alike. And tons of memorabilia: Rolling Stone covers of Bob Dylan, Elvis, and The Beatles, posters of Nat King Cole, Jackie Wilson, Ray Charles, and The Supremes. There were vintage guitars as well, and iHeartRadio was blasting the iHeart60s channel on the speakers overhead, playing such timeless bangers as: “(Sittin’ On) the Dock of the Bay” by Otis Redding, “I Got You Babe” by Sonny & Cher, “Pinball Wizard” by The Who, “Sloop John B” by The Beach Boys, “You’re Going to Lose That Girl” by The Beatles, and “Oh, Pretty Woman” by Roy Orbison.
And then, of course—the food! I ordered the pulled pork platter with slaw, texas toast, fries, and green beans, and boy was it certified dank. It was just as I remembered it from the old Smoke House: delicious, just a really high-quality barbecue product, and easily the best barbecue option around Sewanee. And it came out less than ten minutes after I ordered! The service was impeccable, and I truly felt taken care of.
The Smoke House proved a remarkable reminder of perseverance in the face of adversity. There was a great big smoker in the middle of the restaurant, that at first gave me a pang of anxiety, but shortly thereafter I was soothed with inspiration, marvelling at their recovery through pure determination and endurance.
As I drove back home, I was feeling so inspired to overcome challenges in my own life that I thought, Hm…Maybe I should just jump the fence at the military museum.