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Sometimes we go to Tennessee for country music, visiting honky-tonks and the Grand Ol' Opry in Nashville. Other times, we head to Memphis's blues clubs and tour Elvis Presley's Graceland mansion. We relive history at Civil War sites, in Chattanooga, and in plantation homes along the Antebellum Trail. For fun, we cruise the Mississippi on a paddlewheeler or ride the Big South Fork River in a rubber raft.

Miss Mary Bobo's Boarding House sign and hostess with home cooked food
Miss Mary Bobo's Boarding House sign and hostess with home cooked food
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Whenever we crave good food and Southern hospitality, however, we mosey on down to Miss Mary Bobo's Boarding House in Lynchburg, Tennessee. The restaurant is located just off the town square. Lynchburg is on Route 55, off I-24, 112 kilometres southeast of Nashville.

The original owner, Miss Mary Bobo, ran it as a boarding house from 1908 until her death in 1983, at the age of 101. Lynne Tolley succeeded Miss Bobo as the proprietress from the early 1980s until 2014. Debbie Baxter is the current proprietress.

Almost every important person, who came to Lynchburg, graced Miss Mary's dinner table: people like Alex Hailey and Jack Daniel, owner of the famous distillery, just a whiskey barrel's roll away. Single school teachers, travelling salesmen and federal revenue agents filled her rooms.

Roast ham

Although Miss Bobo's no longer takes boarders, very little has changed. Print wallpaper and photographs of Miss Bobo and her guests cover the walls. Ceiling fans slowly turn. A music box plays old-fashioned melodies. Aromas of roast ham and apple pie permeate the air. And screen doors slam every time someone goes in or out.

The only big change is that the bedrooms are now dining rooms and two large parlours where guests eagerly await the call for dinner. On Monday to Saturday, the dinner bell rings at 11 am and 1 pm. During the peak tourist season, there is a 3 pm seating on Saturdays. The restaurant is open on Sundays between October 1 and December 17.

The restaurant maintains many of the traditions initiated by Miss Bobo. A hostess (Debbie, Lynne or one of the village ladies) sits at the head of each table and answers the inevitable questions about southern cooking, the history of Lynchburg and Miss Bobo's.

We joined Lynne and eight other guests at a long table, covered with steaming serving bowls. "Here in rural Tennessee, the midday meal is always called dinner," explains Lynne, "while the lighter evening meal is called supper."

Tennessee whiskey

Lynne is certainly well qualified. A fourth-generation native of Lynchburg, and a great-grandniece of Jack Daniel himself, she's also a taster of Tennessee Whiskey at Jack Daniel Distillery. Her uncle was Jack Daniel's chief distiller for more than 40 years.

Guests enjoy dinner with Lynne Tolley.
Guests enjoy dinner with Lynne Tolley.
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

"We begin each meal," says Lynne, "by introducing ourselves and saying where we're from." (A glance at the guestbook shows visitors from England, Germany, Japan, Australia and Russia, the United States and Canada.)

"Dinner at Miss Mary's always included a choice of at least two meats, six vegetables, breads and dessert," Lynne continues. Today was no exception. We dined on fried chicken and roast pork, green beans, cauliflower with cheese sauce, garlic cheese grits, fried okra, green-tomato relish, candied apples, homemade cornbread and iced tea.

"Most of the vegetables come right out of the gardens Miss Mary always planted around the house," adds Lynne. "There's nothing quite like fresh sliced tomatoes, right off the vine or fresh boiled sweet corn, just seconds off the stalk."

Dessert is usually home-baked pecan pie, fruit cobbler or strawberry shortcake. "Miss Mary wanted everyone to have dessert," recounts Lynne. "If you said you were cutting back on sweets, Miss Mary would cut you a big piece of lemon icebox pie and say: 'Have this, then. It's not sweet — it's sour!'"

The story generates laughter and animated conversation among the guests. Although we first sat down together as strangers, we leave as friends. Miss Mary Bobo would undoubtedly be pleased.


Lynchburg Tennessee: www.lynchburgtn.com

More Things to See and Do in Tennessee:

Jack Daniels Distillery, Lynchburg, Tennessee

Appalachian Center for Craft Courses, Smithville, TN