Gatlinburg, with its five-star hotels, wide variety of restaurants, and world-class skiing, has something to do for just about everyone. Many major cities have been home to a Hard Rock Cafe, and on September 5, 1999, our little mountain resort town officially joined the list. The Hard Rock Cafe in Gatlinburg is an impressive 2-story brick building with a steep hipped metal roof, nicely matching the local mountain architecture. Situated just about 100 yards away from the intersection of US 441 and US 321, its huge orange Gretsch Country Gentleman sign with its golden neon strings dominates the city lights at night.
Although this is most definitely not the first time we walked through the shiny brass-framed glass doors, I must say it always feels like a special occasion every time we come here. As usual, there is a pretty good crowd here on a Saturday night, and therefore a pretty god little wait to be seated. But waiting for a table at the Hard Rock isn’t all that bad (at least for us), because you have plenty cool stuff to look at, like autographed pictures of famous rock n’ roll personalities, as well as memorabilia such as gold records and actual instruments used by rock n’ roll royalty!
Also, there’s a little merchandise shop right next to the waiting area (convenient, huh?) that sells T-shirts, ball caps, tote bags, hoodies, and other little impulse items to browse through while waiting for their table (even a very nice leather jacket with the Hard Rock logo embroidered on the back). Most folks just cannot resist buying at least a T-shirt, if only to prove to their friends and family back home that they’ve actually been here! As an added convenience, any merchandise purchased at the Hard Rock Cafe can be added to your total bill at the end of your meal.
We ate in the main dining room, just after the waiting area. We asked for the first available booth, and were treated to a rather comfortable one with plenty of room, right under a shiny black Les Paul, signed by Jimmy Page of the Mighty Led Zeppelin! We started out with the Potato Skins, a killer portion of 4 huge potato halves filled with cheddar and monterrey jack cheese with bacon bits and little green onions, cooked to flaky, cheesy perfection; just the thing to tide us over until our entrees arrived.
I ordered the New York Strip Steak (cooked medium-well) with smashed potatoes, and Luchrisa ordered the Herb Grilled Chicken Breast with smashed potatoes and mushrooms. Our meals were cooked exactly to our liking, and they didn’t take long, either. Furthermore, the portions were huge (they oughta be for what we paid for them), and we ended up taking over half of our meals back to the hotel in a “to-go” box!
The menu has a very impressive selection of many different kinds of fare. “Starters” include the Potato Skins, Smoked Spinach, Chicken, and Artichoke Dip, Hard Rock Nachos (served with monterey jack and cheddar cheese and seasoned pinto beans), Hickory Smoked Chicken Wings (VERY good!), Tupelo Chicken Tenders (served with honey mustard, hickory barbecue, Classic Rock, or Heavy Metal sauce), Santa Fe Spring Rolls (stuffed with monterey jack, diced red peppers, jalapenos, cilantro, corn, spinach, and black beans), and Joe Perry’s “Rock Your World” quesadilla (made with Joe Perry of Aerosmith’s Mango-Peach-Tango hot sauce). If you just can’t decide which starter to start with, then order the Jumbo Combo, which contains a little of a lot of the above!
Salad offerings include the Caesar, Cobb, Haystack Chicken Salad (with tossed tortilla straws), and their honey Citrus Grilled Chicken Salad (with orange pieces, craisins (dried cranberries), sliced pecans, red peppers, and bleu cheese). Sides include Twisted Mac & Cheese, White Cheddar Smashed Potatoes, French Fries, Onion Rings, Garlic Toast, and whatever vegetables are in season.
The “Smokehouse” menu contains many samplings of their specialty smoked BBQ items, such as Bar-B-Que Ribs, Chicken, or Beef Brisket, or a special combo platter containing all three! The centerpiece of this menu is the Rock Chop, a humonguos center cut rib porkchop. Hard Rock also offers a wide selection of burgers, served with red onions, pickles, lettuce, and tomato. It’s all based on their Legendary 10 Ounce Burger: its delicious variations include the Big Cheese Burger, the Spinach Garlic Burger, the Big Blue Burger, the Hickory Bar-B-Que Bacon Burger, and the infamous S.O.B. Burger (with chipotle, monterrey jack, onions, and Hard Rock guacamole). All Smokehouse items come with choice of sides, and Burger platters come with their seasoned French Fries.
Sandwich platters include the Classic French Dip (with monterrey jack and au jus), Cajun Chicken Sandwich, Chicken Club Sandwich, Smoked Bar-B-Que Beef Brisket Sandwich, and the Hockory Smoked Pulled Pork Sandwich, all served with seasoned fries.
If, for some ungodly reason you’re STILL hungry after all that, they offer some very sweet dessert choices, all of which include Haagen-Dazs ice cream. Selections include their Milkshakes and Malts, Apple Cobbler, Hot Fudge Sundae, Sorbet, and a Hot Fudge Brownie Sundae. Bon Appetit!
The Hard Rock Cafe in Gatlinburg has a very well-stocked bar as well, with a huge array of beer, wine, and whiskey, with knowledgeable bartenders who know how to mix a good Fuzzy Navel (not to mantion one of Pete Townshend’s Stratocasters, AND IT’S STILL INTACT!). The Whiskey River Room (on the second floor) is a great place for private parties and maybe even a reception following a wedding in their own Hard Rock Chapel (next best thing to a Graceland wedding, eh?).
The Cafe is rather expensive, though (about on par with places like Outback and Olive Garden), but come on, man: It’s the HARD ROCK CAFE! With tons of memorabilia from such rock n’ roll luminaries as Tom Petty, Madonna, Ozzy Osbourne, Wavy Gravy, and Jimi Hendrix, televisions playing music videos and vintage concert footage, great food and drink, and a true Smoky Mountain motif, Gatlinburg’s Hard Rock Cafe is definitely worth the money, definitely worth the trip, definitely worth the wait!