Bell Buckle Cafe Serves Down-Home Cooking
For almost 25 years, the Bell Buckle Café has been a culinary staple on Main Street in the small Bedford County community, population 506.
“We get a lot of people from Shelbyville, Murfreesboro and Tullahoma, but there’s also a lot of tourists who’ve heard about us,” says owner Jeanette Heinike. “People stop if they’re driving by on I-24 – if they’re close, they just put it on their bucket list.”
Visitors come for meat-and-three classics such as Virginia baked ham, macaroni and cheese, fried corn and two kinds of slaw. “We also do a good rib-eye, which a lot of people tell us the best steak they’ve ever eaten,” Heinike says. Other popular items include smoked pork chops, curly chips and oatmeal cake with caramel sauce.
But their menu, which rotates depending on the day of the week and the season, also features carrot soufflé, lima bean casserole and grits cake.
“It doesn’t taste like grits, since they don’t have much flavor,” Heinike explains. “We put strawberries and whipped cream on it, so it’s sort of like strawberry shortcake.”
The Dish on Bell Buckle Cafe
Hours: 10:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday, 10:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday, 10:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday
Phone: (931) 389-9693
Jeanette runs the restaurant with her husband, J. Gregory, and her daughters, Heidi Heinike and Hilary Parker. Much of the menu comes from recipes developed by her husband, such as the house seasoning for the chops and chicken. Others were passed down from the restaurant’s former cooks as well as family members, such as her mother’s chocolate chip zucchini cake.
“We hope to make food like people enjoy at home,” Heinike says. “A lot of people say it’s what their mothers or grandmothers used to cook.”
The family opened the café in 1992 and soon after added a side of live music on Friday and Saturday nights. “We do country, originals, bluegrass, classic rock-and-roll,” Heinike says. “A jazz group comes in once a month, so there’s a lot of different variety that people enjoy.”
As much as diners appreciate the music, musicians also come just for the food. Marty Stuart stopped by last summer, and before his death in 2002, Waylon Jennings performed at the café. He and his wife were crowned RC King and Moon Pie Queen at the town’s preeminent festival.
“The RC Moon Pie Festival brings a lot of people to town,” Heinike says, noting that nearby Webb School’s craft fair in October also draws a crowd. “There’s just a lot of fun things to do in Bell Buckle.”
Every Saturday afternoon in December, they host sleigh rides with Santa. Nearby shops have open houses, and the café offers cookies and milk or hot chocolate.