Many are more than willing to make bi-monthly trips north to sit at the dining table of Miss Mary Bobo's Boarding House and eat family-style home cooking.
It's hard to believe that the little town of Lynchburg, boasting of a county population of a little over 5,000 and home to Jack Daniel's Distillery, can bring in busloads of tourists every day.
The church group I went with signed up for Miss Bobo's Boarding House almost 2 months in advance. I was on their waiting list and was told that it was a "miracle" that they'd had a cancellation and I would be going with them.
I counted myself lucky and boarded the bus with much anticipation. I'd heard about Miss Bobo's from different people in Huntsville and now I'd be going to see and eat for myself.
Miss Mary Bobo's Boarding House began in 1908 when the young spinster assumed ownership of the historic Salmon Hotel. It used to be a traveler's hotel and was built over a spring.
Miss Bobo died in 1983, just five weeks short of her 102nd birthday. She remained sharp-witted and involved in the Boarding House all her life. She was confined to a wheelchair for just a few months before her death.
The Boarding House is a beautiful white painted Federal-style building with giant maple trees in the front yard, a spacious porch with swings and wooden chairs where guest can rest before or after their meal. There are ferns and flowers to rival many gardens.
The noonday dinner is served at 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. for 65 people at each sitting. We were told by our tour guide to be there a half hour early or we'd lose our place.
Dinner is by reservation only. A dinner bell is rung to let guests know when they can be seated. There are several dining rooms on the main floor and two rooms in the basement where people can eat.
Since it was my first time, I was encouraged to eat in the basement to experience the real atmosphere of Miss Bobo's. Originally the dining room and kitchen were in the basement.
We descended the wooden stairs to the basement with its brick floors and glimpse of the spring it had been built over.
One unique feature of Miss Bobo's is the hostesses. Every table has a local Lynchburg lady for their hostess. Ours was a tiny woman who didn't look like she ate two big meals a day. This was one of those jobs that you only dream about having. She said she only works two or three days a week and is careful to eat the main course with one group and dessert with the next.
Her duties include sharing local Lynchburg history, encouraging conversation among those at the long table (we were from the same group, so this wasn't hard), and making sure that dishes are passed to the left and no one leaves the table hungry.
Lunch includes generous helpings of two home-styled meats, six vegetables and side dishes, hot cornbread, biscuits or rolls, freshly brewed iced tea, homemade dessert, and a hot cup of coffee.
There is always at least one item on the menu that contains the local hometown "product" in it--good old Jack Daniel's Whiskey. The menu is varied every day except during the month of December, when a holiday meal is served every day.
The hostess told us that one item that is always on the menu is fried okra.
Reservations can be made up to a year in advance. Our hostess informed us that it was best to make reservations just as soon as you know you want to come. If they are full, they are happy to take a waiting list. And if you're driving by Lynchburg at lunch time, it wouldn't hurt to stop in and see if they had some last minute cancellations. The day we were there, they were able to accommodate two people on the spur of the moment.
The day I was at Miss Bobo's, we enjoyed chicken casserole, baked apples cooked with the local "product" in them, a delicious squash casserole, fried corn, barbeque ribs, pinto beans, pasta, cornbread, chow-chow (tomatoes and onions), and fried okra. Dessert was pumpkin chess square cake topped with cream cheese icing and crushed pecans.
Our servers were scholarship students from one of the local universities. Our only complaint was that the plates were too small and our stomachs wouldn't hold enough.
I have to admit: the food was just as wonderful as everyone had promised it would be. It was a feast and an adventure. No wonder some people in Huntsville make it a monthly or bi-monthly routine in their travels.
Miss Bobo's is now run under the direction of Jack Daniel's great-great niece, Miss Lynne Tolley. Miss Tolley carries on Miss Bobo's tradition of southern hospitality. She autographed the Jack Daniel's Spirit of Tennessee Cookbook I bought and greeted everyone in our party.
The Jack Daniel's company now owns the Boarding House. You can get on the reservation list at Miss Bobo's Boarding House by calling 931-759-7394. Just remember: Don't eat for at least two days before you go!