At HeartSong you’ll also find plenty of Appalachian-inspired fare.
The Dollywood Company, which includes the award-winning amusement park, just unveiled its second hotel, HeartSong Lodge & Resort, which officially opened to the public in November, joining nearby sister property DreamMore. Situated in the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains, the scenic region lends ample inspiration to the 302-room lodge, including in its on-site restaurants.
"If you're going to have a country lodge, you're going to have to have some country food," Parton told Food & Wine. "But we also have a lot of fine dining stuff as well."
On the finer dining front, Ember & Elm is a polished homage to the mountain region, with a menu that reflects the Smokies, as well as Tennessee and the South.
The restaurant is led by chef Bill Brown, who joined the company after spending 35 years working with Walt Disney World at more than a dozen of its destinations, including Port Orleans and Hollywood Studios. He and his wife were planning a move to east Tennessee to be closer to their children and grandkids just as Dollywood was expanding. Approaching the menu creation, Brown started locally.
"We wanted to bring Tennessee food — East Tennessee specifically, the Appalachians — alive with the Smoky Mountains here," he said. The chef began by searching for local and regional purveyors, and found a bounty. Jammin Jams, a small maker churning out sweet and savory spreads, for example, was discovered at a nearby lavender festival.
He uses the small batch maker's seasonal jams like cranberry orange and peach spiced with cinnamon, nutmeg, and clove on the breakfast menu to go along with fresh biscuits, and the raspberry chipotle jam on charcuterie board that also highlights cheeses like smoked gouda and buttermilk cheddar from Sweetwater Valley Farm in Philadelphia, Tennessee. Ham in dishes like the wedge salad and the biscuit benedict at breakfast comes from Benton Hams, about an hour away. And fresh rainbow trout comes from the nearby English Mountain trout farm. "The fish is brought to us on the daily. I don't think you can get a fresh and fresher piece of fish at this point," he says.
Beyond the ingredients, the chef honors the region by spotlighting some of its traditional and beloved dishes. Tried and true Southern classics include fried green tomatoes and pickle-brined fried chicken. But Brown adds his own twist, too, in dishes like the hot pimento cheese dip, which he bakes in a skillet in the kitchen's Marra Forni Neapolitan pizza oven, and the deviled eggs three ways. The church picnic staple gets a refresh — one is filled with chicken Caesar flavors, one topped with hot honey-fried shrimp, and one is filled with pimento cheese and deep-fried.
On the dessert menu, Tennessee apple stack cake is a regional staple. Brown has added "more of an upscale flair to it," he says. "It's a griddle cake, essentially. It can be made very inexpensively, or you can put extra layers of love into it to make it a little bit more special for a restaurant environment."
For longtime Dollywood fans, though, one dessert will take center stage: the pecan cinnamon bread pudding, made from Dollywood Grist Mill cinnamon bread. The pull-apart, sugar- and butter-soaked bread, which can come with buttercream icing or apple butter and is made daily at the working grist mill bakery inside the Craftsman's Valley section of the amusement park, elicits lines as long as some of the rides.
It's also the star of the Cinnamon Bread French Toast Casserole on Ember & Elm's breakfast menu. "We take the cinnamon bread, we slice it, French toast batter it, and griddle it, and then we put it into skillet and drizzle some cinnamon glaze over the top," says the chef.
Guests can also get the cinnamon bread in its purest form at Songbird Market, the resort's cafe. Rounding out the dining outlets is High Note, offering a casual menu with burgers and sandwiches alongside a full bar.
"With both of our resorts, we're allowed to have good wine to go along with good food," says Parton. "We have full bars, so people can have their cocktails and their good food. So we have some of everything for everybody."
Chef Brown is hoping to make Ember & Elm a destination not only for visitors on a pilgrimage to Dollywood but for locals looking for a special occasion night out, too. And Parton wants them all to have a good time.
"I want them to feel good, and I want them to feel full," Parton says. "I want them to feel like that's some of the best food they've ever had."
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