Just last week, the Retiree had just finished reading an article on how the current crop of culinary wizards are making food not only taste extraordinary, but have it look extraordinary as well. The more our friend talked about what she had read, the rest us were getting increasingly hungry. Suddenly, our globe-trotting friend stopped in mid-sentence, looked at the rest of us and uttered the two words we all wanted to hear: “Road Trip.”
Twenty five minutes later found the five of us pulling into the gravel drive of Smoky Mountain Bakers. This multi-carat diamond of a bakery owned by Tim and Crystal Decker is nestled among the laurels and rhododendrons of Roan Mountain.
The Deckers and their excellent staff produce the nearest thing East Tennessee has to pizza as an art form, and all from what looks like a converted 1930s frame house. There are two dining areas, one inside with seating for just ten or so, and more outside on the deck for dining al fresco under the trees.
We found a table near the dessert-filled display case, offering a good view of the building’s centerpiece, a set of custom-built wood-fired ovens. Each was going full blast on current customer orders. Next to the display case was a baker’s rack displaying breads, rolls and buns baked just that day, including three loaves of descriptively named peasant bread.
Smoky Mountain Bakers was running a daily pizza special: you could buy four pizzas and get the fifth one free. Considering the state of the dine-around bunch’s collective appestat — a region of the hypothalamus thought to control appetite — a pizza apiece just didn’t seem to be enough, but we decided to tough it out.
The Retiree ordered a barbecue chicken pizza ($10) while the Dieter chose the Winner Winner chicken pizza ($10). My dining partner picked a favorite of ours, the mushroom, bacon and cheeseburger pizza ($11), while the Carnivore opted for (what else?) the meat lover’s pizza ($11). It was up to me to order dessert. After careful consideration, I chose an order of Smoky Mountain Bakers’ cinnamon and walnut strips ($8). Drinks for our party were near to hand, as were the red pepper flakes for the Carnivore and the parmesan cheese for the rest of us.
Our pizzas began arriving almost before I’d finished putting ice in my water glass.
First out was the Retiree’s barbecue chicken pizza. Smoky Mountain Bakers takes their proprietary scratch-made pizza dough, then pats and stretches it into a sort-of round shape about fourteen inches in diameter. Then there’s the sauce: in this case a slightly sweet and tangy barbecue sauce. And the toppings: here it is pulled white meat chicken, followed by caramelized onions and fresh-sliced mushrooms. In a word: excellent.
Next out was the Dieter’s Winner Winner pizza, where pulled chicken, smoked bacon and Asiago cheese are joined by a good swirling of homemade ranch dressing. A savory grouping of food elements, and one that got a lot of favorable comment from the dine-around bunch.
My dining partner’s cheeseburger pizza followed shortly. On her pizza, succulent ground beef, sliced fresh mushrooms, aged cheddar cheese and smoky bacon had chopped onions and tomatoes added as finishers. Though lacking the dill pickles that my dining partner usually has on her cheeseburger, all of us, (my partner included) were pleased with its just-grilled cheeseburger flavor, especially the aged cheddar and the smoky bacon.
The Carnivore had a hard time being patient while waiting for his meat lover’s pizza to arrive. When it did, it was worth the wait.
The pizza’s meat elements, being sliced artisan pepperoni, spicy Italian sausage, boiled ham, smoked bacon, lean ground beef and white meat chicken, were artfully arranged on the house red sauce and topped with shredded mozzarella cheese. Uncharacteristically, the Carnivore decided to share his pizza with the rest of the dine-around bunch, which produced favorable comments from all around our table.
Just as we were finishing, dessert arrived: my order of the cinnamon and walnut strips.
Here, a fourteen-inch pizza dough is covered in melted butter, then coated with a cinnamon and sugar dusting. Next, a mixture of chopped walnuts and pecans is sprinkled on the pie. Lastly, several dollops of caramel sauce are applied and the whole creation spends a couple of minutes in the wood-fired oven before being brought, still bubbling, to our table. Glancing at the Dieter, I could see her mentally totaling up how many calories each cinnamon and walnut strip might contain, and how many her diet could afford.
With a sigh, followed by a smile, our dieting friend reached out and chose three of the cinnamon strips as her own.
All told, our four pizzas plus the dessert cost just $42 plus tax and tip, just about $8 per person. The loaves of fresh bread, the breakfast scones and the fruit pastries that the dine-around bunch purchased to take home were another $25 to $30. You didn’t think we’d leave empty-handed did you?
Smoky Mountain Bakers gets a “Recommended” rating from the Mystery Diner and the dine-around bunch. If you have not experienced food as art yet, why not take a day trip to Tim and Crystal Decker’s bakery in the clouds to see, and taste for yourself?
Smoky Mountain Bakers
128 Orr Street
Roan Mountain, Tennessee
Tue-Sat 8 a.m. – 8 p.m.
Closed Sunday & Monday
Available on Facebook
Credit cards welcome