By Emily Bestor
Let me explain my love for grits. They are a wonderful comfort food, excellent for a lazy Sunday breakfast, and a great hangover cure—ahem, not that I would know from experience.
I ate grits a lot growing up, and now that I am a college student living on a college student’s budget, I probably make them more often than is healthy. I learned from my Dad how to slow cook grits. I always melt some jack cheese on top and add a little bit of butter and a dash of Tony’s Chachere’s Creole Seasoning. This is occasionally accompanied by a fried egg. It’s the best.
So you might imagine my excitement upon learning we were taking a family vacation to the South for spring break this past year, because like grits, all Southern food has a special place in my heart. We had our fair share of good meals, like “the best fried chicken I’ve had in my entire life” according to my mom, but the meal that stands out to me was the lunch we had at Miss Mary Bobo’s Boarding House.
Located in Lynchburg, Tennessee, Miss Mary’s is now owned by Lynchburg’s most famous business, the Jack Daniel’s Distillery. It’s said that Jack himself ate many a meal at Miss Bobo’s. But funny enough, Lynchburg is a dry town.
The Boarding House was built in 1867, and Miss Mary Bobo, along with her husband, bought the place in 1908 and ran the business until her death at age 101 in 1983.
While the boarding house no longer operates as a hotel, it does offer two servings of lunch, at 11am and 1pm, six days a week. Reservations are required (by telephone only of course) and are booked out months in advance. When we arrived for lunch, I noticed that my sister and I were some of the youngest people there by about 50 years (save our parents of course).
We ate family style, in an upstairs parlor with about eight other tourists and our hostess/historian, Ann, who regaled us with the history of the boarding house and Lynchburg itself. There are about ten different rooms where groups like ours are served about a dozen different dishes of the best Southern food you can imagine, along with your choice of either sweet or plain iced tea. The highlights of our meal were a cheesy jalapeño rice dish, deep fried okra, and baked apples with the town’s “signature special ingredient,” our hostess said with a wink.
It was delicious, and in true Bestor fashion, we all stuffed ourselves. My craving for traditional southern food was fixed on this trip, but by the time we got back to the West Coast, I was grateful for a fresh salad containing zero deep fried ingredients.
Notes on Miss Mary Bobo’s:
- Reservations can be made via the Boarding House telephone (931) 759-7394. Plan your visit several weeks or a month or two in advance.
- The cost was $24 per person.
- Plan to arrive hungry, as the dishes just keep on coming, and the meal is all you can eat.
- We did not tour the Jack Daniel’s Distillery, but many other tourists at our table did, and it sounds like the tour is worthwhile.
- Lynchburg has a small town square with cute stores for browsing. We walked a bit after lunch to try and work off some of our meal. It was hard to do.