The Eateries of Madison County, North Carolina

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Some people fall in love with bridges, as in the late Robert James Waller’s “The Bridges of Madison County,” the best-selling romance novel from 1992.

Others, like me, fall in love with eateries. So here goes with “The Eateries of Madison County, North Carolina” and some information about three restaurants that could be included in a follow up volume to my book, “North Carolina’s Roadside Eateries: A Traveler’s Guide to Local Restaurants, Diners, and Barbecue Joints.”

I found these Madison County eateries while attending the Laughing Heart Literary Festival at the iconic Laughing Heart Lodge in Hot Springs.

Smoky Mountain Diner in Hot Springs
Terry Roberts’ people have lived in Madison County for generations, and his debut novel, “A Short Time to Stay Here,” is set in Hot Springs during the First World War when German interns were housed in the old resort hotel.

Roberts waxes eloquently about the Smoky Mountain Diner, family-owned for years, he says. “Once when we were eating there during the Christmas season,” he remembers, “the staff emptied out of the restaurant suddenly. They were leaving to man the diner’s float in the Hot Springs Christmas parade. On the way out, they told everybody to put the money on the counter when they finished eating.”
Roberts says the diner serves the “best pie in Madison County.”

Appalachian Trail hikers meet up with locals and tourists at the diner to feast on mountain-sized dishes like the Hungry Hiker double-decker Black Angus beef sandwich.

Owner Genia Hayes Peterson, her daughter Casey, Casey’s husband, William Franklin, the main cook, and their son Zach keep the restaurant open seven days a week and on holidays. They have the help of staff members like Cindy Wood, who has been working there for 19 years.

After eating take in the wonderful downtown Hot Springs where you can see tired trail hikers passing through. Stop at Gentry Hardware and if you have time, visit Hot Springs Resort where the springs that made the town famous are still steaming. Bring your bathing suit.

Zuma Coffee in Marshall
Although Terry Roberts recommends Zuma’s for breakfast, lunch or dinner, he likes it best on Thursday evenings when mountain music reigns. He heard a rumor that well-heeled music fans would pay up to $1,000 per season for a front-row table on Thursday nights. Don’t let that scare you away. The rest of the time Zuma’s is primarily a coffee shop. But its “Zuma Food Menu” headlines “Creative, Healthy, Comfort Food.” That is shorthand for “It’s a great place to get a sandwich.”

Because the old courthouse is right across the street, Roberts says a good place to sit is outside in front of Zuma’s “to enjoy the action and drama on court day.”
Most of the time there is a parade of tourists, locals, and farmers in overalls who pass by and often come inside to enjoy treats from the coffee bar, cookies and sweets, and a good sandwich meal.

After eating, walk down Main Street. Still Mayberry-like, it is quickly becoming a trendy Asheville suburb with shops and more upscale restaurants. Go inside the courthouse and you will be reminded of the trial scene in the movie “To Kill a Mockingbird.”

Momma’s Kitchen in Marshall
Since 1987, Momma’s Kitchen has been the proud domain of its owner, Sherry Robinson. She tells how her husband, James, sawed down trees and milled the lumber he used to build the restaurant’s building. Those rough natural wood planks help create a cozy atmosphere and make for an intimate place to enjoy its country cooking. On the day I visited, patrons raved about the fried squash and juicy hamburgers.

If you have favorite locally owned and operated eateries in North Carolina, share them with me at

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