By Cassandra M. Vanhooser
At the end of a busy Saturday night at the Foglight Foodhouse, chef Edward Philpot steps out of his kitchen, wipes his hands on a black apron, and smiles.
His guests still linger at their tables, and the low hum of conversation fills the air. Tinkling glasses, chirping crickets, and the occasional burst of laughter add to the music of happy diners. The chef takes a moment to drink it all in.
“It doesn’t make any sense,” Philpot says, with a laugh. “I still can’t believe people come all the way out here to eat at my restaurant.”
“Out here” is a tiny, unincorporated town called Walling, about 15 miles north of McMinnville. Though it’s just a couple of miles off U.S. 70S, a broad four-lane highway, it feels a world away. Yet, the location doesn’t keep people from finding the Foglight Foodhouse. In fact, it seems to make it more enticing.
The tin-roofed restaurant sits in the woods, atop a steep bluff overlooking the Caney Fork River and Rock Island State Park. Pickup trucks and SUVs fill the parking lot and spill onto the gravel road that leads to the establishment. A friendly dog lies near the door, and guests gather around a fire pit as darkness settles on the woods.
A neon sign to the left of the front door reads, “Welcome to Paradise.” If true, Philpot’s idea of heaven must be part fish camp, part country lodge. Burlap sacks line the ceiling, while strings of tiny lights twinkle overhead. The walls are made of pine board and corrugated steel, and they’re covered with vintage signs, collectibles, and local memorabilia.
Guests who love nature often prefer a table on the wide, wrap-around porch outside. Here, lanterns grace the tables and large-bulbed Christmas lights hang from the rafters. Even at night, guests can see the nearby river.
Once presented with a menu, guests quickly figure out this is no country diner. Traditional favorites that range from ribeye to fettuccine Alfredo, but more adventuresome dishes include a smoked bone-in pork shank, Ahi tuna, and an entire page of Cajun food.
Because the meals come at a somewhat leisurely pace, ordering an appetizer is a must. Fresh-baked French bread, a double knot pretzel, and crab cakes crowd the list, but the stuffed mushrooms are the chef’s signature dish. The marinated button mushrooms are served piping hot, oozing with Parmesan stuffing and swimming in butter.
With a water view, you’d expect a “From the Water” section, and you get it. The crispy crab cakes make another appearance here, along with golden fried catfish, Alaskan salmon, and smoked lemon trout.
Cajun dishes include red beans and rice, étouffée, and jambalaya, as well as blackened catfish and chicken. Though he was born and raised just up the road in Cookeville, Philpot says his authentic Cajun recipes are “spicy enough to warm you up, but they won’t burn you down.”
Philpot and his two brothers opened the original Foglight Foodhouse in 1997, less than a mile down the road. Though his siblings have since gone their own separate ways, the self-taught chef still dedicates his restaurant to his mother, a Cookeville caterer who passed away in 1996. Philpot believes she would have loved what he’s accomplished here.
“People come here the first time because a friend has told them about it or they’ve read about us somewhere,” Philpot explains. “But people come back because it’s comfortable. It’s like dining at someone’s home. We cook for them, and we take care of them. All we want is for people to leave happy.”
It’s a recipe that works quite well.
If You Go …
Foglight Foodhouse, located at 275 Powerhouse Road in Walling, is open from 5-8 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday, and 5-9 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Their entrees range in price from $15 to $30. For more details, call (931) 657-2364, visit www.foglight-foodhouse.com or find them on Facebook. As always, please call ahead before driving long distances.