In 1932, a Presbyterian widow from Pittsburgh named Susan Wiley Cooper Walker, whose late husband had been Andrew Carnegie’s bookkeeper, moved south to be near her sister, the wife of the Maryville College chaplain. Inspired by the natural beauty of the area, Walker created Morningside, a 26-room home and gardens in the woods in a rear corner of the campus. After Walker died, Morningside served as the college president’s home, then an inn. In 1997, the Ruby Tuesday company bought it, added two buildings, and turned RT Lodge into a corporate retreat and
wedding venue, with a pond and acres of trails, streams, and meadows.
The dining room at RT Lodge is open to the public Tuesdays through Saturdays.
The entry lobby has the feel of a classic hunting lodge, which continues upstairs in several intimate dining rooms with a total of just 15 tables. The china featuring pheasants and other game fowl complements the gentle elegance of the décor. The view of the pond is soothing. In all, it’s like going back in time.
As it was in old-time resort lodges, staff members from the manager to the waiters make guests feel that they have been waiting to make the evening special. The understated elegance continues through the meal, as dishes are presented with simplicity and a casual feel.
Executive Chef Trevor Stockton’s vision features southern dishes made with fresh ingredients in the manner of classic French kitchens. As he says of many items on the menu, “It’s a simple dish, but a lot goes into it.” Stockton grew up on his parents’ farm in Gainesborough, Tennessee, and trained at RT Lodge under Rick Mace and at Blackberry Farm. When strawberries are in season in South Carolina, for example, Stockton features them— pickled with 24-month aged ham ($12), in an elegant gazpacho ($9) with rhubarb and basil, or in a cucumber and strawberry salad ($8) with goat cheese, mint, and miner’s lettuce.
Stockton insists on using farro, rice, yellow grits, and corn meal from Anson Mills in South Carolina. This gives a special taste to the Gulf shrimp and yellow grits with Andouille sausage and green tomato ($14). He gets 24-month aged hams from the Amish in Kentucky and other pork from his parents’ and neighboring farms in Gainesborough that he dry cures in house. All this elevates his four-meat Charcuterie Board ($16) to a rare status, including lomo ham, copa, and a memorable foie gras au torchon. In a classic French technique, the duck liver is cleaned of veins and cured with sea salt, four-spice, and bourbon (for RT it’s Four Roses). The pate is run through cheesecloth to make it smooth and not crumbly, encased for three days in a towel (that’s the torchon), then gently poached and chilled again. At RT Lodge, it’s delicate, smooth, and creamy.
The main courses show what Stockton means by simple dishes with a lot going into them. The Anson Mills Farro ($20) is combined with hen-of-the-woods mushrooms and ramps. The Grilled Hanger Steak ($25) is set off by potato puree, broccoli, parmesan, and crispy farro. The Ashley Farms Chicken ($21) comes on Carolina Gold Risotto and mushrooms. A specialty of the house is Rib-Eye Steak for Two ($70), a 24 oz., 45-day wet-aged prime rib, roasted in cast iron and served with lodge steak sauce and béarnaise, and skillet fried potatoes with ramps and carrots.
With small plates between $8 and $16 and main courses averaging $25, RT Lodge is an excellent value for fine dining. Make sure to call for reservations. 981-9800.