Tuesday, March 17, 2009

El Primo Productos Hispanos, Sevierville, TN

This is the fifth and final account of outstanding meals that Tamar and I enjoyed as we traveled across Tennessee during Thanksgiving week, 2008.


After a rainy morning hiking in the Smoky Mountains in eastern Tennessee and debating whether to visit Dollywood (we declined because of the weather), Tam and I needed to eat something before hitting the road for our 9 hour drive back to Pittsburgh. Those of you lucky enough to have visited the area around Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge, TN know that the main roads are packed with plenty of tackiness, kitsch, and Americana, and the dining options reflect the landscape.

For some reason, this area might also be the pancake capital of the country, because it seems like every other business is a pancake house. Indeed, a quick Internet search reveals ten dedicated pancake restaurants within four miles of each other in Pigeon Forge, and nine more a few miles away in Gatlinburg. I love a good pancake now and then, but 19 pancake shops on a single stretch of road? Can anyone explain this phenomenon to me?

Not in the mood for flapjacks, giant all you can eat buffets, or willing to settle for sub-par barbecue after the excellent meals we'd eaten earlier on our trip, we spotted a nondescript Mexican grocery store/restaurant and decided to check it out.

El Primo Productos Hispanos is more convenience store, green grocer, and butcher than restaurant, but a few long tables topped with hot sauces, bowls of dried chilies, diced onions, and cilantro in a corner of the store let us know that food was being served. Being the only English-speaking people in the establishment (including the cashier, other customers, and waiter), our ordering options were limited, especially since there was no printed menu.

The basic ordering protocol involved communicating a dish to eat and having the chef in back prepare it with ingredients off the shelf from the grocery. I presume they also had a few soups and stews simmering away if we had wanted a bowl of something warm as well. Sadly limited by our Spanish, we had them fry up some chorizo on some fresh tortillas, and it came served with lime and sliced avocado. Coca-cola from a glass bottle (bottled in Central America and made with cane sugar instead of corn syrup) was available from the grocery display case to wash down the simple plate.

It's hard to go wrong when something simple is prepared so well. Not anxious to hit the road, we relaxed for a while and watched some telenovelas from the store's satellite feed before perusing the aisles and deciding to do our week's worth of grocery shopping.

Great avocados, limes, tomatillos, chilies, and cebollitas were purchased and were turned into salsa and guacamole in our kitchen later that week. We were also amazed by the vast selection of Mi Costenita spices and herbs including therapeutic products for everything from blood sugar regulation to hemmorhoid control.

We added our dinner tab to our groceries, and could hardly believe how affordable everything was. A week's worth of produce, some snacks for the road, and dinner for two was well under $20. If I'm ever in the area, perhaps to visit Dollywood on a sunnier day, I'll be sure to stop back at El Primo and see what else the kitchen can throw together.

El Primo Productos Hispanos is located along the main road between the I-40 interstate and the tackiness of Dollywood and Gatlinburg at 725 The Great Smoky Mountains Parkway in Sevierville, TN.

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