For the first time in perhaps years, I’ve been home for a solid two months. In fact, the only time I left town over the past seven weeks was for a quick 36-hour weekend in Maryville. And it’s one I’m definitely glad I didn’t pass on, because The Gathering at RT Lodge is a tradition I fully plan to add to our summer lineup.
Let’s rewind. Back in May, I was in Maryville to speak at a state PR conference. The organization put us up at RT Lodge, which is a dreamy getaway owned by Ruby Tuesday and tucked away in the woods of the Maryville College campus, that served as a corporate retreat for decades before being opened up to the general public a few years back. I couldn’t believe somewhere as cool as this existed in Tennessee and I didn’t know a thing about it. So we stayed there for two nights, which happened to coincide with our nine-year wedding anniversary, and while there, the staff told us about a first-time event Chef Trevor Stockton was organizing dubbed “The Gathering.”
It sounded like a blast, but I wasn’t sure we’d have time to get back to the Smokies a second time over the summer, yet when the invite landed in my inbox and was sandwiched right between us tying up one mural installation and starting the next, I saw that as fate. We were meant to do a weekend in Maryville.
About RT Lodge’s “The Gathering”
Now, let’s get something straight: RT Lodge is a boutique inn that specializes in events. Every couple who books the lodge gets access to the entire facility for the whole weekend, which after you see what the grounds look like, you’ll realize what a cool setup that is. It turns out that a few of my photographer friends are regular fixtures here, photographing all manners of weddings. Even Tinsley Mortimer herself was a guest at one earlier this year (OK, so I had to Google who she is, but I’m told that’s impressive, ha!).
So I shouldn’t have been surprised that the team pulled off such a spectacular first-year event with no hiccups. All guests stayed on site at the lodge, and meals were a full-on production with chefs from all over the South, who included my Nashville friend Andy Little (owner of Josephine), my new friend Richard Neal (executive chef at the Admiral in Asheville) and, of course, Trevor himself.
Each meal was preceded by a happy hour that showcased different wines and beers from around the region (and the world). In addition to the drinks and hor d’oeuvres, there was live music and plenty of opportunity to mingle.
The coolest thing about the Gathering is that we came home with so many new friends from across the state of Tennessee. If community was the purpose, then I’d say they hit the nail on the head!
Cupping at Vienna Coffee Co.
But the Gathering wasn’t just about eating. Guests had options of activities from which to choose throughout the weekend, and SVV and I started our Saturday morning at Vienna Coffee Co. in downtown Maryville.
Vienna Coffee Co. focuses on responsible sourcing from seed to cup with an education process that teaches customers where their beans are coming from. As such, they offer regular classes and cuppings. Now, I drink a lot of coffee, but cupping was an entirely new experience for me, and it was fun to test our senses to distinguish different flavors and notes from the various coffees we sampled.
Sipping beer at Blackberry Farm Brewery
After coffee, it was straight on to a brewery! This was no new experience for the two of us, but like we’d miss any chance to return to Blackberry Farm Brewery! If you recall, we stayed at Blackberry Farm five years ago and first visited the brewery’s new taproom during our early summer weekend in the Smoky Mountains, but we’ve been fans of BFB’s saison since far before that. For “The Gathering,” the brewery let us all come in before it opened to the public, tour the facilities and, of course, taste all the beer!
And if you know us, there’s no better way to kick off a Saturday, particularly since many of BFB’s beers are currently only available in the brewery itself.
Getting my art on at McQueen Pottery
One thing that spearheading a public art movement has made me want to do is get back into art of my own. It’s been years since I’ve painted, and while I haven’t done a lot of work with clay, I always enjoyed it when I did. So when I saw a class at McQueen Pottery on the itinerary as one of the options, I was IN.
You don’t have to be a skilled artist to take a pottery class. In fact, LeAnne McQueen told us herself that she wasn’t very good at it in the beginning. And now here she is making all the dinner ware for Blackberry Farm and other top-notch establishments.
There’s something therapeutic about rolling your sleeves up, getting covered in mud and molding a piece of clay around a wheel, and my two-hour class at McQueen made me want to start taking a pottery course back in my hometown. For those passing through Maryville, the adjoining Studio 212 has classes in ceramics, painting and kids’ art.
Learning to forage
While I was throwing a pot, SVV was out in the woods learning about indicators and different kinds of foraging options that this section of Tennessee has on offer. If you know him, you know this is totally in his wheelhouse, as he caught the foraging bug when we were in Indiana last year.
Tucked into a hidden section of the Maryville College campus and surrounded by woodland are the trails and walking paths connected to RT Lodge. Beneath the hardwood forest canopy are an incredible array of indigenous mushrooms, many of them edible. The group leader Shannon, an expert in foraging and living off wild lands, spent two solid hours pointing out various plants and fungi while they wandered along the paths outdoors on the fringes of the Smokies. It should be mentioned that even with an expert at your side helping identify the mushrooms, it’s wise to do extra checks of morphology before consuming anything you find in the wild.
Eating all the things
The pace of the weekend was pretty leisurely—plenty of time for naps and cocktails—and everything centered around the three main meals a day and several in-between “snack hours” I like to call them.
We sampled all kinds of food from the region, and every chef knocked it out of the park. Even if you’re visiting Blount County when the Gathering isn’t happening, the Restaurant at RT Lodge is open Monday through Saturday every week and serves an ever-changing selection of what we had throughout the weekend.
The next gathering at RT Lodge
Chef Stockton told me that he’s already busy working on the second event, which he anticipates hosting again in summer 2020. Want to be the first to know about it? Sign up for the lodge’s mailing list, and you’ll get an alert when the dates have been nailed down for the next.
Even if you can’t make it to the Gathering, you can easily stay at RT Lodge on your own terms—the Smokies are gorgeous in the spring, summer and fall—and recreate a version of our own weekend in Maryville.
Looking for other ideas for your weekend in Maryville? Here are a few Smoky Mountain travel tips:
- It’s Not Too Late to Plan that Summer Smokies Vacation
- Sip Your Way Through East Tennessee’s Moonshine Culture
- A Fall Whiskey Festival in the Smoky Mountains
Thank you to the RT Lodge for hosting us for this awesome weekend in Maryville. Count us in for year two!