The adventure of a scenic dinner on a railcar
|A sumptuous menu with the delightful flavor of steam — a steam engine, that is.
The Great Smoky Mountains Railroad Gourmet Dinner Train offers the chance to experience the romantic nostalgia of traveling by rail, while enjoying a scintillating array of culinary delights, hand–picked by executive chef Paul Swofford.
“I’ve served as executive chef and food and beverage director for three years,” Swofford said. “I worked in the North Carolina Highlands for 10 years before working with the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad, and this is my first experience working on a train. It’s great to see different places and not have to stare at the same four walls all the time.”
The dinner train has been in continuous operation since 1995, with year–round Saturday departures from Dillsboro, N.C., located just two hours from Greenville. The south side of The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is just a short scenic drive from the railroad and the Cherokee Indian Reservation and casino are located just 15 minutes away. All seats on the refurbished rail and dining cars are first–class accommodations, with dinner seating situated with seating for four. Exclusive seating for two is also available.
“The most challenging aspect of serving dinner on the train is finding space for everything,” Swofford said.
He counts diners requesting his autograph on the printed menus and giving him standing ovations at the end of dinner among the best compliments he has received.
"Long a destination in itself for special occasions and celebrations, the dinner train presents the perfect backdrop," said Kim Lyons, marketing manager, GSMR. "Wedding parties have chartered entire cars, and proposals, birthdays and anniversaries have been feted in their turn. With the stunning view of the Blue Ridge Mountains lending their reflections to the Tuckasegee River for a dramatic natural scene, the dining experience is that much more heightened."
“Our three daughters gave us tickets for the dinner train and it turned out to be very nice,” said Fran Beason, who celebrated her 50th wedding anniversary with husband, James, June 12. “At 2 1/2 hours, the train ride wasn’t too long and the scenery was excellent. The waiters were very congenial and the food was very timely. The meal was superb, and afterward we were served complimentary champagne. We had a lovely time, and you couldn’t ask for anything better.”
Whether one dines aboard the Silver Meteor, the Champion, the Dixie Flyer or the MacNeill Club car, the experience is unique. After some diners have an opportunity to sample one of the multi–course menus, the temptation to return and experience the monthly menu change has been hard to resist.
“We feature a four–course gourmet dinner on Saturday nights,” Swofford said. “I usually begin with a salad like apple and bleu cheese with a spring mix. Entrées include dishes like filet mignon topped with crabmeat, roast duck and herb–crusted salmon. For dessert, I feature fresh fruits like apple tarts a la mode. I’ve had some regulars who come back to ride each month and try the menu.”
On Friday nights, the Mystery Theater Dinner Train features a murder mystery play and a three–course gourmet dinner consisting of a salad, entrée and dessert.
A selection of wine is served to accompany each course, and full bars are available in each dining car. Vegetarian dining options are also available upon request. The dress code for the dinner train is business casual; jeans, shorts and ball caps are discouraged.
“It was our first time, and we would recommend it to anyone for a special occasion or just to experience it,” Beason said. “It was very enjoyable, and they make you feel special.”
As you plan your romantic runaway to the rails, keep in mind that four times each year, GSMR presents a wine and dine event, which features a four–course dinner in concert with Biltmore Estate wines and wines from around the world. Wine experts from the finest wineries share background information about the wines on the menu and entertain questions about the pairings with each course.
For more information, contact the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad at (800) 872–4681 or (828) 586–8811.