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Capitol, there are new questions about the role some Tennesseans played in the assault on democracy. Among the people there: the local head of the Proud Boys, a far-right group sometimes known for its violent street clashes. Trump supporters from across the country had converged upon the U. Capitol at the urging of the President himself.


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In Knoxville, Tennessee, folks love sandwiches from a Fresh-O-Matic steamer like they love their grandmas. We lived in South Knoxville, in a mid-century subdivision full of bad drivers — a dicey mix of old people and teenagers.

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I was always careful to stay off the shoulderless road, keeping my little sister corralled on the safe side as we tramped along on so many sticky Tennessee summer evenings, our light-up sneakers collecting cut grass. About a quarter-mile down the hill from our house sat a low cinderblock building shaped like a brick, its white paint speckled with adornments in always-fresh Volunteer orange.

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It was the first place we were allowed to go by ourselves. It was a purpose-serving place, anchoring the neighborhood in a way that was becoming dated even in the early s.

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Inside, Faye cashed checks, ran the grill, and recognized our phone when it popped up on her caller ID. Underneath a halo of cigarette smoke, she gave hell to whoever else was posted up at the counter. Always ham and Swiss, on dark bread, mayo only. Always steamed.

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I would grit my golden-child teeth and stroll confidently out into the parking lot atas if I were a person who regularly did bold, adult things, like leave campus without permission. Our high school sat just off a nearly empty seven-mile stretch of state highway between two larger and more important ro. The Bi-Lo was the only place near enough to grab a sausage biscuit on your way to first period.

Its parking lots, where we held car-wash fundraisers or arranged off-campus fights after school, was the first place we ate on our own. Imagine it in Kodachrome: two teenage girls enjoying gas station food without the intrusion of irony or Instagram. Week in and week out, our orders were an early exercise in the comfort of sameness.

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Always hoagies. All Knoxvillians know about steamed sandwiches. In fact, all Knoxvillians know steamed sandwiches so very deeply in their consciousness that they rarely consider their standard hot-ham-and-cheese has, in fact, been steam-heated. I never really thought about it.

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InThe New York Times offered readers a chance to fire questions about regional foods to foodways historian John T. Of the 25 questions posed in the comments, two asked for an elucidation of the Knoxville tradition of steaming sandwiches. While I am aware of the great power of the collective American consciousness to ruin anything regional and peculiar — last year, thousands of people lost their minds on Twitter when they found out that St.

Louisans prefer to slice a bagel like a Texan slices a brisket — I am here nonetheless to stand tall and tell you: This is special. There are half a million hillbillies in East Tennessee who have been steaming each and every one of their hoagies for over 50 years. It took several years of moving around after college to grasp it: There were no steamed sandwiches to be found in the Carolina Lowcountry, or on the West Coast, or even in Nashville. By the time I moved back to North Carolina inI had gone from hoagie-curious to hoagie-obsessed.

I wanted to know exactly when and why we started steaming hoagies in Knoxville, but no one I spoke with knew. If I wanted the truth, I would have to dig it up myself. Keeping that in mind, I thought it best to start my investigation broadly. By … the sandwich became commonly known as the hoagie.

And they had been since The novel is set in However, the first appearance of a used model for sale in the News Sentinel classifieds appears in April ofin an ad for an auction closing out the old Star Drive-In in Sevierville.

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The building at 18th and Cumberland had been subdivided, and there, inthe brothers announced the opening of a deli within their Roman Room Bar. I asked Neely, hoping that as the doyen of Knoxville pop-history he would have some information long forgotten by other Vols of his generation. I imagined that one day they just said, Hey! A few months later, News Sentinel columnist and reported hoagie enthusiast Shannon Stanfield ran an interview with their aforementioned nephew, Bill. Bill would have been 62 at the time of the interview, reflecting on almost five decades of making the sandwiches that would come to define his adopted city.

In the mountains of east tennessee, folks have a particular fondness for a sandwich that’s spent a few seconds in a fresh-o-matic steamer. knoxvillians know that soft-bread love in their bones, but nobody seems to know exactly where it comes from. chelsey mae johnson aimed to find out.

Stanfield reported:. Captain said [in the early s] his uncle got a notion to put a cheese shop in the space behind the Roman Room and was checking out other such shops around the region. Photo via Gate She says — with great certainty — the Pickle Barrel never froze its sandwiches. But Newman assured me: They never had hoagies. Take it with a few grains of salt. The bottom line is that inspiration strikes in unassuming moments. Who could have known that a carload of Greeks watching a Jewish Ashevillian pump the handle of a steamer in the s would eventually move the collective culinary consciousness of the entire city of Knoxville?

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Rent goes up. Entire neighborhoods transform. Buildings crumble or flood or catch on fire. Sometimes folks relocate, sometimes they rebuild, sometimes they just lock up and go home. Sam Captain spent his sunset years breeding bird dogs; Andy Captain died in Greece. They ran the place together for 36 years, but for the last nine, Dennis has worked alone — no employees, not even a pinch hitter.

Hanging on the walls, I count at least four clocks, three of which are working but read different times, and five ball caps, two of which are UT orange. I have never seen Dennis Parton not wearing UT orange — neither in person, nor in a photo, nor in my imagination. Dennis sells only hot dogs, hoagies, deviled eggs, and lemon pound cake.

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On Sundays, he goes to church; on Mondays, he goes to Walmart. All other days, he opens at 9 in the morning to bake the pound cake and sell early lunches to road crews and picnic packs to hikers. He asks if I want to see his original lettuce holder, and he pulls out one of those old Jadite-colored Tupperware crispers meant to hold a single head of iceberg.

He intends to keep making sandwiches in this shop, just him and the Lord, until one of them decides Dennis is done making sandwiches. I take to a booth in the corner with my ham and swiss on dark with mayo. There is something holy in the humility of this place, in the work, in being uncorrupted through forty-five seasons on and off, as the town swelled and morphed and began to close in on all sides.

But, I do it as fast as I can, and I do it well. You just meet a lot of nice people. She tells him about her new grandbaby then fascinatingly segues into a recollection about the first time she saw a calf being born — its wobbly legs and saucer-sized eyes, the wonder and purity and heart-stopping thrill of it all.

I guess even in Gatlinburg, people just need a place to go. Somewhere to talk a little, to hand out blessings and to get something good to eat — maybe even some pound cake to take back to the house.

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Murky origins aside, the unquestionable, concrete foundation of all steamed hoagie lore and legend is the Fresh-O-Matic. And people here like their hoagies better than anything else. I could find only a handful of photographs of older models. The last update before a drastic modern rede brought machines that look like squat little robots. There are still quite a few of these later models kicking around, but most are a little scuffed up and would look more at home alongside WALL-E than aboard the Starship Enterprise.

Until recently, a pump handle controlled the steam action. In the last 15 years, a push-button replaced the handle. However, the cover does not point out the button explicitly as an update; it only promises the steamer button will now prevent flooding of the hot plate. PUmp-handle model of a Lincoln fresh-o-matic currently in use at the korner deli.

On the massive Knoxville-based restaurant supply site KaTom. Add this to the initial cost of those larger appliances, and your minimum equipment cost is well into the five-digit realm — most likely implausible for a mid-century immigrant start-up and definitely implausible for a neighborhood convenience-store owner today, already fighting the battle against grocery, gas-station, and fast-food chains.

Customers just shrugged and ate their sandwiches off the empty shelves that once held groceries. Inthe mythos of the machine itself could nearly stand alone. Old-timers speak reverentially about the heyday of Ali Baba Time Out Delicatessen, a now-shuttered hour t in West Knoxville rumored to have blown through two steamers every six months, creating a trickle-down supply of cheap, refurbishable models for the little guys.

I spoke with several civilian enthusiasts — including both my father and stepfather — who have put years of casual browsing into trying to track down old models on eBay for home use.

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Jerome Grant is a professor at the University of Tennessee, and has been spending the last few weeks catching cicadas to put on his dinner plate.


At Central High School in Knoxville, Tennessee, a Friday night in autumn means a football stadium bathed in lights and two teams battling it out on the gridiron in front of a sea of red and black -- everyone decked out in support of the home team, the Bobcats.


SEC sports are back.


As for the spicy fried chicken — yes, it is fiendishly delicious, with its shatteringly crisp, mahogany-hued batter revealing tender meat within.