Clarence’s Drive-In, Unicoi TN

For our third stop of the morning, we drove south down I-26 to the small town of Unicoi to have some terrific country ham.

We’re always on the lookout for restaurants that have lasted for decades, especially the ones that have competition from national fast food chains. I haven’t been able to trace precisely when this restaurant’s predecessor, Engle’s Drive-In, opened, but it was probably the late 1950s. Some years later, in 1969, Clarence Tapp purchased it. He kept the name Engle’s for several years while the local crowd grew and grew, eventually changing it to Clarence’s sometime in the mid-seventies.

Despite the name “drive-in,” this isn’t a canopied place with carhops; instead it is an old-fashioned, traditional family restaurant, albeit one with an even deeper menu than most that you see like this. Not many old-style restaurants are prepared to accommodate vegans and gluten allergies, but this place will, in part because one of the owners is herself vegan.

They’re busy every morning, but Saturdays are particularly wild. Their customers come from all over northeastern Tennessee and the mountains of North Carolina for breakfast. I was told that nobody serves better country ham for a hundred miles. While we have absolutely no way to confirm this claim at this time, I’m prepared to believe it. This country ham is flat-out fantastic.

Marie and our son passed on any more food here. She’d eaten once and our son twice, so I just had a country ham biscuit and potato rounds and planned to leave a pretty large tip. I always believe that a server who only gets one food order from three people deserves a little more than just 20%. Our server said that she had only worked at Clarence’s for a few months, but she appears to be part of a small army of part-timers who get to know all of the restaurant’s many regulars.

About twenty years after Clarence Tapp bought the drive-in, he sold it to some of his younger relatives. His niece Teresa Collins and her husband Jerry own it today. It may not look like much from the outside, but that packed Saturday morning parking lot didn’t just happen. It’s a much-loved piece of the community where locals gather and tourists are welcomed and the biscuits and country ham demand your attention. I’d love to come back another day.

Clarence’s Drive-In
4021 Unicoi Dr
Unicoi, TN 37692

You can see all the restaurants that we have visited for our blog on this map, with links back to the original blog posts. It’s a terrific resource for anybody planning a road trip through the southeast!