Making new friends at Hampton's Laurel Fork Restaurant

Mystery Diner • Feb 11, 2020 at 6:00 AM

It isn’t often that you make friends with the proprietor of a restaurant the first time you eat there. May I introduce Ms. Lisa Qualls, the owner and operator of Hampton’s Laurel Fork Restaurant?

Qualls fulfills the duties of both proprietor and Maître D’ of Laurel Fork Restaurant, juggling the trinity of restaurant customer relations: meeting, greeting and serving with considerable skill and dexterity. Qualls easily fulfills the task of meeting or acknowledging every customer who walks through Laurel Fork’s front door. She greets each customer with a smile, engaging them in conversation (“How hungry are you?”), determines their likes and dislikes, and then suggests meal choices, both on- and off-menu that would tickle their taste buds. Through it all, Qualls gently and skillfully steers her conversation with the customer determining just what her new friend would like to eat on this occasion. I know this, because Qualls did just that for my dining partner and I when we stopped at Laurel Fork Restaurant on our way back from our day trip to Mountain City.

Laurel Fork Restaurant was erected in 1952, with Ms. Qualls assuming ownership in 2014.

Though very friendly and personable, Qualls is also a capable and shrewd proprietor who has led and continues to lead Laurel Fork Restaurant from the dining room, rather than from behind a counter or back in the kitchen. Laurel Fork’s décor is casual and homey, with the restrooms positioned and clearly marked near the front door.

Bacon cheeseburger & French fries: Lunch time had come and gone while we were in Mountain City, and my dining partner was craving some Southern-style comfort food on the drive back. Spotting Laurel Fork Restaurant, my dining partner pointed an imperious finger and said, “Stop there,” in a tone that brooked no argument. Her cursory run-through of Laurel Fork Restaurant’s menu found just what she was looking for: a bacon cheeseburger ($4.99) with a side order of French fries ($1.69). Qualls had my dining partner’s comfort food in front of her in fifteen minutes. The burger was top-quality 100% beef, cooked properly with just the right amount of American cheese, and topped with three slices of crispy smoked bacon, some lettuce, tomato and onion. Though her French fries were commissary-made and sported the usual crinkle-cut whittling job, my dining partner and I found them surprisingly well-cooked and tasty. Noting this, Qualls told us that she was very careful about the look, smell and taste of the food served at Laurel Fork Restaurant. Any food item not grown or sourced locally was provided by wholesalers of long standing and proven quality. From the smile on the face of my dining partner as she took another bite of her bacon cheeseburger, Qualls’ attention to detail and quality was much appreciated.

Chili with grilled cheese sandwich and a small garden salad: As my dining partner was pondering her choices for Southern-style comfort lunch fare, I asked about the daily special. Ms. Qualls told me it was Laurel Fork Restaurant’s made-from-scratch chili, sided with a grilled cheese sandwich ($4.99); Qualls suggested a small salad ($1.89) as my side order. The bowl of chili was deep, thick with ground beef, onions, and spices before being slowly simmered. A grating of some sharp yellow cheddar cheese as a topping made a nice visual and savory finish. The grilled cheese sandwich was also good if a trifle underdone. Though the American cheese was melted properly, the sandwich bread could have been oven-toasted instead of grilled. My salad was good, the proper accompaniment for my bowl of chili and sandwich.

And for dessert: My dining partner and I just had to have a finisher for our early supper, and decided to treat each other to a slice of pie from Laurel Fork Restaurant. I chose key lime pie ($1.99) for my dining partner, and got a slice of chocolate cream pie ($1.99) ordered for me in return. Though both were commissary-made, the key lime pie surprised the two of us; it had excellent, tangy lime juice flavor and creamy-smooth texture, but could have used less whipped cream for its topping. The chocolate cream pie was also good, though it too had issue with quantity of whipped cream topping used.

The bottom line: It is always a pleasure to meet new friends when (and where) you least expect to. The taste, texture, quality and variety of the food Lisa Qualls presents and serves to her clientele, has made Laurel Fork Restaurant a place where new friends are met and become old friends in surroundings that are cozy and comfortable.

Isn’t it time you made a new friend of Ms. Lisa Qualls at the Laurel Fork Restaurant?

Laurel Fork Restaurant
201 Highway US 321
Mon, Wed-Fri 7 a.m.–7 p.m.
Tue 9 a.m.–7 p.m.
Sat-Sun 7 a.m.–4 p.m.
Available on Facebook
Credit cards accepted

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