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Hearty eating rules at Timberloft

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From right, the family trio of Kevin, Donna and Leah Jones operate Timberloft Restaurant in Gordonsville. The Jones opened their eatery more than 20 years ago and have built a solid reputation for their barbequed meats, steaks, burgers and desserts. KEN B

Jones family offers BBQ, steaks, ribs, burgers, sweet desserts

When it comes to scrumptious cuisine, the Jones family at Gordonsville's Timberloft Restaurant proves a triple threat.

The father-mother-daughter trio of Kevin, Donna and Leah has all the bases covered from mouth-watering beef briskets and Memphis-style St. Louis cut ribs to chocolate fudge cakes and a heaping helping of hospitality from first bite to last swallow.

Can you say "ummm-um"?

The restaurant is about a 30-minute drive from Lebanon, and should you be looking for a place to eat late in the afternoon after returning from the Smokies or Dollywood or a trip to Center Hill Lake, this makes an ideal pit stop for your tummy.

Donna and Kevin opened Timberloft a little more than 20 years ago at the site that previously housed Harvest Table and Windjammer.

The Michigan natives have spent practically their entire lives in the restaurant business but had no plans of opening an eatery when they settled in Smith County in the mid-1990s.

"We moved here [to Middle Tennessee] with Cracker Barrel and lived in Hermitage, and we used to drive around and look for property," said Donna. "Mr. Floyd showed us some property and sold us 10 acres, and we built a small home on that in Brush Creek where I home-schooled Leah.

"We didn't move here with the intentions of opening a place. This came up for sale. Everybody told us if we didn't offer pinto beans and turnip green we wouldn't make it."

Obviously, they bought the business, and yes, pintos and greens are on the menu along with Leah's made-from-scratch biscuits and amazing pastries. And yes, they have been successful.

So how did Timberloft get its name?

"Our best ideas come when we're sitting around a table drinking beer, and we liked the idea of a lumberjack theme, which we started with. We didn't get to carry on with that because we got too busy. We only had 30 days to make it, and we did it," Donna said.

"Predominantly, we are a BBQ and upscale-casual restaurant, not a typical hole-in-the-wall barbecue place. Our steaks and burgers all certified Black Angus choice or above.

We have a full bar and are starting to carry more crafts beer and a lot of local wines [Stonehaus and Beans Creek]."

She described the atmosphere in two words: "comfortable" and "family."

"You can come in to celebrate birthdays or wedding parties, and we also get a lot of people coming off the river and lake. We serve a lot of local people and those off the interstate."

The most popular entrees, she said, are the briskets, ribs, smoked prime rib, rib-eye steaks, shrimp and burgers.

Chores are fairly divided among the three. Donna works the front of the house. Kevin makes the barbecue, oversees the kitchen and runs the business, and Leah bakes the pastries and desserts, concocts side dishes and helps with management and marketing.

As for their smoked meats, barbecue baron Kevin elaborated, saying "We went to Franklin Barbecue in Austin, Texas [a restaurant operated by Aaron Franklin, a James Beard Foundation Award winner for Best Chef: Southwest], and watched them cook briskets, and we ate barbecue for breakfast, lunch, dinner and midnight snacks for four days."

He says the secret to good barbecue is "you have to prepare carefully. You have to take the time and take the time to do it right. We try to do everything fresh."

Kevin smokes the meats only with hickory wood fresh out of Smith County woods. His beef briskets will cook slow, say from 12 to 16 hours, before they hit the dinner plate.

But he is not totally about barbecue. Besides his tenure at Cracker Barrel, Kevin received extensive seafood experience at Fast Eddy's Place, an 800-seat restaurant in Tarpon Springs, Fla., and he also has worked for Specialty Seafood and Outback Steakhouse.

Leah, too, has paid her dues. She graduated in 2008 from Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts in Atlanta and did a three-month externship at NK in Stockholm.

"It's like the Macy's of Sweden," she said of NK, "with a huge bakery and café on the top floor.

Leah said following in her parents steps came naturally since her family has been in the restaurant business for four generations. Her pride and joy comes from whipping up fresh pies and cakes.

"Our signature pie is our caramel fudge pie topped with a creamy layer of homemade caramel, and our homemade coconut cake, people say it's just like their grandmother used to make. The chocolate fudge cake consists of a white chocolate mousse filling and fudgy chocolate layers.

"We try to make as much from scratch as we can. We make a different jam every week. The blueberry honey jam is our most popular jam," said Leah. As for side dishes, she recommends the Parmesan potato salad, barbecue baked beans and the smoked creamed corn.

Among the locals who feast here regularly are Tony and Janet Harris of Gordonsville.

"We come every Friday night," said Tony, right after polishing off the grilled chicken tenders on this go-round. "I don't have a favorite [on the menu]. I kinda like 'em all." Janet said she enjoys the relaxed atmosphere. This visit she had the fried chicken but said her favorite dish is the barbecue.

Donna shared that they plan to remodel the restaurant later this year and will go to a wood-fired grill. Their place seats approximately 100 diners inside and 20 outside, and they employ about two dozen on their staff.

"We're family owned, and we work together, and our employees are like family. We place a lot of emphasis on hospitality. We pride ourselves on our staff. The rewarding part is that we employ a lot of good local young people, who are in high school and college," said Donna, noting that Nate Bush and Marco Rojas play key roles in the kitchen.

The Jones recently took up residence in Granville and are now catering family-style meals for the "Sutton Ole Time Music Hour" Saturday nights in Granville. The entree varies from one Saturday to the next but might be roast pork, pot roast, barbecue, chicken or lasagna.

They also will begin operating Timberloft Lakeside on April 1 at the Granville Marina where they plan to serve burgers, seafood, sandwiches, wings and beer.

Kevin, when asked what he enjoyed most about his work, said, "Just the different people we get to talk to from all over the country, local people and people from all over the world. We've fed Al Gore and his Secret Service people at Christmas and Thanksgiving."

As for down time, Donna said, "I have horses and am getting into natural horsemanship, and we love being by the water and love kayaking."

Kevin enjoys working in the woods, performing such chores as cutting trees, putting up fences and building a barn for the horses. Meanwhile, Leah, who drives a 2012 Mini Cooper, is event coordinator for the Middle Tennessee Minis.

Timberloft Restaurant

Located off Interstate 40 Exit 258 at 470 Gordonsville Highway in Gordonsville, Timberloft Restaurant specializes in freshly-smoked pork, ribs & Texas-style brisket, Angus burgers, Nashville Hot Chicken, handmade biscuits and fabulous desserts. Hours: 11 a.m.-8 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday, 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Friday, 1-10 p.m. Saturday and 11:30 a.m.-7 p.m. Sunday. Phone: (615) 683-5070. Website:

Sutton Ole Time Music Hour

Timberloft caters a Southern-style dinner of meat, three vegetables, bread, salad, desserts and drink for the "Sutton Ole Time Music Hour" at 5 and 6:30 p.m. Saturdays in Granville. Price is $15 plus tax and includes admission to a live bluegrass show. Call Sutton General Store for reservations: (931) 653-4151. Website:

Timberloft Lakeside

The Jones family will begin operating Timberloft Lakeside at the Granville Marina April 1. The menu will feature burgers, fried shrimp, seafood, sandwiches, wings and beer.

Timberloft barbecue master Kevin Jones prepares hickory-smoked briskets for hungry diners. He says the key to making great barbecue is taking the time to do it right. KEN BECK
From right, the family trio of Kevin, Donna and Leah Jones operate Timberloft Restaurant in Gordonsville. The Jones opened their eatery more than 20 years ago and have built a solid reputation for their barbequed meats, steaks, burgers and desserts. KEN BECK
Clockwise from bottom right, these flavorful Timberloft dishes show Memphis-style St. Louis cut ribs with fries; the barbecue combo of barbecue, briskets, smoked sausages and baked potato; smoked cream corn; and collard greens. KEN BECK
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Donna Jones, food, Gordonsville, Ken Beck, Kevin Jones, Leah Jones, restaurant, Timberloft, Timberloft Restaurant
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