If you haven’t taken a seat at one of Knoxville’s many thriving restaurants, bakeries and otherwise outstanding eateries, you may have not heard: Knoxville is undergoing a culinary boom, and you need to be there. The abundance of outdoor activities, constant flow of live music and high-end attractions will make you work up an appetite. The city's restaurants offer delicious dishes with ingredients that are always fresh and locally sourced. Here are just some of the great places to get a fabulous meals in Knoxville.
At the forefront of Knoxville’s meticulously and sustainably-sourced menus, chef and owner Drew McDonald has painstakingly created an almost purely scratch-made kitchen. Recently remodeled and reopened, Plaid Apron is located in the beautiful Sequoyah Hills neighborhood, tucked away from a lot of the bustle of downtown and the Old City. This may be Knoxville’s most gluten-free and ingredient-conscious dining experience. All your breakfast needs are covered with breakfast sandwiches made to your liking - omelets, oatmeal and even eggs Benedict. Fluffy cinnamon rolls, muffins, scones, cookies and biscotti are made fresh every day. Try the griddle cakes that come with whipped sorghum and vanilla butter, drizzled in maple syrup. You'll eat so well, you'll want to come back for lunch and dinner where jowl bacon pizza, white sorghum and oyster mushroom “risotto,” sweet tea-brined JEM Farm organic chicken, ramp chimichurri marinated lamb sirloin and other delicious entrees and sides await.
Have an elegant dining experience surrounded by exposed brick walls and contemporary artwork. Oliver Royale serves a variety of dishes from confit pork belly with macaroni and cheese and Benton's bacon-braised collard greens to barbecue spare ribs and, of course, a charcuterie board that is loaded with crostini, mustard, jam and an assortment of meats, cheeses and pickled items.
Walk into the bright, energetic Preservation Pub for local brews, music and food that hits the spot. Journey up to the rooftop where you can sit among the "electric forest," drink and be merry with downtown Knoxville spread out before you. Pair your drink of choice with one of their specialty pizzas (the dough is made with Guinness Stout), panini served on Italian focaccia bread made in-house, nachos, subs and more.
Kaizen is a Japanese word often translated literally “change for the better,” but most often interpreted as a philosophy summed up by the phrase “continual improvement,” applied here by Executive Chef and owner Jesse Newmister. To continue our crash-course in Japanese culinary tradition, Kaizen embraces the izakaya restaurant model, most easily described as a Japanese tapas-pub. But Kaizen isn’t simply a traditional Japanese-style restaurant. In fact, it’s anything but. All manner and method of Asian cuisine makes up this oft-rotating menu – from Thai to Szechuan and all else that may inspire and inform Chef Newmister. There is the Nashville bun, the chef’s take on Nashville hot chicken, and the Thai sausage bun, which has a delicate peanut sauce. Everything on the menu feels and tastes light, crisp and fresh, with a lot of fresh herbs – even the fried dishes, so that you never feel bogged down, even after a heavy meal.
Hailed by many as producing the "Best Cupcakes in Knoxville," you can't go wrong with the confectionery heaven that is Magpies Bakery. Chocolate strawberry, red velvet, vanilla mocha, creamy caramel and chocolate caramel will make your choice difficult; or, simply get them all! Pies like chocolate cream, chess, apple, blue ribbon pecan and blueberry are available as well as cookies, cheesecakes, banana pudding, baked loaves and even wheat-free cupcakes.
The sunlight-flooded cafe is decorated with eclectic decor and even a ceiling mural of a colorful sky. Order an iced latte, cappuccino or even a bottomless cup of coffee and settle in. OliBea is a place where you take your time. The coffee is excellent, the people are bright and friendly and the food is memorable. Try the Tennessee Benedict with its poached egg, local ham, smashed potatoes, biscuit and hollandaise. Try the breakfast burrito with mancamanteles chicken, egg, cheese, bacon, potato and Coloradito. The lemon and Cruze Farm buttermilk pancakes are fluffy and golden. Savor every bite and relish every sip when at OliBea.
You can't go to Knoxville and not stop in at Sweet P's BBQ & Soul House and Sweet P's Downtown Dive. The two locations serve up incredible, mouthwatering barbecue and sides like cole slaw, green beans, macaroni & cheese and banana pudding. Order pulled pork or chicken, ribs, brisket and bone-in, smoked chicken. They even have a barbecue burrito that will quickly become your favorite.
Where better to start the story of a pie shop than with two Southern grandmothers? Buttermilk Sky’s owners, Scott and Meredith, each spent their youths learning the art of baking and dessert making from their family matriarchs, and the old-fashioned techniques and recipes that have inspired the offerings at their pie shop are a testament to their family traditions. Buttermilk Sky is everything a sweet treat pie shop should be: quaint, inviting and filled with delicious handmade desserts. You may have seen them featured on the Cooking Channel’s Sugar Showdown. The original Buttermilk Sky location is at 5400 Kingston Pike in Knoxville, but they’ve branched out to franchise with a second Knoxville-area location in Turkey Creek/Farragut, as well as in Franklin and Johnson City, Tennessee.
In the kitchen at J.C. Holdway, the wood-fire grill takes center stage. You can see it burning behind the bar. Using it to create his Appalachian-inspired fare, Knoxville-native Chef Joseph Lenn converts comfort classic plates into an elevated culinary experience – his take on chicken and dumplings, for example, by substituting gnocchi for dumplings and adding a slow-cooked egg for you to break in the broth. Or the simple-yet-elegant smoked catfish-onion dip served with out-and-out barbecue chips from the bites menu. Chef Lenn cooked alongside Sean Brock in Nashville’s Capitol Grill before becoming executive chef at the Barn Restaurant at Blackberry Farm, a position for which he won the incredibly prestigious James Beard Award for Best Chef Southeast in 2013. In 2015, Lenn resolved to open his own establishment, which he named in honor of his late uncle Joseph Charles Holdway, who (while no chef or cook himself) left an indelible mark on Lenn’s life.
Knoxville may not be known for having a Parisian flare, but thanks to the French Market Creperie, the city is beginning to be known for having world-class crepes. These versatile pastries, which resemble incredibly thin pancakes, can be eaten for any meal, filled as they may be with bacon and eggs, smoked salmon, spinach and tomato, strawberries and cream, Nutella, caramel, cinnamon and sugar and just about any other ingredient. They also offer croissant and baguette sandwiches, soups and brie, and to truly round out the French Market experience, they brew Europe’s most popular coffee and espresso, LaVazza. In addition to the menu, the French Market Creperie is one of downtown Knoxville’s best spots to open up your laptop or a book and relax.
Wild Love Bakehouse is in North Knoxville, and the attention this bakery is garnishing has gone nationwide, being named "Best Bakery in America" by Afar Magazine (2017). Owned and operated by husband-and-wife duo Meg and Shaun Parrish, they previously baked at their coffee shop, Old City Java, but ultimately decided to open a dedicated bakery. All over town, Knoxvillians rave about the croissants, which take four days to make. The croissants, along with their other wildly popular items, often sell out during the breakfast rush, partly due to the meteoric popularity they’ve enjoyed since opening the doors in December 2015; but also due to the self-imposed quality control that comes along with meticulously sourcing ingredients locally – hand-picked and in-season berries from area farms, eggs from Tickiwoo Farms, dairy from Cruze Farms. If you miss the breakfast rush, however, console yourself with scratch-made soups, potpies and breads – which are no compromise.
Two University of Tennessee graduates have created a doughnut shop that, without a doubt, is receiving as much, if not more, buzz than any other new eatery in town. Taken with the fact that they’ve put together a donut menu that seasonally changes, making each dough, each batch, each tray a freshly glazed miracle. Status Dough covers all the doughnut bases: each morning they make fresh takes on classic raised doughnuts and cake doughnuts, yet also offer fresh fruit fritters, jelly-filled Paczkis and Long Johns. Coupled with the coffee and espresso bar, ask anywhere in town -- Knoxvillians are lining up at Status Dough to get their favorites before they sell out.
Knoxville’s favorite burger joint sits right on bustling Market Square and is an undeniable staple upon Knoxville’s food scene. And in what is fast becoming the rule and not the exception, this otherwise unassuming burger joint joins in Knoxville’s commitment to embracing the farm-to-table philosophy. All of Stock and Barrel’s beef is raised by Mitchell Family Farms of Blaine, Tenn., a family-owned and operated beef enterprise raising all-natural, hormone-free Holstein cattle. But it doesn’t stop with the beef. Knoxville’s own Flour Head Bakery bakes the breads; the cheeses are selected from Sweetwater Valley Farm; and the perennially loved Benton’s Smoky Mountain Country Hams take care of their bacon needs.
You won't ever go hungry in Knoxville with its endless options of cuisine. Explore more must-eats in Knoxville and start planning your culinary adventure.
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