Knoxville’s Dining Hotspots Add Flavor to Tennessee
The arrival of Tupelo Honey Cafe caused quite a stir in Knoxville because its reputation for innovative cuisine preceded it. Many Knoxvillians had experienced the fluffy biscuits, savory meats and seasoned vegetables in downtown Asheville, N.C., and longed for a Knoxville restaurant.
Finally it arrived on the city’s revitalized Market Square, and it has been a resounding success. There’s comfort food: meatloaf (beef blended with bacon) and shrimp’n’grits. Cuisine with an innovative twist: southern fried chicken Saltimbocca with country ham and mushroom marsala. People often stay for dessert because they socialize as well as eat. Even if a line goes out the door, wait staff don’t push you from your perch prematurely. At peak hours, there are lengthy wait times, though sometimes you can waltz right in and take a seat at the bar.
At night, the crowd en route to movies and concerts makes a meal stop here or at three dining hotspots on Gay Street. At Nama Sushi Bar, a dimly lit, sassy, glamorous eatery, talented chefs prepare food in the Japanese tradition. Dinner entrees at The Bistro at the Bijou include pork medallions, grilled salmon and New York Strip steak. The historic building was once a hotel and hosted a series of presidents dating back to Andrew Jackson. After a massive renovation at the turn of the century, the building turned into a theater with room to spare for a convivial restaurant. Shuck, a casual restaurant at the opposite end of Gay Street, features seafood specialties. It is a meeting place for urban dwellers and the city’s political and business leaders.
Choices abound for dining in Knoxville’s Bearden area. Chef Deron Little at Seasons Café emphasizes farm-to-table freshness. For an appetizer, thin-sliced duck breast topped on a potato cake with roasted red peppers. New York Strip steak is crowned with Boursin encrusted shrimp. Easy to overlook, Echo Bistro is tucked into a tiny shopping center but it draws big attention. Chefs prepare a wide selection of seafood and steaks.
Bistro by the Tracks offers some of the smartest, most inventive food in the area. It has its own chicken entrée flavored with wild mushrooms, hazelnuts, plums, goat cheese, onions, and spinach. Executive chef Chester Miller aims to create a “wow” experience time after time. He douses herbed pork tenderloin with apple cider sauce and complements it with pecan spaetzel, apples and cranberries. This popular bistro adjoins drink., a “place to be seen” wine bar.
Dining at Aubrey’s is totally of-the-moment, yet so wonderfully timeless. Meals are part home-cooking, part fun, part anything-goes vibe. The restaurant under the direction of restaurateur Randy Burleson serves burgers, steaks, seafood and ribs. It offers a comfortable dining experience.
If I had to guess, I would say the soon-to-reopen Old College Inn will be jam-packed. The UT area felt the loss of this perennial favorite last year, but the landmark gathering spot is coming back better than ever. Part of its menu will be familiar, dating back to the ’70s, ’80s, and ’90s. About 40 craft beers will be on tap. The building will house the Sunspot, a popular Southwestern/Caribbean/vegetarian-friendly establishment currently located just a block away. The second floor will have a bar featuring 10 craft beers. It will open onto a huge patio that overlooks Cumberland Avenue.
Let us know your favorite Knoxville restaurants in the comments!