Daytripper travels to Knoxville, Tennessee with Eric and Mandee McNew of Knox Foodie, a website that chronicles their food adventures. The South is a hot culinary destination and here Eric shares his ideal day in his hometown. “Knoxville, known by its residents affectionately as “The Scruffy City”, is in the middle of a mini renaissance. The food scene has started to come into its own after a too long love affair with chain food. There are some big name newcomers, such as star chef Joseph Lenn, who after ten years at Blackberry Farm is opening his own restaurant. Knoxville just won a large grant to create new mountain bike trails, and the waterways are healthier than they have been for decades. The once scrappy downtown is now bustling with city dwellers. Knoxville makes a perfect spot for a long weekend or as an outpost while visiting the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, just a few minutes away.”
Eric and Mandee say…Downtown Knoxville's upscale, boutique hotel The Oliver lands you right in the middle of downtown within walking distance of many of my Knoxville highlights. If you're lucky, you can get a seat at the speakeasy inside the Oliver called The Peter Kern Library. Seating is quite limited and they do pick and choose who can go in, so be prepared to venture to one of the other fine beverage establishments if they are at capacity.
Splurge and stay at Blackberry Farm, 30 minutes away in Walland, set on a 4,200 acre ranch at the foothills of the Smokey Mountains. Check the schedule for special weekend events such as photography workshops, wellness weekends, food and wine experiences and concerts in the barn.
Morning Wander: Start your Saturday morning with a trip to the Market Square Farmer’s Market. From May until early November, farmers, artisans and food trucks take over the Market Square district of downtown Knoxville. Whether you’re looking for the freshest tomatoes, sweet corn, foraged mushrooms or Lambsquarter greens, you’ll find something interesting to fill your shopping bag. To fuel your day, you can grab a cup of pour-over coffee from Old City Java and grab a quick snack from one of the many fine food trucks. If you’re more health-conscious, Benefit Your Life has outstanding gluten-free munchies. Enjoy the talented buskers on every corner, and there’s a fountain fit to play in the square center.
Breakfast: After getting your fill of shopping at the Farmer’s Market, walk a couple of blocks down to Central Street for a proper Southern breakfast, with a Latin flair at Olibea. Chef Jeff DeAlejandro’s small restaurant in the Old City district immediately became a landmark when it opened. The weekly torta, using vegetables available seasonally is a must!
Get Moving: You will need some exercise once you’re finished with breakfast at Olibea! An excellent choice would be exploring Knoxville’s Urban Wilderness at Ijams Nature Center. Enjoy the easy-to-walk 12 miles of trails at this 300-acre urban green space. Rent a canoe and float on Meads Quarry Lake, or bike the 9 miles of beginner to intermediate trails including a trip through the “Keyhole”, a large Tennessee Marble pathway that is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Test your skills at the Ijam’s Canopy Zipline Experience, and the kids can explore the whimsical Jo’s Grove.
If Water Sports are More Your Thing: Kayak, canoe and stand up paddle board rentals are made available by River Sports Outfitters at ljams, the Cove in Farragut and their Sutherland Ave location. Knoxville is a town that loves the water so access is easy to find no matter where you are in town!
Lunch: Returning downtown, visit Holly’s 135 for a lunch fix. Chef Holly Hambright has brought her seductive flavors downtown to 135 Gay Street. Her weekend menu includes brunch sandwiches named after local friends, delicious curated cocktails, and a new addition of Italian favorites. Chef Holly’s other successful endeavors: Holly’s Eventful Dining (a catering company which frequently wins Best Catering awards in Knoxville), Holly’s Homberg (a weekday lunch and weekend dinner spot), and Holly’s Corner (a sandwich and soup lunch spot and music venue).
Drink: In the afternoon, book a tour with Knox Brew Tours to discover some of Knoxville’s established and up-and-coming breweries. It’s a fun bus ride across the city on a 3 to 4 hour guided tour. Knoxville’s brewery scene is currently exploding with an expected 5 new breweries and at least one new distillery opening by the end of the year. There are flavors for any beer lover. There’s even a tour that lets you visit some of the not-yet-open breweries so you can taste beer that’s not yet available to the public!
View: If you prefer something a little less boozy, head across Henley Street to World’s Fair Park (site of the 1982 World’s Fair) to check out the skyline from the observation deck of the Sunsphere and catch the latest exhibits at the Knoxville Museum of Art. There you will experience local, national and international art alike.
Dinner: There’s a quaint little spot in the Sequoyah Hills neighborhood that’s a great place to unwind and enjoy unique Southern flavors. Chef Drew McDonald and his wife Bonni quietly opened The Plaid Apron in an almost hidden location and it has become a go-to spot for both dinner and their famous brunch. A new Monday tradition is their Fried Chicken and Champagne dinners. Each week Chef Drew uses locally provided vegetables to accent his delicious fried chicken thighs. Also look for specials like: Sheep’s Head with seared romanesco, fennel and charred carrots, the Mitchell Family farm ribeye, and the addictive southern club with chicken thigh, braised local collard greens, garlic aioli, and Benton’s bacon on a Ciabatta. Here’s a tip: their brunch burger may also be the best burger in town!
After Hours: Late night drinks abound in Knoxville. A solid choice, with a great mix of fans is the Public House. The friendly bartenders mix intricate cocktails using house made shrubs and tinctures. There’s also a varied selection of craft beer and an impressive list of liquors including the occasional appearance of Pappy Van Winkle. If you’re visiting on a Sunday, check to see if they are hosting one of their Sunday Suppers. During these occasional dinners, local invited chefs host a full family style dinner. The Public House offers a selection of gourmet hotdogs, (Try the Kim Chee Dog), charcuterie, and seasoned popcorn for when the late night munchies hit.
All Seasons: Knoxville continues to grow with more adventures on the horizon, but the annual traditions are still not to be missed. In the fall, be sure to head over to the University of Tennessee for tailgating and college football the Big Orange way. In the winter, Market Square turns into a winter wonderland complete with hot chocolate and ice-skating. You can also enjoy a trampoline adventure at several places around town. Be sure to visit often so you do not miss anything Knoxville has to offer!
Honorable Mention: There’s more good stuff to eat…
Bida Saigon, an out of the way Vietnamese restaurant that serves the city’s best Pho. Southern elegance comes at a price, but the Grill at Highland’s Row is perfect for a special occasion. Knox Mason – is a small upscale southern spot from a Blackberry Farm alumni, Chef Matt Gallaher. From his tiny kitchen, Gallaher produces some of the most unique offerings in town. Knox Mason shows up very frequently on lists of top restaurants in Knoxville. Prepare to wait for a seat, but it’s well worth the wait! It’s All So Yummy Cafe serves gourmet grilled cheese and homemade Hilton Head Ice Cream, on the West side of town. Dead End Barbecue, from local BBQ champs turned restaurateurs has two area locations offering traditional smoked meat and southern vegetables.