Knoxville Hounds - Fine Dining Recs.
- Bill Hunt May 31, 2007 08:09 PM
I’ve been doing my reading and research on ChowHound, on restaurants in the Knoxville Area and, though many of the replies are related to articles from ‘02 - 05, there are a few that are more recent. The reason that I am asking is that my wife is being recruited for a position in Knoxville. This is a very similar post to ones that I have done on other boards, as she has progressed through the interview process, so please excuse it, as it has only changed regionally.
I’m a ‘hound in Phoenix, who spends much time in fine-dining establishments, around the globe. While PHX is not NYC, San Francisco, Las Vegas, New Orleans (pre-Katrina), Paris or London, it has a lot to offer - just got a new James Beard Award winner two weeks ago. If we were to relocate to Knoxville, what would be in store for us?
I’ve looked at a few of the on-line menus, that I can find. I’ve poured over ever PDF wine list available (almost none). It looks like there are a few good spots, but, from the research, not that many, and mostly they would be typified as “family” restaurants, or chains. It does look like there is good mid-range eating, but I’ve found nothing, that I would qualify as “fine-dining.” Now, a lot of my research was probably limited by the differences in geographical references, between anything in Knoxville and the vast American West. Not knowing exactly what constitutes the Knoxville Area probably has me eliminating some places that would seem close-by, by Phoenix standards. I’ve spent time on Mapquest and with my atlas, but just do not have a handle on the outlying burgs. I have probably missed a bunch in my searches. Phoenix is 500+ sq. miles, and growing hourly. The Metro-Area incorporates a dozen smaller city-entities, that I know. I realize that Knoxville is much smaller (175,000 vs 4.5M in the Winter), but I’m sure that some of the towns, that I would consider immediately accessible and next-door, are not in my search criteria, because of my lack of geographical knowledge of the area.
Since my wife is a great cook (could be a chef, if she wasn’t so good at other things) and we have no children, I’m most interested in fine-dining, since the “family” oriented spots would probably be just a diversion, when we do not cook in and want to explore local cuisine. We are not limited by budget, or by the ethnicity of the restaurant. Being omnivores, we'll eat anything (wife cannot tolerate bi-valves, but I love them), so long as it's prepared well and has good wines to match.
What I am looking for is an overview of the fine-dining scene in Knoxville, and its environs, plus recs. for wine lists, that are notable, and wine shops, that are well-stocked. Also, as I have a 6K btl. cellar, that would be moved, what are the laws, charges, general feelings, about BYO[Wine]? Here, in PHX, there are a lot of laws, that generally preclude much. Also, I’d rather support the restauranteur and buy off their list, unless it’s a special occasion.
It's been decades, since we last visited Knoxville, and in our limited trips through, it seemed that fine-dining was not obvious, however, much has changed since those days, 1970's.
I have many more questions, but none that are food/wine oriented. I’ll have to locate some other fora to post those to.
Phoenix ‘hound, Hunt
It may not be fine dining, with all the bells and whistles, but fine eating can be had.
In these parts appreciation of well prepared food does exist, but the prices will not be astronomical.
One of our attributes is a place called the Shrimp Shak, now in Halls as well as on Kingston Pike. Super sea food, brought in fresh. She might want to stop and talk to the owner about the restaurants he supplies.
We are by choice frugal, so I can't give you a list of high end restaurants. Sorry.
And we haven't bought wine since we lived in the French Quarter. Our well water and iced tea are our beverages of choice.
We really aren't this boring!
The Knoxville area will offer plenty of regional foods if you are willing to ferret them out (delightful country hams, molasses, sorghums, pickled corn / beans, sourwood honey, apple butters, ramps, the small native creek trout with salmon-colored flesh, branch lettuce, etc.). Some of the near-by lakes even have salmon, musky and northern pike in them (Fontana). I read that someone is having success raising truffles in western NC. "The Lee Bros. Southern Cookbook: Stories and Recipes for Southerners and Would-be Southerners" is an exceptional cookbook that has some good stuff about local dishes. I suspect that there are other cookbooks that are more mountain specific. Still when the desire for fine, world class dining overwhelms, the interstate that goes through downtown cuts through Ashville and ends in Charleston. Atlanta is also close enough for weekend get aways.
I appreciate the suggestions and insight. In our earlier travels, we were usually headed down to Ashville, often from Atlanta, but more often via a more western route, Chatanooga/Maryville. Unfortunately, we'd often just overnight in Knoxville and then head to the Smokies or up the Blue Ridge, so I never got to know the area immediately around Knoxville.
We have been pouring over all of our Southern Living mags (wife has had a subscription, though we lived in CO for 20 years, and AZ for almost 10), but I'm not a big fan of a lot of restaurants that they tout - many that we see there we've dined at, and been unimpressed. However, for "local color" they do a good job. I just find that they skip some real standouts, for more "tourist" fare - I suppose it's just the PR/marketing resources of the ones that they write of, as "Best Of... "
It appears that Regas and The Orangery are two, that get a lot of press in Knoxville. Regas seems to be part of a confab of restaurants (Conners, etc.), and may also be part of the "Chophouse Group." While in Denver, a Chophouse opened in LoDo, and it was good, albeit not great. That one was more beer/ale-oriented, than toward wine. The Orangery wine list is not on-line, as they say, "it changes daily, please inquire just before your reservations."
I did track down some "corkage fees," and it appears to be about US$10/btl. average. Not bad, if they have good glassware.
As for regional dishes, we love and miss them, and would look forward to reacquainting ourselves with many. Wife still has stone-ground yellow grits shipped from MO to AZ, plus a ton of stuff from her native NOLA. In PHX, we're members of GRITS (Girls [and Guys] Raised In The South), so our roots still run deeply.
Since this position is in the earliest of stages, I'm just starting to do my research. I'd guess that if the talks get serious, we'll be out there on 2-3 visits, minimum. I'll also study the maps I have of Knoxville, to try and get an idea of its geography. We usually stayed downtown, but not too far from the highway, as we were usually leaving after breakfast. Heck, it's been so long that I do not even recall any of the inns. I do remember the train-themed one, from a few overnight stays in Chatanooga, but Knoxville is a blur - other than recalling driving through on the day of Vols vs Alabama football game!
Well off to research real estate in the area, and read back issues of Southern Living. Thanks to all. The recs. and overviews are greatly appreciated.
Thanks from "sunny" AZ,
re: Bill Hunt
Your real decisions will come with what you want in a home. If you want subdivisions within Xhundredthousanddollar homes, we've got them. We also have land that's open with mountain and lake views.
Hunting, fishing, boating, growing your own are also doable here because our summers won't kill you.
Your wife will be tickled to find a "Lost Cajuns" group here who have moved here from LA and the group started pre-Katrina. She will be able to buy Andouille sausage locally.
It will be very different for you. There are areas where there is the feeling of neighborhoods as they used to be. Sadly, most neighborhood restaurants have been replaced with chains. With the success of Ruby Tuesdays (started here, grew here, and then really grew), lots of locals want to duplicate its success.
Let me make a statement you won't see often. If you want really good food, join a country church and participate. Covered dish suppers will knock your socks off, but they won't serve wine. Or beer.
And when they say "You're not from these parts." it's not confrontational, it's a way to get to know you. And after some chitchat, that's when you work the conversations around to food and how their Momma made stack cake, how she cooks her cornbread, and things of that sort.
Thanks for the heads-up, regarding the chains. That has happened here, as well. Luckily, PHX has been a "resort" community for decades, and many lure some of the top chefs in the world. We had to re-think our aversion to dining at resorts, when we moved here. However, we are loosing some of our finest fine-dining places to a more "youthful" design. I guess that this will mean quick, loud and "see n' be seen," rather than food and service oriented.
I also appreciate the info on "Lost Cajuns." Now, being from those environs, I have to admit that neither of us is really "Cajun," though about four generations ago, my wife did have Cajun relatives. She is mostly FR Canadian, Italian, Parisian FR, Cherokee and a touch of Cajun. She is also Catholic, so the church groups will have to be of that persuasion. Now, they always have wine, albeit not usually fine wine.
I've seen many Ruby Tuesday's, but do not think that I have ever dined at one. We usually pass "chains," even limited ones, like Morton's, Ruth's Chris Steakhouse, and the like, by. I always go for a chef-driven restaurant.
We had traveled to the Smokie Mtn. Area for many years, often through Knoxville. After entering from the south for about five years, we took the Knoxville route. My wife was driving and I was dozing. Suddenly, she woke me up, stating, "we're BACK in Knoxville. I do not know how this happened!" We looked around and the highway was illuminated with tons of fast-food spots, neon/plastic signs everywhere and traffic that did not fit with my memory of US441. We were in Pidgeon Forge, which was a sleepy littl burg, when last we visited! It looked just like any suburb in the US. My, how things had changed. I cannot imagine that I would recognize anything from my last trip, some 25 years ago.
I hate that individual restaurants have fallen to the sameness of the chains, but it is happening everywhere.
As for the "welcome," from the locals, it should not take too long for my Southern accents to come back. Now, most folk think that I am from the Midwest, with no hint of my heritage.
Thanks for the info and the insights, they are greatly appreciated.
As we get further along in the process, I will be asking some specific questions, prior to doing an "on-site survey."
Is there an area of the US, that you do not know? Thanks, I've made notes of these and will definitely check them out. If you recommend them, they have to be good, especially where the wine is concerned.
Is Blackberry Farms a restaurant, produce market or winery? I'm off to Google, now.
Of the group, only the Orangery and By the Tracks Bistro has come up in my searches. Unfortunately, BTTB's Web site is a series of links to all things "bistro," from equipment to food wholesalers. I never could navigate to anything about THEM.
[EDIT] OK, now I know what Blackberry Farm is. It looks wonderful and their wine list is excellent - 170 half-bottle selection!!!! If we get to the "go-see" part of the interview process, we'll schedule the interview for a Thursday, and then do at least Fri-Sat, returning on Sun. Spectacular - thanks even more.
I owe you a big one. BBF was out of this world. I'll do a full report, before I head to London. Thank you, thank you, thank you. My wife was awed by every aspect and has contacted their head of HR to do a BBF-College for her senior management team!
Dining and wine were just the best!
Did noone mention the Northshore Brasserie in West Knoxville? While Blackberry is certainly fine dining, it is a once in a lifetime place, or at best once per year. Whereas Northshore Brasserie is 'everyday fine dining' - with a very informal atmosphere yet serious cuisine. Certainly among the top three restaurants in Knoxville, and arguably the best - if I'm gauging your perspective correctly.
We did not get to spend any time in Knoxville, and the job fell through - they did not want someone, who had not run hospitals in the South in the last 10 years, even though her hospital has won more national awards than any other in the country in the last 5. Oh well.
I'll keep Northshore Brasserie on the list, as we will be back, after our wonderful week at BBF. Yes, it's in another league, but worth the effort. I think that we'll be flying into TYS with some regularity from now on.
I appreciate the comments and will use them for other purposes in the future.
PS gotta' update my profile and add it to just below the French Laundry. Wife may even rate it above and that ain't bad!