This is the second in our series of neighborhood photo essays by Shawn Poynter. In our first foray, we toured Bearden in West Knoxville.
For many serious eaters in the greater Knoxville Area, the section of State Route 33 variously known as Old Knoxville Highway and Maryville’s own East Broadway is an important stretch of road because it leads to the Foothills Milling Company Bakery, a destination spot for the gourmand and serious sandwich lover. But on the way to this well-known foodie icon located at the roundabout in Maryville’s Five Points area, SR33 passes through Eagleton Village, which is home not only to a fascinating strip of buildings that appear much the way they did 50+ years ago, but it’s also the locale of a wondrous and strangely concentrated array of food experiences.
Outside of Maryville, this trail of disparate cuisines is not well known. So we decided to plot our own foodie roadmap to Eagleton’s off-the-beaten path commercial district full of mid-century vernacular architecture, quirky shops, and eateries worth making the drive to explore.
If you approach this section of Maryville from Alcoa Highway, you’ll take a very brief journey south on Pellissippi Parkway until it abruptly ends at SR33. Turn right onto 33 and pass by the entrance to a developing commercial area called Pellissippi Place, which is marked by stately columns of stacked stone; it sits opposite another planned development cleverly named The Shoppes at Pellissippi Place. But keep driving west on what is now Old Knoxville Highway and that flash of newness will soon fade—just about the time you notice the Roll Arena on your right. The flat windowless building of blonde brick sits down from the road as it has for almost 40 years; it opened as Skatetown, USA, the place where many young folk of Blount County first did the Hokey Pokey on wheels.
After that, the road passes through a lushly green (but brief) tree-lined stretch before opening to a big sky and a stretch of commercial area. Businesses vary from Dynabody Fitness to James’ Custom Upholstery, but most of them occupy buildings that have stood in their parcels for decades. These buildings, mostly low and flat, sit close to the road with parking right up front—it’s something that appears convenient until you try to pull out and realize that you’re only a foot or two from the often busy highway. That proximity is also part of the charm and nostalgia of this neighborhood, especially when there are a couple of riding lawn mowers parked right at the edge of the road’s shoulder in front of Little River Feed and Hunting Supply.
Your first impression may be that Eagleton Village is an old and almost continuous strip mall left over from 1950, one that’s still breathing but populated by dusty businesses that remain locked in mid-century demographics—but that’s not the case. The businesses are owned and operated by an eclectic mix of folks from an array of different backgrounds and cultural influences. And not everything is longstanding. Among the sprinkle of new buildings is La Lupita, a Mexican Store that locals recommend for good tacos. It occupies a building with sparkling glass, fresh brick, and convenience store design. But new buildings are the exception in this commercial strip time warp.
Eagleton Ballpark sits just off the road and to your left in this introductory section of Eagleton and, arguably, constitutes the heart of this census-designated place. It’s home to baseball and softball leagues and hosts weekend tournaments during the season; but keep your eyes to the right because across from the field you’ll want to keep a sharp look out for Richy Kreme Donuts (2601 E. Broadway Ave.).
Like many of the food adventures that wait ahead, the place isn’t particularly inviting to the uninitiated—parking is limited and the signage isn’t easy to see. Fresh donuts have been made here daily since 1948 (though nowadays a few products, including the cream horns, are shipped in) and include a variety of expected styles and flavors; but there’s also a selection of filled donuts with flavors like peaches and crème, strawberry crème, blueberry, Bavarian and more. These selections are messy and a little floppy (or perhaps I just caught a batch that didn’t fully rise), but they won’t last long anyway—just grab an extra napkin. There’s no sit-down area, but you’ll want to move along anyway; there’s lots more to eat ahead.
Just about 2 minutes up the road is Aroma Café (570 E. Broadway Ave.), Eagleton’s Cuban connection. Situated on the east side of the road, Aroma Café is set back a bit with a little courtyard parking lot. But this restaurant is easy to see—the colors of its signage are among the boldest in this community. The building itself shows its age, yet the café’s many regulars will tell you that the ramshackle appearance belies the good food inside.
The entrance is cluttered with 25-cent candy machines and various printed materials; a countertop warmer case filled with sweet and savory empanadas, croquettes, and other fried delights sits like a gauntlet before the register where you order and pay. The Cuban sandwich with rice and beans gets high praise, but I opt to try the papa rallena—a deep-fried potato ball stuffed with ground beef. The large golden orb caught my eye in the warmer case—I suppose, at least in displays, size does matter. It arrived at the table a few minutes later sitting in a little Styrofoam cup and adorned with a soupçon of picadillo stew. It was crunchy, fluffy, salty and enjoyable, but the star was the savory picadillo—seasoned ground beef with olives and raisins.
When you continue your southward journey, you‘ll pass a remnant of fast food history; on the left side of the road sits an old Kentucky Fried Chicken building featuring the false mansard roof and cupola that distinguished the restaurant’ 1968 design style. The Colonel, though, has left the building, and now it’s the home of the Power and Praise Tabernacle.
Technically, once you pass that building you’re about to cross the imaginary border that marks the end of Eagleton Village. But for our gustatory adventure, we’ll stretch those boundaries a little, because just ahead, painted in bold swaths of green, yellow, and red, lies Rocky’s Jamaica Sunrise (2162 E. Broadway Ave.).
The restaurant, which opened almost six years ago, is a family business led by Rocky Williams, a native of Negril, Jamaica. He and his wife Cheryl met while she was vacationing on the island. Their popular eatery occupies a distinctive two-story building that looks to be the former home of a drive-through hamburger joint. It’s still a drive-through, but take care on your approach as locals, sometimes arriving in carloads, may park behind the restaurant and walk up to the drive-in window. You’ll find seating behind the restaurant at weathered, wood picnic tables underneath a large, white, prefabricated carport. The place gets busy at lunchtime with folks who come get their fix of jerk chicken and Jamaican jerk barbecue, available as pulled pork and ribs. Both goat curry and oxtail stew are on the menu, and Rocky’s may be the only outlet in driving distance for the Jamaican Patty—a round of lightly spiced ground beef that comes encased in a distinctive yellow pastry crust that gets its color from the inclusion of a little curry powder.
Rocky’s marks an unofficial waypoint between the close-quartered strip behind and the more open cluster of business ahead. Here, new development sits prominently among more scattered bits of the past: A Food City reigns as the anchor tenant of a strip center, a gleaming Hardee’s sits near the top of a small hill, and other newish buildings stand along the route separated by grassy lots, mostly well-tended with some evidence of a lingering battle with kudzu. There are still some few older buildings, though, like the beautifully flat-roofed and rectangular home of Broadway Vapors and the Blount Chiropractic Center.
By now, if you take this journey one bite at a time, it’s easy to have already eaten more than your daily allotment, but there’s more and better ahead. That includes another donut shop, Donut Palace (2010 E. Broadway Ave.). It occupies the remains of a Sonic Drive-In, but if you don’t know to stop it’s easy to bypass the place owing to its understated signage—except for the presence of a car or two, the place often looks abandoned by mid-morning. But it’s a testament to the quality of the sweets inside that almost everyone in Blount County seems to know about it. It’s an old fashioned donut shop—to date there isn’t any commingling of bacon and maple or matcha and black sesame or any other concession to the hipster’s flavor ennui. There are, however, exceptional (and locally famous) apple fritters, near perfect crullers, and some of the best cake donuts around. The selection really diminishes by lunch time—the best things go fast, so plan accordingly.
It’s a happy oddity that not just one but two locally owned donut shops live and thrive in this community—let alone the fact that they thrive within a mile of each other. Both Donut Palace and Richy Kreme have a loyal fan base, and a few gluttons like yours truly who stop at both. And as much as I like salted caramel, honeyed lavender, and bacon with everything, the simple charms of a well-crafted and old-fashioned donut are worth celebrating.
As you continue your westward journey, you’ll pass many interesting buildings with longevity and distinctive features, including Dorolee’s Carpet House—you’ll know it when you see it—and the fading red, white, and blue striped awning of Maryville Fastener & Hardware. You’ll notice this store due to a sign that includes a large nut and bolt, and also because it displays many of its wares right outside, including shiny blue wheelbarrows as well as colorful rakes, shovels, and hoes.
In just a few blocks you’ll reach yet another extant bit of local food legend—Amburn’s Hum-Dinger Drive-In (1540 E. Broadway Ave.) has been in business since 1954 and, according to my father, Glen, who’s lived in Maryville for most of his life and has collected an eclectic assortment of such knowledge, Hum-Dinger was the first place in Maryville to serve large crinkle-cut fries. It’s still up and running, complete with car-hops and a chuck wagon sandwich. It looks every bit of its 61 years and the food isn’t much to brag about, but my hamburger wasn’t bad given the big helping of nostalgia that comes with sitting in a drive-in; I did enjoy a pleasant chocolate shake at the recommendation of Lisa Misosky, the owner and character in chief of Southland Books and Café (1505 E. Broadway Ave.) just up the street.
Misosky owns and runs this combination used book store, bakery, catering operation, and restaurant with her partner Catherine Frye. It’s also the only spot on this side of town to get a good cup of coffee. They offer a full slate of barrista items with artsy nomenclature—there’s the Boo Radley (white mocha), the Eartha Kitt (iced coffee with pumpkin and caramel flavor), and the Yul Brynner (Thai iced tea). The kitsch is clever, never twee, and moderated by quality—the Mighty Quinn, a well-made iced coffee with cream, arrived in a satisfyingly large Mason jar.
It’s a fascinating stop with a loose hippie vibe and food that has the feel of a Southern tea room. The menu includes an earnest chicken salad that’s redolent of rosemary and tastes of freshly roasted bird, a beautifully simple pimento cheese, and a biscuity cinnamon roll lovingly smeared with cream cheese-style icing. But there’s also respectable hummus and a fine hamburger that’s grilled on a Green Egg in the back. All the bread and almost everything else, including pickles, are made in house by Frye.
The bookshop primarily handles used books with a slight, but welcome bias for Southern and local Lit, but there’s also an erotica section and a fulfilling selection of mysteries. All told, Southland stocks about 60,000 titles—the store sells and trades but only buys books on rare occasions. And I’m told that Misosky is a tough negotiator.
Southland sits right at the roundabout that brings together East Broadway, Everett High Road, and Harper Avenue. Here’s where you’ll also find Maryville’s Mother Earth Meats (1431 E. Harper Ave.), a gourmet dream. At first glance it’s an average-looking market with shelves of assorted sauces and some sorghum, but the excitement is in the meat case and cooler—and there are tons of different cuts from the usual suspects, including lamb and handmade sausages, from Irish bangers to curry wurst. There’s whole, free-range duck, as well as breasts and tubs of rendered duck fat. But the real star of the show is the collection of harder to find proteins; Mother Earth offers grass-fed elk chops, stuffed quail, and fresh pheasant, either whole or stuffed inside a rabbit tenderloin.
The most well-known inhabitant of this intersection is the aforementioned Foothills Milling Bakery (1420 E. Broadway Ave.) that occupies a building that for years has housed one or another country cooking restaurants. It’s an offshoot of one of East Tennessee’s finest dining destinations, Foothills Milling Company in Maryville. But where the Milling Company is only open in the evenings and almost always requires reservations, the bakery is open, come one come all, for lunch service, Monday—Saturday; it does, however, almost always have a line.
It only takes a moment for you to realize that this is no ordinary sandwich shop. Even before your eyes reach the menu boards that hang on the wall above the counter and bakery case, you’ll notice that there’s a kitchen full of people in chef’s attire. The sandwiches here get the same kind of intensive care as a dish of tempura-fried lobster tail does at the mother restaurant: the meats are smoked in-house; the bread, including seven or more varieties and a bread of the day, is baked on-site; and local suppliers get a lot of attention.
My eyes leapt immediately to the bologna and truffle cheese sandwich—and what a little miracle it is. Foothills’ bologna is sliced thin and piled high and dripping with a house-made truffle cheese. A dab of Calabrian peppers and a scattering of crunchy, deep-fried onions add both flavor and textural contrast to this extravagant reinterpretation of a simple (and often repulsive) country sandwich. Honestly, it’s a mess to eat, but that’s why the good lord made napkins. If you’ve ever wondered what the fuss about truffles is, here’s an approachable and affordable opportunity to taste it for yourself. The flavor of this sandwich lingers like well-made wine.
There are a few sides available to add to your meal, including a selection of potato chips and a rich potato salad, but I found the main attraction so rich and filling that any room I had to spare was better used for dessert, which includes a variety of goodies such as a lovely sweet potato scone.
It’s a little strange to eat so well and so diversely in this neck of the woods where it’s easy to think you’ve stumbled upon the land that time and developers forgot. But part of what seasons an eating adventure along this bit of SR33 is the nostalgia that comes from being around untouched moments of the past—and that is something that Five Points and Eagleton Village both still have in spades.
Locals Also Recommend…
Maryville’s East Broadway strip contains not only surprising foodie destinations, but also a plethora of thrift stores and odd shops. Here are some noteworthy places to also check out.
1509 E. Broadway Ave., Maryville, 865-314-0397, bluetickbrewery.com
Founder Chris Snyder, part of the Formerly of Blackberry Farm Brigade, established this craft brewery after transplanting from Minnesota to accept a chef position at Walland’s world-famous inn. The brewery offers a regular series of events with food trucks and, of course, beer; offerings include Little River IPA, Brewer’s Lament Belgian Dubbel, and Sweet Hooler Imperial Milk Chocolate Stout.
La Lupita Mexican Store
2700 E. Broadway Ave., Maryville, 865-984-0806
This combo store and restaurant gets high marks from neighbors for authentic Mexican fare from abodada and tripa tacos to breakfast burritos and menudo, too. Lupita’s Special is a heaping platter of skirt steak, shrimp, beef ribs, cactus, guacamole, beans, and rice. You can also stock up on masa and piñatas.
The Rabbit Hole
1501 E. Broadway Ave., Maryville, 865-983-7555, Facebook: RabbitHoleHookah
This psychedelic side trip sits right next to Southland Books at the roundabout. It’s about the hookah, the whole hookah, and nothing but the hookah. There’s plenty of shisha to go along with trivia nights, movie nights, and quiet afternoons wondering what on Earth Lewis Carrol was smoking. There are supplies, but despite what their Facebook page says, there’s no coffee here: no worries though—it’s easy to step next door between draws.
This N That Vendor’s Mart
1519 E. Broadway, Maryville, 865-724-1491
Also located near the roundabout, there’s a little bit of everything to explore from antiques and collectibles to cosmetics and small furniture. They have booth rentals and consignment available if you’re interested in selling this or that.
Dennis Perkins' Home Palate is a tasty exploration of local options for eating out and eating well by way of restaurant reviews, features on fun or unusual foodstuffs, and interviews with local food purveyors and tastemakers. It’s a candid and personal look at what’s right (and sometimes what’s wrong) with eating in Knoxville and its environs. He is also the artistic director of the Knoxville Children’s Theatre, has directed and performed at the Actor’s Co-op and Black Box Theatre, and is a foodie par excellence.
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