If you’ve ever asked yourself “Where can I find a good ______ in this town?” then this is the restaurant guide for you.
If you’ve ever wanted to discover a one-of-kind dish that could be your new favorite in town, then we have some suggestions.
Or, if you just want to try something new, then here you go.
Dish is our non-comprehensive, highly curated, very specific recommendations for fine meals.
Quail Egg Biscuit
Situated smack dab in the middle of the 100 Block of Gay Street, Sugar Mama’s offers a very pleasant breakfast option to the early downtown-bound eater. In addition to good Danish and a popular cinnamon roll, there are many savory options, too, including one of the most charming breakfast sandwiches in town. The quail egg and cheese biscuit is a rich little proposition; the soft, buttery, buttermilk biscuit is a touch sweet and marries nicely with the extra indulgence of three quail eggs, which feature a larger yolk-to-white ratio than a chicken egg—though the taste is much the same. It’s good morning nosh for sure.
Sugar Mama’s Bakery
135 S. Gay St., 865-333-5776
Mon.: 9 a.m.-9 p.m., Tue.-Thur.: 7 a.m.–10 p.m., Fri.: 7 a.m.–11 p.m., Sat.: 9 a.m.–11 p.m., Sun.: 12 p.m.-8:30 p.m.
The easygoing atmosphere of this little restaurant in a market is accented by the mingled sounds of English and Spanish conversation, which contributes a happy side of harmony to every dish served. But the summit of fun eating here is the simple but astounding chilaquiles. If you love nachos, then fasten your seat belt, amigo, it’s gonna be a tasty ride. Fried tortilla chips are tossed into a pan of salsa and cooked briefly before being finished with cheese and, perhaps, some chicken or beef.
The quick cooking changes the chips’ texture, creating a chewy, cheesy, gooey bite that demands a knife and fork. Okay, I guess you could skip the fork, but you’ll be really messy—and happily so.
2412 Washington Pike, 865-637-9292
Sun.–Thur.: 8 a.m.–10 p.m., Fri.–Sat.: 8 a.m.–11 p.m.
Eggplant Hot Pot
Actually, the name of this dish as listed on the menu is “Fragrant Eggplant with Ground Meat,” but it’s a classic hot pot—so better avoid any instinctual urge to grab the bowl. But what matters is inside, a plentiful treasure trove of eggplant. It possess some of the aubergine’s trademark earthy flavor, but mostly it’s silky and sweet—in a dish that’s fragrant with ginger, garlic, green onion, and chili. The chili, though present, is a supporting flavor that gives a little lift to each bite and combines with the other spices to make the pot a heady, luxurious, and lingering experience for both the nose and the tongue. The pork contributes to the sweetness and folds into each bite with sumptuous ease. Served bubbling straight from the oven in a pot large enough to share, this is Chinese food as we should have it every day.
Walker Springs Plaza Shopping Center
8511 Kingston Pike, 865-670-9858
Sun.-Mon.: 11 a.m.–10 p.m.
The essence of the artichoke heart always reminds me of asparagus and sunshine, and at Emilia they capture all that flavor and roll it up into a delightful little fritter. The satisfying crunch of the golden-brown orb yields to a soft and silky core that’s entirely too easy to eat. The plate arrives with a very agreeable lemon and caper aioli, which tastes just like Italy on a sunny day. Despite the artichoke’s putative petulance with wine pairing, these happy bites are actually quite nice with a little vino—and even better with one of Emilia’s very well considered cocktails.
16 Market Square, 865-313-2472
Sun: 5 p.m.–9 p.m., Tue.–Thur.: 5 p.m.–9:30 p.m., Fri.–Sat.: 5 p.m. 10 p.m.
If you have Puritan leanings, steer clear of this dish because it’s a sin to feel this good while eating. The magical combination of macaroni and cheddar cheese gets a powerful bump when combined with Benton’s bacon—especially when it’s all tucked neatly under the cover of flaky puff pastry. You’ll dance a little jig and reel yourself from the carb rush, but it’s worth it because each and every bite hits all the right notes for comfort food: It’s warm, nourishing, and reminiscent of every sweet mom and grandma on the planet.
Boyd’s Jig & Reel
101 S Central St., 865-247-7066
Tue.–Sun.: 3 p.m.–3 a.m.
In a town that has more good pizza than humans should be allowed access to, A Dopo has a nifty niche not only in terms of its blistered and smoky sourdough crust, but also with unique and noteworthy flavor sensations. Their beetroot pizza is a mouthful of fascinating combinations. It’s a white pie with a base of mascarpone and gorgonzola that make a masterful blend—mascarpone’s sweet and almost buttery personality serves as a foil to the gorgonzola, which remains slightly and pleasantly piquant while revealing its own inert sweetness. Together, they make a delectable bed for tender, roasted beets that look like tomatoes and taste like garden candy. The result is earthy, sweet, perky, and alluring.
516 Williams St., 865-321-1297
Tue.–Sun.: 5 p.m.-close
Hot Chicken may have captured the hearts of fire-eaters far and wide, but Kaizen’s twist on the popular dish merits its own band of groupies. Chef Jesse Newmister takes a fried chicken thigh and dresses it with Sambal chili paste for a slight tang and moderate burn. The house-made pickles are a tasty and refreshing complement, but it’s the soft and white steamed bun that stands in for a slice of white bread, delivering the punchline to a culinary joke while providing a unique chew and pillowy blanket for each bite.
416 Clinch Ave., 865-409-4444
Tues.–Fri.: 11:30 a.m.–3 p.m., 5 p.m.–10 p.m., Sat: 11:30 a.m.–3 p.m., 5 p.m.–12 a.m.
Let’s be clear: You will not mistake this for your mom’s traditional meatloaf. But, if you can get past such comparisons, this offering makes an enjoyable entree into vegan cuisine. Though not a slave to meat mimicry, the texture is surprisingly meaty, with an exterior that gives the same satisfying chew that you’d get from the well-done edges of mom’s best effort. The loaf is quite good by itself, but in context of the whole plate it becomes a real winner. Fluffy mashed potatoes are slathered in a thick tamari-infused gravy that, when piled high on a fork with a big bite of that meatloaf, is about as excellent a comfort-food moment that you can imagine. The tamari brings the additional advantage of a good umami wallop, which gives meaty satisfaction without the meat.
151 N. Seven Oaks Dr., 865-200-8042
Sun: 10 a.m.-6 p.m., Wed.–Fri.: 11 a.m.–9 p.m., Sat: 2 p.m.–9 p.m.
Crostini de Fungi
Crostini is one of those snacks that you never remember loving as much as you do until you taste them again. Maybe it’s because toasted bread doesn’t linger in the memory, but there’s a good reason why they remain on menus: they’re satisfying, filling, and easy to make. The substance of the bread helps make them excellent bar nosh, but at Red Piano the addition of cremini mushrooms, garlic aioli, and shaved Parmesan give crostini a real oomph that’s good fuel for the snacky tippler. It’s filling, yes, but the savory combo and mushrooms and parm makes a mouthwatering moment that will have you reaching for another Negroni before you can say, “Play it again, Sam.”
Red Piano Lounge
4620 Kingston Pike, Ste #2, 865-313-2493
Wed.–Sun.: 5 p.m.–close
Sticky Toffee Pudding
Just saying the name of this delight can be enough to entice even the most rational eater to order dessert first. Pudding, in the argot of the U.K., is a generic word for dessert—and this is a very traditional British sweet. A soft square of bread pudding gets a good soak in a decadent toffee sauce and crowned with a fat dollop of whipped cream. For all that, it’s neither overwhelming nor cloying, and artfully arranged strawberry slices perk up each bite with a bright burst of red fruit flavor.
The Crown and Goose
123 S Central St., 865-524-2100
Sun.: 11 a.m. – 3 p.m., Mon.–Thur.: 11 a.m.–10 p.m., Fri.–Sat.: 11 a.m.–11 p.m.
Got some favorites you’d like to share?
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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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