Weekend Wandering: Knoxville, Tennessee
Perched on the doorstep of the Great Smoky Mountain National Park, Knoxville, Tennessee is much more than tailgating and Tennessee football. Although I am sure some Vols fans would gladly debate that topic with me. Often overshadowed by Memphis and of course current “it-city” Nashville, Knoxville is perfect for a weekend getaway.
Seeing as it’s been years since I’ve been to Knoxville and I’ve really never explored the city beyond Neyland Stadium, I decided it was time to change that and see what Knoxville was all about. Perhaps you are an outdoor enthusiast looking to explore the trails and waterfalls, a beer connoisseur in search of that life altering beer or maybe you are visiting your kids at college, Knoxville has something for everyone and will undoubtedly sweep you off your feet with its Southern hospitality.
I’ve put together a guide of some of my favorite places to eat, drink and be merry while visiting the city that bleeds orange.
Where To Stay
THE TENNESSEAN Hotel
531 Henley Street
Knoxville, Tennessee 37902
While I was in Knoxville, I called THE TENNESSEAN hotel my home away from home for a few days and I was beyond impressed. Blame it on my Type-A tendencies, but there are certain things that I look for when I book a hotel. Don’t we all have that certain “criteria” a hotel must meet before booking a visit? Below you will find three reasons to stay at THE TENNESSEAN the next time you find yourself in Knoxville.
First, let’s talk location. I don’t know about you, but the last thing I want to do on vacation is to fight traffic and drive around listening to my GPS. I prefer to wander aimlessly around new and unfamiliar cities. These little explorations allow me to immerse myself and develop and sense for the city’s flavor and personality.
Upon my arrival, I valeted my car and didn’t retrieve it until I was ready to leave, which is unheard of by the way. Given the central location of THE TENNESSEAN, I was just a short walk from Market Square and the Old City.
By the end of the first day, I logged approximately seven miles and could not fathom taking one more step. Rather than pulling up my Uber or Lyft app, I decided to use THE TENNESSEAN’s black car service which is one of many amenities available to hotel guests. What a dream! I simply let the front desk know that I needed a ride and then they provided me with a card that had the number to call for a pickup. It doesn’t get better than that!
Second, let’s talk about luxury. THE TENNESSEAN has 82 luxurious guest rooms all of which are larger than my first apartment and many have incredible views of the Knoxville skyline. If you saw my Instagram stories, you know that the bathroom is absolutely swoon-worthy! Not only did I have a chance to explore the city, but I also had a chance to catch up on some of my writing.
Last but not least, let’s talk about the hotel dining options. While I know that this may not be important to every hotel guest, I seek out hotels based on their restaurant and bar options. Located on the second floor, guests can visit the Drawing Room (Website and Instagram) which features specialty craft cocktails, charcuterie, small plates, and desserts. If I had more time, I would have sampled every cocktail on the menu, but don’t leave without trying their signature Smoked Old Fashioned and having some of the Pimento Cheese. Literally, it’s like having an out of body experience.
If you’re debating on what to order or have general questions about where to go, ask for Claire. She epitomizes top-notch service and has the best recommendations. And don’t forget to tell her I sent you!
Even though rooms may be hard to come by during UT Football season, you can check out rates and availability here.
Where To Eat
119 S Central Street
Knoxville, Tennessee 37902
Undoubtedly there’s no better way to start your day than with breakfast/brunch at Olibea’s. Named after their first two children, Olibea’s serves up Southern breakfast staples with a side of Mexican flair. While the menu may appear modest, rest assured that dishes aren’t lacking in creativity or flavor.
Enticed by almost every dish on the menu, I struggled with what to order, but I had to go with my gut. Coming to save the day was the Carnita Tostada. Typically, I am a fan of sharing dishes but I devoured every single bite of this dish. Thank God for flowy dresses, am I right?
Olibea’s keeps this brunch G rated, but if you are looking for a beer head a few doors down and see my friends at Pretentious Beer Company. Prepare yourself, Olibea’s doesn’t take reservations. Given the popularity of this Old City establishment, there could likely be a wait. Rather than spend your time drooling over everyone’s dish, wander around the Old City, explore the shops and grab a beverage of your choosing. It’s absolutely worth the wait.
16 Market Square
Knoxville, Tennessee 37902
Italian food has always been one of my favorites, but after vacationing in Italy earlier this summer, my fondness grew exponentially. There’s something so perfect about handmade pasta and a great bottle of wine. Am I right?
When I came across Emilia, I knew that a reservation was in order. Named after his grandmother and sister Emily, Chef Matt Gallaher debuted his second restaurant, Emilia, in Knoxville’s Market Square. Emilia focuses on Italian simplicity serving patrons handmade pasta, homemade bread and how can I forget the incredible Italian wine list. (Insert obnoxious clapping here).
Chef Matt Gallaher forged his own unique culinary path. Aside from spending substantial time at Blackberry Farm honing his skills, Gallaher went on tour with Kings of Leon as their personal chef and then later cooked for the governor of Tennessee. Impressive resume if you ask me.
Let’s talk cuisine, shall we?
Emilia is perfect for date nights, client dinners or if you’re just in need of some delicious comfort food. As I perused the menu, there were certainly a few standouts that I knew I had to order: Grilled Romaine Salad (not pictured below), Grilled Spanish Octopus (not pictured below) and the House Pulled Burrata. Each dish was more flavorful than the last but given that I am such a sucker for cheese, the House Pulled Burrata came out on top. Topped with local peaches and tomatoes and Ciabatta croutons, each bite had the perfect blend of flavors and the crispiness of the crouton added just the right amount of texture.
As we moved on to the pasta, I had a major moment of indecisiveness. Absolutely baffled. Carbonara is one of my favorite pasta dishes, but I had heard great things about the bolognese and then there was a seasonal special that featured fresh corn and smoked Maine lobster. I was wavering. I decided to let my server choose for me and she did not let me down. Arriving at the table was the Pappardelle with Smoked Maine Lobster. Talk about drool-worthy. Not only did the noodles melt in my mouth, but I loved how the chef incorporates the fresh tomatoes and corn.
Even though I have the propensity to over order and I couldn’t fathom having one more bite, the dessert menu was too good to pass up. Catching my eye immediately was the Butterscotch Budino which is comprised of creamy butterscotch pudding, salted caramel whipped cream and topped with a pine nut crumble. Paired with a lovely Amaro, it was the perfect ending to a fabulous meal.
501 Union Avenue
Knoxville, Tennessee 37902
When I packed my bags and headed East for the weekend, I had no idea that I would have one of the best meals of 2019 in this unsuspecting city.
Before this road trip, I read a few blogs and talked to several friends about where to go while I was in town. But when you discover that the former Executive Chef of Blackberry Farms has an award-winning restaurant less than a half-mile from your hotel, you make reservations. Period.
Little did I know that when I was seated, I was in for an unforgettable evening.
Chef Joseph Lenn was awarded Best Chef -Southeast by the James Beard Foundation in 2013. Two years later, he left his position as Executive Chef at one of the most prestigious establishments in the Southeast to open JC Holdway. No one anticipated that this move would forever change the Knoxville dining scene.
JC Holdway is named after Chef Joseph Lenn’s late uncle who had a passion for local restaurants that went above and beyond providing exceptional experiences and service. Chef Lenn strives to provide guests with an extraordinary experience at JC Holdway. If you’ve dined there, I think you would agree it lives up to, if not surpass Uncle Joe’s standards.
JC Holdway features wood-fired cuisine that’s both innovative and delicious. Chef Lenn, inspired by the ways of Appalachia, is a firm believer that the wood imparts something that cannot be recreated using a modern-day appliance. After reveling in the flavors, I’d say I have to agree.
Arriving a bit early for my reservations ( yes, sometimes my Type-A tendencies get the best of me), I decided to post up at the bar, have a cocktail and peruse the menu. You know you have a serious problem on your hands when you want one of everything and you are only halfway through your cocktail. After crowdsourcing some favorites from the JC Holdway staff, I was well prepared for dinner ( and didn’t feel the need to order one of everything!)
Every dish I had that evening had my eyes rolling back, but there were three dishes specifically that made this meal a stand out for 2019: Springer Mountain Chicken Wings, Oyster Mushrooms and the Goat Cheesecake. I can’t pinpoint a specific flavor or reason but I can safely say I had an out of body experience when devouring these dishes.
To have an unforgettable experience, one must adhere to the following rules:
Make a reservation. You don’t want to miss out on these culinary masterpieces.
Bring a friend and order all the dishes. If you are dining solo, the same rule applies.
Take your time and enjoy each and every single bite. If there’s something you love, maybe place another order. ( Yes, I realize this sounds gluttonous)
Have dessert. You must order dessert.
I can only hope that you savor each bite an enjoy every single moment as much as I did.
Where To Drink
Pretentious Beer Company
131 S Central Street
Knoxville, Tennessee 37902
Located in the heart of the Old City, Pretentious Beer Company puts the craft in craft beer. While I planned on stopping by after brunch, we ran into a little bit of a wait at Olibea’s. Rather than hovering, we made the executive decision our wait time was better spent sampling beer than coffee. We walked a few doors down and grabbed a seat at Pretentious Beer Company. Apparently, beer enthusiasts are the only ones who want beer during that hour so we walked in without a problem.
Pretentious Beer Company is known for having approachable beers with amusing names. Beers are on the lighter side so if you are in search of stouts and porters, you may find one or two but selections will be limited. Aside from making some damn good brews, they are also creating their own unique glassware next door. Their glasses are unlike any beer glasses around. Take a look at their customs taps as well, pretty impressive if you ask me.
If you are in search of a solid beer or looking to kill time while you wait for your table at Olibea’s, swing by and check out this one of a kind brewery. I guarantee you’ll end up next door purchasing a glass or two.
Crafty Bastard Brewing
6 Emory Place
Knoxville, Tennessee 37917
Crafty Bastard Brewing is serving beer that’s as weird and wonderful as its name. Clearly, I was intrigued by the playful moniker, so I had to stop by. Like many craft breweries, Crafty Bastard has an industrial feel and quite the welcoming vibe. People had their dogs while others were playing classic board games and catching up with one another. Approaching the counter, I straight up did a double-take. I’ve seen some unusual beers in my time, after all, I did go to the Great American Beer Festival, but some of these creative selections were beyond epic.
My friends know that I can never get enough pickles and I ALWAYS order extra. When I spotted the Picklebier on the menu, I’m pretty sure I embarrassed my friend as I was squealing with excitement. I began talking to the bartender about the beer and of course he was kind enough to oblige and let me sample this experiment. OH MY GOD. It was unlike anything I had tried before. I immediately asked if they had it in a growler so I could share the deliciousness with my friends, but unfortunately, I was out of luck.
After I stopped swooning over the Picklebier, I opted for something a little more on the spicy side, Mayan Chocolate Chili Porter. HOT DAMN! Talk about spicy deliciousness. If you are a fan of heavier beers, this one is for you! I can still taste the heat!
For my beer nerds who seek experimental brews that challenge your palate and the way you approach beer, Crafty Bastard is the place for you.
Maple Hall Bowling Alley
414 S Gay Street
Knoxville, Tennessee 37902
Maple Hall Bowling Alley is far from your traditional bowling alley. For all my Nashville connoisseurs, Maple Hall Bowling Alley is the Knoxville version of Pinewood Social serving up craft cocktails, flavorful bites and well, there’s bowling. They feature eleven lanes equipped with the coziest of leather couches and TVs for days. If bowling isn’t your thing and you are just in search of a stiff drink, head upstairs for a little R&R.
Where To Snap Pics
Some might call me basic or a glorified tourist, but I have this thing with murals. When I travel, I love to see the artistic expression that finds itself on the side of coffee shops, down an alley or on the side of the local laundromat. In the city of Knoxville, it was a painted staircase.There’s something about the brilliant colors that I find alluring not to mention the overwhelming size.Truth be told, I can barely draw a stick figure so I have mad respect for these mural artists.
I came across a few murals while I was wandering around Knoxville. Some were calculated and planned out while others were pure happenstance. If you find yourself wandering through the city, these are certainly worth checking out.
Greetings From Knoxville Mural
508 Walnut Street
On each of my trips, I’ve been collecting photos from these “ Greetings From …” murals every time I am in a new city. My success rate is solid thus far.
This gem can be found on Walnut Street near K-Brew coffee house. There wasn’t a line, so hopefully, you will be as lucky as we were!
Weaving Rainbow Mountain
Corner of Cumberland Avenue and 11th Avenue
This was one “mural” that I sought out because I have such fondness for vivid colors. I was surprised, yet again, that people weren’t lined up to take photos. Perhaps it was the 100-degree heat or the fact that we were directly in the sunlight. Who knows. I was happy to take my time and capture a few photographs.
309 North Central Street
As we were walking back from Crafty Bastard Brewing, we happened upon this colorful mural filled with honeycombs, bees, and vibrant wildflowers. It wasn’t until after the fact that we found out this mural was specifically created to highlight the importance of bees. Isn’t it beautiful?
I am in love.
When I made my way East, I had no idea what to expect, after all, it’s been years. The city I remember bleeding orange far surpasses its “college town” reputation. You are big enough to wander but small enough to almost feel like home. You possess that small-town charm and character that I often feel Nashville has lost as it has evolved over the years.
From the flourishing food scene, the never-ending natural beauty and all the kind souls that I encountered during my adventure, I am already planning my return. Your kindness and hospitality are second to none.
Knoxville, you are by far an underrated destination that needs be on everyone’s radar. I can’t wait to tell everyone about you!
Until Next Time!