While there were some great new restaurant openings in Knoxville this year, it was also a good year for rediscovering some old favorites. This year’s list of favorite menu items includes some of each. Whether newcomers or classics, these are the ten Knoxville tastes your Restaurant Examiner couldn’t get off her mind this past year.
Chimichurri Oysters at Shuck
Probably the best new restaurant of the year, there’s not a menu item at Shuck that isn’t fantastic, from the buttery Lobster Rolls to the surprisingly light-tasting Fried Calamari with housemade Green Goddess Dressing. Shuck’s oysters, though, are the real knockout. They’re fresh enough to taste heavenly with little accompaniment (a squeeze of lemon or a drop of Tabasco), but the Chimichurri Sauce is dangerously craveable. The jalapeno, lime and cilantro concoction is worthy of the very best oysters -- and Shuck has both.
Eggless Egg Salad at Three Rivers Market
The natural foods co-op’s new digs didn’t just expand the size. Three Rivers now has a variety of ready-to-eat dishes made in store, and from the Radicchio Chicken Salad to the hot bar’s Breakfast Quinoa, they’re all worth trying. A top pick: the Eggless Egg Salad Sandwich, usually available in the cooler. The firm tofu mimics the texture of egg whites surprisingly well, and the taste of dill, onion, and spicy mustard makes it tastier than healthy food ought to taste. (Not a tofu lover? Try one of Three Rivers hefty Hummus & Veggie Wraps instead.)
Chicken Carnitas at Senor Taco
If you think only pork carnitas have flavor, hurry to Senor Taco. They’ve figured out how to turn a thick slab of chicken breast into the most tender and flavorful meat you’ve ever pulled apart with a fork. The carnitas are slow-roasted and served to you in two huge chunks to pull apart yourself and wrap in warm corn tortillas. Don’t worry -- they’ll shred easily as soon as your fork touches them.
Bloody Mary Bar at Copper Cellar West
It’s almost a cheat to list a Bloody Mary you make yourself, but Copper Cellar West provides such a dizzying array of ingredients that you’re guaranteed to have the best Bloody in town. Choose from fresh-squeezed tomato juice, Zing-Zang, V-8, Clamato (or whatever you want) as the base, then go to town. Sriracha sauce, horseradish, pickled okra, olives: the choices are mind-boggling, and the result is one hell of a cocktail. Not that you need another reason to visit Copper Cellar’s lush brunch spread, but here’s one more.
Goat Cheese Chicken Salad at Holy Land Market and Deli
The folks at Holy Land serve up great Middle Eastern food from the familiar Falafel to the more exotic, like Mansef, a lamb dish cooked with yogurt and spices. Walter and Denise earned their stripes running a deli in New York City, so they know their way around some distinctly American fare, too -- including what is quickly becoming known as the best Reuben in town. This year’s standout, though, was one of Denise’s experiments, featured in the case along with her ever-changing array of hummus varieties and inventive salads. The chunky chicken and tangy goat cheese combo is insanely rich and decadent. Ask about it on your next trip, and maybe she’ll make it more often!
Smoke House Wings at Dead End BBQ
Possibly the best wings in Knoxville. Dead End doesn’t dump them in a fryer, but instead cooks their wings in a smoker for a full two hours, then crisps them to order. The result is a tender, smoky-tasting wing that’s unlike any other. The wings are available in several flavors, but try the “naked” version for the full effect. You can drizzle on your favorite Dead End sauce from the handy bottles on the table.
Red Flannel Hash and Poached Eggs at The Bistro at the Bijou
The Bistro has some of the best brunch items around, so it’s hard to pick a favorite, especially with such stellar dishes as Shrimp & Grits with Tasso Gravy, or the many variations on Eggs Benedict (the grilled pork and collards version is primo). Rising to the top, though, is the Bistro’s savory hash, made with beets and crisp potatoes, flavored with onions and rich sour cream, then topped with perfectly-poached fresh eggs.
The Crazy Cajun at Central Flats & Taps
The best place to eat in Knoxville’s Happy Holler district takes a flatbread, tops it with a creamy blue cheese sauce, chunks of roasted Cajun chicken and red onions, then adds more blue cheese and feta crumbles. The result is ridiculously rich and spicy. Pair it with a cold beer. Experience heaven.
Spicy Spaghetti at Surin of Thailand
The appearance of a word like “spaghetti” on a Thai menu might fool you into thinking this is a fusion dish. It is in a very small way (the noodles are traditional wheat pasta noodles), but the sauce is so delectably Thai. A little bit sweet, a little bit spicy, loaded with chili peppers, basil and spices, the dish is decidedly exotic. It’s also enough to have leftovers, so you’ll have a lunch the next day that your co-workers will envy.
The Mancini at Hard Knox Pizzeria
Take a seat at Hard Knox and you’ll witness something amazing. The crowds of people zipping in and out with take-out pies rivals that of any chain. What’s even more amazing, though, is the quality of pizza at Hard Knox, which rivals any big city’s best. The Mancini is a knockout of a white pie, the white sauce and mozzarella topped with pistachios, red onions, and rosemary. Don’t skip the optional Balsamic Drizzle -- it’s made for this pizza.
- Best Knoxville dishes of 2011
- Best Knoxville dishes of 2010