A Foodie's Guide to Knoxville
The city of Knoxville, located along the Tennessee River, was the first capital of Tennessee. Knoxville is a city not particularly well-known for any one thing. Like Asheville, its downtown struggled through the latter part of the 1900s, until their city decided to host the World Fair in 1982. This was a planned effort to revive the downtown seen and it worked wonderfully. Today, Knoxville’s downtown is vibrant with restaurants, shops, and culture. Just two hours west of Asheville, Knoxville makes the perfect destination for a weekend getaway and I can’t wait to eat my way through this city.
9 AM Having arrived to Knoxville late the night before, I am up and out the door right away to start exploring. First stop, breakfast at Pete’s Coffee Shop, a Knoxville institution since 1986. It seems like there are a lot of regulars here, and I really mean A LOT. When I arrive there is a line snaking it’s way through the entire restaurant. I must’ve looked a little lost, because a waitress kindly pointed me to the end of the line and said it would take five to ten minutes. I did not believe her estimate given the number of people waiting, but she was right - they turned the tables quickly. Once seated, I was happy to find the food was well priced, about $6 per person for a full breakfast. They serve everything from pancakes to breakfast club sandwiches. I had eggs, potatoes and bacon and it was served up fast and was delicious.
10 AM After breakfast, I go straight to the Market Square Farmers Market. Market Square is located in the heart of downtown Knoxville. It was originally home to Market Hall, an indoor market for local farmers and artisans that was built in the 1800s and removed around 1960. Now Market Square is a large pedestrian plaza that is perfect for street performers, farm stands, outdoor dining and more. There is a stage located at the north end, which hosts public performances, and a park complete with a small waterfall located at the south end, plus restaurants and shops lining both the east and west sides. This farmer’s market definitely makes my top 3 list. There are over 60 vendors selling every type of produce and food imaginable, plus food trucks, food carts, buskers, and a splash fountain. This is basically a street festival merging with a Saturday morning market and I love it! I could spend the whole day here!
12 PM With all the restaurants in Market Square, I cannot pass up eating lunch here. I decide on Soccer Taco, which as you would expect from the name is a sports bar/mexican restaurant. The walls of the restaurant are lined with unique murals of skeletons playing soccer. The food is good and the drinks are served in huge glasses - perfect after being in the sun at the market. They also have a huge tequila selection at their bar - more than 50 different choices.
1 PM After lunch, I head a few blocks away to the World’s Fair Park. Knoxville was host to the World’s Fair in 1982 in an effort to bring some life back to their downtown area. The Fair was a success as it was one of the most well attended in the world. The park is home to the Tennessee Amphitheater, Volunteer Landing, a lawn space for events and the Sunsphere - one of Knoxville’s most well known landmarks. A short trip to the top of the Sunsphere will reward you with 360 degree views of Knoxville and the surrounding area. And at the far end of the lawn space you will find a huge splash fountain for the kids (and the young at heart).
3 PM After burning off a few calories at the park, I decide to try out Cruze Dairy Farm for some ice cream. Cruze Dairy is a local farm, which produces buttermilk, chocolate milk and white milk all for sale in local markets and food co-ops. For the season, they have opened a pop-up ice cream shop on Gay Street, which is a hot spot in downtown Knoxville. All of the ice cream is soft-serve but can be dipped or sprinkled. The atmosphere of the shop is like something out of a magazine, everything perfectly adorned. The girls who work there all don retro styled red and white checked dresses and bright red lipstick, with smiles as sweet as the ice cream they’re serving up!
4 PM After ice cream, I take a walk in the park near Market Square, which houses a public art exhibit, the Art in Public Places project. The amazing sculptures line a meandering path, which runs along a small creek and water feature. It’s wonderful to see people just sitting alongside a large scale work of art chatting with a friend or eating lunch. I step out of the park and back into Market Square and hit a few of the local shops.
6 PM For dinner, I am in the mood for burgers, so I hit the Stock and Barrel - home to Knoxville’s best. They have all the traditional burger toppings plus some. How about the Elvis burger with peanut butter, fried bananas and bacon? Or the Bernie with bleu cheese, blueberry preserves, bacon and jalapenos? I decide on the Ring of Fire - topped with black bean and corn salsa, habaneros, jalapenos, pepper jack cheese and garlic aioli. It’s spicy - thank goodness for the huge drink selection - more than 80 bourbons and another 50 whiskies. Can’t decide which one to try? How about the Tennessee versus Kentucky bourbon flight?
8 PM After dinner, I have one more stop - Maple Hall Bowling. A boutique bowling alley located on Gay Street in the heart of downtown. Located in the basement of what once was a J.C. Penney’s, this bowling alley is unlike any you’ve ever been in before. They have exposed brick, plush leather sofas, a full bar, a farm to table menu with lane service. They even have a stage for hosting live music. I feel like my level of cool is increasing just by being in this bowling alley. They charge by the hour instead of by the game, so the price is very reasonable, but there are only 11 lanes, so be prepared to wait if you go on a weekend night. I didn’t bowl my best game, but I had so much fun. I can’t wait to come back to Knoxville.