Best of Knoxville 2012: Best of the Best

Best Knoxvillian

Pat Summitt

It's not like this is the first time Pat Summitt has taken on a tough foe.

And I don't mean strength of schedule stuff, although her SOS was always the most difficult in the country. I'm talking real-life enemies, not some 6-foot-8 shot-blocking machine.

For example, a month after Sept. 11, 2001, she gave a motivational speech to the Central Intelligence Agency, and has been invited back numerous times since. I'm not saying that she's the reason there hasn't been another attack since 9/11, but I wouldn't categorically rule it out, either.

Because she is Pat Summitt, dad-gummit. (Credit to doo-wop king Clifford Curry, who immortalized her in the song of the same name.)

That's the attitude that I, like lots of other people, tried to adopt last August when she announced that she has Alzheimer's Disease. She forbade pity parties.

I don't know about everybody else, but first I cried. A lot. That's something I don't do very often. I've never been a confidante, but even I had memories that flooded back with the tears:

Like the time she sat down next to me at an AAU basketball game and started heckling the referees.

And the time she called me at home to me let know that something I'd written had disappointed her. (Stricken, I spent the rest of that morning researching my information so I could call her back and redeem myself. I did and she thanked me and never spoke of it again.)

Or the time she told me she was ready to take on a president in defense of Title IX (that raccoon she knocked off her deck a few years later didn't have a snow cone's chance in hell).

Or the time she was fixing to hire a new assistant coach and asked me what I thought she should do. (Me! What did I know? But she listened intently when I answered her, like what I thought mattered.)

Finally, and maybe more than anything else, I'd watched her raise her boy from a sweet little kid with his mother's eyes into a wise-beyond-his-years young man who will be her rock in the days to come.

That's comforting, because, for all our "Pat's gonna kick Alzheimer's butt" bravado, the thought of what she is up against is hard to bear.

Pat didn't get the Cinderella ending she deserved this season, but she was acclaimed and hailed, literally from coast to coast.

When it was done, and she hung that whistle around Holly Warlick's neck, I remembered something she said when she was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame 12 years ago:

"God's plan for Pat was somehow I needed to make a difference for young women. My avenue was through the game of basketball. And I do love it. And it's loved me back… I could never give to this game what this game has given to me."

She was just flat wrong.

Pat's square with the house.

—Betty Bean

Runners Up: Helen Ashe and Ellen Turner/Love Kitchen, Cuonzo Martin, Madeline Rogero

Best Store

McKay Used Books, CDs, Movies & More

There are some among us who are physical-media stalwarts—a hardy subset of consumers who withstand accusations of being behind the digital-download times. But they're surely not the only ones shopping at McKay, because this emporium of used books, games, CDs, and movies is usually jammed to its very high rafters with shoppers every day of the week. Somehow, owner Anne Jacobson and her braintrust have bucked trends and headlines to remain a success. Although they won't reveal their secret formula (knowing precisely how much to pay for your trade-ins, and how much to charge for them on the shelves), you almost wish they would share it with the rest of the retail world so that more cities could retain the pleasure of browsing in a book store on a Sunday afternoon. (Coury Turczyn)

Runners Up: Bliss, Disc Exchange, Three Rivers Market

Best Restaurant

The Tomato Head

Even after 20-plus years, Market Square's Tomato Head still seems fresh. Part of that is the ingredients, sure, but it's a lot more than that: Owner Mahasti Vafaie hit on a just-right balance of sleek, urban cool and untucked casual comfort from the very start, way back when the restaurant was known as the Flying Tomato. And the menu is pitch-perfect, too, making room for distinctly TH takes on classics like pizza-by-the-slice and roast beef sandwiches next to unexpected delights like the Lucy (spinach, hummus, carrots, roasted onions, roasted portobello, walnuts, and cheese) and a smoked salmon-and-pesto pizza. The rest of Knoxville's casual dining scene is still catching up. (Matthew Everett)

Runners Up: Aubrey's, Bistro at the Bijou, Nama Sushi

Best Bar

Barley's Taproom & Pizzeria

Setting the hard boundary between the Old City and the grim industrial end of East Jackson, Barley's Taproom has ridden the crest of at least two waves of craft-beer mania now, offering more good ale on tap alone than most joints offer in bottles and on draft combined. That, plus the fact that most of the city's better bands have played there at one time or another, so you can watch good live music downstairs several nights each week while you inhale—carefully, because the pie always comes out hot—some of the city's best pizza, makes Barley's Knoxville's number-one bar selection for 2012. It's also the beer-taster's favorite, with Best Beer Selection. (Mike Gibson)

Runners Up: Downtown Grill & Brewery, Preservation Pub, Public House

Best Band

The Dirty Guv'nahs

The Dirty Guv'nahs first one this category in 2008. Back then, they were a nice young band, promising and energetic, sorting out their particular version of Southern rock and refining the rambunctious live sets that established their reputation. They were ambitious—even then, they talked about headlining at the Tennessee Theatre and quitting their day jobs—but not so much different from a lot of other starry-eyed local bands.

Now, with a record fifth consecutive selection as Knoxville's favorite band in hand, the Guv'nahs—singer James Trimble, guitarists Michael Jenkins and Cozmo Holloway, keyboardist Chris Doody, bassist Justin Hoskins, and drummer Aaron Hoskins—find themselves in completely different circumstances. They've met all their original goals and are setting themselves up for a new round of challenges. The band just announced that its new album, Somewhere Beneath These Southern Skies, will be released in August, and expectations are high: it's the band's most professional effort yet, and they seem to have their eyes on breaking out of the Southeastern club circuit and into the national spotlight. (M.E.)

Runners Up: The Black Cadillacs, Black Lillies, Cutthroat Shamrock