Best of Knoxville 2012: Food

Best New Restaurant

Shuck Raw Bar & Ale
The menu at Shuck shows such an intimate knowledge of coastal cuisine and the bounty of the sea it makes you want to look for fins on Executive Chef Anthony Fowler. Sicilian Tuna Crudo, Smoked Atlantic Salmon, Mexican Shrimp Ceviche—are we really still in our Appalachian hometown? The pièce de résistance: the Torre de Crustaceos, a tower of shrimp, lump crab, pico gallo, romaine, avocado and such that practically draws admiring crowds when one makes its way through the mod-but-friendly dining room. Fowler is also bringing in oysters, bucket upon bale upon half shells on iced plates. And true to form (think sister restaurants Cru or Nama and you'll get the idea), they don't just end up in front of you; each server has a wide knowledge of the oysters on offer, as well as the romantic European wine list. You don't have to go it alone at Shuck. Perhaps the nicest part of the new Shuck is just seeing that 100 Block of Gay Street space where Nama used to be swinging once more. The bar is lively, with a neighborhood feel; hugs and hey-yas are exchanged, and it's so much fun to see who's taken up that booth-table in the front window. (Rose Kennedy)
Runners Up: Bella Luna, Boyd's Jig & Reel, Harry's Delicatessen

Best Breakfast

Pete's Coffee Shop
Runners Up: The French Market, Long's Drug Store, Gourmet's Market

Best Brunch

Bistro at the Bijou
Brunch at the Bistro has been an underappreciated secret in Knoxville for a while. And then you-know-who got kicked out, and the place has been packed ever since. Still, however, there's rarely a wait, and the prices are much less than other comparable downtown brunch hotspots. Best of all, the cheapness extends to the exquisite Bloody Marys, which are only $3.50, and always hit the spot, weekend after weekend. Just spicy enough to taste it, just strong enough to feel it, the drinks are such a tasty bargain you might soon find yourself back in the state that precipitated needing one to begin with. (Cari Wade Gervin) (See also: Best Bloody Mary in Drink, Best Story About Knoxville in Knoxville Life.)
Runners Up: Cafe 4, Copper Cellar, Tomato Head

Best Business Lunch Spot

There's something reassuring about the place that serves the best business lunch being such a great ambassador in the community. Aubrey's is well known for its support of area schools—if you haven't attended one of the fund-raiser breakfasts they hold for bands, soccer teams, or Science Olympiad, you really ought to. They also buy vegetables and fruits in the region when they can. And about that lunch. It's not just the "quick and reliable" items that are usually the hallmarks of work-lunch fare. Instead, they serve food you'd make a special trip for, like strawberry salad with blue cheese and candied pecans, or rattlesnake pasta with chicken and Southwest-spiced alfredo. You could say Aubrey's makes that their business. (R.K.)
Runners Up: Bistro at the Bijou, Cafe 4, Tomato Head

Best Coffeehouse

Old City Java
Runners Up: Coffee and Chocolate, Golden Roast, Remedy

Best Bakery

Best Cupcakes

Magpies Bakery
This perennial favorite bakery has surely graced the tables of nearly every wedding reception, birthday party, or retirement celebration in town with its unique and beautiful cakes, designed by owner/artist/pastry chef extraordinaire Peggy Hambright. But it's the cupcakes that keep us coming back for more. Along with the usual suspects (chocolate, vanilla, red velvet, coconut, strawberry cream, etc.), Hambright offers an ever-changing menu of flavors: carrot cake, Guinness chocolate stout, key lime, almond apricot, Italian cream—whatever is fresh, best, and seasonal makes this menu. A personal shout-out, too, for offering a gluten-free option. Because cupcakes are for everyone! (Hillari Dowdle)
Best Bakery Runners Up: Ham and Goody's, Rita's Bakery, VG's Bakery
Best Cupcakes Runners Up: Cities Cupcake Boutique, The Cup, Gigis

Best Ice Cream/Frozen Treats

Coolato Gelato
Runners Up: Cruze Farm, Fountain City Creamery, Froyoz

Best Deli

Nixon's Deli
Runners Up: Ali Baba's Time Out Delicatessen, Harry's Delicatessen, Holy Land Market & Deli

Best Salads

Tomato Head
See Also: Best Restaurant in Best of the Best, Best Salads, Best Pizza, Best Veggie Friendly in Food
Runners Up: Aubrey's, Calhoun's, Trio Cafe

Best Steaks

Ye Olde Steakhouse
Runners Up: Calhoun's, Chop House, Copper Cellar

Best Ribs

Runners Up: Chandler's Deli, Dead End BBQ, Sweet P's Barbecue and Soul House

Best Wings

Wild Wing Cafe
Runners Up: Dead End BBQ, Roosters Sports Bar and Grill, Smoky Mountain Brewery

Best Pizza

Tomato Head
Runners Up: Barley's Taproom & Pizzeria, Brixx, Hard Knox Pizza

Best Hamburger

Best French Fries

Best Desserts

Best Hamburger Runners Up: Copper Cellar, Downtown Grill & Brewery, Sam & Andy's
Best French Fries Runners Up: Cafe 4, Calhoun's, Downtown Grill & Brewery
Best Desserts Runners Up: Cafe 4, Coffee & Chocolate, Magpies Bakery

Best Hot Dog

Hot Dog Man in the Old City
There's nothing quite like stumbling out of an Old City club at 2 or 3 in the a.m., stomach a-roil with feral hunger pangs, your mind twisted with the dismal option of driving to one of the scarce few food-service establishments actually open at this unholy hour of the night/morn. Yours is a state of wretchedly weary, beery, and utterly malnourished disrepair. And then there he is, The Old City Hot Dog Man in that familiar cart with the multi-colored umbrella and the steamer full of franks saving the evening once again. For three or four bucks, you can stuff your face with a big beef dog or a giant sausage smeared in chili and doused with mustard, ladled with kraut or onions or whatever your hot dog pleasure is, all served up in less time than it takes to place your order at Krystal. A buck or two extra nets a Coke or bag of chips. And then suddenly you're still making your way home, only you're full now, and happy, and life doesn't seem so bleak. The Old City Hot Dog Man is like our very own late-nite superhero. Unless, that is, you happen to be vegetarian. (M.G.)
Runners Up: Dave's Doghouse, Double Dogs, Litton's

Best Barbecue

Dead End BBQ
You could always smell Dead End from at least a few doors away, the mouth-watering scent of beef brisket and pulled pork. Now you can plainly see them, too, since the powers that be have obliterated the graduate student housing across the street. Their secrets are their own, for the most part, but one of them is never-frozen meat. And though owners George Ewart and Robert Nutt are members in good standing of the Kansas City BBQ Society, they really push the envelope when they employ barbecue as an ingredient. My favorite are probably the sliders, with a lashing of Red, White, and Bleu slaw inside, but they also cradle pulled pork in fried potato skins, queso, and quesadillas, or toss it on salads if you like. And there's this dainty little Dead End Mac-Attack, pulled pork with red sauce, caramelized onions, and, yeah, house-made mac-n-cheese between two slices of grilled sourdough. It may be something you've got to see to believe. (R.K.)
Runners Up: Buddy's BBQ, Calhoun's, Sweet P's Barbecue and Soul House

Best Seafood

Runners Up: Bayou Bay, Nama Sushi, Shrimp Dock

Best Sushi

Nama Sushi
Runners Up: Stir Fry Cafe, Tomo, Wasabi

Best Veggie-Friendly

Tomato Head
Runners Up: Just Ripe, Sunspot, Three Rivers Market

Best Cheese Selection

The Crown & Goose
Runners Up: Chez Liberty, The Melting Pot, Three Rivers Market

Best Comfort Food

Chandler's Deli
Runners Up: Aubrey's, Big Fatty's, Litton's

Best Italian

Naples Italian Restaurant
Runners Up: Altruda's, Louis' Restaurant, Savelli's

Best Asian

Taste of Thai
Runners Up: Nama Sushi, Stir Fry Cafe, Wasabi

Best Mexican

Best Nachos

Best $5 Meal

Soccer Taco
When one thinks of a sports bar, one tends to think of wings. Wings, other fried foods, and beer. Soccer Taco has the beer part down pat, but you'd be forgiven for thinking all the giant televisions playing soccer nonstop meant you were in a sports bar instead of a Mexican restaurant. However, in a Mexican restaurant you are, and boy, do they do it right. Soccer Taco's menu covers all the bases, from the authentic to the traditional Mexican restaurant staples. Top it off with a margarita for the quintessential Mexican experience—and don't forget to watch some futbol while you're at it! (C.G.)
Best Mexican Runners Up: Cancun's Mexican Restaurant, Chez Guevera, Senor Taco
Best Nachos Runners Up: Cancun's Mexican Restaurant, Downtown Grill & Brewery, Senor Taco
Best $5 Meal Runners Up: Buddy's BBQ, Chandler's Deli, Long's Drug Store

Best Middle-Eastern

King Tut's Grill
Runners Up: Ali Baba's Time Out Delicatessen, Cairo Cafe, Holy Land Market & Deli

Best Indian

Knoxville's oldest Indian restaurant (as we recall, it's just the third in Knoxville history) is still our favorite. Named for the famous stringed instrument popularized by Mr. Shankar, and located in an old Captain D's in the heart of Bearden, Sitar offers a feast of that complex cuisine, including biryanis, tandooris, and vegetarian vindaloos. We recommend one of the big combination plates; bring a good friend to share it. (Jack Neely)
Runners Up: Shalimar, Taj Fine Indian Dining

Best Appetizers

Downtown Grill & Brewery
Runners Up: Aubrey's, Calhoun's, Public House

Best Chef

Bruce Bogartz, RouXbarb
See our Street Talk interview.
Runners Up: Martha Boggs (Bistro at the Bijou), Brandon Cruze (Sunspot), Steve Puleo (Puleo's Grille)

Best Server

Brandi Winchester, Barley's Taproom and Pizzeria
Brandi Winchester's first food service job was at a McDonald's—the only place that would hire her at age 14. "I never worked so hard in my life and made so little money," she says, but it's there that her mentality began to shift. "Serving reorganizes your brain, teaches you how to treat people, and you learn how to talk to just about anybody—and when to keep your mouth shut," she says. She's been a server off and on for seven years, at Barley's for two and half, and says the trick to being a good server is pretty simple: "I care what people think and I think about what they'd like, remember what they drink, and their names." When she pauses to eat, her favorite dish at Barley's is the hummus with tomatoes, and she considers their best bargain Monday and Tuesday half-price drafts. She's the first to admit she's not always everyone's favorite server. "I was bringing beer to a girl, it was her birthday, there were like 15 people at the table and she looked really, really nice. Just as I got there—this was nobody's fault—she turned her head around and beer poured all over her." Furthering her education is important, but Winchester thinks her current work is valuable. "If you do your job really well, go in and try really hard, pay your bills—it's good. Pretty close to professional." (R.K.)
Runners Up: Erin Bilbo (Sunspot), Stephen Morelock (Bonefish Grill), Lia Patty (Sapphire)

Best Patio

Best Waterfront Restaurant

Calhoun's on the River
When you want to impress a visiting guest with not only Southern BBQ (isn't that what they always ask for?), but also with the idea of Knoxville as a great place to be, you take them to Calhoun's on the River. You've got the scenic beauty of the river, the architectural interest of the Henley Street Bridge (well, in a couple years, anyway), and—yes—the industrial grit of tank farms and barges. It's all of Knoxville, all in one view. (C.T.)
Best Patio Runners Up: The Crown & Goose, Lakeside Tavern, Urban Bar
Best Waterfront Restaurant Runners Up: Lakeside Tavern, Sweet P's Barbecue and Soul House, Willy's Bar & Grill

Best Source for Locally Grown Produce/Meat

Market Square Farmers' Market
Local produce: It's been a good century for purveyors of local produce, and we don't remember ever having so many good local-produce destinations, but none are as much fun to visit as the Market Square Farmers' Market. It's the worthy successor of 158 years of farmers' markets on this one location. Everything comes from within a couple hours' drive, and these growers demonstrate a strong prejudice in favor of the organic. It wasn't a surprise in this category, it's made the top 10 on some national lists. It's open twice a week, early Saturday and mid-day Wednesday, but for the full experience go on Saturday morning. Especially a Saturday morning in, say, July, when you might have a choice of 20 or more distinctly different heirloom tomatoes. (J.N.)
Runners Up: The Market, Three Rivers Market, UT Farmers' Market