Best of Knoxville 2013: Food

Best New Restaurant

Central Flats & Taps
Happy Holler's new neighborhood bar is one of those just right places—comfy without being a dive, considered but not pretentious, just as good for a quick bite and beer after a bike ride as it is for a night out on the town. The menu is small but covers just about everything: appetizers and salads you can make a meal out of, wings, panini, and stone-fired pizzas (those are the namesake "flats"). It's traditional bar fare with an upscale, contemporary twist—like, say, sriracha wings or an excellent update of the classic pizza margherita. Plus, there's a rotating selection of house cocktails and draft beer, including a few high-gravity options, and a friendly patio out back. (M.E.)
Runners Up: Archer's BBQ, Cru Bistro & Wine Bar, Knox Mason

Best Breakfast

Pete's Coffee Shop
Pete Natour runs a sweet little place in the heart of downtown with the help of family members and a wait staff that's been with him so long they're closer than any extended family could ever hope to be. That's part of the allure of breakfast in his booths or at an old-fashioned counter; the meal has been perfected, the cooking style handed down over the years, and it comes to you piping hot from the full-disclosure grill behind the register. And whether there are a few regulars clutching newspapers at the start of weekday business (6 a.m.) or the place is in full swing on a game-day Saturday, the service is always bustling but not hurried, friendly but not intrusive, even as lines pile up or downtown workers go for that second—make that third, fourth—cup of coffee. You can count on Pete's for eggs, fried or scrambled; country ham crispy at the edges; heaps of soft, browned home fries that beg for catsup or several shakes of black pepper; grill-warmed slabs of toast (even marble rye, a rarity in this town); old-style pancakes, some with blueberries or pecans. It's not brunch, or continental, or pretentious in any way—it's just really good breakfast, from Pete's family to yours. (Rose Kennedy)
Runners Up: Cosmo's Caffe at Gourmet Market, the French Market, the Plaid Apron

Best Brunch


This venerable Cumberland Avenue restaurant got a big upgrade when it moved across the street—in addition to the swank new modernist digs and the new rooftop patio, Sunspot also got a kitchen that's reportedly 10 times as big as the one in its previous location. The increased capacity shows in the new menu, which is bigger and bolder than ever before. The vegetarian-, vegan-, and gluten-free-friendly brunch is still a highlight, with Southwest- and Caribbean-flavored burritos, French toast, salads, and sandwiches, as well as an expanded selection of wine, liquor, and bottled and draft beers. (M.E.)
Runners Up: Bistro at the Bijou, Copper Cellar, Tomato Head

Best Business Lunch Spot

Best French Fries

Best Salads

There's no question that Aubrey's is a great place to do business—this is the second year in a row that this homegrown eatery has won the category. The restaurants are spacious, well-appointed, and comfortable—toss in good food and it's a winning spot for deal-making or just saying thanks. It doesn't hurt that you can have a good experience in multiple places; Aubrey's has spread its goodness all over the region with outposts from Cleveland to Oak Ridge, but it remains a hometown favorite because the folks at Aubrey's share the wealth of not only good food but goodwill, too. Nowadays it's a part of standard practice for restaurants to give back to the community, but Aubrey's has been a generous benefactor of schools and patron of local farms for much of the last 20 years. Of course, it helps that the food is comfortable, too. Their vote-winning salads are filling and fresh creations, the fries are crisp and plentiful, and the whole menu reads like a popularity contest. (Dennis Perkins)
Best Lunch Spot Runners Up: Bistro at the Bijou, Cafe 4, Tomato Head
Best Salads Runners Up: Calhoun's, Tomato Head, Trio Café Best French Fries Runners Up: Cafe 4, Crown & Goose, Litton's

Best Coffeehouse

Old City Java
It is not for us to tell you how a serious java junkie looks at dessert or lunch places that "also serve coffee." This is a more or less family-friendly publication, after all. But while you can enjoy such delicacies as brioche pecan sticky buns at Old City Java (and score the recipes through social media alerts and feeds), this spot holds responsibly grown and expertly ground and brewed coffee in the holy esteem it's meant to be held. The independent business is also a counter-cultural haven, with art, entertainment, and "latte art throw-down" competitions for amateur baristas. Because every good revolution instructs those who will carry on. (T.H.J.)
Runners Up: Coffee and Chocolate, Golden Roast, Remedy

Best Bakery

Best Cupcakes

Magpies Bakery

Just in case the yoga at next-door Best of Knoxville winner Glowing Body doesn't satiate you, then wander around the corner (or through the hall and past the bathroom and through the other hall) to the best damn cake in all of Knoxville and get your glow on the old-fashioned way: through liberal application of butter. You probably already know all about Magpies: incredible, beautiful wedding and birthday cakes made to order in any size, shape, color, and/or flavor you can dream of. The pies, cookies, cheesecakes, and even—as I learned this year—hot cross buns. And, oh, the cupcakes: vanilla, chocolate, red velvet, mocha, pistachio, key lime, lemon, strawberry cream, almond apricot, lemon raspberry, carrot cake, peanut butter, Italian cream, coconut, caramel, mango … the list goes on. But, hey, bottom line: butter. Do we really need to say more? (Hillari Dowdle)
Best Bakery Runners Up: Ham N Goody's & Litton's (TIE), Rita's Bakery, VG's Bakery
Best Cupcakes Runners Up: The Cup, Gigi's Cupcakes, Cities Cupcakes Boutique

Best Ice Cream/Frozen Treats

Coolato Gelato
Cherryl and Allen Meuret have always demanded authenticity for Coolato Gelato, and the results are both delicious and a window on another world. The two turned their hobby of tasting "elegant and interesting" gelatos into the basis for a charming, arty, traditional European-style cafe on Gay Street. They're strict, using fourth-generation Italian recipes for the cafe's namesake, the creamy, milk-based gelato, served in fun-shaped cups and made fresh daily from imported Italian ingredients. Amid all this detail and tradition, though, Cherryl's playful and innovative nature is obvious, particularly in her creation of the rotating gelato menu, which has included Elvis, tiramisu, RC Cola and MoonPie, and pear and feta flavors. But such amusing names aren't as important as the tastes that burst forth from these creamy desserts—flavors that will stay in your memory long after they've left your tongue. (R.K.)
Runners Up: Cruze Farm Dairy, Froyoz, Marble Slab Creamery

Best Deli

Nixon's Deli
The Nixon's Deli concept is deceptively simple: fresh, never-frozen products sliced fresh in the store—meats, cheese, and vegetables. You take the reins in designing a thin-shaved sandwich, and choices include a few items unusual in this market, like pumpernickel hoagie rolls, pastrami, and brown mustard just like Dagwood uses. They don't offer a lot of sides, but each is tasty and homemade—pasta salad to smokehouse potato salad, and of course chips if you're so inclined. The desserts are a really pleasant surprise, particularly the homemade chocolate chip cookies and banana pudding. And you can feel good spending your money there: the family-owned mini-franchise has been in Knoxville, and only Knoxville (with one location in Oak Ridge), since 1976. (R.K.)
Runners Up: Chandler's Deli, Lenny's Sub Shop, Sam & Andy's

Best Steaks

Ye Olde Steakhouse
Forget Hank Williams Jr.—if you want a family tradition, this one is solid gold. Bunt and Helen King began the legacy of serving the best Iowa grain-fed beef available back in 1968 and their kids still carry on in the cozy stone building in South Knox, that pesky closed bridge slowing them down not one whit. Son David King hand-cuts the porterhouse, prime rib, sirloin strip, or steak burgers, and if you fantasize about sizzling, silky, melting meat in jumbo proportions on your plate, this is the place. (R.K.)
Runners Up: Calhoun's, Chop House, Copper Cellar

Best Ribs

Best Patio

Best Waterfront Restaurant

Calhoun's/Calhoun's on the River
This long-time edifice on the water is a serious local eating institution, and its award-winning ribs remain one of the most publicly lauded foodstuffs in the city's recent comestible history. And for many years, Calhoun's patio was downtown Knoxville's waterfront, and, as such, it qualifies as a Knoxville showplace. It's not as grand as the Tennessee Theatre, maybe, but there's more food. In addition to saucy bragging rights, their onion loaf, crispy catfish, and spinach Maria keep Calhoun's squarely in the mind's eye of many Knoxville eaters and water dogs. (D.P.)
Best Ribs Runners Up: Chandler's Deli, Dead End BBQ, Sweet P's Barbecue and Soul House
Best Patio Runners Up: Crown & Goose, Lakeside Tavern, Preservation Pub
Best Waterfront Restaurant Runners Up: Calhoun's Ft. Loudoun Lake, Lakeside Tavern, Sweet P's Barbecue and Soul House

Best Wings

Wild Wing Cafe
Tucked into the west end of Turkey Creek and sitting on the Twin Lakes, this perennial party spot almost seems secluded, and that's an accomplishment. Although they're popular for many reasons, including the Blue Jeans Brunch, live music, and a notable array of daily drink and food specials, it's the page-long list of wing options that strikes fear and fancy into the eyes of diners. Sure, anybody can enjoy the Virgin option, and the honey mustard is tame enough, but it takes the fearless fire-eater to rejoice in the likes of the Atomic Meltdown, Habanero Hots, and China Syndrome. But no matter how flammable the wings may get, stick to a tasty beverage to help cool off—though you could go jump in a lake if you actually want to. (D.P.)
Runners Up: Calhoun's, Dead End BBQ, Rooster's

Best Pizza

Best Veggie-Friendly

Tomato Head
See Best Restaurant in the Best of the Best section.
Best Pizza Runners Up: Barley's Taproom & Pizzeria, Brixx, Hard Knox Pizza
Best Veggie-Friendly Runners Up: Just Ripe, Sunspot, Three Rivers Market

Best Hamburger

Best Desserts

Litton's Market and Restaurant

Barry Litton is a butcher by trade, while sis and business partner Kelly has a background at Cordon Bleu Cookery School in London—is it any wonder their burgers are the best in this burger-loving city? The twin secrets to success: a fluffy, homemade roll and choice Western beef ground fresh daily. If you want it gussied up, they'll serve you the chili burger, which is as it sounds, or the Thunder Road, with do-the-South-proud pimiento cheese and sautéed onions and jalapeños atop it. After a luscious burger with a choice of many tempting sides—and this hardly seems fair—you can also enjoy some larger-than-life desserts right there at Litton's. We could dally with the ideas of key lime or coconut custard pies, or cheesecake or even mousse, but prefer to leave you with these three words: red velvet cake. Followed by four more words: take it to go. (R.K.)
Best Hamburger Runners Up: Aubrey's, Cafe 4, Copper Cellar
Best Desserts Runners Up: Coffee and Chocolate, Gondolier Italian Restaurant, Magpies Bakery

Best Hot Dog

Double Dogs
While Double Dogs serves up everything from Black Angus burgers to wood-fired pizzas, it also offers some seriously appetizing Hebrew National hot dogs. Most intriguing: the Breakfast Dog, topped with American cheese, two bacon strips, a fried egg, and grilled onions. (C.T.)
Runners Up: Dale's Hot Dog Cart, Dave's Dog House, Litton's

Best Barbecue

Dead End BBQ

The most striking new building on old Sutherland Avenue looks like an uncommonly comfortable garage, a sort of stainless-steel Tim Allen fantasy featuring a patio connected to a wall that can open in nice weather. A lot of barbecues concentrate on three or four main items, but Dead End broadens the concept to make barbecue seem like a way of life. Ribs, shrimp, wings, sausage, brisket, quesadillas, burgers, served with your choice of barbecue sauces in a spectrum of intensities, and a variety of specialty sandwiches you won't find elsewhere, like grilled smoked bologna, Brick Top Chicken, and the Dead-End Mac Attack (pulled pork and macaroni and cheese). For those who aren't sure they're up to that sort of thing, they offer nice salads, a variety of home-style sides, green beans, fried okra, and "red white and bleu slaw." Their barbecue-sandwich sampler plate is called Sutherland Sliders. All restaurants should be so proud of their address. (J.N.)
Runners Up: Buddy's BBQ, Calhoun's, Sweet P's Barbecue and Soul House

Best Seafood

A clubby, maritime-themed atmosphere will make you feel as though you've been transported "down the shore" to the Chesapeake Bay, but Henley Street's Chesapeake's brings you the best from waters all over the globe, including wild-caught Pacific Northwest salmon, Central American snapper, and more. A favorite lunch spot, it's also a stylish dinner destination and a popular hub for Sunday brunches. There's plenty on the menu for those who don't opt for seafood, plus several gluten-free dishes, a full bar and wine list, and a selection of craft microbrews. A member of the Copper Cellar restaurant family, Chesapeake's features that group's acclaimed signature side dishes. Spinach Maria and cinnamon-spiced baked apples, anyone? You needed to ask? (T.H.J.)
Runners Up: Nama Sushi, the Shrimp Dock, Shuck Raw Bar & Ale

Best Sushi

Nama Sushi Bar
Nama's sushi rolls remain the most innovative in town, but are so popular that they now qualify as "standards." But they're classics that still thrill with distinctive flavor combinations: Soy Joy's soy paper wrapping seared albacore and spicy tuna, Pizza Roll's snow crab and smoked salmon baked with TNT sauce and topped with eel sauce, Marley's daring use of Jamaican jerk sauce over tofu and asparagus. Uniquely Knoxville sushi? Yes. (C.T.)
Runners Up: Anaba, Makino Japanese Buffet, Tomo

Best Cheese Selection

The Crown & Goose

The English may not be famous for many foods, but they are famous for cheese, as well as great cravers of it. Connoisseurs of comedy should be grateful that John Cleese, when he was seeking "a bit of fermented curd," didn't walk into the English gastropub known as the Crown & Goose; Monty Python would lack one of its most famous skits. One of few local restaurants that offers cheese plates, this establishment never runs out of the cheesy comestibles. Yes, unlike the Pythons' Cheese Shop, the Crown and Goose actually will serve you, and promptly, English Stilton, Claret Red Wine Cheddar, Welsh Red Dragon, Swiss Gruyere, Spanish Aged Manchego, and several other interesting selections, daily. (J.N.)
Runners Up: Cru Bistro & Wine Bar, Melting Pot, Three Rivers Market

Best Comfort Food

Chandler's Deli
One family's been known to send an emissary over state lines on an hours-long round trip just to bring home some of their ribs, which begs the question: How far would you go for Charles and Gwen Chandler's signature mac and cheese? Fried green tomatoes? Catfish? Sweet potatoes? Before the debate between biplane from Hawaii or barge from Alabama begins, let's just be grateful that Chandler's is right here in K-Town. The recipes have been tweaked endlessly until the Chandlers are proud to serve them, and every spoonful tastes like home (yours, or somebody else's where the cooks only aim to please), from all of the aforementioned to the seasoned cabbage, pulled pork, yeast rolls, and cobblers. It's comforting just to breeze through the door, down the cafeteria-style line that's first-come, first-serve for everyone, over to the kitchen-style tables, and make a quick stop to fix your own tea, soda or even red Kool-Aid. A 300-CD shuffle of gospel music plays sweetly in the background and you can take comfort in that, and in knowing that the servings are so ample you'll be making a second comfort-food meal from the leftovers tomorrow. (R.K.)
Runners Up: Aubrey's, Big Fatty's, Cafe 4

Best Italian

Naples Italian Restaurant
Ah, to be whisked away to Old Napoli—or the closest thing to it. This perennial "Best of" has reigned over the local Italian food scene from its convenient Bearden location for almost 30 years. Naples offers a lunch, dinner, and catering menu of rich soups and entrées, a lasagna that would make mama weep with envy and chef's specials on innovative cuisine and Old World classics. There's also a full bar and a stellar wine list of sparkly whites and stick-to-your-ribs reds, plus decadent desserts. For special occasions, everyday good times or starry-eyed romantic trysts, we wouldn't be seen anywhere else. And if we can score that booth with the curtains around it, we won't be ... (T.H.J.)
Runners Up: Altruda's, Gondolier Italian Restaurant and Pizza, Savelli's Italian Restaurant

Best Asian

Taste of Thai

If you've been around town for a while (as we have), you probably remember the bad old days before we had any Thai food at all—before even the Thai fusion revolution of the '90s wowed our taste buds (RIP, Kenny Siao). Now we have several options, of course—and in fact, can pick up pad thai on practically any street corner. But Taste of Thai dishes the home-style real deal. There's the peanutty rama curry with spinach and shrimp; the basil-soaked drunken noodle; the simple mama noodle with baby corn, snow peas, and tofu. And let's not forget the coconut ice cream—served with a drizzle of sweetened coconut milk. As you exit Taste of Thai's still-new building, always stop to show your appreciation by ringing the ceremonial gong by the door. Then do it for real by getting into the car and back into Cedar Bluff traffic. (H.D.)
Runners Up: Asia Cafe, Nama Sushi, Stir Fry Cafe

Best Mexican

Best Nachos

Soccer Taco
Finding one place that's a master of authentic Mexican—pork stomach or tongue tacos—and also serves up delicious home-style Tex-Mex and even All-American nachos is about as likely as one person playing keeper, striker, and, say, the sportscaster at a pro game. But Soccer Taco manages the balance, from its slow-simmered charro beans studded with lusty chunks of sausages to the creamy sauce that kisses the super-fresh shrimps nestled in stretchy, kitchen-made tortillas to that little swirl of red sauce that will set your mouth afire—in a good way. Add see-and-be-seen patio/decks at each location, frosty mugs of beer and an exhaustive supply of tangy margaritas and it's a sweep for the home team. (R.K.)
Best Mexican Runners Up: Chez Guevara, Pelancho's, Senor Taco
Best Nachos Runners Up: Chez Guevara, Dead End BBQ, Downtown Grill & Brewery

Best Middle Eastern

King Tut Grill
We may have lost the venerable Ali Baba's to retirement, but Monir "Mo" Girgis and his family is still dishing out fabulous falafel and hummus at the one-of-a-kind King Tut Grill in Vestal. Where else can you make an entire meal of the "best Greek salad in Knoxville" under flashing disco lights? (C.T.)
Runners Up: Cairo Cafe, Ephesus Mediterranean Grill, Holy Land Market & Deli

Best Indian

Sitar Indian Cuisine
For many years, Knoxville was a one-Indian-restaurant town. But suddenly, we have a full-on Indian dining scene with more contenders than we can officially recognize in the Best of Knoxville. Despite the new competition, Sitar remains Knoxville's longstanding favorite with its rockin' daily lunch buffet and its full menu, featuring unique items like the chef specialties tossed in an Indian iron skillet (karahai). Although Indian cuisine may still be considered exotic in this area, Sitar is the most comfortable place in town to enjoy it. (C.T.)
Runners Up: Bombay Palace, India Cuisine, TAJ Fine Indian Dining

Best Appetizers

Downtown Grill & Brewery
The brewpub's appetizers are so popular many forget about supper altogether. They claim their regular nachos are the largest in town, and we will not argue: a mountain of tortillas, refried beans, cheese, jalapeños, and several other ingredients even before you get to the optional meats, they always flabbergast newcomers. Also on the list are a few other things you might not find elsewhere, hongos con queso, quesadillas with an unusual mix of fresh peppers, beer-battered mushrooms, soft pretzels. And you can't talk about either happy hour or appetizers without mentioning that early in the evening they have free fresh-popped popcorn, self-serve and unlimited as long as it lasts. See also: Best Happy Hour in the Drink section. (J.N.)
Runners Up: Aubrey's, Calhoun's, Crown & Goose

Best Chef

Bruce Bogartz of RouXbarb

This is an unprecedented sixth Best Chef honor for Bruce Bogartz—one for every year his cozy fine-dining spot, RouXbarb, has been open. A lot of "farm to table" efforts have hit the scene in the past year or two, and they've really ramped up in the past six months. But Bogartz has been doing this all along, from his use of seasonal vegetables, free-range meat, and fresh "real" fish to his relentless demands that everything be homemade. Plus, his constant willingness to pamper the pickiest vegetarian or special-needs diet right alongside his other diners makes RouXbarb unique. He's been on the forefront so long it's easy to forget who got this ball rolling—but not among our Best of Knoxville voters. (R.K.)
Runners Up: Amber Lloyd of the Orangery, Brian Crowe of Cazzy's Corner Grill, Brandon Cruze of Sunspot / Deron Little of Seasons / Matt Gallaher of Knox Mason (THREE-WAY TIE!)

Best Server

Emily Gammon at Urban Bar
Best of Knoxville voters have spoken: Emily Gammon is the best server in town. And she has an idea why. "I try to treat clients like I would want to be treated when I'm going out," she says. And, "I try to bring drinks as fast as I can." Gammon also credits the close-knit staff and regular customers who help her stay upbeat. For any up-and-comers out there, Gammon has some advice. "Do the best you can and always keep a smile on your face," she says. (P.H.)
Runners Up: Eddie Baysinger at Litton's, Emily Hickman at I Love NY Pizza, Brad Poyner at Preservation Pub

Best $5 Meal

Copper Cellar's Burger Night
Every Wednesday is burger day at the Copper Cellar on the Strip. And that means you can get yourself a made-to-order burger (which range in price from $4.50-$5.50), fries, and a drink for less than an Alexander Hamilton. Let's be honest: A $5 burger may not sound that great, but these aren't your average Big Macs. They're good. For $5, they're pretty great. And what more could a perpetually broke, hollow-legged college student ask for? (P.H.)
Runners Up: Buddy's Bar-B-Q, Cafe 4, Soccer Taco

Best Source for Locally Grown Produce/Meat

Market Square Farmers' Market

The Market Square Farmer's Market seemed like a worthwhile project, almost 10 years ago, when it was the passion of some young organic/locovore idealists, but we had no idea it would grow to be almost famous, heralded by travel writers and once even voted among the best in the nation.

It's pleasant on Wednesdays, when a limited sampling of vendors open 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., but becomes more lively than most festivals every Saturday, from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. With about 150 vendors—perhaps fortunately, they're not all there every week—the place fills up, and draws food trucks and old-time buskers. Activity builds during the growing season, and peaks in July and August to something astonishing, when the vendors overflow beyond the old Square itself, and you can sometimes find several dozen distinctively different varieties of tomatoes. But it also draws meat sellers, coffee merchants, hot-pepper specialists, and lots of artisans.

It helps that it's on Market Square, a place once hailed as the best farmers' market between Norfolk and New Orleans, where farmers have been selling produce since 1854. The old Square hasn't done such a good job serving its original purpose in living memory, but now it sometimes resembles previously unbelievable descriptions of the place in the 1890s. (J.N.)
Runners Up: Just Ripe, Pratt's Country Store, Three Rivers Market

Back to the full list of Best of Knoxville 2013 winners!