Best of Knoxville 2014: FOOD

Best New Restaurant

Best Hamburger

Best French Fries

Stock & Barrel
It's hard to believe that a staple like the hamburger can still excite and even thrill, and yet, Stock and Barrel is proof positive that it does. Their winning formula is simple—put great local beef on great local bread and dress it up every which way but dull. And the magic extends to burgers made from lamb, salmon, and black beans, a decadent slate of appetizers, and French Fries worth stealing for. The place is also much loved for the variety and quality of its beverage selection—and that's true whether you're looking for whiskey or milkshakes. (Dennis Perkins)
Best New Restaurant Runners Up: Blackhorse Pub & Brewery, Holly's Corner, Shuck Raw Bar & Grill
Best Hamburger Runners Up: Copper Cellar, Cru Bistro & Wine Bar, Litton's
Best French Fries Runners Up: Boyd's Jig & Reel, Downtown Grill & Brewery, Litton's

Best Breakfast

Pete's Coffee Shop
Six mornings a week, Pete's is convenient, inexpensive, friendly, and amazingly fast. They've been downtown for about 30 years now, and they've got your basic breakfasts covered, from the bacon and eggs side to the pancakes side to the cereal and oatmeal side, with coffee, which is on the way before you even walk in the door. And it's all in a long classic diner-style space, booths, tables, counter stools to suit your mood and waitresses you get to know by name. We know certain attorneys who live and work in Bearden and like it fine, but can't stop thinking about Pete's, and drive in for one more breakfast. (J.N.)
Runners Up: First Watch, Gourmet's Market/Cosmo's Cafe, Plaid Apron

Best Brunch

Bistro at the Bijou
For anyone not named Stacey Campfield, the Bistro may be the most welcoming place to eat downtown, noonish on a Saturday or Sunday. The menu, even more liberal than the politics, includes various permutations of shrimp & grits, red flannel hash, chicken-fried steak, country ham, crab cakes, braunschweiger, Bearnaise sauce or red-eye gravy—and if you're really pretty hungry this morning, the Cool Hand Luke, which is a 10-egg omelet—plus the requisite brunch cocktails. Now downtown's oldest restaurant—by that name, and under the sign of the voluptuous naked lady, the Bistro's about 35 years old, but it's also located in an antebellum saloon space in downtown's oldest commercial building, the 200-year-old Lamar House. Late riser? On Sundays, they do all other brunch places one better. They serve brunch until 9 p.m. Even we can make it that early. (J.N.)
Runners Up: Copper Cellar, Sunspot, Tomato Head

Best Business Lunch Spot

For the third year in a row, Aubrey's has not only won this category but also made a dramatic showing in seven others (Best Restaurant, Salad, Comfort Food, Appetizers, Chef [Greg Steward], Server [Josh Baxter - Papermill], and Bar). All that proves that Aubrey's is doing a little bit of everything right and in a way that wins Knoxville voters' hearts and appetites. Part of what attracts business folk is that the food and service are top quality, unfussy, and quick without being sloppy. The atmosphere is relaxed but elegant, which means that you can do all sorts of business here from sealing major deals to agreeing on beach trips. (D.P.)
Runners Up: Bistro at the Bijou, Cafe 4, Tomato Head

Best Coffeehouse

Old City Java
It's hard to beat the original. When this place first opened as Java, if you mentioned "Starbucks," most Knoxvillians would think of a character in Moby Dick. Java was Knoxville's first modern espresso-style coffee house. Located in the same space for the last quarter-century, Old City Java has been through several ownership changes and ups and downs, but as an institution, it's a rare Old City constant, and in an era that craves authenticity, no place has more of it. Open from early morning until 10 every night, the atmosphere's altogether different from that of the rest of downtown, really the rest of East Tennessee, like a cozy harbor cafe for expatriates in Antibes or Caracas, perhaps, and even the laptops, which seem almost as common as coffee cups, don't completely break the spell. People like it so much they camp out there all day. If Java charged hourly table rental—and on some of the laptoppiest days, it wouldn't be a bad idea—we'd pay it. (J.N.)
Runners Up: Coffee & Chocolate, K-Brew, Remedy Coffee

Best Bakery

Best Cupcakes

Magpies Bakery
It's so easy to taste one Magpies red velvet cupcake, fall in love, and never bother to look any further—why mess with all-butter, all the time success, right? But they do have other super-appealing morsels, and they're constantly working to come up with new offerings. This means wheat-free stuff, for example, at least twice a week with goodies like chocolate hazelnut torte or chocolate cherry cookies. "If someone orders a cake we also make extra wheat-free batter, so most days you can find a wheat-free something here," says our favorite buttery baker of all times, owner Peg Hambright. She's also doing this Pieday Friday thing, and aside from the cool rhyme, man do they roll crust with the best of them. Chocolate cream is one favorite, key lime's really good, mini-pecan… Peg's sister Holly Hambright is also nearby now, with Holly's Corner at 842 Central, and Magpies at 846. Which brings us back to cupcakes—the Happy Hour offering of a featured cupcake with a shot of milk from 11 a.m.-2 p.m. Monday-Thursday is getting a push from Holly's lunch customers stopping by. Of course, as far as we're concerned, any hour at Magpies is a happy hour... (Rose Kennedy)
Best Bakery Runners Up: Buttermilk Sky Pie Shop, Rita's Bakery, VG's Bakery
Best Cupcakes Runners Up: Cafe 4, The Cup, GiGi's

Best Ice Cream/Frozen Treats

Coolato Gelato
Downtown has seen a wave of frozen treats come and go over the last few years, but Coolato Gelato has not only lasted, they've come out ahead. Credit the creamy deliciousness of their frozen Italian-style desserts in two dozen flavors—they say their gelato has less butter and fewer calories than ice cream, but you'll never believe it after tasting it. Even if calories are your main concern, there's a huge selection of sorbetto, made without dairy products, and a new lineup of smoothies. (M.E.)
Runners Up: Bruster's Ice Cream, Cruze Farm Dairy, Rita's Italian Ice

Best Deli

Nixon's Deli
Runners Up: Chandler's Deli, Holy Land Market & Deli, Steamboat Sandwiches

Best Salads

Best Veggie-Friendly

Tomato Head
See Also: Best Restaurant in Best of the Best
Best Salads Runners Up: Aubrey's, Calhoun's, The Chop House
Best Veggie-Friendly Runners Up: Bistro at the Bijou, Gourmet's Market/Cosmo's Cafe, Sunspot

Best Steaks

Ye Olde Steakhouse
Once again, Bunt and Helen King's legacy wins the day in the category that it has long dominated. Despite the general excellence of beef steak service in Knoxville, voters keep this iconic and homey tradition first in their carnivorous hearts. The hand-cut steaks are big, meltingly tender, beautifully flavored, and perfectly cooked; and the signature side dishes, like woodshed potatoes and broccoli casserole are as delicious as always. Bunt and Helen's children run the place with the same warm and welcoming style that made Ye Olde a favorite in the first place thus proving the ancient words of wisdom—if it ain't broke, don't fix it. (D.P.)
Runners Up: The Chop House, Calhoun's, Connor's

Best Ribs

It's almost impossible to imagine Knoxville without this most lauded palace of pork and all things BBQ; it's even more difficult to imagine the waterfront without the enticing aromas that issue from it. Calhoun's has won so many awards for its ribs, that it could establish its own hall of fame. Whatever magic Calhoun's uses remains a secret, but the hickory smoked, sumptuously basted ribs are some serious food crack and eating them comes with an ambient boost from one of the best restaurant settings in town. Their patio is an award winning spot to enjoy the waterfront or any f the many things that folks love about this place including not just great BBQ, but also sizzling steaks, crisp salads, tasty wings and comfort food galore. (D.P.)
Runners Up: Dead End BBQ, Chandler's Deli, Sweet P's BBQ & Soul House

Best Patio

Best Waterfront Restaurant

Calhoun's on the River
Best Patio Runners Up: Bearden Beer Market, Central Flats & Taps, Lakeside Tavern
Best Waterfront Restaurant Runners Up: Lakeside Tavern, Sweet P's BBQ & Soul House, Wild Wing Cafe

Best Wings

Wild Wing Cafe

Runners Up: Calhoun's, Central Flats & Taps, Dead End BBQ

Best Pizza

Barley's Taproom & Pizzeria
Yep, this is an upset victory all right—Tomato Head has won the pizza category since the Best of Knoxville started in 1994. Barley's has always been a contender, and now it has at last claimed the pizza prize. Beyond the fact that its namesake pizza and beer go extraordinarily well together, how did Barley's pie finally overtake the champion? According to kitchen manager Christian Murray, it starts with Barley's ingredients, which are all fresh and all prepared in-house. And, he reveals, their sauce uses a huge amount of garlic. Once you throw in the nearly endless number of toppings, and specialty pies such as the new gluten-free option, you have an array of pizzas that are difficult to beat. (C.T.)
Runners Up: Brixx, Hard Knox Pizza, Tomato Head

Best Barbecue

Dead End BBQ
So we didn't all grow up on a fairy tale suburban neighborhood, and those that did probably didn't have the privilege of a dead-end street where the neighbor folks gathered round, weekend after weekend, year after year for a decade, hob-knobbing and honing their barbecue for their adoring families. But no worries: You can't go back in time, but you can get some dead-on delicious Kansas City style 'Q at Dead End Barbecue—of course the touching tale about its origins is the one above. Owner George Ewart and crew carry the neighborhood legacy, his grandmother's sauce recipe on a file card, and some competition honors with them to the pit, and emerge with this moist, smoky, savory pulled pork. It's swell on a plate, and also has made its way into any number of menu items: Bar-B-Q queso, nachos, sample-size sliders, loaded potato skins. And then there's this Dead End Mac Attack, which has a story all its own, that starts, "Once upon a time, this barbecue restaurant had the perfect sandwich going, but it was missing something. Could it be... mac ‘n' cheese?" (R.K.)
Runners Up: Buddy's BBQ, Calhoun's, Sweet P's BBQ & Soul House

Best Seafood

Chesapeake's setting—reminiscent of the Eastern Shore, with genuine nautical touches at every turn—would never work if the seafood didn't stand up. But it does: The restaurant flies or trucks in fish daily from the Atlantic, Gulf, and Pacific Coasts, and fillets it on premises. The Maine Lobster comes from Maine—or maybe up the coast a bit, say Nova Scotia. The oysters, and there are a variety, hail from the James River, which neighbors the Chesapeake Bay. Of course, all that freshness wouldn't work either if the preparation and presentation weren't so inspired, but they are. It's Eastern Shore-style cookery all the way, from the Maryland crab cakes that vie with the best of Atlantic restaurants, to the crab imperial baked over shrimp, to the big old appetizer platter that comes either cold or hot and tastes like a day at beach. (R.K.)
Runners Up: Bayou Bay, Nama Sushi Bar, Shuck Raw Bar & Ale

Best Sushi

Nama Sushi Bar
Our perennial Best Sushi winner not only still offers the most exotic rolls in town—and, for lunch and half-off nights, they're an incredible deal—but it also gets the details right when it comes to more simple, direct Japanese nigiri. Nama is the best of both sushi worlds. (C.T.)
Runners Up: Shono's in the City, Tomo, Wasabi

Best Desserts

Lynda Jones joined the Litton's family in 1982 and honestly, the master baker says she's entirely self-taught and that most of her recipes come from poring through the cookbook collection at the Fountain City branch of the Knoxville library. Maybe more pastry chefs should follow her example: the baked goods served at the restaurant and in the adjoining bakery are home-style goodness at its peak. Not super fancy, no, but super-sized and fresh from the kitchen. The repertoire includes the kind of Red Velvet Cake that makes a Southerner homesick; an Italian Cream Cake with real cream cheese frosting, toasted pecans, and coconut; and the kind of rich, involved desserts someone would bring to the best church or bowling potluck—Snicker's cheesecake, turtle brownies, that sort of thing. The dainty appetite has all-butter sugar cookies and lemon tea cakes to look forward to, and there is pie. One for here, one to go? (R.K.)
Runners Up: Buttermilk Sky Pie Shop, Coolato Gelato, Magpies

Best Cheese Selection

The Crown and Goose
You can go on about your sandwiches, your soups and salads, your kale smoothies, but for my money, there's no better lunch than cheese and bread. Or crackers. Or maybe just a hunk of cheese. Knoxville will never be France, but our cheese selection has steadily improved, year by year. And if you want to go out for lunch and eat some hunks of cheese and bread, Crown and Goose can't be beat. It's a little fancier than your traditional English Ploughman's Lunch, but not as exotic as a French farmer's market. (I can't be the only person in town who wants to eat illegal stinky cheeses, right?) In short, it's exactly the tasty sustenance your body needs—and deserves. Here's to meals of cheese and bread forever. (C.W.G.)
Runners Up: Gourmet's Market/Cosmo's Cafe, Public House, Three Rivers Market

Best Comfort Food

Chandler's Deli
Lots of places in Knoxville do comfort food, but nobody cooks it quite like the Chandler's, which is why they dominate this category year after year. Where else in town can you get barbecue with a side of fried chicken—and not feel guilty about eating it, since half the restaurant is doing the same? If you're a vegetarian, there's the mac and cheese, the cabbage, the mashed potatoes, the okra. It's food that makes you feel good, whatever the calories and cholesterol levels ingested. Besides, the food at Chandler's is also a secret weapon in the war against insomnia—no way you're eating all that and not taking a nap later. (C.W.G.)
Runners Up: Aubrey's, Big Fatty's, Calhoun's

Best Italian

It's gotten where you can almost use "Naples" and "Knoxville's Best Italian Restaurant" interchangeably, they've gotten so much recognition that way. But the cozy eatery and its roomier banquet hall continue to innovate, bringing exemplary Italian foods to the Knoxville menu, like sorbet and gelato of the day, and a "fresh catch" that might be something like grilled swordfish with spicy sautéed lobster and asparagus served over goat cheese with soft polenta, or a regionally-sourced organic chicken with vegetables. And they still hit all the high notes with the more intricate Italian favorites: spaghetti carbonara, veal Parmesan, and Lamb Osso Buco grace the standard menu, and the wine list is both extensive and accessible. For those who don't stray far from family favorites, the home-style spaghetti is savory (and on special Mondays and Wednesdays), the lasagna a creamy-melting slab (Tuesday is the night to sample it at a discount price). Or perhaps the minestrone? With its with baked garlic croutons and cascade of fresh vegetables, it is a humble master of the simple, fresh ingredients that define Italian cooking—and Naples restaurant. (R.K.)
Runners Up: Altruda's Italian Restaurant, Oodles Uncorked, Savelli's Italian Restaurant

Best French

The French Market
Maybe it's no surprise that the winner is the one that best expresses the egalite in the Revolutionary motto. The French Market isn't the sort of place you'll find bouillabaisse or escargots de bourgogne. They do occasionally offer a convincing French onion soup, and thin omelettes that are unlike anything you'll find at Chateau d'Waffle—but most of their entrees are cheaper than you'll find at any other French restaurants, or, for that matter, Applebee's. They're mainly a creperie, and no, they do not expect you to pronounce "crepes" the French way. Allan and Susan Tate are born-and-raised Knoxvillians, and they pronounce "crepes" like you do. But they've spent many months in France, and learned a few things, especially in Paris and on jaunts to Brittany (that's not a Tennessee girl, by the way) for the best crepe recipes and techniques of that hard-to-master art. The fact they've succeeded is proven by the fact that on a Saturday afternoon, you often overhear French spoken at the next table over. And by the fact that especially on weekends—sacre bleu!—there's sometimes a wait for a table. (J.N.)
Runners Up: Echo Bistro, Northshore Brasserie, The Orangery

Best Asian

Taste of Thai
Runners Up: Asia Cafe, Stir Fry Cafe, Wasabi

Best Southwestern

Chez Guevara
Che Guevara's known for its lead-off—chips and green salsa—and nice riffs on Tex Mex fare with a Southwestern flare. They marinate, yes they do. All lips are sealed about the precise ingredients, but it sets their Acapulco Chicken and tuna chalupa into the sublime range. And cheese: These days the menu is all about good cheese, from the goat cheese on said Acapulco Chicken to the cheddars and jacks and um, Brie, at the ready for a variety of quesadillas. Then there are lots of nice beers, and this Elvis Burrito thing, which contains grilled chicken, black beans, and spinach con queso. It matches the zany "see it to understand it and maybe not even then" poster-bright paint splashes-kitsch decor and is super special because of what they put on the beans in that burrito: yep, more cheese. (R.K.)
Runners Up: Good Golly Tamales, Moe's Southwest Grill, Sunspot

Best Mexican

Best Nachos

Soccer Taco
Sure, it's a sports bar, and a business lunch hotspot at the downtown location, and a party spot with all those "secret recipe" margaritas going around (co-owner Nelia Kirtley will settle for no less than the top-shelf 32-ouncer when she dines there). Soccer Taco's good at all those things, but they're great at cooking—home-style, whether it's the Tex Mex offering like nachos or the authentic Mexican specialties that involve, well, hominy and pork stomach and cow cheek. Their motto is "whatever it takes," including all-handmade tortillas and marinating meats overnight. There's only one way things could get even better at Soccer Taco, and it's coming right up. The downtown location's committed to showing each and every game of the FIFA World Cup, June 12-July 13, at any hour, and they'll be serving food whenever they're open (and libations as Tennessee law allows). See Also: Best Margarita in Drink. (R.K.)
Best Mexican Runners Up: Cancun, Chez Guevara, Senor Taco
Best Nachos Runners Up: Chez Guevara, Dead End BBQ, Downtown Grill & Brewery

Best Middle-Eastern

Holy Land Market & Deli
Lots of restaurants have devoted patrons, but few achieve the level of sheer love that the fans of the Holy Land shower on the place and its owners, Walter and Denise Ajlouny. It's hard not to love the daily slate of specials that includes interesting and hard-to-find Middle Eastern dishes; and the regular menu offers well-executed standards, including a wide variety of flavored hummus along with one of the best Reubens in town. Fact is, the deli fare here is hard to beat. It's a bonus that Walter is the very picture of a Middle Eastern bon vivant, and once he and Denise welcome you, you're almost automatically part of the family. (D.P.)
Runners Up: Cairo Cafe, King Tut's, Niro's Gyros

Best Indian

Sitar Indian Cuisine
Runners Up: Bombay Palace, Three Rivers Market, Woodlands Indian Restaurant

Best Appetizers

Downtown Grill & Brewery
See Also: Best Happy Hour in Drink
Runners Up: Aubrey's, Central Flats & Taps, Cru

Best Chef

Matt Gallaher, Knox Mason
Can I say how excited I am about this? Bruce Bogartz has been our chef of the year so many times I think we've lost track, and I enjoyed many fine meals at RouXbarb before it closed. But Gallaher is bringing fresh new skills to Knoxville—and he's doing it downtown. Almost a year and half into it, his restaurant has coalesced into something really exciting. Gallaher's constantly changing up the menu to reflect whatever seasonal goodies he's come across—it's different every time I go. The wine list could stand to have more imports with a broader palate; a better selection of after-dinner sherries and brandies wouldn't hurt either. But Gallaher's dedication to reimagining Southern fare has set a new standard for Knoxville dining. Let's hope his success spurs a few equally skilled imitators. (C.W.G.)
Runners Up: Bruce Bogartz (Copper Cellar), Drew McDonald (The Plaid Apron), Greg Stewart (Aubrey's)

Best Server

Emily Gammon, Urban Bar
For the second year in a row, Emily Gammon has the won the hearts, and (we hope) the generous gratuities, of Best of Knoxville Voters. Last year, she ascribed her popularity with voters to the fact that, "I try to treat clients like I would want to be treated when I'm going out." Her continued success—and second win—proves that her strategy, which is really just the Golden Rule in action, works like a charm. (D.P.)
Runners Up: Josh Baxter (Aubrey's on Papermill), Matt Kesler (Central Flats & Taps), Zack Pickett (Tomato Head at the Gallery)

Best $5 Meal

Copper Cellar
Even though it's served inside a stately oak-paneled dining room in a nearly 40-year-old restaurant with beveled glass and antique furnishings, the $5 price tag is not all that's amazing about the Copper Cellar's Wednesday burger. The meat is ground fresh daily; it's served with the classic mayo, lettuce, and tomato, and the fries are fresh and hot and sort of old-fashioned. Really tasty. (R.K.)
Runners Up: Cafe 4, Cru Bistro & Wine Bar, Three Rivers Market

Best Source for Locally Grown Produce/Meat

Market Square Farmers' Market
It used to be a consumer would stop by the Market Square Farmer's Market and pick up a couple of veggies and some berries, and then head to a "real" supermarket to complete a feasible week of menus. No longer! Now in its 11th year, the Market Square Farmer's Market runs the gamut, maybe not soup to nuts, but definitely berries to squash and potatoes to chow-chow to bread from Flour Head Bakery; chicken, duck, and turkey from JEM farm; and grass-fed meats from West Wind Farm. Small farmers and vendors in the ET region produce every bit of the bounty. With the Wednesday and Saturday schedule, it's also far more entertaining that the average grocery and without the sugar cereal aisle. There are fountains to play in, downtown dwellers to greet, dogs walking by, everyone and their grandma lined up for food truck wraps and Cruze farm ice cream. Another nice touch: Many of the farmers and vendors have established this nice synergy as suppliers to downtown restaurants like Oodles Uncorked and Knox Mason, so those folks are cooking up more regional produce too. (R.K.)
Runners Up: Gourmet's Market, Mother Earth Meats, Three Rivers Market

Best Food Truck

Savory & Sweet Truck
In our first year with the category—because it's been the first year that there's finally been enough competition—it seems kind of appropriate that the city's first full-service gourmet food truck should win. Byron and Kiki Sambat cook their food with love, and seasonal ingredients, and, most importantly, actual talent. From ravioli to biscuits, tacos to fried cheesecake, Savory & Sweet has an ever-changing, ever-delicious menu. And now that they're downtown (sometimes) for lunch, we can't wait to see what's in store for the summer. (C.W.G.)
Runners Up: Cruze Farm, Good Golly Tamales, Hoof