31 Bistro on Market Square is the result of former La Costa owner Sabrina Brittain's epiphany while looking around the Square: "I saw way too much Latin and decided I wanted to bring something new, not only to Market Square but to Knoxville." She decided on a farm-to-table concept because "while there are restaurants doing some farm-to table, no one is doing it like we are."
Fans of La Costa will be glad to see the fish tacos, sweet potato burrito, spicy black bean soup, steak benedict, egg huevos, and smoked duck breast salad remain. Everything else on the menu changes every three-to-five weeks based on what's in season. Brittain says East Tennessee presents some challenges. "It hasn't been an easy concept. In wintertime, there's nothing available except potatoes and greens."
If diners aren't accustomed to fresh, organic food, they may notice some differences. "The beef is not super tender because it's not pumped full of additives and hormones. Salad dressings may seem thin to people accustomed to bottled dressing thickened with hydrogenated oils," says Brittain.
Besides bringing fresh, healthy food to the table, Brittain believes the farm-to-table concept is good for local businesses. "We are a small, family-owned business," she says. "We want to help other small, family-owned businesses and local farmers." They buy pumpkins from the Fruit and Berry Patch and sorghum from Muddy Pond. The farm salad is made with mixed greens, Benton's bacon, locally raised eggs, and Sweetwater Valley cheese. Order it with spicy buttermilk dressing made with Cruze Farm buttermilk, and it's a cornucopia of local flavors.
Chef David Quick says the eggs, honey, and beef come from local sources, but the duck breast comes from Hudson Valley Farm "because duck is just not available locally. It's very hard to raise free-range organic duck. They fly away, or foxes get them." He is looking for local coffee and a local bakery. "We would like to be more farm-to-table, but it's hard to get, and sometimes it's too expensive. We want dining here to be affordable."
The bistro burger is popular, and so is the herbivore melt, created with tofu, roasted red peppers, and red pepper cream cheese spread. Daily lunch specials include soup and grilled cheese, the bistro burger, and fish tacos. There are items that are vegetarian or dairy-free or gluten-free, and "anything can be modified," says Quick. "The menu was designed to have broad appeal."
31 Bistro (31 Market Square, 566-0275)
Lunch: Tuesday-Friday 11 a.m.-3 p.m., Dinner: Tuesday-Sunday 4 p.m.-close, Brunch: Saturday-Sunday, 10 a.m.-3 p.m.
TNT Fried Chicken: It's so crunchy it cracks when you puncture the skin. The chicken breast, served with roasted, cubed Yukon potatoes, haricot vert, roasted red peppers, and tomato jam, is brined before it's fried then sauced with Louisiana hot sauce, maple syrup, chicken stock, and butter. The result is milder than it sounds.
Smoked Duck Breast Salad: Several slices of duck breast are served alongside fresh mixed greens enlivened with sliced radishes, goat cheese crumbles, and super-thin threads of Granny Smith apple. Tip: Order it with the house-made sweet and spicy sorghum dressing.
Hawaiian French Toast: Thick slices of sweet Hawaiian bread are dipped in an eggy mixture flavored with a Madagascar vanilla bean before being browned. It's fluffy and not overly sweet. Hand-whipped cream flavored with local honey, a bit of vanilla, and a hint of orange adds a blissful note.