Restaurant Report: Central Flats & Taps

1204 Central Ave., 247-0392

The inviting space and inventive menu created by owner Bryan Howington and chef Tim Swinehart have made Central Flats and Taps a welcome addition to the North Central district known as Happy Holler.

"There's a void in the North Knoxville area," Howington says. "We had no idea the number of young people who had moved in and reestablished the neighborhood. It's a neighborhood restaurant and bar. We carry all the local beer and spirits we can, and we will use as much local food and produce as we can."

How was menu devised? "They came to me and wanted to do something with flatbread," Swinehart says. "I've always wanted to work at a place without a fryer. Everything's fresh. There's no microwave. We make everything in small batches. We don't even have anything big. We have a Cuisinart and a blender. I wanted a healthy bar menu."

The flats are actually naan—a seven-inch for panini sandwiches and nine-inch for the flats, which are essentially pizzas. Flats range from a simple margherita pizza to a "Crazy Cajun" featuring bleu cheese cream sauce topped with Cajun chicken, red onions, and feta and bleu cheese crumbles.

Vegetarian options include the Veginator, a panino stuffed with pan-seared artichoke hearts, roasted red peppers, red onions, marinated portobellos, smoked Gouda cheese, field greens, and roma tomatoes. The wings are slow-roasted then baked. The menu advises patrons to allow ample time when ordering them. Salads include the Garden Herb Italian Salad which mixes house-marinated portobello mushrooms, Kalamata olives, red onions, prosciutto, and herb cheese blend.

Check out the daily lunch specials: the panino or flat of the day or a half panino with salad for only $6. "It's good, and it's quick," says Swinehart.

And then there are the taps: 20 beers on tap, many of them locally brewed. Drink specials are creative: "Tennessee Night" features discounts on local beers and spirits and Biltmore wines. On "Twisted Tuesday," pair any bottle of Twisted wine with a flat of your choice for $22.

"We wanted to open a place where we'd want to hang out," says Howington. "We built bigger tables so people can sit with other people if they want to. You have to offer a good quality product at a good price. A couple can split a flat and have salad and a beverage for under $20."

Central Flats & Taps

1204 Central Ave. 247-0392

Sunday-Monday: 11 a.m.-3 a.m., age 21+ only after 9 p.m.

Must Haves

Cluckin' n Kickin' BBQ Chicken: The secret's in the drizzle: You get the flavor of the sauce without a lot of sauce. The flat is topped with a drizzle of sriracha BBQ sauce and a sprinkle of the house blend of eight cheeses. Next come sliced chicken, tendrils of red onion, and strips of fire-roasted red pepper. Another sprinkle of cheese and drizzle of sauce complete the colorful, piquant masterpiece baked on huge stones in the oven.

Greek Salad: The chicken is marinated in balsamic vinaigrette and, according to Swinehart, every herb he has on hand. After baking, it's served atop mixed greens, artichoke hearts, red pepper strips, thinly sliced red onions, pitted Kalamata olives, and feta cheese. It's a dish fit for a goddess. No coincidence that it's served with Aphrodite dressing, the chef's original concoction of balsamic vinegar, tahini, sesame oil, and fresh herbs.

East of Cali: It's easy to see why this sandwich has become the restaurant's most requested one. Pan-seared turkey and smoked Gouda are a smooth pairing. The freshly sliced avocado and pesto mayo add a creamy element to the mix. As with all the panini, it's served with your choice of chips, pasta salad, or side salad.