Restaurant Report: Grinder and Grains Cafe

321 High Street, Maryville, 865-983-9864

Situated just a block off of Highway 321 at, oddly enough, 321 High Street, Grinder and Grains Cafe occupies the comfortable old house that once housed the Vienna Coffee Company. The coffee company has moved just a few blocks and a pleasant walk away, leaving the edifice of fine and handsomely polished old wood to this very tasty operation run by Rod Wills and family.

The food here seems fresh and wholesome; there's a reasonable stab at sourcing local ingredients—an effort that expands and contracts with the seasons. Wills makes some of his bread in-house and hopes to give his other selections a more local and artisan flavor as soon as Tellico Grains Bakery adds another oven.

There's a healthy list of selections for all sorts of eaters—the staff even presses and marinates tofu for vegetarian and vegan guests. The menu also includes a few lovely side dishes that would easily combine as a salad plate for a diverse lunch. These include a spicy Moroccan couscous that's tasty and spicy in a pleasant curried way, with cumin, roasted red pepper, mint, sunflower seeds, and golden raisins. And don't overlook their excellent version of broccoli salad—it's made with smoked Gouda, almonds, and dried cranberries, and is all the better for it.

It's a healthy place to eat, too. The avocado spread that graces a satisfying turkey-and-avocado sandwich is made with Greek yogurt, and that's true of many of the salads on offer—you'll probably never notice the absence of sour cream except, of course, at weigh-in.

There's some good beer available now, and Wills hopes to add wine and expanded dinner service in the near future. It's worth keeping an eye on this place and its neighbors. In addition to its proximity to Vienna Coffee, it's also a short walk from the Market on High Street—a visit to all three spots would be a satiating way for food lovers to while away an afternoon.

Must Haves

The Rebel

If you're of the generation that was smitten by a certain fast food French dip sandwich, then you may wish to avoid this selection—it's an apotheosis of the beef and jus concept that will leave other pretenders in the pale light of poor comparison. The house-baked ciabatta roll is a fine accomplishment and a toothsome complement to the nearly textbook tender prime rib—it manages to retain its shape even after sitting in a puddle of jus for several minutes. Happily, the jus isn't clarified, but if it were it would make a lovely consommé, owing to its intense flavor and a (comparatively) moderate salinity. The sandwich is dressed with roasted red pepper, red onion, and Swiss cheese, which all taste great, but you're most likely to remember the deliciously beefy quality of the sandwich. The young and unafraid might say that this sandwich "rocks."

Chicken pesto flatbread pizza

It's not surprising that this is one of Wills' most popular offerings—it looks great, smells great, and tastes great. It's a crispy, moist, meaty, and mouth-watering rectangle that you'll be loath to share, despite the neat little square slices. It's proof in practice of the value of well-tended and high-quality ingredients. The chicken is free-range, fresh, and freshly baked; the vegetables are hand-cut daily; and the blend of mozzarella and Parmesan melts and toasts to a perfect golden brown. The flatbread is thin and retains its cracker-like crunch to the last coveted bite.

Spinach-apple salad

The salad is good, fresh, standard fare until you add a dollop of homemade honey-thyme vinaigrette. So really, it's the salad dressing that you must have. If you've ever enjoyed the Greek treat of thyme-blossom honey, you'll understand the enthusiasm for this combination. It's a sweet and savory condiment enlivened with the distinct aroma and flavor of the herb—it lifts the salad from the pages of the standard playbook into something original and winning.