Sometimes dining out means turning a blind eye—perhaps to the overuse of salt as a flavor bump, or the questionable provenance and treatment of animal protein. Or maybe you just ignore that the chicken breasts are so hormonally manipulated that they're the size of a '78 Cadillac Eldorado. If that's close to how you feel, or if you just like good food, then it's time for a trip to Oak Ridge.
The Market House is a labor of love for Bo Shipley and Dan Tremaine, two young men with a passion that's worth supporting—not only for their cause, which is meritorious, but also because they make food good and good for you. As they will share in detail, their mission every day is to create conscientious food from fresh and local ingredients that they themselves would eat. They preach (and live) the gospel of you are what you eat—and they're inveterate label readers: MSG, high-fructose corn syrup, preservatives, etc., are verboten in their kitchen because they can't or won't eat it.
They shy away from a descriptor that suits them—farm-to-table—because they fear that phrase doesn't mean much anymore and can't communicate their personal connection and care with food.
All that sounds noble in theory, but it works on the table, too. There are small inconveniences for folks who always want a particular steak on their plate. The Market House features humanely raised animal protein—they buy the whole animal from a local farmer that they know. So you don't often see specific cuts on their regular menu as they don't always have them. (Believe it or not, a cow can't produce unlimited filets.) You're much more likely to see "Today's Fresh Cut Beef Steak Selection" on the menu. If that's an insurmountable issue for you, don't take it personally—there's a chain restaurant somewhere close that can accommodate you.
Even if you don't buy into the all-natural food gig, you've got to love homemade stocks, sauces, and soups. Food here is clean, and the cooking is a low intervention style—their artistry is in elevating the natural goodness of great ingredients, not hiding inferior product.
Don't be mistaken: This is a place with food for everybody. From hamburgers to double-cut pork chops, the menu shows good American Fare. Anderson County eaters already recognized it as "Best Restaurant" of 2012. Good food is what really defines the Market House. It's a bonus that you never have to close your eyes to what happens in the kitchen.
80 East Tennessee Ave., Oak Ridge, 685-0686, themarkethouserestaurant.com
Monday-Thursday: 11 a.m.–9 p.m.; Friday-Saturday: 11 a.m.–10 p.m.
Stuffed Banana Peppers: Yeah, try this. The peppers are stuffed with the tasty combination of Benton's bacon and feta cheese, then cooked just enough for the peppers to char lightly. The flavor marries with smokiness of the bacon, but the peppers retain a fresh crunch that, along with the balsamic drizzle, balances the richness of the bacon and cheese. Seriously, try them.
Pimento Cheese Burger: This version of a local favorite features a great spread made with Sweetwater Valley cheese and seasoned with black pepper. The cooked-to-order burger (it's pretty nice at medium) was nicely done, but still juicy. Jalapenos add a balanced spark, but the real kicker is the slight sweetness of the house-baked sourdough bun. It adds another element of flavor that's really quite nice.
Braised Short Ribs: Admittedly, this does create a little sadness about the whole limited-beef-availability issue, since it's not available on demand. But when it's on special, it's a treat not to be missed. The short ribs are tender, savory, and sweet from a fantastic homemade BBQ sauce, yet they're hardly backyard fare. They're also beautiful to behold.