The history of good eats is rife with examples of gem-like eateries hidden in alleys, around dicey looking corners, and behind secret doors. That's not exactly the case with the North Corner Sandwich Shop—after all, for many years, sandwich-loving Knoxvillians found their way to the same block of North Central in search of the legendary Steamboat before its relocation to Market Square. Still, this stretch of North Central still feels a little raw and doesn't seem a likely spot to start a search for top-notch hoagies and the like; but it's a good place to end it.
A self-described "amazing chef-driven sandwich joint," North Corner is the brainchild of owner and chief cook and meat slicer David Blevins. Looking to set down roots near his family after years of cooking in a variety of venues—from famous outposts in the ski country of Colorado to clement islands in the Caribbean Sea—Blevins landed in North Knox in this small, nearly spartan place (which seems impossibly well-scrubbed). The focus here is on making and eating good deli fare.
North Corner opened last April and has captured the attention of deli fans from all across the city. Blevins manages that with a deft blend of homemade and well-sourced components. On first thought, the fact that his choice of hoagie roll is neither homemade nor local may disappoint some folk; but it turns out to be a satisfying choice because of a marvelously crisp "eggshell crust" that gives a happy crunch before yielding to a soft, appropriately chewy interior.
North Corner's selection of deli meats also comes from far afield, but again Blevins exhibits excellent taste: Mortadella sausage, dry-cured salami, boiled ham and the like are sourced from producers whose products are distinguished from inferior cold cuts by less reliance on salt for flavor in favor of traditional craftsmanship and quality raw ingredients. Even so, the chorizo is homemade, the roast beef is roasted on the premises, and the pork loin gets smoke-roasted in-house. They're all pretty tasty.
In addition to the selection of hoagies, there's an intriguing lot of Grilled Cheeseters, and daily specials that have included a much-lauded Chicago-style Italian Beef and beautiful Italian meatballs. Blevins also puts out a very worthy bacon potato salad. You'll want to stop in early to lay claim to dessert that includes rotating selections like fresh-baked lemon-blueberry cake, double chocolate sour cream bundt cake, and/or jumbo Ghiradelli triple chocolate chip cookies with a sprinkle of sea salt.
Still, even if you miss dessert, you'll leave in a good mood because the North Corner has some serious sammie savvy.
Italian #2: This is one of the shop's signature sandwiches, and it's a nice mouthful. Dry cured salami, Mortadella, and ham are folded around a relish that includes artichoke hearts and roasted red peppers. The hoagie is supplemented by fat rounds of fabulously fresh mozzarella and takes a quick trip to the oven before it's ready for eating, but that bit of warming gives the sandwich a nice, comfort-food feel. The placement of the relish in the center of the meat strata makes for an enlivening bite that keeps the sandwich from seeming too fatty and rich. You can clearly see the logic of the bread choice in this nicely built hoagie.
Italian Sausage: By nature this is a satisfying lunch—and North Corner does it right by dousing a mild fennel sausage with homemade red sauce, and then adding peppers and onions that have been cooked in olive oil. It's all finished with a snowfall of Pecorino Romano. The sausage has great snap and the fennel adds a delicious but subtle bass note that blends into the marinara with a satisfying Old World authenticity.