The Plaid Apron Café offers an ever-changing seasonal menu with as many locally and regionally sourced items as possible. "Winter has slowed me down some," admits chef/owner Drew McDonald. "We change based on what we can get. We changed the menu at least monthly until winter." The spring menu is just around the corner, but Drew says, "I won't know what's on it until I know what we'll get from the farmers. That's the great thing about having a chalkboard menu."
The café, which serves breakfast, lunch, and Saturday brunch and is available for private events, opened quietly nine months ago. Drew says, "We've been very low-key. Word of mouth has gotten us where we are now." His wife, co-owner Bonni McDonald, adds, "To see it progress is exactly what we want. We love the spot, love the community feel, and wanted to keep it small, to do it ourselves."
It's not just diners who are beating a path to the small eatery's door. Farmers are interested as well. Many of the farmers (including Hines Valley Farm, Neubert Springs Farm, A Place of the Heart Farm, Care of the Earth Farm, and Crosswinds Farm) sell products at local farmers' markets. "I'm ecstatic," says Drew. "I have three farmers who asked me what I want. I sat down with one of them and a seed catalog."
Drew is putting his background in fine dining to use in a café setting. "I love refining and making breakfast and lunch elegant," he says. The chicken and dumplings are made with pan-seared chicken thighs and roasted root vegetables. The buttermilk dumplings are cooked Asian-style at the end, steamed in vegetable broth. The grilled-cheese sandwich and burger are menu constants, but the accompaniments vary with the season. The most recent grilled-cheese sandwich combined Sweetwater Valley buttermilk cheddar, goat cheese, pickled onions, roasted pears, and arugula on house-made sourdough bread.
"Everything is made in house—minus the Heinz Ketchup," Drew says. "And everything is cooked to order. Even stews are made in small batches." A bakery case holds a rotating selection of cookies, brownies, pastries, muffins, and house-made bagels. Drew bases the day's baked goods on his mood. "If I'm craving a scone, I'll make scones," he says.
"We want to be a destination place," Drew says. "We want to attract a clientele that enjoys food. We're excited to be in Knoxville, and we want to make an impact."
The Plaid Apron Café
1210 Kenesaw Ave., 247-4640
Monday-Friday: 7 a.m.-3 p.m., Saturday: 8 a.m.-3 p.m.
Winter Stew: Beat the wintertime blues with greens and beans. Three kinds of beans (pinto, black, and great northern) are simmered with collard greens, butternut squash, and plum tomatoes canned by an Amish family in Kentucky. It comes with toasted sourdough bread in case you want to sop up the pot likker—and, trust me, you will.
Apple Bacon Pizza: This smoky-flavored contender for "best pizza ever" starts with thin house-made whole wheat crust garnished with herbs and Parmesan cheese and topped with an apple cider gastrique. It's topped with roasted julienned Granny Smith apples, sliced red onion, chunks of Benton's bacon, and mozzarella cheese.
House-Made Brioche French Toast: It's a tower of French toast sluiced with a waterfall of syrup. Inch-thick slices of maple-glazed Granny Smith apples spill over two dense pieces of rich brioche. The selection of fruits and berries varies with the seasons.