Restaurant Report: Stock and Barrel

35 Market Square, 865-766-2075

A quick consult with Jack Neely reveals that there hasn't been a dedicated burger joint downtown since Wendy's vacated the corner of Gay and Summit Hill—and that hardly counts, anyway. So it's no wonder that Stock and Barrel has made a big splash on Market Square; Knoxvillians like it when beef is what's for dinner, and it's all the better if there's a burger in sight.

It doesn't hurt that Stock and Barrel presents a creative offering that's made even more attractive owing to its provenance. The beef is locally sourced from Mitchell Family Farms in Blaine, and it's promising that this fact excites so many eaters.

As far as that beef goes, this place doesn't try to over-season their burgers; instead, they let the natural quality of the beef take the lead. But then they shower each permutation with an array of fantastically flavorful toppings. Even the best-seller, the Classic Bacon Burger, gets an incredible lift from the heady smokiness delivered by slabs of Allen Benton's bacon. Guests' second favorite, the Hurt Locker, gets a big punch from a well-put-together pimento cheese and the addition of fried green tomatoes—that's a pretty good recipe for a happy face.

But what gives the menu real depth and interest are the non-beef offerings. The Greek features a beautiful combination of ground lamb and tzatziki that's punctuated with the piquant richness of full-flavored Kasseri cheese. Their salmon burger can be a mess to eat, but the combination of hard smoked salmon and garlic aioli makes it worth the extra napkin—the addition of pressed avocado to this burger is a welcome decadence. If you're lucky, you'll visit in time to get a venison or bison special, but those options sell out double-quick.

If you visited the place during the first few days of its opening this summer, you may have experienced a few kinks with either the bun or the fries. Happily those days are long gone and the problems solved. The current bun is lovingly handmade by Flour Head Bakery—it's really a dense Cuban roll that brings structure and a happy chew to these sometimes debauched burgers. The fries are crispy, crunchy, and hand-cut creations that, though plentiful, disappear all too quickly.

Must Haves

White Cheddar Pimento Cheese with Tomato Jam: This sumptuous appetizer is worth a visit all by itself. There's some spiciness, but it doesn't burn: More like cayenne than habanero, it's a lingering heat that warms the whole mouth gently and provides an excellent lift and foil for the richness of the dip. It's well made—and made even better with the addition of a dollop of tomato jam that contributes both sweetness and brightness. There's a sprinkle of goat cheese that gets lost in all the other goodness, and the pita chips are fairly plain—but then, they're really just a vehicle for the dip, anyway.

The Chicken & Waffle: It is shameful that this eater confesses no previous experience with this combination. So perhaps it was novelty that made this such an amazing thing to eat. It was a mouthful of bold flavor associations that were at once breakfast, lunch, and dinner. And it requires reverse style manners—you start eating with your hands but have to resort to blade and tines because, try as it might, that lovely waffle is a bun wannabe that just can't handle the combination of fried chicken, timber-like bacon, tomato, Maple Bourbon Mustard, and Tennessee honey. But beware—this will ruin sticky fast-food griddle sandwiches for you forever.

The Farmhouse: It's simple and delicious. But if you don't understand how a fried egg makes everything better, then there's no point in talking about this. If you are so enlightened, order fast and get some extra garlic aioli on the side.