Restaurant Report: Tupelo Honey Cafe

1 Market Square, 522-0004

There's always a big buzz about new restaurant openings in Knoxville, and Tupelo Honey Cafe is no exception. It did seem to be an extended buzz in the vein of "hail thou long expected..." with early and anticipatory moans of pleasure issuing from the host of Knoxvillians who, on returning from visits to Asheville, excitedly announced "We ate at Tupelo Honey!" This kind of buzz edged on the classic prelude to dining disappointment owing to expectations set too high, too soon. Fortunately, as many visitors to Market Square already know, the buzz is fulfilled—Tupelo Honey is delicious.

The food at Tupelo Honey is self-described as, "scratch-made, full-flavored, and inspired by Southern tradition." For Executive Chef Brian Sonoskus, that means "cooking inside the region and using what you got." So one of the very first things that Sonoskus did was to reach out to the local food community: "We met with Charlotte Tolley at the [Market Square] Farmers' Market to touch base and get ideas. Of course it's great to have the market just outside the door so we can see what's available and get stuff for some fun specials."

In addition to working with local food icons like Cruze Dairy and Strong Stock Farms, the cafe has a history of looking for local providers to help with most aspects of its business. Locally produced charcuterie and artisanal crackers from neighbors of their Asheville store complement the bi-monthly Pimento Cheese Club.

All that home-grown goodness is worth a big smile. But there's more than beautifully conceived and executed food and the local farm connections that make Tupelo Honey Cafe sweet—it's also that their commitment to community goes beyond their doors. Just two days following their opening on Market Square, the cafe launched their partnership with Knox County Schools' nutrition program by partnering with Beardsley Community Farm to host over 500 students for a day of practical lessons about food, food preparation, and gardening. And that's just the tip of the cafe's support of nutritional education and local schools.

Beautiful food with local roots is reason enough to love any restaurant, particularly Tupelo Honey Cafe. But when a business, especially one as hectic as a successful restaurant, takes an active role in the life and well-being of its community, well, that's worth some buzz.

Must Haves:

Appalachian Egg Rolls: Although one might initially question the wisdom of hiding gorgeous pulled pork in an Asian wrapper, Tupelo Honey pulls it off with aplomb—and why not? Just imagine the combination of crunch and chew of an egg roll and the flavorful explosion of great BBQ. The pork is tucked in with a mixture of pickled onions, braised greens, and some carrots before being wrapped up and fried until crispy. It's served with a Dijon dipping sauce that, while tasty, near pales in the presence of a delicious Smoked Jalapeño BBQ sauce.

Not Your Mama's Meatloaf: Oh my, it's good. A tour de force of flavor, this is a hearty and nicely seared slab of formed Strong Stock Farm's beef that's mixed with a touch of bacon. When it arrives, it's dressed in intensely savory tomato, rosemary, and shallot gravy that might double as the ketchup of the gods. Served with asparagus spears and a decadent mac-n-cheese that's made even more addictive by a hint of cherry peppers, this beefy entrée sates the carnivorous appetite like your mama's version never could do.

Brown Butter Pecan Pie: Of course, everyone prefers their own grandmother's pecan pie—but if she's not dining with you, you're likely to go visibly nuts over this incarnation. It's delightfully gooey and sweet with the right balance of pecans, but it's not so overwhelming that you can't eat the whole thing. It's crunchy on top, of course, with a soft and inviting center, and the flavor gets pushed into seventh heaven with the addition of vanilla and caramel sauce. Sorry, Grandma.