Hey, foodie! No need for a vacation planner or traveling long miles. Turns out you can gain weight, develop a fondness for truly strange delicacies, and enjoy an uninterrupted flow of expansive meals and jumbo snacks while you play tourist right here in Knoxville! Just keep reminding yourself, “I’m on vacation,” and do the things that would come naturally if you were heading out to Hilton Head, Yosemite, Ghost Town USA, or Aunt Flora’s in Harriman:
1. Vow to only eat at local places serving local products.
Why on earth would you eat franchise food, New York style pizza, or Chinese takeout here in the heart of the South? Then eat Taco Bell at lunch the first day.
2. Choose must-have convenience store snacks
Spend your entire first day’s food budget (minus Taco Bell, see #1) on “have to have” convenience store snacks. Since you won’t be driving very far, you’re not technically limited to gas station market fare, but buy slushies from the Handy Dandy market, donuts from the Pilot, and Mayfield ice cream sandwiches from Weigel’s anyhow.
3. Raid the honor bar at your “hotel.”
Stock a small refrigerator with regionally produced favorites: Moon Pies, Tom’s Salt and Vinegar Potato Chips, a one-liter growler Woodruff IPA from Downtown Grill & Brewery, cans of Mountain Dew (which originated in Knoxville), little bags of chocolate-covered espresso beans from Coffee and Chocolate, and jars of Bush’s Homestyle Chili. A week after vacation’s over, mail a 1,700-percent inflated bill for consumed items to family members who sneak any. (You might want to get a valid credit card from each at the beginning of the week.) Use the proceeds to subsidize your new food habits (see #5).
4. Eat continental breakfast.
Here, you’ll have to cheat a little. Instead of getting stale Little Debbie honey buns like they have at the Super 8, lay in a supply of Greek pastries from Harb’s Deli, or Mexican pastries from La Flora, or caramel buns from Rita’s Bakery. Oh yeah, you’ll also need JFG coffee, measured out into single-pot servings.
5. Also eat breakfast out. every day.
You’re owed. You deserve it. You are on vacation. Make it lavish—jumbo Western omelette or hearty blueberry pancakes at Pete’s, the Greek spinach-mushroom-feta omelette at Vic and Bill’s with tidy white-bread toast and shredded hash browns on the side, a club sandwich with potato chips at Long’s Drug Store with chocolate milk (don’t ask, just do it).
6. Develop an attachment to a “made in Knoxville” treat ...
... and demand it at odd hours or before proceeding on any side excursions. If you’re the driver, re-route up to 20 miles so you’ll be able to pick up another one, while pretending the stop is on the way. Fine options: Crumb Bums, which are chocolate, vanilla, or mixed cake tops from Magpies Bakery (don’t try to find them on their website, you have to show up in person); green tea latte from Tomo; pecan turtles from the South’s Finest Chocolate Factory; sparkling mead from the Shady Grove Meadery in Lake City; the Maui Wowie sushi roll from Nama; a tuxedo cupcake from the Cupcakery.
7. Pack a catered picnic.
You’re on vacation, so en route to Ijams or Townsend, pick up Steamboat sandwiches (ham, genoa salami, swiss cheese, and exciter sauce are core ingredients), Sweet P’s barbecue, or Lunchbox pimento cheese or cream cheese and cucumber sandwiches. Pretend to be worried about the heat, even though you have a cooler, and eat the food in the car on the way.
8. Drop the kids and your deadweight “eat to live” companions and eat somewhere schmantzy.
You would do this most anywhere else. Here in Knoxville, if you’re smart, you’ll take advantage of the super-nice places that can be experienced at lunch at a lesser outlay, since, of course, you’re on vacation all day long—RouXbarb and La Costa, to name two.
9. Do the foodie tour.
In Napa Valley, this would be wineries. Here, how about sampling and touring places that produce fried green tomatoes? Very local, and there are many, many different treatments of this sublime gourmet’s delight. Choose three or four from this list for comparison and spread your mission out over several days’ worth of excursions or do one “now I can’t move or breathe” FGT bonanza day:
Soul food: Chandler’s Deli, where they deep fry ’em and hand ’em out.
Upscale boheme: Bistro by the Tracks, where the FGT nestle next to buttermilk mashed potatoes, sautéed spinach, creamed corn, and pickled red onion.
New Age: the mostly vegetarian Sunspot accents FGT with roasted red tomato sauce and goat cheese.
Suave: The tony tasso gravy-and-cheese grits treatment is available at Connor’s restaurant in Sevierville or Turkey Creek or Puleo’s.
’50s diner style: The Diner in Sevierville, fresh cut with cheese grits, or Calhoun’s, served with mustard/mayonnaise sauce
Basically bar food: deep fried, maybe with ranch, at Backroom BBQ in the Old City.
To take care of two to-dos at once, consider making FGT your choice of inconvenient repeat treat (see #5).
10. Take a family or romantic walk at sunset.
Undo all the health benefits by designing your route to end at a local ice cream shop. This is a little tougher in Knoxville than it is on the boardwalk, but technically possible if you take a nice walk of your choosing, get in the car, and then drive to, say, Kay’s Ice Cream on Chapman Highway or the Tic Toc in Farragut. Or walk down Central Street to the Original Freezo, several times a day if you like (see #5).
11. Bring home food souvenirs.
We’re all trying to do less clutter and the folks back home probably already have a fine assortment of odd orange-colored items. So take the near and dears edible souvenirs—you won’t regret it. If you spent all your money in the first couple of days and are living on nabs, just grab more of the goods described in instruction #2, or re-direct the contents of your “honor bar” (see #3). But if you can, share the best comestibles the city has to offer with the folks back home: a dozen red velvet cupcakes from Magpies; herbal vinegar from Honey Rock Herb farm or Erin’s Meadow, Cade’s Cove barbecue sauces, or thumb print cookies from VG’s Bakery in Farragut. Make ’em jealous that they didn’t think to vacation in such a delicious spot.