Admittedly, if you say burger, most folks think of a fat and sizzling disk of ground beef, but it ain’t necessarily so. In these parts you can avoid beef on your bun in all sorts of clever ways, tame or not. Here’s a short study on how to have a mouthful of burger joy without getting close to the cow.
The granddaddy of all Knoxville alternative burgers lives at Sunspot, where it’s remained popular and relatively unchanged for more than 20 years. Chef Brandon Cruz hasn’t altered the base recipe of long-grain rice, beets, and black beans, etc., though in place of the original focaccia base, Cruz offers a good ciabatta. Over time, the condiments have evolved, and these days Cruz crowns this meat-free patty with a jalapeño aioli that gives the burger a welcome kick. The mild spice and creaminess of the sauce is a tasty companion to the crunch of house-made chow-chow, which is, of course, a sweet-and-sour pickle and cabbage relish. Both of those additions keep this longtime vegetarian option alive and kicking.
Avocado Turkey Burger
A regular alternative to red meat, the turkey burger has made the rounds in all sorts of joints, but it’s never better than at Ruby Tuesday, where it’s been a favorite for ages. In fact, Ruby sells more than a million pounds of turkey every year. And it’s 100-percent turkey in this popular burger, along with a seasoning blend that includes sage—which is part of why the burger is attractive to the turkey-and-dressing-loving American palate. The herb-and-spice mix is blended into the meat to cure the patty, and that helps the burger form a seal when it hits the griddle and thus remain juicy. Perfectly ripe avocados bring a healthy creaminess and a flavor affinity for both turkey and the Swiss cheese that adorns it.
Knox Veggie Burger
Owner Aaron Thompson threw down an Iron Chef-style gauntlet when he challenged his chefs to create a veggie option that would stand out from the crowd. Chef March Burch won the match with his 1/3-pound heart- and gut-healthy creation that includes chickpeas, quinoa, brown rice, oats, red onion, bell peppers, parsley, and Sapphire’s secret blend of herbs and spices that includes jerk seasoning. The burger gets the same kind of luxurious treatment that adorns Sapphire’s acclaimed cheeseburger—a toothsome house-made honey brioche bun, Sweetwater Valley Pepperjack, leaf lettuce, tomato, red onion, and house-brined pickles. The burger isn’t vegan or gluten-free, but it is completely free of additives, preservatives, and other such nonsense.
There is no one Wild-Game Burger—there are several incarnations that depend on the Happy Badger’s supplier. So you might have deer or buffalo on one visit and then get a little gator the next. Buns and toppings vary to suit the meat of the moment; but before you douse it with the usual condiments, chat with game-lover and manager Theresa West. After all, there’s no point in trying something wild and new if you really just want ketchup.