Knoxville dining scene: Farm to fork country cooking

Imagine a culinary destination rich with vegan, vegetarian, and additional healthy dining options on nearly every menu, taking care to utilize locally-sourced ingredients. Then imagine Southern comfort cooking, from casseroles to pies, chow chow, and grits, with a heavy dose of tradition in each plating. Now imagine these two culinary styles combined, in one place, and you have Knoxville’s dining scene.

Downtown Knoxville has enjoyed a recent revival, with its walkable Market Square playing host to upward of 80 independent restaurants. The surrounding countryside in Knox, Anderson, and Jefferson counties boast several more destination restaurants, as well. Here’s where to go, on your next visit to the ‘cradle of country music’.

knoxville dining

Knoxville and Market Square:

French Market: This French creperie is owned and operated by a couple who lived in Paris much of their adulthood, and have brought traditional French crepes back to Tennessee. Recently recognized as one of the top 25 creperies in the world, French Market gets busy each morning, but service is quick and the coffee and juices are great, too. Pick from sweet or savory crepes, omelettes and homemade croissants. Located at 412 Clinch Ave.

french market

Tomato Head: This sandwich and salad eatery’s motto is, ‘Food’s gotta cook…don’t come out of a can’, which pretty much says it all. Tomato Head has an extensive vegetarian and vegan menu, in addition to your traditional meats and cheeses. We picked up a to-go order to eat at the nearby Knoxville Visitor’s Center, where we listened to the Blue Plate Special radio hour (a Knoxville must-do), which worked out perfectly. Located at 12 Market Square.

Maple Hall Bowling: This boutique Market Square bowling alley is more hip bar than traditional bowling alley, with 11 almost elegant lanes, small plates and cocktails, and a very fun, young vibe. Come with the kids in the afternoon, or in the evening for date night. Located at 414 South Gay Street.

maple hall

Bistro by the Bijou: Located next door to the Bijou Theater, Knoxville’s top venue for live music downtown, Bistro by the Bijou is run by Martha Boggs, a Tennessee native who managed the bistro for years before becoming its owner. With no formal schooling in culinary arts, Martha has curated a menu with the sophistication of a trained chef…her diverse offerings are plant-based at heart, with added proteins with a Southern flair. She says she’s been cooking all her life with her family, and it shows: of all the meals we enjoyed in Knoxville, Bistro by the Bijou represented the farm-to-fork Southern sophistication hybrid I so enjoyed best. She grows her own vegetables, so you’ll see seasonal offerings like okra, tomatoes, and eggplant, and her daily chalkboard always features something in season and locally available. Located at 807 South Gay Street.

Knoxville Ale Trail: Knoxville boasts 10 breweries on its ale trail, with craft brewers from all walks of life, running breweries sporting all types of vibes and personalities. Most locals will recommend Alliance Brewing Company, located right next to Knoxville’s urban wilderness, making it a great stop after mountain biking or hiking. Crafty Bastard Brewery is run by a colorful and lively couple, serving unconventional, quirky beers.

Surrounding area:

Museum of Appalachia restaurant: Learn more about the awesome Museum of Appalachia here, but trust me, it’s attached restaurant deserves its own spotlight. Serving traditional Southern food with some modern twists, it offers farm to fork fare during lunch (long before farm to fork was a buzz word), such as vegetable casseroles, pies and soups, classic mashed potatoes and riced cauliflower, pot pies, carved meats, and to-die-for desserts. Eating here felt like Thanksgiving dinner, there were so many sides to choose from. Located at 2819 Andersonville Highway, Clinton, TN.

Bush’s Beans Visitor Center: While it’s not possible to tour the actual factory at Bush’s Beans, located in Chestnut Hill, it’s worth a stop if you’re in the area for the restaurant alone. Tour the adjacent museum to learn a bit about the Bush family, then stop for at least a slice of pie (every one we tried was amazing) or a whole lunch. They serve everything from classic beans and cornbread here to catfish, steak, or burgers, but the sides are the stars of the show. Try the sweet potato fries dusted with cinnamon and sugar, the fried okra, or the pinto bean pie.

Calhoun’s: Located in Oak Ridge, Calhoun’s is a great dinner destination after touring the Manhattan Project National Historic Park and American Museum of Science and Energy. Known for their BBQ, Calhoun’s view is also a draw; it sits right on the Clinch River, at 100 Melton Lake Peninsula.

Note: East Tennessee does have several wine trails, with the Great Valley Wine Trail the easiest to access from Knoxville. While the region is not known for wine, the views and ambiance at Spout Spring Estates Winery and Vineyard make this friendly winery worth a stop if driving through. It’s located at 430 Riddle Lane in Blaine, Tennessee.

Disclosure: I sampled Knoxville’s dining scene as a guest of the city, for the purpose of review. All opinion remains my own.