Over the past few months of living here in Knoxville, I have grown to realize just how much this city has to offer. Food, nature, fitness, outdoors, adventure…You name it! This city has it and then some.
But when I was contacted to come and partake in one of Knoxville’s Food Tours, I had no idea what I was in for. I expected a beer crawl-esque roulette of restaurant after restaurant. Little did I know that I was going to get a history lesson, an ample walk, and a newfound appreciation for the city I currently call home.
Lauren Quinn, the owner of East TN Tours, started her business from the ground up with the goal of providing both locals and tourists with a chance to see the history of downtown Knoxville and to sample the variety of tastes that make it such a vibrant city. You can tell just by talking with her that she loves her job, loves this city, and loves sharing the heart of Knoxville with her tour groups.
We started our tour at the Knoxville Visitor Center on Gay St. (the main street of downtown) with our first food stop at Clancy’s Tavern & Whiskey House, which neighbors the Tennessee Theater. Upon arrival, we were each given a ramekin of their famous Shepherd’s Pie. Roasted potatoes atop rich tender lamb braised in Murphy’s stout with sweet peas, carrots, celery, and onion and dash of cheddar cheese. Delicious flavor, carefully seasoned, and the perfect meal to order to warm you up in the cold winter months that are common in Knoxville. You can tell they take pride in their dishes, because the menu is small so they’ve taken the time to perfect each item that they feature. At the time they offered us $3 mimosas and bloody marry’s as party of their happy hour special, however knowing we have 4 more stops to go, I knew I wouldn’t make it if I drank that early in the game.
Our second stop of the tour was at The Tomato Head located in the heart of Market Square. This is by far one of my favorite Knoxville restaurants because it’s locally-sourced, reasonably priced, and tasty tasty tasty. We had the choice to choose from any of their soups of the day and I picked the Chipotle Tomato Bisque. Honestly, I had had it before but it was just as good the second time. The perfect balance of spice, heartiness, and flavor. Served with a piece of their house-baked bread. I was in carb heaven!
Our third stop of the tour was Balter Beer Works located a short walk from Gay St. on South Broadway. The word “balter” comes from the verb meaning “to dance artlessly, without particular grace or skill, but WITH ENJOYMENT”. They have continued to take that sort of mentality into their business model by creating an atmosphere, menu, and draft selection focused around ENJOYMENT. We were greeted by the assistant chef upon arrival and served a Deconstructed Burrito Bowl made with blackened chicken, charro beans, rice, lettuce, charred salsa, pico de gallo, cilantro crema, cotija, and housemade chips.
Our fourth stop of the tour was Old City Wine Bar located in the heart of the Old City. This was my first time indulging there, but it won’t be my last. They offer a variety of wines on tap as well as a unique menu of mixed cocktails. However their interior is stunning, with a large galvanized metal wall and warm wood finishes. We were served a cured pork, goat cheese, dried cranberry, tomato, and cucumber salad on a bad of rainbow chard topped with a simple vinaigrette. The salad was simple yet sophisticated, and would have paired well with any of the wines on tap.
Our fifth and final stop was Sugar Mama’s located on lower Gay Street. A retro style bar/bakery, Sugar Mama’s offers baked goods as good as your grandma’s in addition to a variety of locally brewed beers, sandwiches, and pizzas. Owned by the sweetest husband and wife pair, they cook everything themselves using family recipes and a whole lot of heart. In the evenings, you may even get a bit of trivia, bingo, or live music depending on the night of the week. Upon arrival, we were given an assortment of tasty treats including a cherry danish, fudge cream, brown butter chocolate chip cookie, lemon cookie, and curry cookie paired with one of their favorite brews on tap. Let me start off by saying, I am not a danish person, but this danish was PHENOMENAL and the fudge cream was simply heavenly. You can tell that the owners at Sugar Mama’s value a high quality food experience and want you to not only feel at home but also leave well-fed.
Overall, the afternoon was a wonderful amalgamation of Knoxville sights and bites. I would highly recommend East TN Food Tours to anyone who is new to Knoxville or even just visiting Knoxville to go and hear about the history as well as to taste the variety of flavors that this city has to offer. I left full, happy, and reinvigorated with love for this wonderful city.