Ranking the Best Donuts in the Area

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We all have a weakness. Ours just happens to be donuts. We often cheat on our low-carb diets with a donut (or two or three), and there are so many options in the Knoxville area that it makes being good very, very difficult. So what is it about the humble donut (or is it doughnut?) that evokes such fondness? We're not sure, but we know we can't ever resist our Top 5, and the runners-up as well! So without further adieu ...

1. Beaver’s Dough-Joe
7650 Oak Ridge Highway, Karns

If you like apple fritters and cinnamon buns the size of a catcher’s mitt, this is the place for you. A recent addition to Karns, Beaver’s Dough-Joe has a mix of whimsical creations (Fruity Pebbles, Oreos, and Cinnamon Toast Crunch cereal are all occasional toppings) to go along with well-crafted standards, but not only are the cinnamon buns and apple fritters tasty, they’re enough to feed a small family. Also don't miss their strawberry donut with cream cheese frosting, which had us wondering why cream cheese frosting isn't more of a thing on donuts?!

Pay close attention to the cream cheese icing!

Pay close attention to the cream cheese icing!

2. Status Dough
6535 Kingston Pike and 418 S Gay St

There’s nothing humble about the donuts at Status Dough. Truly craft concoctions, Status’s offerings include old-fashioned cake-style, plump yeast versions, and jelly-filled versions. There’s an espresso bar at the high-end shop, but the donuts are far from an accessory—they’re clearly the center of the show. Old standbys like the old-fashioned cake and standard yeast are old standbys for a very good reason: they’re that good. But the subtle flavor of a lemon-poppyseed and the nostalgic taste of an orange creamsicle were clear winners as well.

Old Fashioned, and Lemon Poppy Old Fashioned. Simple, and Simply good.

Old Fashioned, and Lemon Poppy Old Fashioned. Simple, and Simply good.

3. Pop’s Original Donuts
7699 S Northshore Drive

Like many others, Pop's rotates flavors, bringing flavors you don't see other places. On our visit during the winter, a chocolate cake donut with vanilla frosting and pieces of peppermint bark was front and center, and was a perfect seasonal treat. Their donuts are heartier than others with some real substance to each bite, and their old fashioned was the perfect blend of crispy outside and flavorful and cakey inside. Another highlight was the creme broulee donut, which shouldn't be missed.

Check out the variety on this dozen of pop’s Donuts.

Check out the variety on this dozen of pop’s Donuts.

4. Richy Kreme Do-Nuts
2601 Old Knoxville Pike, Maryville

There's a reason Richy Kreme has been around for more than 70 years: they definitely don't skimp on the sweet. Their specialty is a delicate yeast donut with their trademark sweet glaze. If you've got a sweet tooth, you won't be disappointed. But the yumminess doesn't stop there: fillings of blueberry, raspberry, and peach (among others) are the perfect complement to the sugary glaze. Their location has been recently renovated to include more seating and a more modern look, so give them a try.

70 years of Goodness sitting right here in this case.

70 years of Goodness sitting right here in this case.

5. Duck Donuts
6104 Kingston Pike

If you don’t like the donuts here, you’ve got no one to blame but yourself. The hook with this Outer Banks-born chain is that you can pick your own coatings, toppings and drizzles, but the real genius behind the set-up is the made-fresh cake donuts that you can watch come out of the fryer moments before your own list of toppings is applied. The maple bacon is a must-have as part of every dozen we order, and a recent favorite involved a peanut butter coating with a marshmallow and raspberry drizzle.

A beautiful dozen of our own creations at Duck Donuts.

A beautiful dozen of our own creations at Duck Donuts.

Honorable mention: Donut Palace (Oak Ridge and Maryville locations), Krispy Kreme, Dunkin Donuts, Dippin Donuts.

*And we’ve yet to try Back Dough (the hole-in-the-wall Lonesome Dove doughnut shop) or Master Donuts, but we aim to soon!

Up Close and Personal at Rebel Kitchen

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A Night to Remember

March 27, 2019

Tucked away on West Jackson Avenue in Old City Knoxville is a gem of a dining experience known as Rebel Kitchen. We have dined at several places in the vicinity of this spot but hadn’t quite made it there until last night.

Let us say, we were incredibly pleased and impressed with our visit from the moment we stepped inside the inviting atmosphere until we exited after a truly wonderful meal.

The restaurant is attached to Old City Wine bar, which we were planning to visit before our reservation, but the timing wasn’t quite right. Or so we thought.

We arrived about 15 minutes early and were quickly reassured that we were welcome to enjoy a drink at the wine bar before we were seated and to enjoy it; not worrying to rush. So … we cozied up to a table in the middle of the room and enjoyed a pre-dinner drink before making our way over to the dining room for our reservation just a few minutes after 7.

We purposely made reservations for the bar seating that looks directly upon all the action in the open kitchen. Gazing upon the tantalizing menu and seeing the plates being built and put up for service really gives one the full view of what you, yourself, can be enjoying once you place your order.

Having done our research before visiting, we already knew that Rebel Kitchen focuses on a menu centered around what is in season and what is available locally. They strongly support local farmers, fishers, dairies, and are doing their part to support sustainability however they can.

Rebel Kitchen opened in September of 2018, and they are going strong under the direction of new Chef Preston Williams and looking to continue the innovative style they began with.

Our meal began strong with an appetizer of prawns with royal trumpet mushrooms, jalapeno, sautéed onion, seaweed salad, and some delightfully crunchy bean sprouts. The prawns were perfectly tender with such delicious notes from all the other components. It is truly unlike anything we’ve ever had before.

Along with that, we decided to try out the Mushroom “Bolognese” which was incredible paired with the luscious fresh pasta. I can say, T isn’t such a mushroom lover, but both of these dishes made him rethink that for sure.

Our server was super knowledgeable and incredibly welcoming from the very beginning. He helped us make the very important decision of what to have for entrees & we were nothing short of pleased with our choices.

Initially, I thought about having the vegetarian option of Royal Trumpet mushrooms as my main course, but after he described the North Carolina trout with watercress, fennel, and radish; I quickly changed my mind.

To say that this was some of the best Trout I’ve ever had would be an understatement for sure. Growing up along the creeks and rivers of Western North Carolina, I’ve had my fair share of trout, but this was something almost magical.

Chef de Cuisine Amber Reed absolutely killed it when it came to crisping up the skin and cooking those filets to a perfect texture. Topping sautéed watercress and fennel along with fresh, thin slices of radish, this dish blew my mind.

T is a lover of all things pig, much like the late, great, Anthony Bourdain. This being said, he went for the Berkshire pork chop that was deliciously moist and juicy. It was plated on gorgeous pottery (which all items were) with a nice serving of lightly sautéed chard and perfectly pickled jalapeno slices.

Even though we were pleasantly full, we opted to go for dessert: Not only one, but two desserts.

Cruze Farms buttermilk panna cotta topped with a blood orange puree to die for came capped off with a single wild violet for garnish. And then came the pecan tart that was almost reminiscent of a ginger Moravian cookie for me in its delectable flavor. It was topped with juicy segments of orange and blood orange nestled amongst piped cinnamon whipped cream--a polished finish to a memorable meal.

The staff was incredibly friendly and welcoming, all the while checking in to see how we were enjoying our meal, answering any questions we had and sharing photos of their beloved four-legged friends with us (admittedly, we jump-started that with doting about our recent puppy addition to the family). They worked seamlessly as a team and couldn’t have been more pleasant to watch and enjoy our meal with.

Before we departed, we were treated to something neither of us had ever had before: small, almost abundantly purple in color, pollen from a pine tree. About the size of a pine nut, they were just the right size to pop in your mouth like a morsel of candy.

They had a delightfully crunchy texture with a muted pine flavor at the end. It was a wonderful surprise to end our evening. Thank you to chef Williams and all the staff for making our Tuesday date night a charming memory!

Vegan Valentine’s Day at OliBea

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Experimenting with Vegan Food on Valentine’s Day

February 17, 2019

We're not vegans, or even vegeterians. We sometimes like to experiment with those styles, but what we like most is to experiment with any style. So when we heard that Knoxlux was hosting a five-course vegeterian Valentine's Day dinner by OliBea chef Jeffrey DeAlejandro, we cancelled our previous plans and jumped at the chance.

We really enjoyed our previous trip to Old City and OliBea for brunch, and we were very excited to see what DeAlejandro had in store for Valentine's Day. We weren't disappointed at all!

OliBea is already a cozy restaurant that doesn't hold more than about 30 people, and soon it will transition to a butcher shop and market as DeAlejandro moves his restaurant a block down the road to a bigger space, and our table was romantically tucked into a corner. It was BYOB, so we got a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc from across the street at Cork's and settled in for what turned out to be a very memorable evening.

DeAlejandro was very candid in explaining the menu, noting that he was stepping outside his own comfort zone to prepare five vegan coursesin the style of more typical meats. It was clear that a lot of thought went into each of the dishes, and it was exciting to hear DeAlejandro explain his rationale and then watch him and his sous chef plate the food.

The first course was charcuterie and bread and was a great example of DeAlejandro's creativity. Carrot "lox," parsnip "pastrami," and eggplant "bacon" were tasty imitations of their meatier brethren; the eggplant reminded a lot of beet chips, and our favorite was the parsnip pastrami, which had a delightful smoky flavor.

The "meat" was paired with a "cheese log" made of pine nuts and cashews and "parmesan" made of aged macadamia nut that was served on seeded crackers. The pine nut and cashew cheese was fantastic and we probably would not have known it wasn't actually cheese if we hadn't been told. Yes, one of us literally licked the plate clean.

The second course was an exotic salad made of roasted yellow beets, sunflower sprouts, ginger salsa verde, watermelon radish grated to look like carrots, and sunflower seeds. What brought it all together was a tahini ranch dressing that was as good as any milk-based dressing we've had. Served in a unique blown glass bowl from Pretentious Glass Company, it was probably the most refined and creative salad we've ever had.

DeAlejandro veered away from his planned menu for the third course, taking advantage of some fresh hemp leaves he came across. He created a hemp gremolata (a chopped herb condiment) with sauerkraut on top of mushroom toast. The gremolata wasn't strongly hemp flavored, but it was earthy, vibrant, and bright, and was a very unique addition on top of the unexpectedly crispy mushroom toast.

The main course was "steak," which of course was cured sweet potato over barbecue baked gigantes beans and served with shaved fennel and carrots. The sweet potato was sliced and baked, then roasted with mustard, coffee, vegetable stock, which DeAlejandro said gave it its smoky flavor. The result was a thick and smoky "steak" that also had a pleasant carmelization from the sugar in the sweet potato.

Dessert was another surge of sweetness with a dollop of smoked plantain and almond butter soft serve on a shortbread cookie sitting on lemon "curb," a vegan way of preparing lemon curd. Cocoa nibs, toasted buckwheat, and caramel sauce was drizzled over the ice cream, and the sweetness melded well with the flavor of the ice cream and shortbread cookie.

It was the perfect cap to an amazing evening. It certainly wasn't typical, but it was exceptionally memorable!

Sticky Rice Cafe | West Knoxville

Lao sausage at STicky Rice Cafe? Pho yes!

Lao sausage at STicky Rice Cafe? Pho yes!

Lao Cuisine in West Knoxville with a Modern Twist

January 6, 2019

We didn't grow up in Southeast Asia. Far from it. But there's something that happens when we walk into Sticky Rice Cafe that makes it feel homey.

Maybe it's the cozy atmosphere, or the Laotian family running things. Or maybe it's the steaming hot pho broth, the delicious spring rolls, the tangy noodle bowls, or the sweet and tangy flavors.

We'll say it's all of the above.

We hesitate to call Sticky Rice Cafe in West Knoxville a hidden gem. It may be tucked into the corner of a nondescript strip mall, but if you've been there in the evening or on a weekend, you know plenty of others around the area have discovered this gem of Southeast Asian comfort food.

Sticky Rice is run by the Sikarng family, drawing from the family recipes of owner Khan Sikarng's mother, Phet. Running the restaurant is a family affair, with Phet still often found cooking in the back while Khan and her brother run the front of the house, with younger family members often helping out as servers.

We've been half a dozen times, first visiting without ever trying Lao cuisine, which is the sweeter cousin of the more sour Vietnamese food and more spicy Thai cuisine. The flavors are often delicate, with sticky rice a major staple (it's served in little woven baskets and can't be eaten by hand just as easily as with any dish) and lemongrass prevalent.

Nowhere is the taste of lemongrass more noticeable--and unique--than in the Lao sausage, which is effervescent melded with pork, ginger, garlic, onion. The pork is coarsely chopped, but the sausage is tender and moist, the flavors bursting with sweetness and sour led by the lemongrass and ginger.

For a Sticky Rice novice, the perfect dish to ease into the flavors of Lao cuisine is the noodle bowl. Rice vermicelli comes with lettuce, cilantro, sprouts, carrots, cucumbers, and peanuts, and tofu, barbecued pork, shrimp, chicken, beef brisket, fried eggs, egg rolls, or mixed vegetables can be added. The dish is as warming and familiar to the palette as a bowl of chicken soup: simple, delicious and comforting.

The national dish of Laos is laab: beef, chicken or seafood. We opted for the chicken laab, which didn't disappoint with a myriad of flavors to go with the minced poultry: toasted rice powder, yellow onions, scallions, cilantro, mint, fish sauce, chili peppers, and lime juice. It's often served alongside green papaya salad, the Lao version of cole slaw; it features fish sauce, lime juice and chili peppers, and a pleasing crunch from the papaya.

One other highlight of the menu was the grilled pork chops, which was marinated in a house special seasoning which was sweet and tangy with a hint of curry. Piled on the plate, the two big slabs were moist and filling--and as good as any barbecued pork chops in the states.

Sticky Rice also pays homage to its Vietnamese neighbor with its own take on pho and the banh mi. It also serves a traditional style pho, but the phoritto is a brilliant take on the Mexican staple with rice noodles, beef, sprouts, onions, and cilantro wrapped in a flour tortilla. Served with pho broth, there's no need to ever go to Chipotle again once you've tasted this.

The Lao sandwich is also a gem, though its availability is dependent on French bread that arrives weekly from a bakery in Atlanta. Try it with barbecued pork, with cilantro, cucumber and carrots adding a punch to the affordable sandwich.

There's also a variety of Asian beers to sample, but no visit is ever complete without the mango sticky rice: the chewy, warm rice with the soft ripe mango is perfection when topped with sweetened condensed milk that tastes like ice cream on top.

Tako Taco | Knoxville Old City

Not surprisingly, tako Taco’s tacos are amazing, but the fried chicken skin nachos are irresistible as well.

Not surprisingly, tako Taco’s tacos are amazing, but the fried chicken skin nachos are irresistible as well.

Fried Chicken Skins and Tacos? Yes please!

In Japanese, tako means octopus and it's a special ingredient in Japanese culture. Two-thirds of the octopus caught in the world are eaten in Japan, but Tako Taco in Knoxville's Old City can lay claim to a sliver of that consumption, and for good reason. 

Tucked into an up-and-coming corner of Old City between the Mill and Mine concert venue and a new condominium development, Tako Taco is the inspiration of Knox Kaizen chef Jesse Newmister. For those familiar with Kaizen's nontraditional fare, Tako Taco doesn't stray far from that formula, offering taco combinations you'd never find anywhere else. 

Think grilled octopus (of course) and pickled peppers, shrimp and green papaya slaw, a duck egg breakfast taco--we visited several months ago and the taco combinations represented elevated street fare that blows most Mexican food out of the water. 

The toughest part about visiting Tako Taco was picking out what tacos to get. We started with a shot of tequila (more on that later) and one of the best appetizers we've ever had: fried chicken skin "nachos." Imagine the best part of fried chicken sprinkled with peppers, cheese, crema, onions, cilantro, and a chipotle puree: it was decadent, but you didn't have to get yelled at by mom for just ripping the skin off the fried chicken. 

The taco selections were eclectic and we picked five to share, though the menu often changes. Because we were at Tako Taco, we had to try the octopus taco, where the grilled octopus was tender and paired perfectly with the pickled peppers, spicy microgreens, and black cardamom raita. No one can resist breakfast for dinner, and neither could we; the duck egg taco with bacon, jalapeno, onion, and cilantro was the perfect bite of an omelet wrapped in a corn tortilla. 

The shrimp taco was perfectly complemented by a green papaya slaw, and marinated pork collar popped accompanied by a pineapple habanero salsa. Lastly, a dry-aged ribeye was perfectly cooked and meshed well with cotija cheese and glazed mushrooms and potatoes. 

The menu at Tako Taco is eclectic, but so is the drink selection. They have a large supply of tequila, but their cheapest turned out to be the best for us. At the suggestion of our server, we tried the Cien Anos Blanco by Sauza, which was infused with pineapple. To say it was amazing was an understatement: we ended up tracking down Cien Anos at Bob's Liquors in West Knoxville and infusing our own. The effect was just the same: smooth, tropical, and addictive. 

Previously, this part of Old City ended at Mill and Mine, but when the condominium complex next door is completed, this corner of Old City will be even more worthy of a visit. Even now, Tako Taco makes any trip worthwhile. 

Kefi | Old City Knoxville

It was all about the halloumi at kefi.

There is grilled cheese, and then there is grilled cheese. There’s a difference; trust us. But if you’ve never had halloumi, you might not know the pleasure of the wonderful cheese that doesn’t melt when it is grilled.

Let us explain. Or actually, let Wikipedia:

Halloumi or haloumi (/ h ə ˈ l uː m i /) is a semi-hard, unripened, brined cheese made from a mixture of goat's and sheep's milk, and sometimes also cow’s milk. It has a high melting point and so can easily be fried or grilled. Rennet is used to curdle the milk in halloumi production, although no acid-producing bacteria are used in its preparation.

The island of Cyprus is most famous for its production of halloumi. Located southeast of Greece in the Mediterranean Sea, its residents have been making halloumi for eons. If you look closely at specialty grocery stores, you can find it among racks of other cheeses, and lucky for us it was on the menu for our recent visit to Kefi in Knoxville’s Old City.

Kefi, which according to its website roughly translates to “profound passion,” recently opened its doors. Lovers of Greek and Mediterranean food, we visited with high hopes, having already spied halloumi and a host of other intriguing options on the menu.

And nothing disappointed. Including the halloumi.

The unique cheese is one of several cheese mezze that Kefi offers. There’s a feta broulee and a saganaki of pan-sauteed kesseri cheese, but the halloumi is exquisite. When we dined, thick credit card-sized slices were paired with strawberries, microgreens, and balsamic vinegar.

Halloumi doesn’t melt, which makes it perfected for grilling and serving hot. Its texture makes it squeak a little bit when it’s chewed, revealing a brininess that was a perfect complement to the strawberries and greens, with the balsamic drizzle deepening the flavors.

We probably could have ordered several more dishes of halloumi and left happy, but that wouldn’t have been fair to the rest of the menu.

As with any mezze restaurant, small dishes are brought as they are completed, and we started with a sampling of spreads and breads: tzatziki, hummus and spicy feta.

A salad of greens, radish, tomato, cucumber, lemon-vinegar dressing, and zaatar, a distinctive Middle Eastern spice blend that is typically made from dried thyme, oregano, marjoram, toasted sesame seeds, and salt. The result is a taste that is very Mediterranean, aromatic and tangy at the same time, and it melded perfectly with the acid of the lemon-vinegar dressing.

Fried cauliflower followed, and the perfectly-browned florets were complimented by dried cherries, hazelnuts, microgreens, and maple, creating a delicate and earthy dish.

The final hot mezze we ordered was simple but craveably addicting: plump shrimp doused in a garlic butter sauce and showered with tomato and feta. The only lament was that there wasn’t enough bread with the dish to sop up all the delectable sauce, and picking up the plate and tipping it into one’s mouth ala cereal milk is frowned upon.

We left room for two desserts, and while the baklava is the star of the bottom portion of the menu, we opted for something we’d never tasted before: Kokakia, cream puffs with chocolate glaze and raspberry sauce that was refined and homey at the same time, like something you’d find in an outta-the-way café. We also had Galaktoboureko, a semolina custard flute with a honey-citrus drizzle on it. Think phyllo dough spring roll meets a cheesecake-like filling, with the perfect amount of acidity glazed on top to buzz your tastebuds.

Kefi didn’t have its beer license yet when we visited (they apparently do now), but they also offer cocktails on tap, and a flight of three creative and generous pours was only $13. The guava margarita was good, the 6 Island punch appropriately tropical in its fruitiness, but the Tears of Chios (mastiha liqueur, vodka, lime juice, agave, red grapes and mint leaves) was unique and refreshing and the star of our flight.

The only problem with mezze-style restaurants is that there is so much on the menu to choose from and pine over that you’re often left with a feeling akin to picking your favorite child. You want to love them all and can’t, but we’ll definitely be back to try.

Sovereign Remedies Asheville

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Beautiful Peaches

Asheville is the home of many things. The Biltmore Estate, the Omni Grove Park Inn, breweries on every corner, a lady that dresses up in silver and plays a snare drum on command for cash (see here), rooftop bars with great views of the Smoky Mountains, pachouli-scented drum circle in Pritchard Park. But most of all it’s home to a lively environment with energy that we love.

It's also home to dozens of fantastic restaurants and to our first "fancy" date, and we've returned many, many times to experience its culinary wonders. With so many choices, and restaurants like Curate, Zambras, Rhubarb, Rezaz, and 9 Mile, it takes a lot to stand out, but we made it to Sovereign Remedies in August for Joy's birthday and we've been talking about it ever since.

The venture by Charlie Hodge/Sunil Patel (owners) and Graham House (chef) is housed on Market Street in a building that was once home to a drug store and barber shop, and with tons of brass finishes, the bar has a definite Prohibition-era feel to it and cocktails to rave about, but the real gem is a small dining room in a mezzanine up a short flight of stairs.

Sovereign Remedies is so-named for the family medical herbs and cures conceived and passed down through generations by Appalachian settlers when these mountains were more remote, but it's an appropriate name for the restaurant as well because its locally sourced creations are well worth sharing.

The menu changes seasonally though there are a few standards (the chickpea fries, which we tried, and the bone marrow tater tots, which we wished we had), and we were lucky enough to enjoy summer's bounty as the season wound down. Best among the dishes we had was an artistically plated peach dish; North Carolina peaches thinly sliced into crescents, melded with cherry bomb peppers, marigold yogurt, and popcorn shoots. It was the perfect combination of saltiness and heat, which brought out the sweetness of the peaches. We ate it once, and immediately wanted to order it again.

We had grand plans for the menu; everything looked good, and our intention was to order a few small plates and then share the bavette steak. Unfortunately, the menu was too enticing and we couldn't make it past five plates, but it was only because everything was too good.

Our waiter recommended the chickpea fries, which were perfectly fried and complemented by carrot harissa and dill yogurt, and garnished with fresh dill. Sunflowers, braised until they were tender, were plated with green coriander and celtuce, the stalks of lettuce, and had a light earthy flavor not dissimilar to sunflower seeds.

Fresh heirloom tomatoes were paired with plums, thumbelina carrots, baby squash, and purslane, the flowers of a succulent that added a slightly sour and salty taste. Sliced honeydew freckled with fresh corn was perfectly ripe and screamed of flavor.

We're terrible at making it to dessert because we splurge on early dishes, and for that we blame Sovereign Remedies. The dishes were so eclectic, artistic, and packed so much flavor that we couldn't resist them, but we'll definitely be back for more.

Lonesome Dove Knoxville

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Rattlesnake and Rabbits?

Having never tried rattlesnake, we eyed the appetizer on the menu at Lonesome Dove with equal parts suspicion and intrigue. Add in some rabbit? We had to have it. But the rattlesnake and rabbit sausage at Lonesome Dove Western Bistro in Knoxville’s Old City was only one of the many interesting menu selections that caught our eye.

There were Hamachi tostadas, lobster “hushpuppies,” elk loin, wild boar-beef tenderloin albondigas (Mexican meatballs), pork secreto (more on that in a minute), and smoked antelope short ribs. Lots of wild game. The only thing missing was kangaroo (which was on the menu at a since-closed menu in Frederick, Md., that we were never able to try).

Lonesome Dove has only two other locations across the country, and both are in Texas: Austin and Forth Worth. Texas-born and bred chef Tim Love, the cowboy cuisine connoisseur you may know from his appearance on Next Iron Chef or from his Iron Chef “Battle Chile Peppers” win, is the brains behind the menu, which is described on Lonesome Dove’s website as “influenced by all of the ingredients and cultures that have been a part of the West since the first adventure began on the Goodnight-Loving and Chisholm Trails, with an added level of modern sophistication.”

Enter the rattlesnake and rabbit.

Love may be a cowboy, but the appetizer sausage was much more refined than something you’d dig up on the prairies of West Texas. Paired with manchego rosti and crème fraiche and each staked with the Tennessee flag, there wasn’t any gaminess to detect. While it didn’t taste like chicken, it did taste a lot like pork sausage, though the saltiness was mild and the texture was more tender than your run-of-the-mill store-bought bratwurst.

The best part about the appetizers at Lonesome Dove is you can get small portions of them, allowing for a larger variety of samplings. Two pieces of the rattlesnake-rabbit sausage for us came with equal pairings of Hamachi tostadas and deviled blue crabs. The Hamachi meshed the collar of a yellowtail fish with ponzu, garlic, cilantro, bacon, and serrano, and the deviled blue crabs tasted a lot like crab imperial served in the shell of a blue crab, with Lonesome Dove’s hot sauce on top. The clear winner was the Hamachi. The combination of cilantro and bacon worked perfectly with the tender, sweet, buttery taste of the fish.

We skipped a second course because we had tickets to the Chris Stapleton concert later in the evening, but we did substitute it for a round of tequila shots. Lonesome Dove has a good selection, and we opted for Casamigos since our favorite Espolon wasn’t around.

There are plenty of unique items to choose from in terms of entrees, from roasted garlic stuffed tenderloin to grilled halibut to elk loin to antelope short rib. I was eyeing the Iberico Pork Secreto since I laid eyes on the menu. I’d never heard of “Secreto,” but a google search confirmed that I wanted to try this dish. Known as the “secret butcher’s cut” of a pig, the “secreto” or secret is usually a pork skirt cut, and it didn’t disappoint. Our server asked how to prepare the cut of pork, which was a surprise, but it turned out to be a welcome one. Opting for medium instead of medium rare, the pork came out mildly pink and was the most tender piece of pork I’ve ever experienced, so tender that it nearly melted in my mouth. It was rich and sweet, almost like the Wagyu of pork. It came with a mixed vegetable salad and an avocado pipian (sauce) that was a lot like a green chile salsa, but its spiciness was unnecessary and the pork really stood on its own.

As our other entrée we got the crispy chicken thighs, which were cooked perfectly in a lemon jus that was a perfect complement to the dark meat of the thighs. It came with a stack of scalloped potatoes and olives that were fried to a crispy perfection.

The Knoxville location of Lonesome Dove (so located because Love is a graduate of the University of Tennessee) is actually the fourth location of the restaurant. Love opened Manhattan version of the eatery in 2006 but it closed in 2007. A New York Times review in 2006 panned the restaurant for choosing whimsy over good judgment, swagger over finesse, but the Knoxville edition seemed to have learned from previous errors, exercising restraint and allowing the unique ingredients to shine through.

We were too full to try dessert, and we had to make it to the Chris Stapleton concert. But we’ll definitely be back.

Sunspot Knoxville

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Rainy Day Sunshine

On a rainy November afternoon, what’s better than a little bit of sun? We ventured to Cumberland Avenue for a late lunch at a place we’d been looking to try for months: Sunspot. We weren’t disappointed, and left a lot fuller than expected.

Big props to our server, Lila, who steered us to the sweet potato waffle fries and Brussels sprouts with Marcona almonds as side dishes. The crispy waffle fries went perfectly with a spicy honey mustard, and the Brussels sprouts had a smoky and spicy flavor. We also started with burratta on flat bread with heirloom tomatoes, mixed olives, basil, and balsamic drizzle, and we’re glad we did because Lila told us that it might be off the menu soon as they switch things up. Let’s hope that the cup of soup we got also stays on the menu for a while: pureed artichoke with hearty bacon pieces.

We probably could’ve stopped there, but we also got sandwiches: The BGLT was a cool take on a BLT with fried green tomatoes, and the Cuban 2.0 had a nice smokiness from the Benton’s ham that went well with the pulled pork, spicy mustard, cheddar, and pickles.

We left room for dessert and were happy we did: we paired the mixed berries crisp with Cheerwine ice cream. Forget vanilla - the Cheerwine ice cream was like a solid version of a Cheerwine float and cut the sweetness of the rich mixed berries crisp. We didn’t leave any behind.

So, if you’re in the area and looking for a nice place with several vegan & gluten free options to add some variety to your options, make sure to try this place out! We look forward to our next visit & trying out the outside seating as soon as the weather permits.