A town of culinary diversity, Knoxville shines as a contemporary dining destination while staying true to its down-home, comfort-food roots.
Smoked, fall-off-the-bone ribs. Warm, buttery mashed potatoes. Flaky biscuits drenched in rich meaty gravy. Salivating yet? These are just some of the knockout dishes waiting to be enjoyed in Knoxville. Pull up a chair and prepare your taste buds for a Southern-style dining adventure.
Original Knoxville Eateries
True Knoxville tradition can be savored at some of the city’s oldest establishments. These places have been around for decades, cooking up classic, local favorites in a comfortable and inviting environment.
For over 30 years, locals and visitors have been flocking to Calhoun’s for great food and hospitality. The original Calhoun’s BBQ Barn, which opened in Knoxville in 1983, is a two-level rustic barn structure with a traditional silo. Inside, you’ll find relics of the farmlands of East Tennessee, showcasing the restaurant’s dedication to fresh, local, simple ingredients. Start the meal off with Southern-fried green tomatoes or rocky top potato skins, followed by the award-winning, signature hickory-smoked baby back ribs. Add some Tennessee corn puddin’ and spinach maria to the mix, and your dinner is complete.
If your plans include a visit to the University of Tennessee, be sure to stop in at the original Copper Cellar, located adjacent to the campus. A warm, cozy and traditional atmosphere thrives in the downstairs restaurant, decorated in walnut, copper and leather. A fusion of sports fans, theater goers, students and faculty can be found mingling in the upstairs venue, a favorite spot for many Knoxville residents. Don’t miss the signature crab bisque and the melt-in-your-mouth prime rib. Finish off the meal with some homemade cobbler or Hershey’s® triple chocolate fudge cake. Simply delicious.
No matter what kind of cuisine you’re in the mood for, these Knoxville originals deliver some of the best food in town. Of course, the dining options don’t end there.
Knoxville Barbecue Bliss
When it comes to barbecue, Knoxville does it right. Dozens of hot spots are sprinkled throughout the city, serving up moist, smoked meat slathered in homemade sauce. Load up on the napkins and dive right in.
For traditional, slow- and low-cooked barbecue, you have to go to Sweet P’s BBQ & Soul House. From humble beginnings as a popular catering company, the restaurant version opened in 2009 to rave reviews. Described as a “family juke joint,” Sweet P’s is a cafeteria-style spot, playing great tunes all day from a jukebox, with the occasional live performance. The menu is chockfull of soul food classics, and everything is made fresh daily, with meat cooked outside in a pit smoker. Order one of the plates for a complete meal of smoked meats, stick-to-your-ribs sides such as Mac N’ Cheese and Tater Salad, and warm bread. You might even catch a celebrity or two at this award-winning eatery, which gained national acclaim after being featured on Travel Channel’s Man vs. Food series in 2010.
It might not look like much from the outside, but inside, Chandler’s Deli cooks up some of the best homemade BBQ in town, not to mention a heaping number of delicious sides to complement all that meaty goodness. Head here for an early lunch of perfectly pulled pork, crispy fried chicken and moist turkey legs, paired with a side of fried green tomatoes, broccoli casserole or mashed potatoes. You really can’t go wrong with meals prepared just like granny used to make.
Barbecue has become synonymous with Knoxville, and there really is no shortage of great places to grab some traditional fare if you’re in the mood.
Good Old-Fashioned Southern-Style Cooking
Southern-style cooking reigns supreme in Knoxville. Nearly all restaurants in town serve up some kind of Southern-influenced dish, from fried okra and black-eyed peas to barbecue brisket and peach cobbler. No matter where you go, you’ll find your desired comfort food.
One of the best places in Knoxville for traditional, Southern-style cuisine is Big Fatty’s, a diner-style establishment plating classic dishes since 1996. Fried goodness awaits inside this country kitchen-inspired restaurant. Chow down on massive shrimp po boys and sides of fried okra or fresh catfish fillets and sweet cornbread. If you’re lucky, you might even catch some live bluegrass.
Tradition is big in Knoxville, and there’s no shortage of places to pay homage to the region’s historic eats.
A Modern Twist on Classic Knoxville Dishes
Knoxville’s signature dishes are the talk of the town, but there are some establishments putting a bit of a contemporary spin on these classics. If you’re looking for something a little different, check out some of these first-class restaurants.
Located on the historic 100 Block of Gay Street, Knox Mason takes some of the area’s Southern staples and reimagines them for the modern age. You’ll still find hyper-local favorites like Benton’s Bacon and Cruze Farm buttermilk on the menu, along with ingredients imported from Knoxville neighbors. Knox Mason throws them all together to create tantalizing dishes that speak to Southern traditions while introducing exciting, original elements. The menu changes seasonally, so there’s always something new to try.
For all those bourbon fans out there, Stock & Barrel is the place to be. This farm-to-table concept uses nothing but the best local, homegrown ingredients and mixes them right into their succulent burgers and esteemed fries. Pair your meal with one of many fine types of bourbon, which you can order straight up or in a craft cocktail. So if you’re in the mood for some everyday comfort foods with a gourmet twist, this is the place to be.
A number of modern restaurants have popped up in Knoxville in recent years, bringing one-of-a-kind culinary flair to some of the city’s most loved food items.
Knoxville is no stranger to good food, especially the traditional comfort cuisine the South is known for. Scattered throughout the city, you’ll find restaurants whipping up some of the best classic fare around. Meanwhile, newcomers are throwing a gastronomic curveball with their contemporary, distinctive styles. This refreshing mixture makes Knoxville a true, must-taste dining destination.
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