What’s this all about?
Knoxville BITES is not a restaurant review site, exactly. It’s my ongoing quest to find great dishes in Knoxville, with perhaps some attention paid to the restaurant itself. You won’t find restaurant news, interviews, or gushing advertorials here, either. Just my thoughts about the food on the plate. And life in Knoxville, sometimes.
Why not review restaurants as a whole? Everybody’s doing it these days!
I think it’s a hopeless task. Judging the entire worth of a restaurant based on a couple of visits is usually unfair—inevitably, you’re going to have a bad experience that’s based on unfortunate coincidences rather than institutional policy. Maybe your server just broke up with their spouse, or their mother is in the hospital. Maybe the kitchen’s supplier delivered sub-par produce that day and they had no choice but to use it. Or perhaps the chef hates the owner and is engaging in a passive-aggressive war of bad cooking this week. Who knows.
And, to be practical about it, one dish at a time is all I can afford—four or five trips to the same restaurant to write a full review would break me. Furthermore, I don’t think there are many restaurants in Knoxville that offer wide-ranging menus of excellence. Quite often, I find the better restaurants in town muster up just one or two particular dishes they do well. So I feel much more comfortable recommending (or dissing) a specific menu item rather than an entire establishment, in most cases. (If a place is outrageously hideous and without any redeeming qualities, I’ll certainly say so.)
Wait a sec—Knoxville is officially a foodie town! We have more restaurants per capita than any other city in the United States*! Everybody agrees that the food here is awesome!
Eh. In my opinion, Knoxville diners are easy to please. In fact, I think most of our online “foodies” are happily satisfied by mediocrity. Many of the longtime favorite restaurants here simply wouldn’t cut it in other cities where diners have lots of better choices.
The overriding approach to menu planning at Knoxville restaurants is: Give the people what they expect. Whether it’s Italian, Asian, Southern, Tex-Mex, etc. (no matter the price level), you’ll know exactly what your choices are before you even crack open the menu. And then when you get what you’ve ordered, it will be prepared exactly as you knew it would be. For the past 30 years or so that I’ve been dining here, Knoxville chefs haven’t exactly been injecting much personality into their menus. Usually, the best we can hope for is solid execution. That’s starting to change, though, and I hope we’re at a tipping point toward more restaurants and food trucks unique to Knoxville.
Who are you? Some kind of curmudgeonly food expert?
Nope. (Well, maybe the curmudgeon part.) I am not a home chef and I’ve never worked in food service. I’m just another wandering soul, hoping to find things I like to eat.
So why should we trust your opinions?
You don’t have to, really. I don’t trust any of the reviewers on Yelp or Facebook, or any of the nonstop cheerleaders with their own sites. But I’ve been to enough restaurants in enough cities to know what I like—and whether a particular dish lives up to its billing. I’ll say exactly what I think, without much concern for keeping everybody happy. I’m not here to promote the restaurant industry in Knoxville. At best, I just want to convey an appreciation for originality.
What do you like?
Whether it’s haute cuisine or cheap eats, I like food that reflects the point of view of the chef—dishes that are unique to the restaurant in the recipes they use or in how they execute them. I want a sense of the individual who made the food, rather than corporate test kitchens or menu consultants. Ideally, I like going to a place that I know is like nowhere else, where the food excites you with fresh approaches and new flavors. I’ve found those sorts of restaurants in just about every city I’ve ever been to, except Knoxville, where they’re overwhelmed by the far greater number of places enforcing placid predictability.
Why can’t our diners or fancy-pants fine-dining establishments be more distinctive? What if more than a handful of chefs dared to surprise us every so often with a dash of their own creativity?
How do you choose which dishes to review?
It’s pretty random—I just pick something that sounds interesting. And that usually means a place that’s new to me (though not necessarily newly opened), locally owned, and offers food that at least sounds like it may go beyond our lowered expectations. I won’t purposely go to a place that I know is boring. I really want to spend my money on a fun meal. Plus, there’s nothing more boring than a middling review of a middling restaurant.
* Not an established fact, no matter how many times it’s repeated.