Saturday brunch at The Plaid Apron

Nestled within a small neighborhood off of Kingston Pike, The Plaid Apron brings local Knoxvillians together for farm to table dishes inspired by what is in season. Recently, the restaurant took a short break to renovate the space and redesign the menu. The restaurant stayed true to its original concept, offering meals that remind you of a warm homemade dish but surprise you with refined flavor combinations. The affordable menu incorporates regionally sourced ingredients like Circle V eggs and Cruze Farm’s dairy products – all incredibly fresh. The new menu still offers some of the old menu’s classics like the tomato soup and artisanal grilled cheese.

I decided to stop in for the new weekend brunch offerings and check out the new renovations. The space has been beautifully redesigned into a sleek open dining area that also includes a bakery counter. The restaurant was filled with customers ordering dishes and reading local papers; the local neighborhood vibe made the new Plaid Apron just as cozy as it once was.

IMG_4961I began with a Cruze Farm’s milk cappuccino as I perused the menu. I had trouble deciding what to order, since everything sounded delicious and every dish that passed looked excellent. The house made sourdough french toast was my original choice, but I went with the veggie and grain plate as I was eager to try the duck egg. The friendly waiter also advised that this dish was packed with flavor. The base of the dish included sorghum, asparagus, oyster mushrooms, and red onion topped with goat cheese fondue and poached duck egg. The dish tasted fantastic. I was a little hesitant at first since some grain and veggie dishes can lack flavor. This one did not! The goat cheese fondue under the perfectly runny poached duck egg created a decadent sauce to cover the fresh salted vegetables and sorghum. The combination of the flavors created the perfect warm dish for a rainy Saturday brunch.

IMG_4969

After finishing my brunch meal I needed something sweet, so I stopped by the bakery counter to pic up an oatmeal cookie. The oatmeal craisin cookie was perfectly moist and chewy – a perfect sweet end note to the meal.

I enjoyed the original Plaid Apron, but I love the new renovations and menu. As always, the staff is incredibly friendly, and it feels great supporting the local small business and growers. You truly cannot go wrong when picking a meal because everything is carefully prepared and ingredients are thoughtfully sourced. This spot is the perfect neighborhood restaurant with unique dishes, and it is perfect for any occasion from date night to family dinner. The Plaid Apron’s delicious dishes and friendly atmosphere will keep you coming back for more.

 

Market Square to be Transformed into ‘Biscuit Boulevard’

Since 2009 Knoxville, Tennessee has opened its streets to the International Biscuit Festival welcoming bakers, writers, musicians and even biscuit pageant contestants to the summer event. This year, the Southern Food Writing Conference and International Biscuit Festival will take over Knoxville May 19th and 20th.

The weekend will begin with a conference for food writers and the festival itself will kick off with the ‘Biscuit Bash,’ a music filled event allowing the public to meet and greet with food writers from the conference. Food and cocktails will be provided by local restaurants at the bash. Beginning Saturday, ‘Biscuit Boulevard’ and the ‘Biscuit Bazaar’ will set up in the Market Square area of downtown Knoxville. The boulevard event will allow festival attendees to purchase tickets and sample five different biscuits. Taste testers will then be allowed to vote for a ‘people’s choice’ biscuit winner. The bazaar will allow biscuit lovers to view and try out biscuit gadgets and products to help with at-home biscuit baking.

Screen Shot 2017-04-15 at 10.07.26 PM

Photo courtesy of the International Biscuit Festival on Instagram // @biscuitfest

Sweet or savory, fluffy or dense, the International Biscuit Festival will offer biscuit bakers and lovers the ultimate event to showcase and taste biscuits of all varieties. The location in Market Square will allow plenty of easy parking opportunities in free lots and street spots around the downtown area. The location should also allow locals and travelers to enjoy the warm May weather while biting into a fresh biscuit.

More information on tickets and times of the event can be found by visiting http://www.biscuitfest.com.

Lunch with a Purpose

The Brown Bag restaurant located in Knoxville (Hardin Valley and Downtown) and Nashville gives customers lunch with a purpose. The purchase of healthy and freshly made meals support the restaurant’s mission to provide meals free of charge to local residents in times of need. 

The meals at the Brown Bag are nothing short of excellent. An entree and two sides will cost around $9.00 and is served with large portions. The grilled chicken and grilled steak were especially delicious and tender. Seasonal salads using premium ingredients like fresh fruit and kale are offered as sides and will over flow your plate. Fresh mashed potatoes and grilled vegetable can also be chosen as side options. While I visited, the $2 tubs of banana pudding flew off the shelf. So if you were contemplating dessert at the checkout counter, grab one while you can! 


This restaurant is often packed at the lunch hour and also offers great deals on catering or family trays. Each location is open until 2 pm in order to provide meals afterward for those in need. 

It was so refreshing to be served such a delicious and healthy meal that served a bigger purpose in the community. 

Gourmet Donut Shops on the Rise in Knoxville, TN

In the last two years Knoxville, Tennessee has become home to multiple gourmet donut shops serving up hot fried dough covered with unique icing and toppings. Each shop offers a unique batter, donut type, and toppings list. Here is a rundown of what you need to know about each shop before choosing where to buy your next dozen donuts:

  1. Makers Donuts

Started by Sean and Sara Alsobrooks, Makers Donuts occupies a cozy brick building adjacent to Remedy Coffee on Tyson Street in the Old City District. At almost any point during opening hours, a line snakes around the counter and outside the door. The donuts are all hand fried, iced, and topped in-house. The flavor line up varies week to week with a few staples regularly making an appearance like chocolate ganache with sea salt, churro, vanilla, and blueberry bourbon. Seasonal and locally sourced ingredient themed flavors also appear on the menu such as Cruze Dairy Farm’s berries and cream, key lime pie, and pumpkin spice. The weekly flavor line up can be found on the Makers Donuts’ social media accounts or weekly email subscription.  Makers is open from 7 am to midnight Friday and Saturday and Thursday and Sunday from 7 am to 1 pm.

The verdict: My personal favorite, Makers’ warm donuts offer the perfect crunch on the outside while staying fluffy and light on the inside. The donuts alone are delicious, but the toppings and flavor combinations make this shop a big hit. The flavors are well developed, intense, and not too sweet. The staff always treats you like family and works hard to keep the donut line up new and exciting, while maintaining top quality. Plenty of parking and a great coffee shop next door serve as an added bonus. My favorite part – I get to support local economy while eating a unique donut flavor you often cannot find anywhere else. Run, don’t walk, when the blueberry bourbon and key lime pie donuts are on the menu.

2. Duck Donuts

IMG_3898

Duck Donut shops can be found all over the Eastern side of the United States and established itself in Knoxville just a few months ago on Kingston Pike. The chain focuses on customizable donuts that allow customers to mix and match icing flavors wth toppings and drizzles. Warm donuts are iced on site in front of the customers to ensure total satisfaction and quality. The thick cake donuts can be topped with almost anything you can think of from shredded coconut to bacon. The shop has been overwhelmed with customers since its opening and varies in hours each day. Monday the shop is open from 6 am – 3pm, Tuesday through Thursday 6 am – 7pm, Friday and Saturday 6 am – 8 pm, and Sunday 8 am – 8 pm.

The verdict: Warm Duck Donuts customized to your liking are the ultimate sweet treat, but they are very rich and can only be eaten in small portions. The customizable aspect makes the process fun and more personal. However, it also requires patience as the customizable donuts take longer to prepare. The first experience can be a little chaotic as the small shop packs in plenty of customers, and the options can take a little while to sort through. Overall, this is a great place to take younger kids and a perfect dessert treat for after dinner.

3. Status Dough

Status Dough is the newest player to the game, recently opening its doors less than a month ago on Kingston Pike. The donut shop offers a variety of treats like cake and old fashioned donuts, apple fritters, and cinnamon buns. The massive donuts offer unique batter mix-ins and rich toppings.  Espresso beverages are also available and hand made on site. The store currently holds hours from 8 am – 4 pm each day, but often sell out of donuts before the posted closing time.

The verdict: The donuts are the biggest bang for your buck since one is almost too much to eat. The strawberry batter donut is always a commendable menu move in my book, however this one was particularly sweet for my taste. I found the donuts too dry and my least favorite of the three unique shops. Although, I liked how different types of donuts were offered providing something for everyone, even gluten free!

 

Spring Guide: Knoxville

Gloomy days of winter have finally ended and bright tulips, purple blooms on redbud trees, and 70 degree days all mark the beginning of spring time in East Tennessee. There are plenty of great opportunities to get outside again this spring. Here are a few ideas to get you in the spring spirit:

  1. Enjoy an outdoor farmers’ market:

 

 

IMG_6622

East Tennessee offers a variety of fantastic markets from spring to fall. Local vendors sell fresh cut flowers, farm fresh eggs, produce, baked goods, and hand made jewelry. My personal favorite is the Market Square Farmers’ Market every Saturday and Wednesday beginning in May. This market offers rows of local vendors, food trucks, and gourmet ice pop carts, and sits between Market Square’s shops and restaurants, perfect for a Saturday morning out. Other notable markets in the area include the Dixie Lee Market, Oak Ridge Market, Ebenezer Road Market, and Lakeshore Park Market.

2. Paddle, Bike, or Hike at Ijams Nature Center:

gacypark.domains.outdoorknoxville.com.public_html.images-outdoors.trails-meades-quarry-7slideshow-blue

Photo courtesy of outdoorknoxville.com

Ijams center is a nature oasis in the middle of urban Knoxville, Tennessee. A nature lover’s dream, the nature center is home to beautiful rock quarries, nature trails, and a river boardwalk. Ijams offers inexpensive rentals for kayaks, paddle boards, and canoes to take out on the water and enjoy a beautiful spring day. Get there early if you plan to rent sporting gear, as they run out of rentals quickly when the weather is nice. Keep an eye out for fresh water jellyfish that like to make an appearance in Mead’s Quarry Lake. If water activities are not for you, Ijams offers 12 miles of natural surface trails perfect for all levels of hikers and 9 miles of bike trails for beginner to intermediate levels. The nature center is open daily from 7 am – 9 pm.

3. Attend the Rhythm N’ Blooms music festival:

With headliners like Young the Giant, Gogol Bordello, and Dave Barnes, the Rhythm N’ Blooms festival offers plenty of live music during its three day festival April 7-9th. The historic Old City district in Knoxville offers a great location for music and food trucks. The festival offers both weekend and day passes so this event is a perfect way to kick off the spring season.

4. Enjoy food and drinks on the outdoor patio of Balter Beerworks:

Balter Beerworks, located in the Old City district, is the perfect place to grab a refreshing drink and meal while enjoying beautiful spring temperatures. The restaurant offers a patio and beer garden with plenty of pet-friendly patio seating. Happy hour is every Monday – Friday 3-6:30 pm and includes $3 draft beers and $1.50 tacos and sliders. Balter also offers weekend brunch and Friday night live music in the beer garden. The atmosphere is great, the staff is friendly, and the food is excellent. Large portions and fresh regionally sourced ingredients make the dishes great. My recommendation would be the Mediterranean salad with grilled chicken or the potato chip nachos – both are packed with flavor!

HLB: The Perfect Biscuit Spot

About a year ago, after a three hour drive to the city from Hilton Head, I found myself strolling down King Street in downtown Charleston looking for a quick snack spot. At that moment I walked into a narrow shop nestled in a long strip of buildings that smelled like warm salty buttermilk biscuits. This unique shop was Callie’s Hot Little Biscuits, or HLB as the locals call it. Today, HLB resides in both Charleston and Atlanta. My latest road trip back to Tampa routed me through Atlanta, which gave me the perfect excuse to make a quick stop in and grab some hot biscuits.

There are a few things that make Callie’s Hot Little Biscuits different than the typical biscuit. HLB serves up a variety of biscuits, both sweet and savory. The biscuit flavors range from your traditional buttermilk to blackberry to black pepper bacon. Home made accoutrements are also served such as whipped flavored butters, jams, and bacon gravy. The best part is that the biscuits come in smaller portions, perfect for mixing and matching multiple flavors. If you are anything like me, this solves the great sweet vs. savory battle that goes on every time you choose a snack or breakfast meal.

IMG_4218

Cinnamon biscuits are a mix of sweet and savory paired with whipped cinnamon filling. Black pepper and bacon, cheese chive, and plain buttermilk serve the perfect salty bite.

Callie’s HLB are the perfect warm bite – airy on the inside with a perfect buttery crisp top. The biscuits are substantial and will not crumble, while maintaining a delicate fluffiness to them.

Bite size biscuits are not the only offerings at HLB. Full size biscuit sandwiches made with regional ingredients are also a hit. Later in the afternoon, tomato soup biscuit bowls are served up and pimento sandwiches are available freshly grilled to order. Coffee, tea, and juice are also available to sip along with your biscuits.

HLB is the perfect stop for a morning stroll through downtown Charleston, South Carolina. If you are visiting or passing through Atlanta, Georgia you can find HLB in the Virginia Highland area, about 12 minutes off the interstate. Both locations offer quick service, friendly staff, and to-go options!

For those of us that are not on a road trip or within a reasonable driving distance, HLB offers frozen 12-count packs of the classic buttermilk biscuits in gourmet grocery stores like The Fresh Market. Go ahead, grab those car keys and go get some biscuits!

Rainy Day Itinerary: Tampa Bay

Florida is well known for sudden changes in weather and stormy days, which often leaves residents and travelers stuck indoors wondering what to do. Here is my favorite rainy day itinerary for the Tampa Bay area:

  1. Take a tour through the Tampa Museum of Art

The Tampa Museum of Art has an excellent display of pottery and art from the Classical World. My personal favorite displays in the museum were the sports photography and Alex Katz pieces, both of which will be on display throughout April. The Tampa Museum of Art is a great rainy day stop since admission is only $15 a person and free for college students. It also has a parking garage next door for easy parking, which is not always easy to find in Downtown Tampa.

2. Grab Lunch at Oxford Exchange

Screen Shot 2017-03-26 at 12.23.00 AM

Courtesy of Oxford Exchange on Instagram // @oxfordexchange

Rainy days call for a good cappuccino and refreshing lunch. Luckily, OE has mastered the art of both with their Buddy Brew coffee stand and seasonal fresh menu. Grab a book in their book shop and a comfortable seat to enjoy a delicious hand made coffee. Then, take a seat in their exquisite bright dining area to enjoy a great lunch. The clean bright interiors matched with the cozy coffee area make for the perfect rainy day lunch treat.

3. Spend the afternoon at Top Golf

Top Golf is great but also pretty crowded most of the time, which makes it the perfect rainy day activity. Three stories of golfing into color coded holes, great music, and a delicious menu of dishes and desserts makes Top Golf the ultimate outing for friends and families. It is completely covered overhead and each bay has comfortable seating, which allows you to stay dry and away from the rain without being cooped up inside. Top Golf is least crowded mid day and early afternoon, so make sure to golf before prices increase and things get busy in the evening.

One Tank Trip: Tarpon Springs

A 45 minute drive northwest of Tampa, Florida, Tarpon Springs is home to sponge docks, Greek heritage and unique local shops. The town of almost 24,000 people is the perfect destination for a sunny day trip!

Parking is very easy to find in a lot near the downtown water front area. The shops line the street running parallel to the sponge docks. Once parked, you can stroll the wide sidewalks lined with shops and restaurants. If you are wondering what to eat and where to stop for lunch the answer is pretty obvious. This area was established mainly by Greek immigrants that worked at the sponge docks, so authentic Greek food is the way to go.

Tarpon Springs is filled with wonderful Greek restaurants all having similar menus filled with traditional gyros, spanakopita, dolmades, and of course, baklava. My favorite of the many authentic restaurants that reside in Tarpon Springs is Hellas Bakery & Restaurant. Hella’s menu is best enjoyed family style since the plates are pretty large. A Greek salad is always my first go-to at any Greek restaurant and Hellas does not disappoint. Salty feta and Kalamata olives, creamy Greek potato salad, crisp veggies, and a tangy oil and herb vinaigrette makes this salad delicious and perfect for any warm day. I also recommend the assorted spreads platter – warm fresh pita bread and home made hummus, tzatziki, and feta dips. An order of dolmades, grape leaves filled with rice and ground beef, and spanakopita pie makes for an excellent shared meal for four people.

Once finishing off a family style meal at Hellas, you must your way over to the bakery section to grab a bite of baklava. Layers of filo dough, chopped nuts, and honey make for a sweet ending to the meal. Hellas combines bright flavors with the fresh healthy ingredients of a delicious Mediterranean diet.

After completing lunch at Hellas, a beautiful Florida day lends itself to shopping and sightseeing around the rest of the town. Look all around the area and the waterfront offers views of beautiful birds, sponge boats, and Florida wildlife.

The main street (Dodecanese Boulevard) is home to unique boutiques and sponge shops perfect for picking up hand made soaps, local sponges, and great gifts. Outside of the waterfront area there are several neat antique and home shops including Tampa Bay Salvage, which offers a neat collection of vintage and architectural salvage pieces. Tampa Bay Salvage is a great place for anyone looking to update or decorate a room in their home.

A quick drive to Tarpon Springs unlocks a day of great food, neat shopping, and unique finds – all while being able to enjoy a beautiful day on the water!

The Scoop on Cruze Farm

If you venture around Knoxville, Tennessee for more than a few days you will likely hear the name Cruze Farm come up at some point. A local favorite, the family owned farm is best known by locals for their farmer’s market stand, and most recently their Milk Bar pop-up shop.

The farm, located in East Tennessee, is home to Jersey cows the family milk on the daily. The Cruze family began by pasteurizing hormone-free whole milk, but have since created several other products using their Jersey milk. Knoxville’s obsession with Cruze Farm began when Colleen Cruze, also known as Cruze Farm Girl, started her ventures at the Market Square Famer’s Market several years ago and quickly became a regular favorite.

Cruze Farm is not your typical local farm business, it embodies Knoxville’s atmosphere and people in every way: that familiar southern charm and family heritage mixed with a unique, different and artistic feel.

On Saturday mornings you can find many of the Market Square Farmer’s Market goers in line for a fresh made buttermilk biscuit topped with a choice of savory meats or sweet jams from the Cruze Farm food truck. Delicious hot dogs with unique toppings like corn relish and cilantro are also a hit with the lunch crowd. Of course a dairy farm food truck has some creamy beverages, but instead of simply offering milk by the bottle, they offer a variety of unique milk flavors such as Chai and coffee milk. Their milks and ice creams also make appearances in well known establishments across the state of Tennessee, from Knoxville’s Whole Foods Market to the famous kitchens of Husk and Adele in Nashville.

Milk, biscuits, and hot dogs are not the only things that have followers in long lines at their food truck. A rotating selection of hand churned ice cream flavors are popular in shakes or atop cones. The homemade ice cream flavors listed on a blackboard, which often have chalk lines through them as they run out of stock, range from popular classics like birthday cake to the more unique blends like buttermilk lime cardamom.img_1465-2

The popularity of the ice cream led to Cruze Farm Girl’s summer venture, the Milk Bar. The small pop-up shop was located on Union Avenue in Downtown Knoxville in a converted store front for the summer months. It often brought lines that lasted well over 30 minutes and hugged the street sidewalks outside of the door. The hours varied each day, as did the flavor selection. One thing was certain though, the store was a direct reflection of the unique brand that Cruze Farm Girl has so thoughtfully created. From the fresh flowers to the red gingham, the pop-up was a larger expansion of the food truck that so many love.
My personal favorite Cruze Farm ice cream flavor is always a dead tie between the pumpkin (available in the fall only) and the brownie fudge ripple.img_1472 Nothing says “I’m still lingering in summer, but I’m ready to take on fall” like the pumpkin ice cream, which tastes identical to your favorite pumpkin pie filling (minus the dry store-bought crust that no one really likes). But at the same time, nothing solves my non-stop sweet tooth like the wonderfully rich brownie fudge ripple. What a dilemma… So what did they do? Oh they invented the “Dolly Parton” of course, a side by side extra large ice cream cone fittingly named after the queen of East Tennessee. This amazing invention allows you to enjoy both flavors without one melting on the other, and gives you a good laugh when reading the menu. If you think a heaping side by side double scoop of ice cream is too much, well I think Dolly herself would tell you that “You Better Get to Livin’.”

The pop-up was only for the short summer months, but Cruze Farm Girl hopes to open again in a new location next summer. Something tells me this will not be the last exciting project by Cruze Farm Girl. In the mean time, the delicious scoops, biscuits, and other treats can be found at the Market Square Farmer’s Market on Saturday mornings and around East Tennessee at events such as the Tennessee Valley Fair.

To keep up with Cruze Farm’s latest locations and retailers visit:

http://www.cruzefarm.com or https://www.facebook.com/CruzeFarm

 

 

 

OGGI: A Taste of Authentic Italy in Tampa Bay

If it weren’t for the palm tree outside the window, sitting in OGGI you would think you were on a side street in Rome eating an authentic Italian meal a few blocks from the Trevi…

Nestled in a small strip plaza along E Davis Boulevard on Davis Island, OGGI Italian Street Food is a fresh new take on your old classic neighborhood Italian restaurant. The restaurant, which serves the Tampa Bay area, transports you to Italy before you even step in the door. Located on the side of the strip plaza, OGGI utilizes the side alley space and the adjacent building to create a romantic outdoor eating area, which sets the mood for your dining experience. IMG_0420.JPGWe chose to sit inside, as dinner in 95 degrees was not the most ideal evening. But let me tell you, the outdoor seating alone made me want to come back for a visit in the fall (when just maybe the temperature will drop below 80)!

Anyway, on to the food… OGGI boasts local farm to table, non-GMO, and even free range chickens. The mozzarella is also made fresh in-house  daily. This is not your run of the mill Italian establishment. This is fresh and unique Italian made with the best ingredients.

The dinner began with a small complimentary hors d’oeuvre of bruschetta with garlic and oil marinated olives, sun dried tomatoes, and cabbage, which were tasty and satisfying as we reviewed the menu options. The dinner menu was more limited than your average Italian restaurant, but diverse enough that anyone could find something to enjoy. The Italian staples like spaghetti and meatballs and caprese salad were on there, as well as unique items like the blood orange roasted chicken. All contained simple and fresh ingredients to pull together true Italian flavors. I opted for the spaghetti and meatballs, as did the rest of my table. Although the roasted chicken was tempting, it was an easy choice because anytime I see whipped ricotta and meatballs paired on a menu I simply cannot say no. All dinner plates include a starting salad made of arugula, parmesan and olive oil. The salad was simple and light, perfect to precede the plate of carbs coming my way.

IMG_0414

The large plate of spaghetti and meatballs (really, a meal that could be shared by two) was rested in front of me topped with whipped ricotta, parmesan, and fresh bread. The marinara sauce was sweet and a nice contrast to the two giant meatballs that sat next to the spaghetti. Typically, this meal would be too heavy for me after just a few bites. However, OGGI does such a wonderful job utilizing the freshest flavors to make even a heavy plate of pasta feel fresh and vibrant. Believe it or not, I had some left over to take home with me…

After eating enough spaghetti and meatballs to last me the rest of the summer, I decided to revisit the menu remembering that something sweet had caught my eye while looking at the dinner options. Oh yes, it was the house made cannolis.

Naturally, we ordered a couple cannolis from the “Cannoli Bar” for the table to top off this wonderful Italian meal. IMG_0417The house made desserts are customizable with toppings ranging from your typical chocolate chips to something more interesting like candied dried fruit. Nuts and sprinkles are also offered if the first two options don’t appeal to you. We went with chocolate chips, because any day is not complete without some chocolate. The sweet cream filled desserts were delicious and definitely better than your store bought cannoli.

If it seems as if I have used the adjective “fresh” a few too many times in this review, it is true, but well deserved.  OGGI is a modern take on Italian that beats the typical Italian restaurant any day in my book. I have eaten at many “authentic” Italian restaurants, but none have reminded me so much of my trip to Italy like this one did. If it weren’t for the palm tree outside the window, sitting in OGGI you would think you were on a side street in Rome eating an authentic Italian meal a few blocks from the Trevi…

For more on OGGI visit http://www.oggitampa.com