This coming weekend is the kick-off to the 2017 US Coffee Champs season—the NFL playoffs of competitive coffee—with a qualifying event taking place in Knoxville, Tennessee. In a tradition that goes back several seasons, we’ve collaborated with locals to develop a Sprudge reader guide for where to eat, drink, and hang out for our readers headed to the event. But if you’re not checking out the comp—heck, if you’re a casual Sprudge reader who doesn’t know what a coffee competition is—you can still use our guide to navigate your next trip to this beautiful part of America. Knoxville has lots to offer, including one of America’s best bakeries, plentiful pork products, heaps of good local craft beer, and an internationally affiliated Scotch whisky bar with a deep, serious list.
You’re gonna have a hoot in Knoxville, we just know it. Check out these rad places and tell ’em Sprudge sent ya!
A note on Benton’s Smoky Mountain Country Ham:
Allan Benton is a living legend in the world of smoked ham—the Wilford Lamastus of pork, the Aida Batlle of swine. His eponymous Benton’s Smoky Mountain Country Hams carefully slow-cure an array of pork products in the traditional fashion at their smokehouse in Madisonville, TN (pop. 4,577), located just an hour away from Knoxville. Subsequently you will see products from Benton’s—especially their country ham and bacon—given pride of place on menus across the Knoxville region. If you go to Knoxville and don’t eat Benton’s, you are supremely Doing It Wrong, so be sure to try some at one of the many recommended restaurants below, and if you have any extra time consider cruising out to Madisonville for a porky origin trip.
A note on smoking:
This is Tennessee. Folks here love their tobacco, and you can still smoke indoors here in designated areas—and there are many such designated areas. Depending on your orientation towards tobacco this is either great news or terrible news. If you don’t want to be around the stuff, bars like Knoxville Public House are proudly 100% non-smoking.
So you’re traveling to Knoxville for a giant coffee competition. Where will you drink coffee in town? Who will provide you coffee in the morning before you go to the coffee event? What if you need coffee while taking a break from all the coffee? Here’s some recommended cafes.
Old City Java — The consensus pick from the locals we spoke with, Old City Java serves Counter Culture Coffee in a relaxed, contemporary environment in the heart of Knoxville’s hip Old City neighborhood. Dig the mural art in their outdoor chill zone and snack on salted Nutella hand tarts. 109 S Central St, Knoxville — Official website.
Wild Love Bakehouse — From the team behind Old City Java, this is a much larger space with expanded food and bakery options, and the same trusty Counter Culture Coffee. If you need chia pudding, flourless chocolate cake or vegan options, this is your breakfast spot. Some people think it’s the best bakery in America. We’ll be there. 1625 N Central St, Knoxville, TN — Official Twitter
Remedy Coffee & Maker Doughnuts — A coffee & donuts adjacent duo in the Downtown North neighborhood, Remedy serves up Intelligentsia Coffee and partners with the happy grass fed cows of Cruze Dairy Farms for milk drinks. Next door at Maker, people legit freak out for their Benton’s bacon maple doughnuts, and Friday and Saturday nights they’re open until midnight for LATE NIGHT DOUGHNUTS people. 800 Tyson St, Knoxville, TN — Official website
Brunch and / or Lunch
Knox Mason — Sources tell us this is Knoxville’s best brunch, with a focus that fuses contemporary and traditional flavors from the American South. Think local produce, buttermilk biscuits, pork products from Benton’s, and mason jar Bloody Mary’s. 131 S Gay St, Knoxville, TN — Official website
OliBea’s — A classy, minimalist tribute to breakfast foods in the heart of Old City. Build your dream breakfast a la carte or throw down on Tennessee benedicts, fried chicken biscuits or breakfast tacos. 119 S Central St, Knoxville, TN — Official website
Not Watson’s — Open daily for lunch from 11am, serving upscale diner food with a focus on proteins and lots of salads. They’ve got a surprisingly stocked bar here, with heaps of good whiskey (expected), beer (sounds about right) and tequila (less expected). 15 Market Square, Knoxville, TN — Official website
M&M BBQ — For many, no trip to the American South would be complete without sampling some BBQ. We consulted a Kansas City Barbecue Society judge and former Knoxville resident (who happens to be my older brother) and he spoke highly of M&M’s “very good” ribs and pig burger options. This spot is located a fair piece outside of town, so you’ll need access to a car or ride share, but it sounds worth it. 1039 Summer Wood Rd, Knoxville, TN — Facebook
The Stock & Barrel — Maybe you had a long day and so burgers and whiskey sound good? Go here, if for no other reason than plentiful Benton’s bacon options on their sandwiches. 35 Market Square, Knoxville, TN — Official website
The Tomato Head — Vegetarian and vegan friendly, healthy (or at least health-adjacent) options and arguably Knoxville’s best pizza, plus 18 beers on tap. 12 Market Square, Knoxville, TN — Official website
Crown and Goose — A Knoxville riff on the London gastropub with burgers, fancy fish & chips, shepherd’s pie and pimento cheese hush puppies (we’re still in Tennessee). Dark, comfortable, and pubby, with a fun vibe. The beer selection is split between locals and imports, and if you prefer whisky to whiskey, their Scotch list is solid. 123 S Central St, Knoxville, TN 37902 — Official website
*Knox Mason & Not Watson’s, listed under Brunch, also make killer dinners.
Knoxville Public House — An upscale bar with no indoor smoking, no TVs or live music, and decidedly one of the city’s best selections of whiskey, beer, and wine. Plenty of nice bar snacks here too, including rad hot dogs, Benton’s bacon pimento cheese, and big soft pretzels. 212 W Magnolia Ave, Knoxville, TN — Official website
Central Flats & Taps — Beer nerds, go here. Their tap list (26+) updates regularly and is stocked with locals like Yee-Haw Brewing Company and Mill Creek. 1204 N Central St, Knoxville, TN — Official website
Barley’s Brewhouse — Beer nerds should also go here, for 60+ taps from breweries large and small, plus pizzas available on your choice of wheat or sourdough crust. 200 E Jackson Ave, Knoxville, TN — Official website
Urban Bar — An avowedly “smoker-friendly” dive bar that we understand to be quite popular with young, carefree Knoxvillians of a fashionable bent. Who’s that making hungry eyes at you from across the bar, nursing a Fernet and a Camel Light? You’ll find out. 109 N Central St, Knoxville, TN — Official website
Peter Kern’s Library — Shhh! Don’t raise your voice—this is a speakeasy located behind the front desk of the Oliver Hotel. Here you’ll find a suspendery cocktail menu hidden in old world tomes, all in a quiet, genteel environment. Just don’t tell anybody! This is a speakeasy so keep it down! 407 Union Ave, Knoxville, TN — Official website
Boyd’s Jig and Reel — A Scottish drinking establishment, with appropriately themed pub food (bonus points for serving the Glaswegian classic Tikka Masala). J&R are a Scotch Malt Whisky Society bar, which means they get rare and unlikely bottlings direct from the SMWS in London, and their daily list is impressive by any standard. This is by far Knoxville’s best whisk(e)y list, and shockingly affordable—you’ll pay twice as much for many of these same pours in New York or Seattle. 101 S Central St, Knoxville, TN — Official website
Jordan Michelman is a co-founder and editor at Sprudge Media Network. Read more Jordan Michelman on Sprudge.
Images from Episode 3F17 “Bart On The Road” courtesy of FX Now. Watch the full episode here.