Saturdays in the South: Knoxville, Tennessee

Neyland Stadium UTKThe last place you would ever expect to find a navy is at the door step of the Smokey Mountains, but that is exactly where you will find the Vol Navy.  First begun in 1962, it is truly a unique tailgating experience.  200 sum odd bass boats, party barges, and yachts converge on Volunteer Landing in downtown Knoxville each game day.

In a phenomenon called rafting, they tie off to one another creating a floating walkway to the shore.  As folks travel to dry land they cross onto the vessels of perfect strangers and old friends alike, often swapping a libation or sampling a little food as they go.  They come from all over but they share the same destination, Neyland Stadium – the largest football facility in the conference.  Neyland has seating for over 107,000 people.

The Vol Navy is just one of the timeless traditions found on the campus originally founded as Blount College in 1794.  Other must see’s for those visiting Knoxville on game days include watching the Pride of the Southland band march down “the Hill,” past the library, and into the stadium, tailgating at Circle Park, cheering the team as they enter the field through the giant “T” formed by the UT band, and that legendary checkerboard end zone.

Many alumni like to walk the grounds of campus remembering days gone-by and sharing memories with the next generation.  They traverse streets with names like Phil Fulmer Way, Peyton Manning Pass, and Neyland Drive passing the oldest building on campus South College Hall (1872) to visit Thompson-Boling Arena and marvel at the many banners won by Pat Summit’s Lady Vol’s basketball team.  After hitting the campus bookstore, a few moments rest on the “T” bench in front of Ayers Hall is order.

For those so inclined there is popcorn and Coke available at the student center and the auditorium shows other games for folks keeping track of second favorite teams and bitter rivals.  Many enjoy a little pre-game breakfast of coffee and confections from the Chocolate Factory (10th St.) or a more traditional morning meal at Long’s Drug Store (Kingston Pike).  During the game 100,000+ orange clad fans shake the very foundation of the stadium as they sip on Tennessee whiskey and sing “Rocky Top” for the 17,413th time that day.

Another victory secured, many trek back to the floating tailgate in all probability stopping off at the Bridge View Grill (Neyland Drive) for the breathtaking view of the Tennessee River, downtown skyline, and Neyland Stadium while scarfing grub like blackened seafood fondue, NY Strip sandwich, or the Perfect Pass (espresso crusted beef tenderloin with Chambord demi-glace, Gorgonzola potatoes, and steamed broccoli).  Still others head for the Strip.

Located just a few blocks from the stadium the Strip is party central in Knoxville.  It boasts hotspots like the Cumberland Tap Room (Cumberland Ave.), Copper Cellar (Cumberland Ave.), Cool Beans (Lake Ave.), and Half Barrel (Cumberland Ave.).  The elder statesman of the Strip is the Old College Inn (Cumberland Ave.) which is open until 3AM on Saturdays.  The menu highlights include a meatball hoagie, burgers served on English muffins, and the Two Ticket catfish sandwich (acquiring this recipe cost the owner two tickets to the ‘96 UT/Bama game).

Other favorite post game haunts include Regas Steak House (North Gay St.) with a menu that features a shaved roast prime rib sandwich, spinach & strawberry salad, French fried mushrooms, and New Zealand lobster tail.  There is also Ye Olde Steak House (Chapman Highway) named the #1 restaurant in the SEC by the Montgomery Journal and voted best steak house in Knoxville ten different times by the Knoxville Metro Pulse.  The menu is mostly steaks with a few chicken and seafood dishes thrown in for good measure and notables like the Woodshed potatoes (peppery skillet fried potato rounds with smothered onions), a 20 oz. Porterhouse, a 20 oz. NY strip, and the King steak burger with cheese which is considered the best burger in town.  Litton’s Market (Essary Dr.) is famous for the Thunder Road, a burger with pimento cheese, grilled onion and bacon.

Some fancy Aubrey’s (Lamar Alexander Parkway) because of their thick cut potato chips with buttermilk garlic dipping sauce, pizza Rockefeller (grilled chicken and spinach queso on a tortilla crust), peanut crusted catfish fingers with lemon-caper dipping sauce, and sides like Cinnamon apples (an Appalachian staple).   Another post game ritual is Calhoun’s on the River (Neyland Drive) whose menu shines with morsels like white chili, Steak Calhoun (a sirloin grilled and glazed with Calhoun’s signature BBQ sauce), and an 18 inch tall funnel filled with your favorite draft or a hand-crafted micro-brewed beer called the Half-yard.

Tennessee is most noted for its barbecue, mainly pork and while Calhoun’s is great (their hickory smoked baby-back ribs have won the title of “Best Ribs in America” from the prestigious National Rib Cook-Off) it is not the only BBQ to be had in Knoxville.  More award winning que can be found at Scrugg’s Real Pit Barbecue (East Magnolia Avenue) and Buddy’s Bar-B-Q’s (Kingston Pike).  No wonder they call Tennessee the “Barbecue Belt”.

For Sunday brunch there is no better choice than Riverside Tavern (Volunteer Landing Lane). The brunch menu is striking with offerings such as the Crème Brulée French toast, Maryland blue crab frittata, and trout Amandine.  In the back ground plays a little live jazz which provides a serene soundtrack to the dispersal of the Vol Navy until the next game.

Few things can match the beauty of an East Tennessee autumn so make sure to take in your surroundings while in the stomping grounds of Davy Crocket and Admiral David Farragut.

Appalachian Cinnamon Apples
Recipe Type: Side
Author: Stuart Reb Donald
Prep time: 10 mins
Cook time: 40 mins
Total time: 50 mins
Serves: 4
  • 4 baking apples
  • 1/2 cup packed brown sugar
  • 4 teaspoons butter
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  1. Remove core from apples.
  2. Peel upper half of apple or 1-inch strip from middle to prevent splitting.
  3. Place upright in baking dish.
  4. Place 2 tablespoons brown sugar, 1 teaspoon butter and 1/8 teaspoon cinnamon in center of each apple. Pour water into baking dish to 1/4-inch depth.
  5. Bake at 375 degrees for 30 to 40 minutes or until tender when pierced with fork, basting several times.

Rome Beauty, Golden Delicious and Greening are good baking apples to use.
May substitute grenadine syrup for brown sugar or omit cinnamon and place 1 tablespoon granola, 2 teaspoons brown sugar and 1 teaspoon butter in each apple.
May omit water and microwave for 6 to 8 minutes.

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Stuart in 80 Words or Less
Stuart is a celebrity chef, food activist and award-winning food writer. He penned the cookbooks Third Coast Cuisine: Recipes of the Gulf of Mexico, No Sides Needed: 34 Recipes To Simplify Life and Amigeauxs - Mexican/Creole Fusion Cuisine. He hosts two Internet cooking shows "Everyday Gourmet" and "Little Grill Big Flavor." His recipes have been featured in Current, Lagniappe, Southern Tailgater, The Kitchen Hotline and on the Cooking Channel.

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Stuart’s Honors & Awards
2015 1st Place Luck of the Irish Cook-off
2015 4th Place Downtown Cajun Cook-off
2015 2nd Place Fins' Wings & Chili Cook-off
2014 2015 4th Place LA Gumbo Cook-off
2012 Taste Award nominee for best chef (web)
2012 Finalist in the Safeway Next Chef Contest
2011 Taste Award Nominee for Little Grill Big Flavor
2011, 12 Member: Council of Media Tastemakers
2011 Judge: 29th Chef's of the Coast Cook-off
2011 Judge: Dauphin Island Wing Cook-off
2011 Cooking Channel Perfect 3 Recipe Finalist
2011 Judge: Dauphin Island Gumbo Cook-off
2011 Culinary Hall of Fame Member
2010 Tasty Awards Judge
2010 Judge: Bayou La Batre Gumbo Cook-off
2010 Gourmand World Cookbook Award Nominee
2010 Chef2Chef Top 10 Best Food Blogs
2010 Denay's Top 10 Best Food Blogs
2009 2nd Place Bay Area Food Bank Chef Challenge
2008 Tava: Discovery Contest Runner-up
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