Forrest Gump once famously remarked that “life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get.”
The same could be said of East Knoxville. There’s just no telling what you’ll stumble across when you come here. And that’s a good thing. There’s a lot to see and do in East Knoxville. Much of it you’re not going to find anywhere else in town.
Take the dining. Knoxville is home to both its chain eateries and its local favorites. Then there are those adventurous places, the institutions that you may never frequent but which are local fixtures, as much a part of the Knoxville landscape as the hazy backdrop of mountains or the lightning bugs kids trap in jars on summer evenings.
East Knoxville is filled with such spots. There’s the Palavah Hut African Shop, run by a mother and daughter who came to Knoxville from Liberia as part of a refugee resettlement program. They cook African dishes like okra sauce, Liberian chicken gravy and jollof rice. There are tamale restaurants. Other neighborhood eateries include Chandler’s Deli Restaurant with its “bonesucking B.B.Q.” and Lema’s Worlds’ Famous Chitlins. While you’re here, raise a glass of Mountain Dew high; it was on Magnolia in East Knoxville that the original recipe for Mountain Dew was born.
But you won’t just get a full stomach in East Knoxville. You may also find hope for the human race. East Knoxville is perhaps the most racially diverse area of town. Stroll through a residential section of the area in the evening and you’ll see neighbors out on porches or in front yards talking to one another. Some are white. Many are black. A few are Asian or Latino. Most everyone gets along just fine.
East Knoxville is home to Knoxville’s only zoo. A great place for both kids and adults, Knoxville Zoological Gardens houses more than 800 animals of 230 species. The 53-acre park is visited by 400,000 people each year. If the giraffes, elephants, tigers and African elephants aren’t enough, each year the zoo hosts special events. Boo! at the Zoo invites children to trick-or-treat at the zoo on Halloween. Feast with the Beasts lets guests 21 years and older sample foods and beverages from area restaurants while live bands play onstage.
Chilhowee Park, another East Knoxville park, is an 80-acre venue with a 4,500-seat amphitheater. The park often hosts events like car, motorcycle or craft guild shows. The park usually hosts much of the city’s annual Kuumba Festival, which is the largest African-American cultural arts festival in East Tennessee. In the fall the park is home to the annual Tennessee Valley Fair. Heck, there’s even a ’rasslin’ match every now and again. A science center called the East Tennessee Discovery Center is also in the park.
The Mabry-Hazen House Museum also is in East Knoxville. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the home showcases a collection of original artifacts from the Victorian and Civil War eras. The home, which was headquarters for both Union and Confederate troops during the Civil War, is also the site of a four-acre Civil War cemetery.
The Beck Cultural Exchange Center is another area attraction. The museum collects and preserves African-American culture. Exhibited are books, journals, newspapers, scrapbooks and audio recordings.
Meanwhile, Knoxville Center Mall, which many locals still insist on calling East Town Mall (its original name), is one of the city’s two indoor shopping malls. It has stores. People buy things. You know how that goes.
It has a mall, but East Knoxville is much more than that.