Grub Scout: The Lunchbox offers a working option for downtown's on-the-go diners

The Lunchbox

  • Food: ***1⁄2
  • Service: ***1⁄2
  • Atmosphere: ***1⁄2
  • Overall: ***1⁄2
  • Address: 800 S. Gay St.
  • Phone: 865-525-7421
  • Hours: 11 a.m.-2 p.m. Mondays-Fridays
  • Seating: First come, first served
  • No alcohol service

The masses that work inside the First Tennessee building downtown have several in-house options when it comes to grabbing some lunchtime grub. On the main floor, there’s a mini food court of sorts, featuring some familiar brand-name eateries as well as a few establishments unique to Knoxville. The Grub Spouse and I recently decided to sit down for lunch at one of them — The Lunchbox.

It looked like a good option for workers who may not have the time or inclination to walk down the street for food but who don’t want to stand in line or who crave something a little more than fast food. We were seated in a booth in the main dining room, which has a commissary feel to it, even though it’s a full-service restaurant. There is also a U-shaped counter, where solo guests can seat themselves efficiently.

The menu changes monthly and is broken down into daily and weekly specials. On the day we stopped in, shrimp and pasta salad, and a walnut chicken salad pita with fruit salad would be available throughout the week, while the featured item of the day was spaghetti and meat sauce with a roll. Other dishes that jumped out from the monthly lineup include chicken and dumplings, quiche, tamale pie, stuffed pork chops, shrimp jambalaya and meatloaf.

Neither of us was interested in the full-time roundup of sandwiches, like tuna salad, pimento cheese and smoked turkey. Soups (vegetable beef, chicken noodle, split pea, clam chowder, to name a few) and salads round out the selection and are incorporated into several combo meals. Those getting side items can choose from the likes of cole slaw, pasta salad, pumpkin muffin, banana nut muffin and Waldorf salad.

The Spouse thought the chicken salad pita sounded like a winner, and I decided to give the spaghetti a whirl. I added on a small side salad just for variety.

Our food was delivered amazingly quickly — literally, within just a couple of minutes. It would seem that would be advantageous for those with limited lunch breaks, being able to sit down and enjoy a full-service meal without having to constantly watch the clock.

The items we tried that day were passable though not remarkable. The spaghetti sauce was generously loaded with ground beef, although the flavor of the sauce was only fair. Likewise, The Spouse’s chicken salad didn’t really transcend the ordinary, and I felt it could have been stuffed a little more abundantly into the pita bread.

We did end on a positive note thanks to the slice of homemade coconut cream pie. Other options included carrot cake and strawberry cheesecake, but we were quite pleased with the custardy flavor and flaky crust of the coconut cream.

In addition to hosting lunch, The Lunchbox does a brisk take-out business, and it caters weddings and other special events. I wouldn’t likely go out of my way to do a repeat meal at The Lunchbox, but for those who are working or perhaps even shopping downtown, it could be considered worth working into the rotation.

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