The Grub Scout: The Grill at Highlands Row brings back high standards

The Grill at Highlands Row

Food: 4 1/2 stars

Service:5 stars

Atmosphere: 4 1/2 stars

Overall: 4 1/2 stars

Address: 4705 Old Kingston Pike

Phone: 865-851-7722

Hours: 5 to 10 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays

Full bar service

Reservations accepted

From the 1930s to the 1960s, Highlands Grill offered Knoxville residents a fine-dining experience on what is now known as Old Kingston Pike. The local landmark was easily accessible to residents of Sequoyah Hills, which was then on the western outskirts of town. For the next 40 years, the site was home to a gift shop, which closed in 2005.

These days, developer Tom Weiss has restored the building to its original condition and brought fine dining back as well, thanks to a new restaurant called The Grill at Highlands Row. Although the cuisine is once again upscale, the setting is casual and comfortable, as The Grub Spouse and I discovered on a recent visit.

The dining room is wide open, spacious and sunny (during the day) and leads to a smaller lounge in the back. The main room features wood-plank walls and a vaulted, exposed-rafters ceiling. Touches like gas lanterns and hand-forged iron accents add an “Old World” feel.

We started out with a selection from the small plates menu, going with Uncle Mike’s fried grit cakes and passing on other tempting items like the Laurel Creek smoked sausage plate and the Appalachicola oysters. The grit cakes were wonderfully paired with a spicy jicama salsa and dilled crème fraiche, although the deep-fried grits stood well on their own.

Entrees are primarily divided into steaks, seafood and a few miscellaneous pork and chicken dishes. Steak options include a seven-ounce filet mignon, a 24-ounce “Cowboy” bone-in rib-eye and a 10-ounce prime sirloin. I went with the Highlands Special, an eight-ounce petite tender served one of two ways. The classic special is made with house butter and seasonings, but I went with the Pascagoula variation, prepared with shallots, garlic, olives and green peppercorns sautéed in olive oil. I chose a Caesar salad and smoked Gouda grits (I was craving grits) as my sides.

The Spouse focused on the seafood selection, featuring Carolina red trout, baked red snapper and a high-country boil consisting of shrimp, mussels, crab, fish and grilled smoked sausage with red potatoes and roasted corn. The Spouse chose the Highlands crab cakes, served with remoulade and cucumber fennel slaw. The Spouse substituted a side of okra fries for a salad.

I was impressed with The Grill’s other side selections, which include grilled asparagus, black-eyed peas, rice casserole, Sweetwater Valley mac and cheese and sautéed greens.

Meanwhile, we snacked on delicious homemade bread—crusty outside, warm and soft inside—and a couple of deep-fried corn balls, which were less dense than a traditional hush puppy and awesomely tasty.

The Spouse’s two crab cakes were big on crab, minimal on filler, and nicely accented by the remoulade. Although okra’s not my fave, I still thought the fried (but not breaded) julienned strips of okra were quite good. My steak was seasoned nicely, but I had requested medium cooking, and this steak was more on the well-done side. I also thought the garlic-olive-peppercorn mixture was too intense, but since it was served on the side I was able to control the ratio. The Gouda grits were outstanding, as was the Caesar salad, which was prepared with large, single leaves of greens, drizzled with dressing and topped with just a handful of large Parmesan cheese crisps and bread crusts.

We finished with a turtle bread pudding topped with homemade chocolate ice cream that was absolutely to die for. So I think I’d be happy to endure a good grilling from this new restaurant any time.

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