East Tennessee's Best 2010: Dining and food

Best Bakery - Magpies
Peggy Hambright. owner of Magpies, displays some of her miniature cupcakes. The north Knoxville establishment was voted Best Bakery in East Tennessee.

Photo by J. Miles Cary // Buy this photo

Best Bakery - Magpies

Peggy Hambright. owner of Magpies, displays some of her miniature cupcakes. The north Knoxville establishment was voted Best Bakery in East Tennessee.

BEST ICE CREAM/FROZEN YOGURT: MARBLE SLAB CREAMERY

Various locations

Ice cream is the ultimate summer treat. Popsicles are too cold and are little more than flavored ice. Watermelon has seeds and takes too much time to slice (unless you can hire an out-of-work Gallagher to bust one open for you).

But ice cream is a cold, sweet, multi-textured treat. Plus, at Marble Slab, you can eat ice cream every day of the year and never have it the same way twice.

Marble Slab starts with you choosing one of several homemade, gourmet ice cream flavors, like the decadent, uber-chocolately fudge or the creamy cotton candy.

Next, you'll decide which candies, nuts or fruits to have mixed in with your flavor base. Maybe you'll swirl in strawberries against a cheesecake backdrop. Or perhaps you'll tickle your tummy with some walnuts in the honey. Or you could overload on cocoa with chocolate chips in your double dark chocolate.

Whatever you end up with, it will be an experience well worth repeating.

Runners-up: Bruster's Real Ice Cream, Menchie's Frozen Yogurt

BEST BAKERY: MAGPIES CAKES

846 N. Central St.

Best Bakery - Magpies
Peggy Hambright. owner of Magpies, displays some of her miniature cupcakes. The north Knoxville establishment was voted Best Bakery in East Tennessee.

Photo by J. Miles Cary

Best Bakery - Magpies

Peggy Hambright. owner of Magpies, displays some of her miniature cupcakes. The north Knoxville establishment was voted Best Bakery in East Tennessee.

We submit to you that there is nothing quite so amazing in life that it cannot be made more fantastic by the mere addition of cake. Conversely, the removal of cake from any occasion makes it less worthy of our attention and praise. Picture a birthday party, retirement celebration or wedding lacking in miniature plates topped with slices of moist, bread-like goodness. Did you frown inside? Yes, you did.

Magpies is here to turn that frown upside down, and maybe inside out. Located in the Old North Knoxville neighborhood, this buttery bakery concentrates on cakes and cupcakes, with a particular affinity for unique flavors and specialty orders.

Give your taste buds a celebration with tastes like Mocha Mambo, Key Lime Coconut Mango or Lemon Raspberry. Or keep the party going all day with an assorted batch of cupcakes or minis. Diabetes has never been so delicious.

Runners-up: Litton's Market and Restaurant, Rita's Bakery

BEST DESSERTS: LITTON'S MARKET & amp; RESTAURANT

2803 Essary Drive

Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy seem like nice enough people. They're always bringing us toys or chocolate eggs or swapping out our bicuspids for pocket change. But what if there was a pie fairy that delivered ooey gooey cakes and pies right to your door step?

There is. Not only does Litton's Market have the best desserts in East Tennessee. They may also have the best desserts anywhere. Litton's Direct to You lets you special order and ship the bakery's delectable baked goods to your out of state friends and family.

Want to get on and stay on your sister's good side? Send her a Chocolate Malt Cheesecake or a batch of Lemon Tea Cake cookies. While you're at it, send yourself a Strawberry Cake as well. You wouldn't want to feel left out, would you?

Runners-up: Gondolier Italian Restaurant & amp; Pizza, Magpies Cakes

BEST OUTDOOR/PATIO DINING: LAKESIDE TAVERN

10911 Concord Park Drive

Location, location, location. That's what Lakeside Tavern has going for it.

This West Knoxville restaurant sits right on the water, overlooking Concord Marina in the midst of Concord Park. Two patios provide intimate views of the beautiful shoreline and river. Even seated inside, there are full window views of the marina and a crackling fireplace in the winter.

But don't spend so much time enjoying the view that you forget to order a hand-cut steak or brick oven fired pizza, as well as a bottle of Louis Martini Cabernet. Reserve the Sunset Room for your holiday party or rehearsal dinner for a stunning meal overlooking a watery East Tennessee sunset.

Runners-up: Calhoun's on the River, Aubrey's Restaurant

BEST WINGS: WILD WING CAFE

11335 Campbell Lakes Drive, Farragut

Spicy or not spicy? Spicy and not spicy? How spicy? How many?

Best Wings - Wild Wing Café
Caitlin Zyskowski shows off a fine basket of onion rings at Wild Wing Cafe, which won the titles of Best Wings and Best Sports Bar in our readers' poll.

Photo by J. Miles Cary

Best Wings - Wild Wing Café

Caitlin Zyskowski shows off a fine basket of onion rings at Wild Wing Cafe, which won the titles of Best Wings and Best Sports Bar in our readers' poll.

These are the questions that must be considered when visiting Wild Wing Café.

Wild Wing has lots of wings and lots of varieties of wings. There are more than 30 flavors, ranging from Virgin ("The perfect choice for kids, rookies and wimpy wing eaters") to Chernobyl ("We've turned up the heat on this atomic treat!").

But between the spice and not spice, there are also hints of lemon pepper, honey barbecue, lime and cilantro to mix things up on your palate. Portion sizes vary as well -- choose from eight, 12, 16, 20, 25 or 50. The 25 piece is a sampler, so you pick five flavors of wings to see what you like best.

Runners-up: Buffalo Wild Wings, Hooters

BEST SUSHI BAR: NAMA SUSHI BAR

135 S. Gay St. and 5130 Kingston Pike

Finally, finally, finally, the day all of Knoxville's sushkins awaited has passed us. Ding dong, the merry oh, sing it high, sing it low. Let them know the broken street is fixed.

And even though Nama Sushi Bar on Gay Street stayed open throughout the 100 block construction on Gay Street, we can't deny the urge to celebrate that it's finally over. We'll do it by eating sushi, naturally.

Knoxville's two Nama locations (the other is in Bearden) are a whirlwind of creativity and a fusion of Japanese tradition with more Americanized tastes. If you're new to sushi, Nama is a great place to get acquainted. Break in easy with treats like the Maui Wowie or Crazy Tuna. Or go all out with octopus sashimi. You'll be back soon enough, and breaking into song on the way.

Oh, and newbies? Easy on the wasabi. You do not want to eat that with a spoon. Trust us.

Runners-up: Wasabi Japanese Steakhouse & amp; Sushi Bar, Tomo Japanese Restaurant

BEST STEAKS: YE OLDE STEAK HOUSE

6838 Chapman Highway

Four decades is a long time. It's especially lengthy for a restaurant to remain in business, particularly in a day where new strip malls pop up overnight, and where half of the buildings on a block are torn down and replacements built in the space of a decade. There's something to be said for constants, for things that don't change. Daniel Faraday and Desmond Hume told us so.

Ye Olde Steak House is our constant. This King family-run steak house has been a South Knoxville tradition since 1968. Even a 2002 fire and temporary relocation couldn't keep them down.

Ye Olde Steak House uses Iowa grain-fed beef to cook its juicy, tender meat. Try the 20-ounce porterhouse if you yourself are trying to beef up. Or there's no shame in the 10-ounce ribeye either. Served with salad, a side dish and fresh from the oven homemade bread, these steaks are cooked just the way you like them -- perfect.

Runners-up: Fleming's Prime Steakhouse & amp; Wine Bar, Ruth's Chris Steak House

BEST HOT DOGS: DAVE'S DOG HOUSE

Various locations

Best of East Tennessee- Best Hot Dog
David, owner of Dave's Dog House, fixes a hot dog for a customer on Market Square Mall in downtown Knoxville. Dave's hot dog business won Best Hot Dog in our poll.

Photo by J. Miles Cary

Best of East Tennessee- Best Hot Dog

David, owner of Dave's Dog House, fixes a hot dog for a customer on Market Square Mall in downtown Knoxville. Dave's hot dog business won Best Hot Dog in our poll.

Hot dogs are flexible, versatile and tasty. A simple meat stick wrapped in bread, the hot dog is easy to prepare, eat and carry. You can consume them anywhere. Sneak one into the movies in your purse, carry one while jogging or fleeing your enemies, whatever. Eat them plain or add toppings.

No one does them better than Dave's Dog House. Dave's Dog House is a catering company run and owned by David and Brenda Forsythe. You'll spot the Forsythe's carts at various events around Knoxville and the East Tennessee area. They are on Market Square on week days, weather permitting. They also set up at several Lowe's stores in the area and at Farragut freshmen and varsity home football games. Dave's Dog House caters all kinds of private and public happenings, including corporate events, birthday parties, employee appreciation days and so on.

Dave's Dog House serves smoked sausages and 100 percent all beef hot dogs, plus 14 different toppings to go on them. Whether you need hot dogs for 650 people or just to smuggle into "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part I," they've got a dog in the fight.

Runners-up: Litton's Market and Restaurant, Sonic

BEST HAMBURGER: LITTON'S MARKET & amp; RESTAURANT

2803 Essary Drive

Hey you. Yeah, you. You in the green shirt. You're feeling hungry, aren't you? It was a long day at work and you didn't get any lunch. Now your stomach is rumbling so much that the man a few feet away is his rotating his palms skyward and asking the woman standing next to him, "Was that thunder?"

You should do something about that. You should eat a hamburger from Litton's in Fountain City. That would ease your pangs.

Just think how good that Litton's burger will smell when your server slides it across the table with a plate of hot fries. Think how crisp the lettuce will be and how juicy the tomato is and about the sweet tang of the onion. Think how satisfying that first bite will be as you lift it up to your lips. Think about the flavor of that ground beef as it says hello to your taste buds. Satisfying, isn't it? WELL, GET A ROOM, YOU TWO!

Runners-up: Five Guys Burgers and Fries, Creamery Park Grille

BEST SEAFOOD: CHESAPEAKE'S

500 Henley St.

In 1982, the ocean came to Knoxville in the form of Chesapeake's. The downtown Knoxville restaurant takes its name from the Chesapeake Bay's status as a seafood provider, and more than lives up to that Atlantic estuary's reputation.

On the menu? "Seafood so fresh you'll swear your feet are wet." That includes authentic Maryland crab cakes, live Maine lobster, and fresh fish that arrives daily, from Alaskan salmon to Florida grouper (they like to get all the coastal states involved). Even much of the decor is authentic nautical antiques and artifacts. Fish is filleted on the premises.

And for dessert? East Coast oysters. Or maybe just key lime pie or homemade cheesecake.

Runners-up: Bonefish Grill, Red Lobster

BEST SALAD: CREAMERY PARK GRILLE

114 Hotel Ave.

Being enthusiastic about salad is like being enthusiastic about the color white. It's bland and just kind of there.

That's unless your salad is from Creamery Park Grille. These Fountain City salads aren't as simple as lettuce, tomato, croutons and dressing. Nope. Not by a long shot. These salads are gourmet affairs.

Take the Apple Waldorf. It's a blend of field greens, crisp apples, raisins, cheddar cheese and toasted pecans. Served alongside is an apple vinaigrette and fresh grilled chicken. Or try the Trio, which is a scoop of tuna salad, egg salad and chicken, all served on a bed of lettuce.

That's more than enough to convince us about the salad. But, white, you're on your own.

Runners-up: Aubrey's Restaurant, Ruby Tuesday

BEST BARBECUE: DEAD END BBQ

3621 Sutherland Ave.

It looks like it's the end of the road. But that's not necessarily a bad thing. That just means the search is over and that you've found what you're after.

In the case of tantalizing barbecue, that stop is Dead End BBQ on Sutherland Avenue. This restaurant was born out of the time-honored tradition of neighbors getting together to fix barbecue and compete in professional barbecue cook-offs. Now the restaurant takes you there.

Dead End BBQ takes its meats through a long process of dry rubs, slow smoking and other top secret methods they probably have sealed up in a safe somewhere. But whatever they do to those ribs and that pork, beef and chicken, it comes out tender and wonderful. Specialties include BBQ Nachos, the BBQ Combo Plate, which allows you to taste three meats, and sandwiches like the Grilled Smoked Bologna. The sides aren't bad either, with the likes of corn on the cob, macaroni and pimento cheese, or beans and smoked sausage.

All in all, it's good to end up at this dead end.

Runners-up: Buddy's Bar-B-Q, Famous Dave's BBQ

BEST RIBS: CALHOUN'S

Various locations

East Tennessee likes them in a crib. East Tennessee likes them with a bib. East Tennessee likes them here or there. East Tennessee likes them anywhere. East Tennessee likes Calhoun's ribs. Um, that's all we got, we do not fib.

Believe East Tennesseeans when they tell you that they will go through Sam-I-Am and anyone else who stands between them and Calhoun's award-winning baby-back ribs. These slowly smoked ribs are basted on the grill with Calhoun's famous Bar-B-Que sauce. Grab a wet nap and maybe even a towel. These baby back babies will not last long.

Runners-up: Famous Dave's BBQ, Texas Roadhouse

BEST APPETIZERS: BONEFISH GRILL

6610 Kingston Pike and 11395 Parkside Drive

The first Bonefish Grill crawled from the depths of sea in St. Petersburg, Florida in 2000. The restaurant has since migrated across the country and now has locations in 28 states. The restaurant is known for its seafood, its big city bar and for cooking its food over a wood-burning grill. And don't forget those appetizers.

The starters at Bonefish Grill are all made from scratch daily. Almost all are seafood based. For instance, try the Ahi Tuna Sashimi, which is sesame seared, and sliced with wasabi and pickled ginger. Or share the Bacon Wrapped Atlantic Sea Scallops, topped with chutney and served with mango salsa.

You know, you may just want to get three or four starters and make it a seafood tapas night.

Runners-up: Applebee's, Dead End BBQ

BEST SUNDAY BRUNCH: COPPER CELLAR

1807 Cumberland Ave. and 7316 Kingston Pike

Sundays are conducive to two things: relaxing and eating. Copper Cellar provides the space for both.

Copper Cellar has two locations in Knoxville. The restaurant's original location is on Cumberland Avenue on the University of Tennessee campus. The second is further west, in the aptly named West Hills area. Either destination you visit is amply prepared to bombard you with Sunday brunch goodness.

This feastly smorgasbord is overwhelming. Choose from scrambled eggs, bacon, sausage, smoked salmon, tomato basil shrimp, cheese grits, pastries, you name it. If you're feeling creative, make your own fajitas, prepare a Belgian waffle or select the ingredients for your own personalized omelets.

You'll leave stuffed and ready for that other perfect Sunday tradition -- a nap on the couch.

Runners-up: Creamery Park Grille, Downtown Grill & amp; Brewery

BEST BREAKFAST: CRACKER BARREL OLD COUNTRY STORE

Various locations

Have you ever been to one of those places that stop serving breakfast at 10:30 a.m.? What's up with that? We don't even have pants on that early. And who wants a cheeseburger and french fries at 10:31 a.m.?

We like breakfast two ways: old fashioned and all the time. Cracker Barrel has both of those covered, probably in syrup or gravy. Kick it old school with some with some coffee, orange juice, eggs, grits, homemade buttermilk biscuits, fried apples, hashbrown casserole, smoked sausage, country ham, bacon, pancakes, apple butter, country fried steak, grilled pork chop ... Well, you get the idea.

Runners-up: IHOP, Pete's Coffee Shop

BEST LOCAL DINER: LITTON'S MARKET & amp; RESTAURANT

2803 Essary Drive

The diner seems to be uniquely American. They're a dying breed, but the best ones remind you of small town main streets littered with mom and pop shops. Call it a greasy spoon or a diner, but you'll leave full and unspoiled by suburbia. Waltz in, saunter over to your favorite table or sit at the counter. Order a cup of coffee or a Coke, maybe even a beer.

Litton's retains the familiar diner aura. Write your name on the chalkboard. Sit by the locals. Order one of the blue plate lunch specials, dished up with homemade bread and two side items. Tuesday is fried chicken day. Thursday is meat loaf. But any day of the week is a good reason to pay a visit.

Runners-up: Fountain City Diner, Pete's Coffee Shop

BEST LATE-NIGHT RESTAURANT: WAFFLE HOUSE

Various locations

If it's 3:30 a.m. and you're still awake, you might as well eat. There's not really too much else you could be doing at that hour that won't land you in a cell with a guy named Bubba.

It's equally true that anything consumed at that hour must be greasy, salty and deliciously bad for you. Seriously, it's a rule. Check the Bible.

Waffle House is there to supply the foodstuff for those late night cravings. The 24-hour diner is 1,600 restaurants strong, which means that every minute of the day they serve up 368 strips of bacon, 204 orders of hash browns, 159 waffles, 136 cups of coffee and 115 sausage patties. Make sure some of that food is yours.

Runners-up: IHOP, Krystal

BEST OVERALL RESTAURANT: PULEO'S GRILLE

Various locations

There are a lot of things that make a restaurant great. It helps to have a variety of food, so that there's something for everyone. Multiple locations can be a good thing as well, so you have convenient access to the food without having to spend an extra 30 minutes getting there (that's time when you could be eating appetizers, after all). It doesn't hurt for the food to remind you of your own culture and heritage either.

Puleo's Grille has all of those things going for it. Puleo's Grille was founded in Knoxville in 2002. The restaurant infuses Southern and Italian traditions into a variety of food offerings. Mix fried green tomatoes or shrimp and grits with chicken penne pasta or pasta alfredo. Or go with the steak or seafood. You can't miss.

Additionally, Puleo's Grille now has three Knoxville locations, as well as restaurants in Alcoa, Cookeville and Murfreesboro, allowing you to enjoy the taste of home even when you aren't quite there yet.

Runners-up: Aubrey's Restaurant, Regas Restaurant

BEST ROMANTIC DINING: THE MELTING POT

111 N. Central St.

Eating dinner out is a fairly passive experience. You go, you sit, you decide what you want, someone brings it to you, you eat, you leave. Sure, there's no time spent grocery shopping or chopping onions or scrubbing pots afterwards. But, still, a little interaction is a good thing.

The Melting Pot provides that interaction. This fondue restaurant gives diners a relaxed, memorable eating experience. The fondue dinner consists of four courses: cheese fondue, salad, entrée and chocolate fondue. The cheese fondue includes breads, vegetables and apples for your dipping pleasure. Dessert includes three types of melting chocolate, with fruits and cakes for smothering in the sweetness. Stop by for a full meal or just order dessert. Either way, you'll be flirting, blushing and feeding your significant other strawberries while your heart melts along with the chocolate.

Runners-up: Regas Restaurant, Naples Italian Restaurant

BEST WATERFRONT DINING: CALHOUN'S ON THE RIVER

400 Neyland Drive

Looking for a great spot to watch the next Boomsday away from the huddling masses yearning to break you? Calhoun's on the River is right there on Neyland Drive adjacent to Volunteer Landing. Consequently, you can see the impressive explosions from the comfort of a seat on the patio while eating some of Calhoun's famous ribs.

It's a pretty good view the other 364 days of the year, too. Calhoun's on the River opened in 1988. During football season and basketball season, its location near Neyland Stadium and Thompson-Boling Arena makes it a convenient spot for pregame or postgame celebration. The restaurant is also accessible by boat and has its own dock.

Runners-up: Lakeside Tavern, Ruth's Chris Steak House

BEST SPORTS BAR: WILD WING CAFE

11335 Campbell Lakes Drive, Farragut

Sports are more fun with friends. Sports are also more fun with food. This seems to be a universal rule. If you can't be at the game itself, chugging a beer in the stands and yelling at a buddy, the next best thing is to chug a beer at Wild Wing Cafe and yell at a buddy.

Wild Wing Cafe in Farragut bills itself as the home of hot wings, cold beer and good times. That's more than accurate. The drink specials are plentiful, the wings are hot and spicy, the UCF fights are on the screen, the live music is on stage and the happy is all inside you.

Runners-up: Rooster's Bar and Grill, Buffalo Wild Wings

BEST PIZZA PLACE: BIG ED'S PIZZA

101 Broadway Ave., Oak Ridge

Fact: You are hungry.

Best Pizza – Big Ed's Pizza
Yusuf Irlandi makes a pizza at Big Ed's in Oak Ridge. Big Ed's won the Best Pizza Place category in the our 2010 poll.

Best Pizza – Big Ed's Pizza

Yusuf Irlandi makes a pizza at Big Ed's in Oak Ridge. Big Ed's won the Best Pizza Place category in the our 2010 poll.

Fact: Pizza is delicious.

Fact: Big Ed's Pizza is even more delicious.

Fact: Big Ed's Pizza is located in Oak Ridge on historic Jackson Square.

Fact: You should drive there and order a large thin crust pizza pie smothered in molten hot cheese, pepperoni and mushrooms.

Fact: If you are reading this while located in Seattle, you should still drive all the way to Oak Ridge to eat this pizza.

Fact: You should also order a cold beer.

Fact: You should devour your pizza, careful not to burn off the roof of your mouth. Use the beer to balance out the temperature.

Fact: You should sigh in contentment, order another pizza for the road and come back again tomorrow.

Runners-up: Pizza Palace, Mellow Mushroom

BEST RESTAURANT (WHEN SOMEONE ELSE IS PAYING): RUTH'S CHRIS STEAK HOUSE

Best of East Tennessee - Best Restaurant
Ruth's Chris Steakhouse earned the title of 2010's Best Restaurant (When Someone Else is Buying).

Photo by J. Miles Cary

Best of East Tennessee - Best Restaurant

Ruth's Chris Steakhouse earned the title of 2010's Best Restaurant (When Someone Else is Buying).

950 Volunteer Landing Lane

What makes a special meal really special? That's easy -- when someone else pays for it.

Where should that meal be? Even easier -- Ruth's Chris Steak House.

Help Ruth's Chris celebrate its 45th anniversary this year by celebrating someone else buying you dinner there. This upscale eatery is situated on Volunteer Landing, adding an extra bit of elegance to an already fine dining experience. Choose from mouthwatering appetizers, fresh seafood or get one of those butter-topped steaks, seared to 1,800 degrees of perfection.

Ruth's Chris also has an impressive wine cellar and signature martinis prepared by East Tennessee's favorite bartender (see Best Bartender entry). And don't forget to save room for the Caramelized Banana Cream Pie.

Runners-up: Flemings Prime Steakhouse & amp; Wine Bar, Ye Olde Steak House

BEST MEXICAN RESTAURANT: SOCCER TACO

Various locations

You know what the problem is with the letter F? On a keyboard, it's awfully close to the letters T and R. As tasty as beef tacos are, and as wonderful as beer tacos must surely be, that is the amount of sheer awful you would find nestled inside the flour tortilla of a beet taco.

Soccer Taco does not serve beet tacos (nor, sadly, beer tacos). But the Mexican eatery does dole up an excellent variety of authentic Mexican dishes.

Soccer Taco is a Mexican sports bar airing sports all over the world. Soccer is king, not surprisingly, as you well know if you made a visit during the World Cup. But the Vols are not far behind. Neither are Home Run Fajitas, Goal Burritos, or the Flautas Hole 18. Be sure to order a margarita as well -- also an East Tennessee favorite.

Runners-up: Chez Guevara, Abuelo's

BEST VEGETARIAN RESTAURANT: THE TOMATO HEAD

12 Market Square, Knoxville and 211 W. Broadway, Maryville

They say that 90 percent of restaurants fail in the first year. And while that statistic is almost certainly an inflated urban legend, it's based in the reality that opening a new restaurant is a sizeable risk.

That's particularly true of a restaurant on Market Square, or at least it used to be. Though the area bustles today, that hasn't always been the case during Tomato Head's two decades in the urban center of Knoxville. For years Market Square was little more than a lunch spot for those working downtown.

But Tomato Head has gone from preserving to expanding to opening a second location. Today it's the type of restaurant you bring your out of towns to as an example of something quintessentially Knoxville.

Oh, and the vegetarian fare? That's not bad, either.

Runners-up: Sunspot, Veg-O-Rama

BEST ITALIAN RESTAURANT: NAPLES ITALIAN RESTAURANT

5500 Kingston Pike

Italy loves two liquids: olive oil and wine. Olive oil is a multipurpose fixture, has a unique flavor and has yet to jeopardize fishing along the Gulf Coast. Wine improves your health and improves any meal. Together this formidable tag team duo cannot be stopped. They're like The Midnight Express, only with no Jim Cornette whining and smacking people with a tennis racket.

Naples Italian Restaurant is a casual Italian restaurant in West Knoxville serving up plenty of olive oil and wine. Noodles and tomato sauce, too. Also cheese. Order a classic dish like eggplant parmesan or the cannelloni. Pair it with a bottle of Chianti Riserva. Or go for the budget $4.99 spaghetti special on Monday night. You won't be sorry.

Runners-up: Olive Garden, Altruda's Italian Restaurant

BEST ETHNIC RESTAURANT (EXCLUDING ITALIAN, CHINESE OR MEXICAN): TASTE OF THAI

213 Peters Road

All countries and cultures have special cuisine distinct to that region of the world. In Mexico, native foods emphasize corn and beans, as well as a variety of spices. In Scotland, it's a healthy diet of whiskey and sheep entrails. In the United States, it's an extra value meal followed by a number.

Thai cuisine emphasizes light preparation, strong aromas, as well as the balance between hot (or spicy), sour, sweet, salty and bitter. Distinct flavors come from spices and produce such as coconut milk, lemon grass, cilantro, turmeric and chilies.

Several favorites are on hand at Taste of Thai. Represented are a myriad of curries and seafood dishes. Pad Thai is always a hit, as are lemongrass and coconut milk soups. Dishes are prepared on a spiciness scale of one to five, so you can keep it weak or fiery. And make sure you don't leave without getting mango and sticky rice for dessert.

Runners-up: Wasabi Japanese Steakhouse & amp; Sushi Bar, Sitar Indian Cuisine

BEST DELI: PENN STATION EAST COAST SUBS

2121 Cumberland Ave. and 163 N. Peters Road

The sandwich is the kind of meal that can be as simple as shuffling into the kitchen at 3:30 a.m. in a groggy haze, slapping some bologna and mayonnaise between two slices of Merita and chowing down over the sink.

But you can still be casual without getting crumbs in your underwear. At least that's Penn Station East Coast Subs' slogan. Or it ought to be.

Penn Station Subs opened its first Knoxville location in 2009 (a second, West Knoxville location is slated to open in October). The sandwiches are made to order, and prepared in full view of the customer on hearth-baked bread, using USDA steak and quality meats, cheeses and vegetables. The Cincinnati-based restaurant franchise is particularly known for its Philadelphia Cheesesteak Sub, the hand-cut fries and freshly-squeezed lemonade. But you wouldn't be wrong to order a Chicken Teriyaki, the Grilled Artichoke, or, well anything, really.

Best Chinese – P.F. Chang's 
China Bistro won the title of Best Chinese restaurant in our 2010 East Tennessee's Best poll.

Photo by Michael Patrick

Best Chinese – P.F. Chang's

China Bistro won the title of Best Chinese restaurant in our 2010 East Tennessee's Best poll.

Runners-up: Jason's Deli, Firehouse Subs

BEST CHINESE RESTAURANT: P.F. CHANG'S CHINA BISTRO

6741 Kingston Pike

P.F. Chang's combines Chinese and American culture in a bistro restaurant setting. The design depicts ancient China, horses standing guard over the entrance, reminding hungry diners of the Forbidden City built for Emperor Qin Shi Huangdi. Or that if you anger your server, she will have you impaled.

No, not really. P.F. Chang's has never had a diner impaled by ancient warriors. We checked. They have, however, earned a reputation for stylish dining and tasty Chinese fare, so much so that a 2010 Zagat survey found it to be the most popular full service restaurant chain (as well as having the best appetizers and top facilities).

Choose from favorites like lo mein, pan-fried noodles or the Kung Pao Chicken. There are plenty of spicy dishes to go around, and lots of gluten free and vegetarian options as well. Sign up for the Warrior Card to receive discounts and special offers.

Runners-up: Wok Hay, Pei Wei Asian Diner

BEST SERVER: MATT SIPF

Matthew Sipf earned the title of Best Server for 2010.

Photo by J. Miles Cary

Matthew Sipf earned the title of Best Server for 2010.

Aubrey's Restaurant, 9208 Middlebrook Pike

On July 4, Aubrey's server Matthew Sipf suffered head injuries during a boating accident on Norris Lake when his watercraft struck a concrete bridge pier. Sipf received several facial fractures, a broken jaw and brain injuries. Remarkably, he survived. Not only that, his recovery is going well.

"I don't remember anything, says Sipf of the accident. "Most of it, I'm not even aware of. I've come a long way," says Sipf. "It kind of took over my summer. I was in the hospital for almost two months. But I've had a lot of support."

Sipf was able to go home on a lucky Friday, Aug. 13. Manager Kim Krause of Aubrey's Cedar Bluff expects that he will return to work soon.

Sipf has been a server for six years, two-and-a-half years of which have been at Aubrey's. His customers can't wait to see him back.

"He's so friendly and he's got a great personality," says Krause. "He gets along well with everyone. He can talk about anything."

Runners-up: Roy Napier, Rafferty's Restaurant and Bar; Mark Zimmerman, Tomato Head

BEST CHEF: JOSEPH LENN

Blackberry Farm

Blackberry Farm is a swanky 4,200-acre resort on the edge of the Great Smoky Mountains. Its guests stay in lavish cottages and multi-bedroom houses furnished with fine antiques. They spend time fly fishing and horseback riding. They receive pampering in the spa and take mountain biking trips. And they eat. They eat well.

Chef Joseph Lenn of Blackberry Farm was voted Best Chef in our readers' poll.

Photo by Beall and Thomas Photography

Chef Joseph Lenn of Blackberry Farm was voted Best Chef in our readers' poll.

Joseph Lenn acts as Executive Chef of Blackberry Farm's dining venue, known as The Barn. He and his culinary team are famous for their Foothills Cuisine. Lenn attended school at Johnson and Wales in Charleston, S.C., during which time he interned with Blackberry Farm. He later worked at the Peninsula Grill and assisted in opening The Hermitage Hotel in Nashville. But now he's back at Blackberry Farm, helping concoct delicacies in the bakery, butchery, salumaria, creamery and 8,000-square-foot wine cellar.

Runners-up: Jesse Newmister, Northshore Brasserie; Steve Puleo, Puleo's Grille

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