Grub Scout: Savory selections sandwiched in N. Knox's Red Basket Cafe

The Red Basket Cafe

  • Food: ****
  • Service: ****
  • Atmosphere: *** 1/2
  • Overall: ****
  • Address: 4705 Central Avenue Pike
  • Phone: 865-357-8855
  • Hours: 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Mondays-Fridays
  • Seating: First come, first served
  • No alcohol service

My sources in the know recently told me about a new lunch spot that had opened on Central Avenue Pike, just a couple of blocks south of Merchants Road. The Red Basket Cafe takes its name from those plastic red baskets that are often used to serve sandwiches and deep-fried items.

And that’s exactly what dominates the menu. Sandwiches, which are made with lettuce, tomato and mayo (unless otherwise requested), include a meatball sub, Italian sub, ham and cheese, turkey sub and Philly steak, all made with eight-inch rolls.

Sandwich fans will also find a chicken salad, fried or grilled chicken, roast beef, tuna salad, a Reuben and a club. You can even get a hot dog, chilidog and bratwurst as well as quarter-pound, half-pound and one-pound burgers. All baskets are served with fries or onion rings.

Those looking for a healthier choice can go with one of their salads — chef, fried or grilled chicken, chicken salad or tuna salad. There are also finger baskets on the menu, featuring the likes of chicken tenders, fish, pork tenders or shrimp, served with your choice of two sides.

I asked one of the owners for a recommendation, and was steered in the direction of the Philly chicken and cheese sub ($6.69). I acquiesced and chose onion rings as my side item. I also requested a chocolate shake but was informed that the machine was down, although in retrospect, I’m not sure if “machine” implies soft-serve ice cream or a device for blending real ice cream and milk. Either way, I would have to settle for a sugarless meal.

I had a few minutes on my hands since the chicken, pepper and onions that would go on my sandwich were being grilled fresh. While I waited, I took advantage of their wireless Internet service and caught up on e-mail and social networking.

My meal was brought out to my table in a namesake red basket with a paper liner, which held a sandwich and a mighty heap o’ o-rings. The first thing I noticed was that the rings were battered, not breaded, which is my preferred ring-coating method. Each ring was substantial in size, with a thick slice of onion and a homemade batter that gave it a distinctly pleasant flavor.

The eight-inch sandwich roll, which was cut in two, could hardly contain the generous amounts of grilled chicken, veggies and cheese that make up the core of this sandwich. The flavor combo was wonderful, and I thought the use of lettuce, tomato and mayonnaise nicely offset the warm and gooey with cool and crispy. I also have big kudos for the soft, chewy bread.

I was barely able to finish the entire sandwich, and I certainly was not able to say the same about the onion rings. At meal’s end, I had left a modest serving still in the basket.

So for around $7, I got a well-made lunch that tasted great and was more than enough to satisfy in the hunger department. I think this place would be a fine lunch spot for anyone living or working in the North Knoxville/Merchants Road area. As for me, I now consider myself a basket case — Red Basket, that is.

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