Grub Scout: Grits, pork, stack cake stand out at 31 Bistro

Critic's star breakdown

  • Food: 4.5 stars (out of five)
  • Service: 3.5
  • Atmosphere: 4
  • Overall: 4

Market Square needs another Mexican-food restaurant like Kim Kardashian needs more attention. Which is why the already-established LaCosta on Market Square recently underwent a major overhaul, shifting away from Latin cuisine and taking a new "farm to table" approach to its menu.

This means that the owners are focusing on cuisine that relies more on organically and locally grown meats and produce. Of course, these changes aren't readily noticeable to previous LaCosta patrons who step into 31 Bistro for the first time, as The Grub Spouse and I did on a recent rainy evening.

The menu rarely indicates which items are locally or organically grown, so that was negated as a factor as The Spouse and I looked things over.

The starters section presented a unique and eclectic assortment, including deviled farm eggs (OK, I'm sure those are local), veggie muffins and frites with house mayo. We were intrigued by the fried chick peas ($5), so we put in an order. We also tried a small plate (a carryover concept from LaCosta), ordering the duck breast quesadilla ($12) instead of fish tacos or a sweet potato burrito. They were out of the terrine and calamari that night.

We went ahead and made our entrée selections soon after. Several of the 10 or so dishes piqued our interest, including beef and pork meatballs, fried chicken, pan-seared grouper, potato gnocchi and rainbow trout.

What steered us away, in some cases, was our lack of interest in some of the included sides, such as sweet potato puree and sautéed greens.

The Spouse got the Georgia smoked pork chop with sage butter rice, acorn squash and spinach ($19), and I ordered the shrimp and grits ($15) embellished by local cheddar cheese, green onion, Benton's bacon and Worcestershire sauce.

We had waited nearly 20 minutes for our appetizers when we were finally informed that they had accidentally been served to another table. So we had to wait for a re-cook. At least once they arrived, the chick peas were sizzling hot from the fryer. Amazingly, they tasted like hot, greasy chick peas. They were enjoyable, but we both really liked the duck quesadilla, which, although it seemed skimpy on the actual duck breast, still benefited from caramelized onions and manchego cheese.

We were at least given time to enjoy our apps before the entrees arrived, and they were both excellent. The shrimp themselves were good but outdone, in my opinion, by the blend of dense grits and aforementioned enhancements. The bacon and Worcestershire sauce in particular dressed up the smoothly flavored grits nicely.

The big winner was the massively thick pork 8-ounce chop. Wrapped in bacon and countered wonderfully by an apple demi glace, its flavor was bold, which balanced well with the multilayered mash-up of rice, squash and spinach.

For dessert, we felt compelled to order the Tennessee stack cake ($7), an Appalachian original that we'd never seen on a menu before. Served warm, topped with powdered sugar and featuring cooked apples between its thick cakey layers (although stack cake should have multiple thin layers of cake, says The Spouse), this after-dinner treat was a sweet original.

I felt that in general, the pricing was pushing the limits of good value, although I understand that there is usually a premium to be paid for the "organic" label. But, errant appetizers notwithstanding, you can count me as a fan of almost all of 31's flavors.

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Comments » 7

bob writes:

What happened to the star ratings?

KnoxvilleZach writes:

Added, thanks. (Have at it.)

31bistro writes:

I am a big Fan of yours!! Thank you for coming and reviewing my restaurant. I consider it a honor. I always enjoy reading your articles. I am sorry it took so long for your appetizer. What night did you come in? Our menu does not list the farms we buy from because it varies from day to day. We have a chalkboard in front of the restaurant, right by the door, that list which farms we bought from that week and list exactly what we bought from them. You can also ask your server. It varies from week to week. We buy all of our meats and produce from local farms. It just varies from week to week due to availability. That is the reason we do not put the farm name's on our menus. I hope you will come back. I would love to meet you and the grub spouse.

bob writes:

Hate to break it to you 31Bistro, but if you are a big fan of the Grub Scout, you obviously dont know much about food. Even though your online reviews are not very good(see yelp and urbanspoon), I might have tried your place out after reading one of the very, very few decent reviews the Grub Scout has written, but I have really big doubts about your knowledge of food after seeing your lets-brown-nose-the-grub-scout comments.

31bistro writes:

in response to bob:

Hate to break it to you 31Bistro, but if you are a big fan of the Grub Scout, you obviously dont know much about food. Even though your online reviews are not very good(see yelp and urbanspoon), I might have tried your place out after reading one of the very, very few decent reviews the Grub Scout has written, but I have really big doubts about your knowledge of food after seeing your lets-brown-nose-the-grub-scout comments.

Bob, I am sorry you feel that way. I do enjoy reading the Grub Scout reviews. I do not agree with them all but I find them entertaining. I try my best to read all the reviews about my restaurant. I think they are very helpful. I might not agree with them all but I am thankful that someone has taken the time to give me their comments. Good or Bad. It helps me know what I need to improve. I could not find a review on yelp. Could you tell me how to find it? I am not trying to "brown nose anyone". If you wrote a review about 31 Bistro, I would respond to your review too. I am very sorry you do not want to try my restaurant because I enjoy reading the Grub Scout reviews. Again, I do not agree with them all but I do find them entertaining. I have read all of my reviews. There are two bad and two good ones on urbanspoon. I have responded to both bad reviews. I hope you have a great day and a wonderful week. If you come in to 31 Bistro, please ask for Sabrina. I would love to meet you and hear what you have to say about the food. I love getting comments from my customers. It is the customers that do not voice their opinions that you really have to worry about.

bob writes:

Good answer, 31Bistro. I will check out your place as the number of restaurants serving fresh food in Knoxville is limited. The Grub Scout should be fired for his inability to actually tell the difference!

JKM writes:

in response to bob:

Good answer, 31Bistro. I will check out your place as the number of restaurants serving fresh food in Knoxville is limited. The Grub Scout should be fired for his inability to actually tell the difference!

Agreed, Bob! The Grub Scout knows little about food! He also refuses to leave his personal preferences out of his comments. Food reviews should not be about what the reviewer likes personally, but about the overall experience. If you have a limited food pallet, then perhaps you should try your hand at something other than food reviews.

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