While out doing some holiday shopping, The Grub Spouse noticed a new restaurant doing business in the former Rolf Lanz Ski Shop facility on Ray Mears Boulevard. Eager to explore a new eatery, we put Bucket Head Tavern on our short list and made out way there on a recent weeknight.
Based on a mostly full parking lot and corresponding interior, it was clear they were doing a pretty brisk business. When you walk in, you are welcome to seat yourself — either heading left into the smoking section or right into the non-smoking area. Separating the two spaces is a fireplace complete with what looks like a boar's head mounted on the brick and a mantel bearing a bottle of Jack Daniels.
Overall, the atmosphere is warm and inviting. The color palette is earthy, and there are enough brick and wood accents to convey the essence of tavern ambiance. There are flat-screen TVs all over the place — ideal for sports viewing — but the emphasis on comforting decor keeps the restaurant from coming off like a sterile sports bar.
The Spouse and I took one of only a couple of free tables in non-smoking and were promptly greeted by a server. We placed our drink order and were left to study the concise food menu. When our server came back to take our order, we asked her for recommendations. We were disappointed that she stumbled through a response, half-heartedly endorsing a couple of items that "her friends liked."
Appetizers account for a good chunk of the selection. They include pub-grub regulars like chicken wings, chicken tenders, onion rings and nachos as well as less familiar offerings like a soft pretzel, an assorted cheese plate, a red-pepper hummus plate and what wound up being our choice — blackened mahi mahi tenders.
We went ahead and ordered our main dishes at the same time. We both passed on the burger, the two types of pizzas and several varieties sandwiches available (BLT, mahi mahi, grilled chicken) and went with a couple of different choices. The Spouse ordered the fish and chips, and I got the Scotty Dog, a bison dog topped with cheddar, chili and cole slaw.
We were both pleased with the food quality all around. The blackened mahi mahi tenders were spicy and embodied bold but pleasant fish flavor. The fish and chips were a very different fish experience but benefited greatly from a wonderful deep-fried batter and tartar sauce.
And while I rarely order hot dogs in restaurants, I was glad I got the Scotty. The hefty bison dog alone had a distinctively savory flavor and was nicely complemented by the chili and cheese. I wasn't sure what to expect from having cole slaw in the mix, but it was an interesting cool and crunchy counterpoint.
As for the rest, our server started off strong, getting our order in and bringing our appetizer and meals out in a timely manner. But then things really went downhill. She decided to take some break time, and no other server took up her slack, so drink refills, dish clearing and other general follow-up visits were absurdly delayed.
Making the situation worse was the fact that she didn't even bother to take her break in the back. Rather, she sat at a table in our section, within eyeshot, eating fast food from a carryout bag and checking her phone messages. Meanwhile, we were in dire need of extra napkins and refills, and she never even looked in our direction so that I could make eye contact. By the time she finally came back to us, I just wanted a check and to be on my way.
So while the food and atmosphere may be worth a look-see, I'm not sure the quality of service would put this new restaurant and bar on anyone's bucket list.
Address: 8039 Ray Mears Blvd.
Hours: 11 a.m. to 1 a.m. Mondays through Wednesdays; 11 a.m. to 3 a.m. Thursdays through Saturdays; 12 p.m. to 12 a.m. Sundays
Full bar service
Bottom Line: This new West Knoxville tavern aims to be a gathering place for pub grub, libations and game-day viewing.
© 2012, Knoxville News Sentinel Co.
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