The Grub Scout's Top 10 of 2012

Has it been a year already? Wow … 51 more restaurants and 51 more breath mints under my belt (in more ways than one). So once again, it's time to look back and give some retroactive love to some of my favorite area dining spots. As always, I don't claim these as being Knoxville's best—just the ones I enjoyed the most in the past calendar year, presented in the order they were visited.

Little Joe's Pizza

Although this Farragut pizzeria has been in business for about 40 years, I had not even heard of it until shortly before my visit back in January. However, The Grub Spouse and I felt it was certainly worth our wait. Joe's thin but doughy crust, unique tangy sauce and fresh ingredients are a collective slice of pizza heaven.

Boyd's Jig & Reel

Musicians at Boyd's Jig & Reel

Photo by Matt Ward

Musicians at Boyd's Jig & Reel

The Old City increased its relevance factor even more last winter with the opening of Knoxville's first Scottish pub in the former Manhattan's space. Cozy public-house ambiance, native cuisine, Scottish beers and whiskeys, and live entertainment join forces to create an authentically welcoming dining and social experience.

Shuck

I've always felt that Knoxville was proportionally lacking in fresh-seafood eateries, and Shuck helped reduce that deficit with its opening on the 100 block of Gay Street. Several varieties of raw oysters, steamed clams, steamed shrimp and a New England-style lobster roll anchor a menu that also includes small-plate dishes, smoked Atlantic salmon and a grouper sandwich.

The Hilltop Vineyard

We found this unsung local hero in the shadow of neighboring Calhoun's atop Bearden Hill. However, its intimate European ambiance and similarly inspired cuisine were enough to make a strong first impression. We enjoyed the lamb sausage and French onion soup as appetizers, followed by the filet au poivre and stuffed pork tenderloin.

Smoky Mountain Cheesecake Café

We had to travel to Sevier County to find this sweet spot, but it quickly became one of our favorites of the year. Yes, they have all kinds of homemade cheesecakes that are made fresh daily (peanut butter and banana, Reese's cup, Key lime, Heath bar, to name a few) and outstanding Tampa-style Cuban sandwiches made with bread shipped in from Florida.

Lil' Cuban Café

Speaking of Cuban cuisine, you'll find a wider range of it in another off-the-beaten-path location—Townsend. This cozy family-owned spot boasts empanadas, Cuban sandwiches, entrée platters and more. From the picadillo to the deep-fried plantains to the black beans and rice, we found tasty ethnic respite at this Smoky Mountain oasis.

Market House Bistro

This was another pleasant discovery outside the Knox County borders. The Market House in Oak Ridge gives locals another reason to dine at Jackson Square. From unique appetizers like stuffed banana peppers and zucchini fritters to main dishes like char-grilled chicken thighs and a Gouda burger, we gave the food two thumbs up.

Chuy's

Chuy's

Chuy's

This was one of my favorites of the year. I love Mexican food in general, but I particularly appreciated this Texas-based chain's twist on traditional Tex-Mex fare. I had a 12-inch steak burrito, and The Spouse had the veggie enchiladas, both of which were super-solid. Funky atmosphere, excellent service and items like the Chuychanga and the Elvis Green Chile Fried Chicken mean Chuy's has a lot to offer.

Windows On The Park

Located in the Holiday Inn on Henley Street, this downtown restaurant specializes in Southern comfort foods with an upscale spin. The Southern Fried Trio appetizer, the Benton's Smoky Mountain bacon and onion ravioli, and the Smoky Mountain rainbow trout were complemented by modern-posh atmosphere and great views of World's Fair Park.

Tupelo Honey Café

We headed into the year's home stretch with one of the strongest new restaurants yet. This Asheville, North Carolina, product impressed mightily with "New South flavors, scratch-made fun." The Appalachian egg rolls, roast beef po' boy and the Southern fried chicken saltimbocca led the way to killer desserts like their much-heralded pecan pie and blueberry cream cheese pie. Yum!

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Comments » 1

jadrianb writes:

Chuy's? Really? Might as well put Cheddar's on this list. Why would anybody pass up Cancun, or even Taco Bell, to go there? After all the hype, it's just another overpriced Mexican eatery. Not bad, but nothing new or special. Funky atmosphere = multi-colored walls? Ok, so their patio is nice.

Will have to check out The Hilltop Vineyard though. Never heard of it.

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