This was a unique situation for The Grub Spouse and me; we found ourselves visiting hotel restaurants in back-to-back weeks. We'd been wanting to try out the new Windows on the Park eatery at the downtown Holiday Inn, and as chance would have it, we had the opportunity to order dishes that were very similar to those we'd tried the week before (at Cooper's at the airport Hilton), giving us the rare chance to directly compare restaurant apples to apples.
We parked in the Holiday Inn garage (the restaurant validates parking), and we made our way up one level to WOTP, located just off the main lobby. My assumption was that the restaurant would be in the room with all the windows, which affords overlook views of the World's Fair Park neighborhood.
On our arrival, however, we learned that that area is dedicated to the lounge. When we asked to be seated for dinner, we were led to a front section near the hostess stand, adjacent to the lobby and removed from the view-laden lounge.
We expressed our preference to be seated near the windows and were shown to a trio of dining tables at the north end of the lounge, from where we could at least enjoy partial views of the park.
As with Cooper's, the well-rounded menu has a modest selection of appetizers that lead to sections of pasta, steaks, entrée salads, main entrees, sandwiches and desserts. The emphasis at WOTP is on traditional American fare but with Southern accents. The menu also notes that they use Tennessee and regional ingredients.
We started with the Southern Fried Trio appetizer, which gave us the chance to try some fried green tomatoes, like we had the week previous. The trio also features dill pickle chips and tobacco onions. All three fried goodies are served with a spicy ranch dipping sauce and Tennessee chow chow.
And like I did the week before, I ordered a pasta dish — in this case, the Benton's Smoky Mountain bacon and onion ravioli. The basil pasta is filled with Tennessee white cheddar, grilled onions and Benton's bacon and tossed with locally grown mushrooms and a tomato cream sauce. It's topped with wilted spinach and reggiano Parmesan.
The Spouse ordered trout for the second week in a row. This time, it was one of WOTP's specialties, the pan-seared Smoky Mountain rainbow trout. It is served crusted with almonds and panko breadcrumbs. The Spouse substituted the garlic Yukon gold mashed potatoes for the default spicy sweet potato cakes.
Each item we ordered made a very favorable impression. The fried tomatoes (and the onions and pickle chips) seemed freshly prepared, not frozen, and the slices were appropriately tart. The accompanying sauce had some tasty zing, although neither of us cares for chow chow. The trout had a nice, solid fish flavor but without being unpleasantly pungent. The mashed potatoes complemented the dish well.
I was most impressed with the pasta, however. The combination of cheddar, bacon, onions and wine-infused cream sauce made this dish truly memorable. The pasta was on the al dente side, which I prefer, although others might have judged it to be slightly undercooked.
We forged on to dessert, and the chocolate chip bread pudding did not disappoint. Served in a mason jar, this piping-hot bread treat is soaked in Jack Daniel's whiskey sauce and topped with whipped cream and a chocolate "straw."
Windows on the Park's prices also suffer slightly from hotel-restaurant inflation, but in this case, I felt the overall quality of the food, service and ambiance made our $43 tab seem like money well spent.
Windows on the Park
Food: 4 stars (out of five)
Address: 525 Henley St.
Hours: 6:30-11 a.m. (breakfast); 11 a.m.-1 p.m. (lunch); 5-10 p.m. (dinner), seven days a week
Full bar service
Bottom Line: Even if Knoxville is normally where you spend your nights, you can still enjoy a dining stay-cation at this downtown Holiday Inn restaurant.
© 2012, Knoxville News Sentinel Co.
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