Meals as sweet as Tupelo Honey

Meals as sweet as Tupelo Honey

November 14th, 2013 by Barry Courter in Chattnow Dining

The Grateful Dead Black Bean Burger is a two-fisted affair made from scratch. I considered the sweet pototo fries as my side, but it was too hard to pass up the grits with goat cheese.

Photo by Barry Courter/Times Free Press.

IF YOU GO

¦ Where: Tupelo Honey, 1110 Market St.

¦ Phone: 423-779-0400.

¦ Hours: 11 a.m.-

10 p.m. Monday-Thursday; 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Friday; 8 a.m.-11 p.m. Saturday, 8 a.m.-9 p.m. Sunday.

¦ Price range: Sandwiches $7.95 (Cheesy Grill & A Hearty Mug of Soup) to $10.95 (Sheer Bliss Tupelo Burger); entrees $12.95 (Not Your Mama's Meatloaf) to $27.95 (Heart of Ribeye With Bordelaise)

¦ Alcohol: Full bar.

Like Van Morrison and his beautiful song, chef Brian Sonoskus appreciates the unique sweetnesss and flavor of Tupelo Honey, which bees produce in three particular river basins in Florida and Georgia. It's that honey that gave the restaurants their names.

There was a good deal of anticipation and fanfare when officials announced they would open a Tupelo Honey at Warehouse Row this year. Some were excited that the city landmark would be getting such a high-profile eatery, and others, particularly those who had eaten at any of the locations in Knoxville, Greenville, S.C., Johnson City, Tenn., or in Asheville, N.C., where it originated, were excited that we would be getting one.

The restaurants have that same sort of hipster/hippie vibe that appeals to foodies. I got to sample several of the dishes before the place opened, so I was looking forward to enjoying an actual meal there. I walked over from the office last week.

THE ORDER

The menu is large and diverse, and while you will likely recognize the names of each item, most are prepared a little differently than what you might be accustomed to, especially if you eat at a lot of chain restaurants. That made making a decision a little tougher than usual.

I decided to go with something I've been eating a lot of lately, and that was a veggie burger. Tupelo Honey's version is called the Grateful Dead Black Bean Burger. Once a loyal Deadhead who followed the band around, chef

Brian has created a deceptively simple burger that appears to be a lot more complex than it really is. Kind of like the band.

It was a tasty burger with plenty of flavor. I especially like the crunch on the outside of the burger, but the amount of brine from the pickles was so overwhelming it ran all over the plate. I ran through a dozen napkins during the meal. Also, the center of the burger wasn't entirely cooked and had the consistency of black bean dip. Not a terrible thing, but not what one expects.

The sandwiches come with a side, and there are almost 18 to choose from. I really wanted to try the sweet potato fries, but the fried okra, brown butter Brussels sprouts, fried parmesan corn on the cob, cheesy smashed cauliflower and honey pickled beet salad sounded good also.

I went with the goat cheese grits, which were plentiful and very good. I also ordered a glass of raspberry tea. It was good, but I'm not sure is was $2.95 good.

For those concerned about such things, the menu uses a simple coding system to indicate which items are vegan, gluten- and soy-free.

Like I said earlier, the menu is all over the place. The appetizer section alone, for example, offers fried green tomatoes ($6.95), cheesy grit cakes ($7.95), homemade pimento cheese and tortilla chips ($5.95) Appalachian egg rolls ($8.95), with slow-roasted pulled pork in smoked jalapeno barbecue sauce rolled with braised greens, pickled onions and shredded carrots, and and Tupelo Tofu Wings ($7.95).

THE SPACE

The corner space on the main floor used to be an art gallery at Warehouse Row. Designers kept the exposed brick and added outdoor seating. Local artists were hired to create pieces that represented the city and its past. Rather than create large, wide-open spaces, the restaurant is broken up into relatively small rooms that provide a feeling of excitement and intimacy.

I sat at the bar so as not to take up a table and was able to catch up on the latest news in the sports world on TV. There is also a bar area next to the kitchen, so if you are into watching the staff prepare your meal, there is that option.

THE SERVICE

Both bartenders were friendly and engaging. I had my raspberry tea almost immediately and was offered a biscuit, which came with blackberry jam and Tupelo honey. It's not something I would have normally ordered, or eaten, but let's just say I stopped short of licking the berry dish clean and squeezing the honey directly into my mouth only because I didn't know the guy sitting next to me.

THE VERDICT

It's hard to judge a restaurant with so many options based on two dishes, but what I had was good and worth a return visit. It's easy to see why people are excited Tupelo Honey has opened here. You can get out of there at a reasonable price, or you can spend a bundle, but the food is worth it.

Contact Barry Courter at bcourter@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6354.