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Southerners celebrate their biscuits like they do their whiskey, which makes Knoxville’s International Biscuit Festival each May a rite of passage for every Tennessean. If you can’t make it to this year’s culinary smorgasbord, the Marble City’s ripe for the picking any month of the year—and we’ve got the lowdown on all the tastiest spots in town.
Knoxville is 180 miles east of Nashville off I-40.
Knoxville’s first boutique stay, the Oliver Hotel (rooms from $150), debuted in 2011 and upped the accommodation game in town. The chic, 28-room property built in 1876 has a rocker vibe and luxury amenities, like Frette linens and Gilchrist & Soames bath products. Down the way, the 293-room Holiday Inn (rooms from $109) recently underwent a multimillion-dollar renovation and is adjacent to World’s Fair Park, directly across the street from the 266-foot-tall Sunsphere.
Market Square and the streets of downtown are brimming with indie shops, boutiques, and home décor stores, such as the original Bliss Home, which now has a Nashville storefront as well. Coldstream Market is full of vintage and antique finds; at Rala, you’ll unearth a smattering of pretty letterpress goods; and Nothing Too Fancy lives up to its name with quirky casual wear and Knoxville-branded tees and mugs.
For the outdoors lovers, there’s greenery aplenty to explore within a stone’s throw of downtown, starting with the three-mile Neyland Greenway that traverses the campus, runs through the UT Gardens, and winds its way along the Tennessee River. Ijams Nature Center comprises 10 miles of trails, bike riding, standup paddleboarding, and other active pursuits.
You’ll need a full weekend to check out the culinary tastemakers who have paved the way for Knoxville’s recent culinary renaissance. Most notably, Blackberry Farm alum Matt Gallaher debuted his nouveau-Southern Knox Mason two years ago to critical acclaim. While he offers a handful of fancier items, like a savory brioche bread pudding, it’s the staples such as pork rinds and deviled eggs that are Gallaher’s hotly requested items. Next door, Holly’s 135 is the new kid on the block, but chef-owner Holly Hambright is no newcomer to the hospitality industry. With three other restaurants to her name, Hambright perfects the art of the meat-and-three while also whipping up a handful of specials daily.
Every town needs an all-day breakfast spot, and the brand-new OliBea provides just that with egg dishes made from healthy ingredients like Brussels sprouts and quinoa (plus some not-so-healthy items, such as chicken and biscuits). On Market Square, Stock & Barrel is packed every lunch and dinner thanks to its farm-to-table approach—the duck confit fries are wildly popular, as is the Hurt Locker, a juicy burger with fried green tomatoes, Benton’s bacon, bourbon onions, and pimento cheese—and impressive selection of bourbon.
Down Kingston Pike in Bearden, Buttermilk Sky Pie Shop makes artful creations—like mainstays apple and coconut cream—from scratch daily, as well as seasonal specialties such as key lime and spiced pumpkin. For the indecisive diner, there’s the convenient four-pack of four-inch personal pies so you can try a little bit of everything.
You won’t find the big game on at Public House, nor should you expect live music. This bar focuses on craft cocktails and creating a community environment. It also boasts a selection of beer, wine, sandwiches, and small plates like beer cheese and pretzels or collard kimchi. Similarly, the speakeasy-style Peter Kern Library is a quiet, low-lit spot accessed via a hidden alley off Market Square that features some of the finest mixology in town; menus are tucked in old encyclopedias, and drinks are named for literary icons (Grendel, Holden Caulfield).
Down in the Old City, Saw Works Brewing Company (formerly Marble City Brewing Company) pumps out handcrafted beers made from locally sourced ingredients. And for those seeking a more casual scene, Downtown Grill and Brewery and Preservation Pub are always bustling and offer live music many nights of the week.
May 14-16 — International Biscuit Festival
May 7-August 25 — Market Square Concert Series and Jazz on the Square