Emilia Italian Restaurant is located at 16 Market Square in Downtown Knoxville, Tennessee.
One Friday evening about a month before our move to Durham, Luke and I went out for an impromptu date night. Hoping to enjoy what was left of our short time left in Knoxville, we wanted to go to a place where we knew we would have a wonderful meal. We couldn’t agree on any of our old favorites so I pulled out my phone to browse the Yelp app and discovered Emilia, the brand new sophomore restaurant of Chef/Owner Matt Gallaher, whose Knox Mason has been a fresh southern staple of the downtown community for nearly four years. It was clear from the moment we entered Emilia that this place was special, and the rest of Knoxville seems to agree.
Until this year, there had been an absence of Italian restaurants in the downtown area since its recent revitalization, with Primo being the first and opening just a few months before Emilia. After our dining experience at Emilia, I think it’s safe to say that there won’t be many more Italian joints sprouting up in the area any time soon as Emilia presents some stiff competition. Named after Chef Gallaher’s grandmother and sister (both called Emily) and the Emilia-Romagna region of Italy in which many quintessential Italian diet staples are produced (balsamic, prosciutto, and parmesan, to name a few), Emilia can be enjoyed by both native Italian palates and by fellow epicureans who appreciate modern culinary inventiveness. Chef Gallaher, who worked his way up to sous chef at luxury hotel and resort Blackberry Farm, recognizes the importance of eating seasonally and supporting local farms. Emilia has in-season specials, usually featuring ingredients bought right outside their front door at the Downtown Knoxville farmer’s market. The pasta is made fresh in-house every day, with their pasta extruder producing every shape and size imaginable.
The knowledgable chefs that are working with local farmers and utilizing local ingredients whenever possible are pioneers of the future of food and I think the success that Chef Gallaher has had is a testament to how much he truly cares about his community and his craft. I’m curious to see the impact his skill and presence will continue to create in the Knoxville food scene, keeping a close watch as I’m aiming to make a stop at Emilia every time I come back to visit. 😅
Above; The Insalata Caprese with Tennessee-grown heirloom tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, sweet basil, olive oil, and saba, “balsamic’s ancestor”. Left; I was in town recently visiting family so I dragged them along for this restaurant post. Our collective dishes? Dad chose Orecchiette with Ragu alla Bolognese, Mom chose Polenta and Meatballs Pomodoro, and as usual, I picked the dish with the pesto – the Pappardelle Primavera. Right; The Polenta and Meatballs Pomodoro, a unique twist on the classic Italian spaghetti & meatballs, seems to have found a home on Emilia’s permanent menu.
Above; The Pappardelle Primavera with pesto sauce, greens, toasted pine nuts, finished with parmesan. Left; The Orecchiette with Ragu alla Bolognese boasts a hearty tomato sauce made with local Mitchell Farm Beef, Heritage Farm Pork, and Strauss Veal. Right; Another shot of the Insalata Caprese because you just have to appreciate the art of plating.
Like any good Italian eatery, Emilia has an extensive wine list including house wine on tap and many more options by glass or bottle. They also have a full bar and a specialty cocktail menu echoing the Italian palate with the use of spirits such as Campari and Montenegro.
For “Dolci” we shared Emilia’s most popular dessert, the Butterscotch Budino – butterscotch pudding topped with salted caramel, whipped cream, and pine nut crumbles. I don’t even have to tell you how it was because that spoon shot describes it all – pure decadence!
Caroline Farris took on the task of designing the interior of Emilia “on a budget” as she describes, combing through local thrift stores for the pieces now hanging on the whitewashed walls. She acid-washed the mirror display herself, dug through vintage to find rustic maps of Italy, and arranged thrifted ceramic plates (a few contributed by Gallaher’s family) into subtle but statement-making installations. I love the finished product of her aesthetic – a juxtaposition of southern modern and traditional Italian, which mimics the well-curated menu presented at Emilia.
Emilia was voted the Best New Restaurant in the Knoxville News Sentinel’s 2016 “Best of Knoxville” Awards in September – a mere four months after their Market Square restaurant opened in May.
Luke and I always try to make the most out of our weekends. We’re not the type to frequent the movie theater every Friday night – we’re always on the hunt for unique experiences. Because of our recent move, Durham is our oyster and with sites like Get Offline and plenty of contacts at Duke who are more than happy to lend recommendations, I don’t see us getting bored any time soon. I found out about Blue Whistler Farm on Facebook by seeing their “Open Farm” event. According to their website, Open Farm and Markets are typically held every second and fourth Sunday of the month but the next one will be held on October 9th. See their event calendar for more activities and “Like” their Facebook page to be in the know with up to date info (in the event of a cancellation, etc.).
Anyone close to me knows about my strong feelings against factory farming. It is ruining our country in so many aspects that I don’t think were initially anticipated by corporations and the FDA, but they believe that they are in too deep now to admit that they were wrong and remedy the situation. Mass-produced livestock eats primarly (or in most cases, only) GMO-produced feed which makes them abnormally large, equaling more meat. Antibiotics are heavily administered to prevent infection from breaking out because of the confined quarters. When we eat this poor-quality “meat”, we are ingesting the GMO’s and the antibiotics as well. The run-off from their waste is toxic and spawns disease in vegetation (E.Coli outbreak in Spinach). If I kept typing all the things I despise about the American “industry” of farming, you would be reading this post until Monday. So when I find a special place like Blue Whistler Farm, I have to share it. This farm, located in Bahama, North Carolina (20 minutes north of Durham) is run by young couple Josh and Amy Sliffe. It is a sustainable farm using non-GMO feed and creating an environment on its 5 acres that allows the animals to fulfill their natural duties, “with the larger animals mowing, the smaller animals scratching and spreading”, the farm is naturally efficient. As someone who cares very deeply for animals, I love being able to see them in an environment that they were created to be in and that is exactly what Blue Whistler is all about – raising livestock the way they were meant to live, informing the community about these amazing animals, and providing that community with quality experiences and products. If we want to put an end to factory farming, we have to start supporting trustworthy, local farmers like Amy and Josh. P.S. I learned that the poultry eat lots of bugs, including mosquitos, and I’m here to say that we had no issues with bug bites whatsoever during our visit (I don’t even remember flies being a nuissance).
There is plenty to do and see on open farm day. Carrots and apples for the rabbits and pigs are welcome (and I would recommend bringing some – nothing like some food-inspired motivation to bring the animals up close and personal). Chicken holding 101 was a favorite among the children, but the tire swing came in a close second. There were plenty of newborn animals for this open market, although the piglets were my favorite (I just can’t handle the cuteness of those curly little tails)! After making our way around the farm, we stopped at the Bluebird Bakery stand to grab some sweet corn and blackberry ice cream (unexpected combo, I know, but so delicious!).
Visiting Blue Whistler Farm has been one of my favorite things we’ve gotten to do so far in Durham. It makes for a unique weekend experience and spending some time on the farm gives you an unmatched sense of peace that you will carry for the rest of your Sunday and into your week. The whole family will love it and it’s a great educational opportunity for the kiddos to learn about farming and livestock. Bring a picnic if you like, or grab a pastry or ice cream from BlueBird, find a bench or a spot in the grass and just take some time to appreciate farmers like Amy and Josh who are committed to sharing their sustainable practices with their community – and don’t forget to leave without some Blue Whistler Farm fresh meat and eggs. I’m pretty picky when it comes to eggs – I like a rich, orangey yolk, but thanks to their chickens’ variety of diet these are some of the best eggs I’ve ever had!
We haven’t been living here in Durham for all that long, but we’ve somehow managed to eat at Monuts a few times already. I feel like I should be ashamed of going to one restaurant multiple times instead of trying new places, but when you find a place as special as Monuts, you will be willing to wait in line all day for a peach pistachio donut. From what I’ve heard (I can’t tell you because I’m a repeat customer at only one restaurant), Durham is quite the foodie town. Over the next two years I plan on eating around to see if Bull City truly lives up to the title of the “foodie capital of the south“, and of course I plan to document my experiences for all of you, too. 😉 Something that particularly excites me about the Durham food scene is that “farm-to-table” dives seem to be the name of the game. I am a strong supporter of local farming and eating seasonally so I’m thrilled that this “trend” is catching on and I hope it continues as more and more people begin to think about where their food is coming from. Monut’s menu is made by hand from scratch using locally sourced, seasonal ingredients. They began selling donuts off of a tricycle at the local farmers market, upgraded to a restaurant, and moved to the current Ninth Street location after they out-grew their previous store-front. I’ve only been on the weekend so I don’t know how applicable this is Monday-Friday but if you want a table, you should be there when they open. For this review, we arrived about 10 minutes prior to the eight o’clock Sunday morning opening and there were already a handful of people waiting outside. Saving tables isn’t allowed until you’ve placed your order and gotten a number to put on your table-top, so finding a spot is definitely a matter of good timing. The bar however, is first come first served so if you see a couple of free chairs, snatch them up and wait on the bartender to take your order.
Something that is really unique about Monuts is that they are not only a bomb bakery, but also a full-service breakfast and lunch joint. It’s the perfect brunch spot because there is truly something for everyone – not just donut aficionados. Their variety of breakfast sandwiches is vast, but even if you can’t find anything on the main menu to tickle your tastebuds, there is always the option to build your own sandwich or create your own breakfast or lunch with a customizable side plate (think avocado toast and maple Sriracha home fries, to name a couple of choices). This time around, I tried the “Heirloom Summer” sandwich with a plain bagel, chèvre cream cheese, heirloom tomatoes, over-medium farm eggs and basil pesto. Albeit a little challenging to eat, the flavor combinations in this sammy were amazing and it featured some of the freshest and most flavorful tomatoes I’ve ever eaten. Luke chose the “Guac Dirty to Me” – house breakfast sausage, farm egg, red onion, queso fresco, and – of course, guacamole between a fresh biscuit. You can’t go to Monuts without getting donuts, so I chose the Peach Pistachio yeast (traditional donut) while Luke chose the Blueberry Pancake (cake donut). I’ve eaten many donuts in all my carb-loving years, but Monuts are continually some of my favorites and these two flavors were no exception. I couldn’t believe how much the blueberry pancake tasted like an actual pancake and Luke and I were arguing about the science behind gourmet donut making before coming to the conclusion that maybe buttermilk was the secret pancake-flavored ingredient.
I know I don’t have much validity to say this quite yet, but Monuts is definitely my favorite Durham dive so far. I relate to Leslie Knope in more ways than one but in particular, our undying love for breakfast foods is eerily coincidental – I could eat eggs, avocado toast, waffles, or even donuts for every meal and be perfectly satisfied. I imagine that kind of versatility is what keeps people coming back to Monuts time and time again – their menu is anything but boring and with their seasonal offerings, you could come once every week for a year and never have the same breakfast twice. But these sandwiches and sides are mere supporting characters to their superstar – the Monut donut. With classics such as plain glazed to more gourmet options like the North Carolinian – a sweet potato cake donut with a bourbon & sea salt glaze, Monuts donuts are sure to please the entire crew.
“Monuts Restaurant Review” Photographed by Emily Davis & Luke Bowes
© Emily Davis
Pubs in England are about as abundant as Starbucks in America. Going out for a pint at the local pub is a regular English tradition that has been around for centuries and remains a common past-time in modern England. During our holiday we were able to experience several different pub settings – some had lawns with outdoor seating and even a playgrounds for the children, others were very dark and donned with a rich and masculine traditional interior. On my itinerary for pubs to visit in Nottingham were two that are a little more known to be tourist destinations but are still frequented by locals because of their long-standing good reputation – Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem and The Pitcher & Piano. Claiming to be the oldest pub in England and dating back to 1189 AD, Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem sits at the base of Nottingham Castle. The pub is carved out of Nottingham’s network of caves and sits atop cellars that were once used as the castle’s brewery but are now being used to store the brews available on tap – making for a true “cold one” no matter the season. Since the weather was so lovely, we sat outside on the spacious patio and enjoyed our drinks while watching the sun set over Nottingham Castle. Inside, the setting is much more intimate – misshapen sandstone cave walls divide the pub into several different “rooms” and a more private courtyard is located at the rear. It would seem that there is never a bad time to grab a pint at Ye Olde Trip. Sit on their patio in the summer while enjoying the best view of Nottingham Castle, or warm up by the fire inside the cozy caves during the winter.
Housed inside an old Unitarian church, The Pitcher & Piano provides a very unique pub experience. Although P&P is a national chain, the Nottingham facility may be one of the best, boasting tucked away tables in all the nooks and crannies of the old cathedral, and an outdoor terrace offering plenty of seating with a full bar in the summer. We just went for drinks but The Pitcher & Piano is a full-service restaurant as well – serving breakfast, brunch, lunch, and dinner and offering a traditional roast dinner on Sundays. It was a great place to mingle with friends over a drink (or two)!
When most people begin planning at trip to London, they start with the basics – Big Ben, Buckingham Palace, the London Eye, Hyde Park, and Trafalgar Square to name a few. At the top of my itinerary for London was Sketch, a quirky but oh so glam restaurant/art gallery in the Mayfair neighborhood of London. I have a bad habit of setting unrealistic expectations for almost everything, and I’m often disappointed that things are never as good in real life as I imagine them being. So when I find a place or an experience that not only meets, but EXCEEDS all of my wildest expectations, I just have to share with anyone that will listen! If you’re visiting or live in London and appreciate the finer things in life (hello, fellow Epicureans!), you should make dining at Sketch a priority!
Sketch is a work of art in itself and provides a truly unique dining experience. Located in an 18th century townhouse on Conduit Street, diners can choose from a variety of 5 different rooms based on the time of day and type of cuisine they’re in search of. Each separate space has its own “theme”, if you will. We were seated in the often-Instagrammed “Gallery” which boasts chevron-tiled floors, panoramic “sketches” by featured artist David Shrigley, rose-gold details, and the prettiest pink seats. According to this video, Sketch commissions a new artist to transform the Gallery, which is their main room, every two years. If I had to choose one interior that I would want to inspire the design of my own home, it would be Shrigley’s Gallery.
Sketch offers several options as far as afternoon tea goes. All are served with the same finger sandwiches, scones, cakes and desserts, but with your choice of tea, champagne, sparkling wine, or non-alcoholic cocktails. At £45 (~$60) per person (£57+ for alcoholic beverages), the basic afternoon tea is not cheap, but the experience was well worth the price tag and the restaurant is very generous with servings – order more of whatever you want and it is covered under your individual rate. Luke’s mom, Julie, and I each tried three different teas out of their selection of about 20 and we both loved every one that we tried (I’ve been craving the Jasmine Pearls green tea since we left!). When we told our waitress which tea we were partaking in, she informed us that they would be bringing all of our snacks out of the kitchen over the next two hours. We were all quite surprised, but it was really refreshing to be able to sit down and enjoy each others’ company in such a beautiful space and not be pressured to rush for the restaurant’s turnaround.
Our sandwiches and desserts arrived about half an hour after we were seated. My favorites were the coronation chicken sandwich (similar to chicken salad) and the mozzarella and pesto panini (wrapped in parchment paper and tied with a bow to keep warm). I saved the desserts for last and they were all divine, as well. I didn’t have a favorite because by the time I got around to eating them, I was so full of sweets that I just took a bite of each one so I could try everything. I used my sweet tooth on the sultana scones, served with clotted cream, fig, and strawberry jams and I was tempted to have another round since they were baked to perfection – not at all dry or crumbly.
The service at Sketch is a testament to its success. All of the staff seemed to thoroughly enjoy their jobs and their positive attitudes were something that I took notice to. Drinks were never dry, fresh plates were always offered, and multiple rounds of tea or dessert were encouraged. The restaurant seems to have a teamwork-oriented philosophy, with several different waiters and waitresses happily assisting our table whenever we were in need.
As if Sketch wasn’t already the total package, just wait until you see their bathrooms! Yep, you read that right. Sketch’s futuristic “pee pods” are a hot topic and definitely make for the most Instagram-able bathroom selfies. Seeing photos of this art installation of a loo on Instagram is actually how I found out about Sketch – great marketing tactic they’ve used here, getting everyone to talk about their toilets!
Out of all the things I had the opportunity to see and do while in London, Sketch was by far my favorite experience. One thing that I always strive for when traveling is to find off-the-wall experiences that are unique to their location. Obviously, part of being a tourist is seeing all of the famous landmarks, but more often than not, my fondest memories of my travels include one-of-a-kind experiences such as the afternoon we spent at Sketch. They’ve taken the British tradition of afternoon tea and modernized in such a posh and fresh way. It was just what our sore feet and hungry tummies needed after exploring London all morning. If you’re going to London soon, or if you live there and haven’t visited, plan a visit to dine (or drink – the Gallery is a cocktail bar in the evenings) at Sketch and don’t leave without getting a selfie in the bathroom!
“Afternoon Tea at Sketch” Photographed by Emily Davis and Luke Bowes
© Emily Davis
Luke and I are always looking for new local restaurants to try. Primo opened in the early Spring of this year (2016) and, like most new downtown eateries, there has been a lot of buzz about it lately. It is Chef Bruce Bogartz’s first project since the overwhelmingly popular, albeit not exactly successful Rouxbarb. I had the pleasure of dining at Rouxbarb only once, but it was enough to make me a big fan of Bogartz so I was thrilled to hear that he’d be head of the first Italian restaurant in downtown Knoxville. Being that Bruce is such an esteemed chef – and fairly well known by most Knoxvillians, Primo is what I would consider a “fine dining” establishment – one of the more expensive places in the area. I think Knoxville needs more of these types of restaurants. Most of the eateries, especially near downtown, are fairly casual so it’s nice to have a couple of spots to visit for special occasions or even just when you want a more intimate date night. We had previewed the menu online, so we were well aware of the steep prices (it is Bogartz, after all). What did come as surprise, though, was the utterly underwhelming experience we had dining at Primo.
- We made reservations for our Saturday night date early in the week. We like to eat pretty early (we’re both 75 at heart) which is usually not a problem downtown but because of its newness and Knoxville’s flocking tendencies, we reserved a table just to be safe. We arrived on the 5th floor of the Sunsphere for our 5:30 reservations to a fairly empty restaurant. We didn’t have to do much walking as we were sat directly in front of the elevators and hostess stand at a TINY square table (no more than 2×2 feet). Intending to take blog photos, I had my chunky DSLR and I carried a small purse, both of which I had to set on the floor by the time our drinks arrived. One good thing about sitting on the westward-facing side, though, was that we were in the prime spot for the sunset and the Sunsphere provides some of the best views of Knoxville.
To start, we had the “Tartufo Fonduta”, a thick and decadent pesto cheese dip served with veggies, house-made chips, and warm bread. Looking back, this was most definitely the best part of the meal. You know how a lot of people will refer to themselves as a “dessert person”? Well, I am a “cheese person” and I could, and sometimes do, eat copious amounts of cheese for every meal. The fonduta had a rich flavor and I was practically eating it by the spoonful once we ran out of our dipping snacks.
Before placing our order, we inquired about the origin of the meat on the menu and were sadly told that the kitchen did not source locally. Many restaurants downtown really pride themselves on featuring produce and meats that are grown and raised by local farms, so I was disappointed to find out that even though I was paying double what most of these “trendy” restaurants charge, the quality of the meat still did not meet my standards. There was only one vegetarian-friendly entree, so I decided to try two small Primi pasta dishes instead (I’d rather have pasta over meat anyway). I ordered the only two Primi dishes without meat – the “Orecchiette” and the “Dolce Patata Gnocchi”. Luke tried the “Chicken al Mattone”. We had to play a game of Tetris to fit the dishes onto our small table upon their arrival.
The orecchiette was not my favorite – I ordered it despite the menu stating that it had leeks and artichokes which I kind of despise (its a texture thing) but I thought I would be able to eat around them. The pasta was served in a mushroom broth that both of the roots had been cooked in, making them tender but also… flaky. It was impossible to take a bite of the dish without having that repulsive texture against my tongue. The dish was almost in between a soup and a traditional pasta, with the broth making it watery and flavorless. A true testament to my attention to detail is the fact that I noticed that on the menu, the orecchiette was “finished with parmesan curls”. CURLS, people. Like freshly grated slivers of heaven shaved from an aromatic block of parmesan. When it arrived, it was topped with parmesan shreds that were clearly scooped out of one of those industrial-sized Costco containers. As a cheese person, that was the last straw.
Since the orecchiette was such a disappointment, I was really hoping the “Dolce Patata Gnocchi” would be special. What I didn’t realize was that “Dolce Patata” meant sweet potato. I think I would have enjoyed it more had the sweet potato been shaped into gnocchi-sized potato pillows, however it seemed like they just cubed a roasted sweet potato and called it pasta. The gorgonzola cream sauce was almost overwhelmingly sweet, but it did have a good flavor that complemented both the taste of the sweet potato and the poached pears well.
Luke is not picky at all when it comes to chicken, but the “Chicken al Mattone” at Primo must be one of the only exceptions. I think their menu is really poorly done, from it not clarifying (in English) that the “Dolce Patata Gnocchi” was sweet potato gnocchi to stating that the chicken was served atop a “brick pesto potato salad and mama’s broiled tomatoes” when it arrived in front of Luke with a pile of olives (one of the only foods Luke cannot stand) the same size as the chicken leg with hardly any potatoes and no tomatoes in sight.
We were both already so uncomfortable by the time our food arrived that the disappointment in our dishes made for a pretty terrible overall experience. It may work in a bar area, but there is absolutely no place for a table of that size in the dining room where patrons are encouraged to eat multiple courses. Our legs kept colliding and as the restaurant started to fill up, we felt even more claustrophobic when fellow diners began bumping our shoulders as they were seated. Other couples who arrived after us (probably without reservations) were seated at spacious four-top tables while we were crammed in between them. The presentation of our meal was surprisingly underwhelming, with all our dishes thrown into what reminded me of my dog’s dinner bowl without much care as to how they looked. I think it’s important to state that, while many may think I am nitpicking, these are things that I expect when I pay for a “fine dining” experience. If you’re curious about Primo, I would suggest going for appetizers and drinks and sitting in the bar area. The lounge is on the south side of the sphere as well, providing good sunset views and it has a row of intimate couch-surrounded tables facing the floor-to-ceiling windows. Our drinks and appetizer were the only part of our meal that we actually enjoyed, so this is our plan should we choose to revisit Primo. If you’re looking for an Italian eatery (with a hint of a southern influence) in downtown Knoxville, Emilia in Market Square opened in late Spring (2016) and it is incredible. The experience I had when dining at Emilia was the one I was hoping Primo would deliver – an intimate setting with traditional, yet inventive authentic Italian cuisine. I’ll try to squeeze in a proper review of Emilia before I leave Knoxville in July, so keep your eyes peeled and let me know if you have any questions or comments about Primo, Emilia, or downtown Knoxville dining.