Chef Joseph Lenn Opens J.C. Holdway at 501 Union Avenue

J.C. Holdway, 501 Union Avenue, Knoxville, September 2016

J.C. Holdway, 501 Union Avenue, Knoxville, September 2016

It’s been a long time coming. It was just over a year ago I profiled chef Joseph Lenn, at that time the only James Beard Award winning chef in the state of Tennessee. After his stint as head chef at Blackberry Farm, he’d decided to open his own restaurant and the location would be on Union Avenue in downtown Knoxville. The primary concern in August 2015 was that his anticipated January 2016 opening date for the restaurant we would later learn was to be named J.C. Holdway after Joseph’s great uncle, would fall during the winter, making his intention of presenting fresh, locally produced food a very difficult task, indeed. If only that had been the major issue.

As is the case with virtually every project, there were personal, professional, regulatory and construction delays. The projected opening date moved. Then it moved again. The most interesting development during the lapse relates to the infamous grease interceptors required of restaurants. After a lengthy search for alternatives and equally as lengthy negotiations with KUB, he obtained approval for a much less expensive alternate system which also promises to be more environmentally friendly. KUB agreed to allow him to try the system with close monitoring. If it proves successful, it could be a game changer locally, allowing restaurants to comply with the law while not facing a potentially devastating up-front expense.

J.C. Holdway, 501 Union Avenue, Knoxville, September 2016

J.C. Holdway, 501 Union Avenue, Knoxville, September 2016

J.C. Holdway, 501 Union Avenue, Knoxville, September 2016

J.C. Holdway, 501 Union Avenue, Knoxville, September 2016

J.C. Holdway, 501 Union Avenue, Knoxville, September 2016

J.C. Holdway, 501 Union Avenue, Knoxville, September 2016

J.C. Holdway, 501 Union Avenue, Knoxville, September 2016

J.C. Holdway, 501 Union Avenue, Knoxville, September 2016

With these and other issues settled, he targeted a late summer opening. Doors opened last night to invited guests – the same day his liquor license was granted. He’ll have another invitation-only event tonight and officially open for guests Saturday night. As is obvious from the photographs, the first official guests will be treated to a dining experience in a beautiful space.

Simple in design, with clean lines, Joseph wanted guests to feel as much at home as possible. All food preparation is exposed so customers may watch their food being prepared – just like at home, but without the effort. The wood burning oven holds a continual open flame visible from the seating. Wood for the stove is stacked between sections of tables, giving a rustic separation and making for a more intimate feel. The windows in the restaurant are among the most attractive in the city and light is generous. A seating area to the rear has a more private feeling, just a little further away from the action up front.

J.C. Holdway, 501 Union Avenue, Knoxville, September 2016

J.C. Holdway, 501 Union Avenue, Knoxville, September 2016

J.C. Holdway, 501 Union Avenue, Knoxville, September 2016

Jerry and Emily Lenn, Parents of the Chef, J.C. Holdway, 501 Union Avenue, Knoxville, September 2016

J.C. Holdway, 501 Union Avenue, Knoxville, September 2016

Jared, J.C. Holdway, 501 Union Avenue, Knoxville, September 2016

J.C. Holdway, 501 Union Avenue, Knoxville, September 2016

J.C. Holdway, 501 Union Avenue, Knoxville, September 2016

Adding to the “at home” feel, the festive dishes, specifically designed for the restaurant, as well as other service-ware, is displayed to customers. The original wood floors have been augmented by attractive wooden tables – which Joseph put together himself. One line of seating is provided along the window. A standing bar lines the front of the restaurant looking out onto Union Avenue. One touch of home you won’t find: televisions. He will have a music system, soon, to help mitigate the noise.

Chef Joseph told me his goals with the food are very simple. “I want to prepare tasty food that people will enjoy and want to come back. I will use familiar ingredients with different and usual flavor profiles.” He mentioned specifically the roasted chicken and okra which he called a “homage to my mom.” He noted that while you might have chicken at home, it’s unlikely to involve the three day process he uses and it’s unlikely to be soaked in brine for twenty-four hours or to be prepared in a wood-burning oven.

J.C. Holdway, 501 Union Avenue, Knoxville, September 2016

Staff Scrambling on Opening Night, J.C. Holdway, 501 Union Avenue, Knoxville, September 2016

J.C. Holdway, 501 Union Avenue, Knoxville, September 2016

J.C. Holdway, 501 Union Avenue, Knoxville, September 2016

J.C. Holdway, 501 Union Avenue, Knoxville, September 2016

J.C. Holdway, 501 Union Avenue, Knoxville, September 2016

J.C. Holdway, 501 Union Avenue, Knoxville, September 2016

J.C. Holdway, 501 Union Avenue, Knoxville, September 2016

In an interesting variation on the them one might expect for a chef-driven restaurant, he says the menu will change as he learns his customer’s preferences. Simply put, the menu will reflect what people enjoy the most. He stated explicitly, “It isn’t about me or about what I want to cook.” He was also quick to point out that many different people have made the restaurant happen and he’s, “very thankful for the excitement. It means a lot to me.”

I’ll spare you the superlatives – I’ve never claimed to be a food critic – but everything was very, very good. We shared a couple of hush puppies (not currently on the menu) and “Ember roasted lunch box peppers, lime juice, sea salt ($7).” The peppers may have been our favorite flavor of the night. We followed that with a salad each: Urban Woman had a “Cucumber and melon salad ($11),” while I enjoyed a delicious “Wood grilled trout salad ($12).” The crumbled cornbread on the trout salad made all the difference.

J.C. Holdway, 501 Union Avenue, Knoxville, September 2016

J.C. Holdway, 501 Union Avenue, Knoxville, September 2016

J.C. Holdway, 501 Union Avenue, Knoxville, September 2016

Chef Lenn, J.C. Holdway, 501 Union Avenue, Knoxville, September 2016

J.C. Holdway, 501 Union Avenue, Knoxville, September 2016

J.C. Holdway, 501 Union Avenue, Knoxville, September 2016

J.C. Holdway, 501 Union Avenue, Knoxville, September 2016

Hushpuppies and Roasted Peppers, J.C. Holdway, 501 Union Avenue, Knoxville, September 2016

For our entrees, we had the “Grilled NC catfish, Carolina gold rice, tomatoes, squash, basil pistou, tomato vinaigrette ($22),” and the “Wood oven roasted 1/2 chicken, creamed corn, fried okra, roasted onions ($24).” The fish was perfect, virtually melting in our mouth and the chicken was excellent, as well. I brought most of the chicken home. We agreed we could easily split it next time, the portion is so large. The fish was more a portion for a single person. We also enjoyed a bottle of Champteloup Sauvignon Blanc ($8/$23). Joseph mentioned how hard he worked to provide excellent, but affordable bottles.

J.C. Holdway, 501 Union Avenue, Knoxville, September 2016

Trout Salad, J.C. Holdway, 501 Union Avenue, Knoxville, September 2016

J.C. Holdway, 501 Union Avenue, Knoxville, September 2016

Cucumber and Melon Salad, J.C. Holdway, 501 Union Avenue, Knoxville, September 2016

J.C. Holdway, 501 Union Avenue, Knoxville, September 2016

Roasted Chicken, J.C. Holdway, 501 Union Avenue, Knoxville, September 2016

J.C. Holdway, 501 Union Avenue, Knoxville, September 2016

Catfish, J.C. Holdway, 501 Union Avenue, Knoxville, September 2016

We didn’t make it to the coffee and dessert we would usually enjoy, but the desserts all sounded delicious and the couple at the next table had the Lemon-buttermilk tart with blueberry jam and vanilla crème fraiche ($8) which was beautiful. All coffee, we were told, is French-pressed. Our final bill was just over $100 before tip, but we could certainly return and carefully eat for significantly less. The price certainly felt like a fair amount for the kind of food we enjoyed and we brought home most of one entrè and half-a-bottle of wine.

J.C. Holdway, 501 Union Avenue, Knoxville, September 2016

J.C. Holdway, 501 Union Avenue, Knoxville, September 2016

J.C. Holdway, 501 Union Avenue, Knoxville, September 2016

J.C. Holdway, 501 Union Avenue, Knoxville, September 2016

Reservations, while not explicitly required, are strongly encouraged. Even a portion of bar seating – which provides the best view of the kitchen – is dedicated to those with reservations. You may reserve your table via the J.C. Holdway website, which is to become active on Friday, or by calling the restaurant at 312-9050. Seating will be  limited and reservations via the website are preferred. Initial service will be for dinner only, though brunch or lunch hours may be added later. The restaurant will take seating from 5:00 PM – 9:30 PM Tuesday through Thursday and 5:00 PM – 10:00 PM Friday and Saturday nights.

You will likely see us there on a regular basis.

UPDATE 8:30 AM: An early morning fire in the wall behind the wood-burning oven will likely delay this opening. Damage was limited to the wall outside the restaurant and to smoke damage. The restaurant itself appears unharmed.

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Wall in the hallway outside the restaurant. No apparent damage inside the restaurant.

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Comments

  1. Last night was one of the best food experiences in my life. I had a delicious Denver steak, wine, and the incredible hush puppies he brought to each table. It was very hard to decide what to order and after seeing Alan’s pictures I will definitely copy cat what he ordered the next time which I hope will be very soon. What a lovely evening with old friends and new to celebrate this new restaurant. Thank you, Joseph! And, Alan, for the article.

  2. Sorry about the fire; Joseph must be wondering, “What next?” Regardless, I love what they’ve done with this space! I have two questions:

    1) You’ve long reported on setbacks which Knoxville restaurateurs have faced, regarding KUB & grease interceptors. I believe one or two establishments even chose/had to close, over the issue. And, suddenly, along comes this potential miracle solution. Did Joseph himself find this design or has it perhaps been known to others who were unable to sway KUB to consider it, on a trial basis?

    2) Google’s Street View of the Walnut Street side of the restaurant (from April) shows about 8 rolling trash bins on the sidewalk. I don’t know just how far back the dining areas are, along that side, but this reminds me: didn’t the city have plans to begin enclosing such bin areas in various downtown areas? Or, has this since been done, there on Walnut? I ask because such a view of a bunch of trash bins from out of those beautiful windows would not be my preference.

    • KnoxvilleUrbanGuy says:

      He’s the first one to sway them and it wasn’t easy. I think they really believed they had found the only system that fit the requirements. Others had tried to argue, but I think Joseph did his research and just didn’t stop. And, yes, there was a plan for multiple garbage can bins and I’m not sure where that stands. As for the ones outside the restaurant, they were not in evidence last night. I’ll look later, but I assume they were moved farther down Walnut where the grade would make them invisible from inside the restaurant.

  3. What a shame about the fire. The food looks great.

    Those windows!

  4. Chris Eaker says:

    Looking forward to trying it out. I hope they can repair the fire and smoke damage quickly without much extra cost.

  5. It’s great to hear that JC Holdway is finally opening in this beautiful space, perhaps the most attractive restaurant space in downtown Knoxville. Our dining scene is really looking up, way up!

  6. Oh Knoxville, now you are also a Foodie City. I already loved you at first sight. Now I can also love you, at first bite. Thank you to all the people who make the food that make this city, just-one-more reason to be from Knoxville. Sigh…It just keeps getting better to be here.

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