Tupelo Honey Opens at Last (Just Add Friends)

A small crowd waits outside on opening day, Tupelo Honey, Market Square, Knoxville, October 2012

We waited for what seemed like an eternity for this moment to arrive. I’d never eaten at Tupelo Honey in Asheville, so word-of-mouth fueled my interest. I tasted a small sample of what would be in store at the Dogwood Arts Food Tent last spring and really got excited. The construction seemed interminable and when the weekend before opening arrived and I realized the restaurant invited hordes of people all weekend to get a preview and that none of them were me, I felt a bit excluded.

Inside the Entrance, Tupelo Honey, Market Square, Knoxville, October 2012

But that ended to today. Urban Woman and I made plans to walk to the restaurant for dinner and I’m glad we did. The staff greeted us in friendly, if slightly overwhelmed (not so much by us), fashion. The computer didn’t quite behave as desired, but order restored, we were added to the list and told we’d have about a thirty-five minute wait. I think it was a bit longer, but given the photographs I’d seen of the line at lunch stretched out through the square, it didn’t seem so bad.

Jim, Jerry, Millie and Rick, Tupelo Honey, Market Square, Knoxville, October 2012

Seated outside enjoying pre-meal glasses of wine I found friends Jerry and Millie along with their friends Rick and Jim. I learned that Rick and Jim invited themselves to the soft-opening. Why didn’t I think of that? Later we spoke further after being seated and it reminded me, once again, of a theme I’ve discussed before about this city: There are very nice restaurants, interesting sights and more to do than anyone could possibly cover, but in the end, it is the people in the center city of Knoxville who make it the phenomenal place we all love. I appreciate the friendship and kindness of people like Jerry, Millie, Rick and Jim.

Tupelo Honey, Market Square, Knoxville, October 2012
Tupelo Honey, Market Square, Knoxville, October 2012

Urban Woman and I scored a comfortable booth which just happens to be what we prefer. The lighting dimmed a bit as it grew darker outside and the atmosphere was fun and warm. As with many downtown buildings, the noise is a bit much, though we had no trouble hearing each other. I could only hear the music enough to tell it was playing which, being a music addict always frustrates me a bit.

Tupelo Honey, Market Square, Knoxville, October 2012
Tupelo Honey, Market Square, Knoxville, October 2012

Our waiter, whose name escapes me, was perfectly helpful without being intrusive and we had multiple people stop by our table to ask how we liked our meal. And the meal, while not designed for heart health (they do have a few healthier options but, seriously, for our first visit?), proved to be delicious.

Bar at Tupelo Honey, Market Square, Knoxville, October 2012

Urban Woman had tea that she thought tasted so good she wanted me to try it. I declined, but enjoyed a very nice William Hill Chardonnay. A bit pricey at $8 for a glass, it proved worth the price. The wine list isn’t long and features several regional and organic wines (Biltmore and Dreaming Tree – Dave Matthews vineyard-, respectively). They also feature a number of cocktails and emphasize regional beers including our very own Saw Works Brew on tap.

Biscuits at Tupelo Honey, Market Square, Knoxville, October 2012
Fried Green Tomatoes, Tupelo Honey, Market Square, Knoxville, October 2012

We decided to order Fried Green Tomatoes for an appetizer and our waiter brought a large biscuit for each of us. The Fried Green Tomatoes won a split decision at the table. I liked them, but Urban Woman wasn’t sold. They did taste different from those we ate growing up. There seemed to be a surprising spice present in the batter which I never could place. The biscuits won a unanimous decision at the table. Crunchy on the outside, tender and moist on the inside, they were as good as any biscuits I’ve eaten in a long time. The blueberry jam and, of course, the honey also won raves.

In Praise of BBQ Plate, Tupelo Honey, Market Square, Knoxville, October 2012

For her main course, Urban Woman had the In Praise of BBQ Plate, pulled pork barbecue, fried (yes, fried) parmesan corn on the cob and sauteed greens. I tried the barbecue and we both agreed it was delicious. She liked the greens and the corn, but had a hard time eating it. She didn’t want to bite it off the cob and her knife wasn’t sharp enough to cut it off.

Brian’s Shrimp and Grits, Tupelo Honey, Market Square, Knoxville, October 2012

I ordered Brian’s Shrimp and Grits, but upgraded to the Shoo (pronounced like “shoe”) Mercy version which put me from seven shrimp to a dozen. I honestly think there were more than that and they were much tastier than some of the shrimp I’ve eaten downtown. I upgraded because the ingredients are a bit different for the larger version and they sounded better to me. The dish was delicious, though I would caution anyone who doesn’t like a lot of hot spice. I love hot spice and it warmed my scalp a bit.

In the end, the Shoo Mercy version of the shrimp and grits overwhelmed me. I ate about a fifth of it and brought enough home that it will be dinner for both of us tomorrow. When we go back, we’ll likely order it and split it between us.

While we will likely chose more carefully in the future, the total for this meal ran $53.00 before tax and tip, which is more than we can do on a regular basis, though given that it is our dinner tomorrow night it isn’t that bad. Next time we’d likely split a Shoo Mercy version of one of the dishes and forgo the appetizer which would have reduced this bill by $20.00, making it much more reasonable. Of course, Urban woman might point out another $8.00 savings if the wine turned to water, but there’s a reason the miracle went in the opposite direction, so that’s one expense we’ll just have to abide.

I very much recommend you try it out. I think its popularity will match its hype. You might want to call ahead and save yourself a bit of the wait. Our next trip will likely be for coffee and the pecan pie. There was simply no way to add that to our meal this time around. Oh, and I would most definitely recommend that you add friends. Ours made this night much better and for that we are very grateful.