In the early days of the new year, Knox Mason became the first new business to open its doors in downtown Knoxville. Located in the spot most recently inhabited by Harry’s and more distantly, by the legendary Harold’s Kosher Deli, the spot deserves some respect. In a tip of the hat to the past, the new place features blown up pictures of the exterior of Harold’s back in the day.
The concept for the restaurant is old school southern with a modern twist. Early in its incarnation, invariably there will be some tweaking here and there to bring the vision to complete fruition. For starters, Urban Woman felt the theme flowed so strongly throughout the restaurant from the menu to the china, that perhaps the greeter and waitresses might somehow dress to the theme, as well. I’m not so sure, but she can’t be the only one who thinks so.
Speaking of the china, we each had a small quibble. She did not like the napkins, which are country-styled dish cloths (we called them “rags” back in the day). It seems her grandmother’s dish cloths were not so clean and it conjured a negative memory. Still learning small details about her after all these years. The napkins didn’t bother me, but the wine glasses did. I’d prefer something more traditional. It wasn’t a mason jar, but simply a straight water glass. I know, picky.
Then there was the food, which we rated very good for what they have in mind. This is a great place if you seek southern comfort food and calories are of no concern. Since we’ve been trying to trim a few pounds in the new year, we had a hard time making our selections and failed to find lower fat or calorie items. It seems an item or two featuring traditional-southern-meets-modern- waistlines might be a good idea and I hope that will be coming at some point.
To be fair, the Sunburst Trout might fit the bill, but it was unclear if it was fried. The Braised Chicken and Green Chile Stew also might be lower fat, but most items are prepared with grandma in mind and generous droppings of ham or bacon or added for flavor. Urban Woman ate the collards, which could be low fat, but are prepared with Benton’s bacon and sugar. She adored this dish and declared it to be as good as she remembered from her childhood.
She also ordered Shrimp Toast with Alabama White Sauce. We shared this dish and both avoided the white sauce which seemed completely unnecessary. The toast was heavenly, but the bread appeared to be fried in butter, which made it great, but high fat. Somehow they manage to infuse the bread with the shrimp. It’s hard to explain and harder, yet, to imagine how they perform this alchemy, but I’d highly recommend it for those not watching calories.
We also ordered a cheese plate to share and we wished it had packed a bit more of a punch. Two of the three cheeses were particularly mild and tasted so similar to our unrefined tastes, they could have been the same. Maybe a connoisseur would delight in the plate, and we liked it, but it didn’t set our head spinning.
I also enjoyed the Warm Winter Salad. I’m not sure I’d be excited to order it on my next trip, but it was good. Again, the word “salad” should not be taken to mean “healthy eating.” The dish includes egg, toast (Flour Head) and a bacon vinaigrette. We ended the meal sharing a small bowl of banana pudding which was good. The topping is marshmallow instead of meringue, which I prefer, but it was good.
Seating is provided for up to 48 people, including bar seating. We felt this should be reduced as the tables are so close together it’s hard getting to the bench along the wall. With the exception of the front table for eight, all tables are for two, but can be moved together and they seemed happy to do that for the people who asked. We ate early and by the time we left customers had begun to stream in.
So, our tab ran Shrimp Toast ($6), Collard Greens ($5), Cheese Plate ($18), Warm Winter Salad ($7), glass of wine ($7) and Banana Pudding ($5), for a total of $48. After tax and tip I think we left $65. It’s not a cheap place to eat, though that’s less than our first trip to Tupelo Honey ($75) when we, similarly, were trying to cover some ground on the menu. Certainly, a couple could eat more carefully and spend less.
So we will likely return some cold winter night when we want comfort food and have successfully dropped the extra pounds we are trying to shed. Until we’ve made a little more progress on that front, we’ll choose places with lighter options. I do think it is a good addition to the 100 Block and I look forward to watching them evolve.