Rearranged, Expanded and Re-imagined Tomato Head Opens

 

Tomato Head, Market Square, Knoxville, January 2014

Tomato Head, Market Square, Knoxville, January 2014

The first thing that becomes obvious as you approach Tomato Head is that you won’t enter the same door patrons have entered since 1990 when Tomato Head opened as a lunch spot. The entrance at 12 Market Square will now be primarily for servers assisting patrons at the outdoor patio. The new entrance is at 14 Market Square, most recently the entrance to Marble Slab prior to their closing.

Artisan Breads, Tomato Head, Market Square, Knoxville, January 2014

Artisan Breads, Tomato Head, Market Square, Knoxville, January 2014

Awesome, Strangely Shaped Baguettes, Tomato Head, Market Square, Knoxville, January 2014

Awesome, Strangely Shaped Baguettes, Tomato Head, Market Square, Knoxville, January 2014

Tomato Head, Market Square, Knoxville, January 2014

Tomato Head, Market Square, Knoxville, January 2014

The first thing you’ll notice as you enter is that the baked goods selection has been increased and sits just inside the door. The Flour head bakery located outside downtown, but just a few minutes away, will keep the store stocked in cookies, cupcakes, monkey bread and more traditional breads like baguettes. I have to say, I couldn’t help myself: I bought a baguette on the spot and launched into it before I got home. It was amazing – just the right hardness on the outside and soft on the inside.

Tomato Head, Market Square, Knoxville, January 2014

Tomato Head, Market Square, Knoxville, January 2014

Once inside, you’ll spot familiar motifs like the woman pulling pizza from the oven and those comforting hardwood floors, but you’ll also notice some changes. The beer taps have gone from six to nineteen and represent eleven breweries – all of which are local or regional. One oddity is that  – at least at this time – there are no tap-heads, so you’ll have to look at the menu to see what’s offered. A smaller taste is included in the menu so you can sample several beers at one sitting.

Deserts and Bar, Tomato Head, Market Square, Knoxville, January 2014

Deserts and Bar, Tomato Head, Market Square, Knoxville, January 2014

Paul Chamberlain, Tomato Head, Market Square, Knoxville, January 2014

Paul Arena, Tomato Head, Market Square, Knoxville, January 2014

A large open doorway connects the two addresses, but once through the arch, you’ll notice changes to the old space. The once raised platform just inside the door is now at floor level and the counter is gone. This left the floors a mess, but that will change, soon. The kitchen is still located at the front, but even as it functions, its replacement is being built at the rear of the expanded store. Completion of that project is expected in about six weeks, at which point the restaurant will close again. Owner Mahaste Vafaie told me this will  allowthem to “complete the current dining room by replacing all the floors, getting new lighting, and adding booth seating.” She says they are very excited about the changes. The design work has been done by Sanders Pace Architecture Firm.

Tomato Head, Market Square, Knoxville, January 2014

Tomato Head, Market Square, Knoxville, January 2014

Tomato Head, Market Square, Knoxville, January 2014

Tomato Head, Market Square, Knoxville, January 2014

Once reopened, diners will find much expanded seating both inside and outside, making room for about sixty additional patrons. The menu should remain the same, with the exception of the expanded beer offerings. Booth seating may be a possibility in the future, but bar seating is available now. The restaurant also plans to work with a different organization or charity each month with $3 from certain sandwich and draft beer pairing going toward their cause.

A special thanks goes to Paul Arena and Dustin Chamberlain for patiently answering my questions – and to Paul for the great pose with the taps. I brought Urban Woman back for a meal later and Urban Girl in a couple of days later for some cupcakes. Everyone was friendly and warm, the food was excellent, and who can argue with more of a good thing? Go by and check it out.

Comments

  1. So, is Tomato Head now offering downtown’s first bakery? We sure have needed one in the Market Square vicinity. Or, should we count French Market as a bakery too? Crepes aren’t typical fare for bakeries. But, they do sell baguettes, croissants and I believe a few other baked goods.

    • KnoxvilleUrbanGuy says

      It’s a good question. I’m still not sure this is a full-fledged bakery, but it’s a good piece of one. I’d probably argue for Hot Bagel Company being the first one, though it’s only open mornings through early afternoon. You can read about it here

      • I’ve never really thought of bagels as bakery items. They seem like they’re in a cuisine world of their own! I write a newsletter for the City People organization and was going to mention the Tomato Head addition with a link to your story. That’s one reason I was trying to verify.

        • KnoxvilleUrbanGuy says

          Dee, Check the article I linked and the other one about them linked from that. They don’t stop at bagels. They have great baguettes, baguette sandwiches, lots of different kinds of bread baked fresh every day in Oak Ridge at their original location. They make fresh muffins, etc. You might just walk down there (Courthouse at the end of Market Street) and see what you think. Definitely not just bagels.

  2. Photo is of Paul Arena; not Paul Chamberlain. Credits later in the post referring to Paul Arena and Dustin Chamberlain are correct.

  3. My son’s favorite place to eat, its out weekly routine, excited to check out the new addition. Looking forward to lots of sweets and goods to share with friends and family.

  4. Chester Kilgore says

    Thanks for a really well written article. I could almost picture myself there reading your description. Sounds really good, and congratulations to the owner for having the drive and the good food to make TH the huge success it has become. I am curious about one thing though. In the article, the owner said they would be replacing all the floors. Are the floors not made of old growth beautiful wood? Why would anyone want to replace them? I have not been to TH lately, so perhaps there are problems I do not understand with the original floors. Can anyone give input on this? Thanks.

    • Chester: I don’t know if the old floor is original, but it is really scratched up. It’s in terrible shape and almost definitely beyond saving.

    • KnoxvilleUrbanGuy says

      There are also large sections of the floor, now exposed by the removal of the counter and the elevated seating, that do not have hardwood beneath them. I suspect the same may also be true of the kitchen in the front. I rechecked that quote because it caught my attention, as well, but that is what she said.

      • The kitchen (I work there) is currently covered in linoleum. The wood underneath is very soft in places, and will definitely have to be replaced.

  5. Looks amazing. Can’t wait to visit the new Tomato Head!

  6. I stopped in Tomato Head for lunch Friday. I’m happy to report the Oh Boy sandwich is still excellent. And I bought a cookie on the way out.

  7. Congrats to Mahasti! I’ve always felt like Tomatohead represented the very best lunch spot in town. Now that there’s a full bar attached, I may just make it a dinner spot 🙂
    Are they serving liquor now or still just beer and wine?

  8. A bit of trivia: Those aren’t the only doors that patrons have been entering to Tomato Head on the Square since 1990. During the renovations to the Square some years ago, crews inadvertently caused a section of the exterior wall of Tomato Head to collapse. The restaurant operated out of building across the Square (what is now Soccer Taco?) for the duration of those repairs.

    And in 90, I think the business was operating under it’s original name: The Flying Tomato.

    • KnoxvilleUrbanGuy says

      Thanks for the detail. It’s funny, isn’t it, how hard it is to remember specifics that were different years ago? Like exactly where did Tomato Head (Flying Tomato) move during that time. I’ve got an even bigger one that I just have a hard time picturing anymore: When Watson’s was on the west side of the Square. Many, many times we parked in the parking lot behind it (now the garage) and, after shopping the bargain basement, came through the other side and onto the square. Now I look at that side of the Square and just can’t see it.

  9. Lettie Flores says

    I just love this place. Since moving here this past summer, my husband and I frequent TH a lot. Now that I am working downtown, I know I’ll make this part of my weekly lunch round. So excited about their expansion and the many other good things happening on the square.

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