One of my planned destinations in my recent wandering about the area was Holly’s Corner. Owner Holly Hambright opened the restaurant about six months ago and, good intentions aside, I just hadn’t been able to make it there. I also wasn’t sure what I was in for. Was it a bakery? I knew her sister, Peggy Hambright, operated Magpies which resides at 846 N. Central since its move several years ago from the Old City. Metropulse did a great profile on the sisters just over a year ago. The new business sits next door and I stopped in and learned quite a bit.
First, there is the history of the building. In the short term, I realized I’d been in there when the former Book Eddy moved from south Knoxville into the space and became Central Street Books. I’ve often acknowledged in this space that I have a hard time visualizing possibilities when I look at a building to be re-developed. The same is true when I try to picture how something was before. I could not see Central Street Books when I looked around the new restaurant even though I visited the book store more than once.
It’s the deeper history that most people will relate to: It’s in the same space as the old Corner Lounge. It operated as a bar or lounge from the 1930’s to 2008 and was referred to in Cormac McCarthy’s book, Suttree, as the “Corner Grill.” Most famously in more recent times, Con Hunley played a weekly gig there in the late 1960’s before finding his way to national success. Sadly, I must admit I never made it to the Corner Lounge. I know – it hurts my Knoxville street cred.
The building is little more than a block off Broadway. Since it’s west of Broadway, it’s not in Fourth and Gill. Since it is so far east on Central, it is several blocks short of Happy Holler. Maybe Old North incorporates that entire section of Central including Happy Holler. Though not historically correct, increasingly anything on Central west of Broadway is being called “Happy Holler.” Whatever you call it, it’s currently a hot spot in redevelopment.
Late last year it became the latest venture for Holly. She’d traveled about in her younger years, attaining great success as a chef cooking for queens and celebrities in places such as Boston and Baltimore and, most notably for me, she cooked for Mr. Frank. You cook for Frank Sinatra, I suspect you better get it right. And she apparently got it very right, gaining quite a reputation as a chef.
She returned to Knoxville in 2000 and served as a chef several places around town before opening Holly’s Eventful Dining in 2008. Offering catering only in the beginning, she soon branched out to offer breakfast and lunch at 5032 Wittaker in the Homberg area of Bearden. She expanded to the new restaurant on Central, next door to her sister’s place, last fall and so, works in close proximity to her sister for the first time in their careers. Supportive of each other, they mostly do their own thing.
Holly’s Corner offers the lunch only at this time – along with the possibility of events after 4:00 PM each day. She told me she has hopes to expand to breakfast and she’s considering adding music or other touches and staying open later into the evening. She’s a bubbly person with a ready laugh and a mind that seems to work several sentences ahead of the conversation. She doesn’t seem like someone content for things to remain the same for very long.
As you can see on the formal menu and the less formal chalk board menu the food served is serious culinary fare, served with a sense of whimsy. Accommodations are made for the kids and for the vegetarians among us, but the focus is on deliciousness with a flair. She cooked for Mr. Frank, for goodness sake, the woman can cook for you.
I also had to stick my head in Magpies. As many times as I’ve enjoyed their baked goods, I don’t think I’d ever been inside the store. Naturally, buttery goodness lay in every direction with cakes, cookies and, of course, the famous cup cakes on display. It would make a fine place to stop after a good meal at Holly’s Corner for a goodie-to-go, though they serve confections from Magpies as desert at Holly’s Corner, as well.
Stop in and say, “Hello” to Holly. She’ll likely greet you as if you’re the friend she expected to meet that day. With a little prompting she’ll start spinning stories and talking about plans. One of the cool plans in coming months is a planned Summer Supper in conjunction with Knox Heritage. It raises money for preservation efforts and it offers an historically symmetrical twist: Con Hunley will perform for the event. Tickets are not yet on sale, but will be very soon.