If there is a word that I most do not associate with downtown, it would be “mall.” At least since I got out of the habit of saying “Market Square Mall,” which means nothing to recent settlers, but old timers will remember. If there is a word that I do not associate with “mall businesses,” it is local. If you are like me, you’ll join me in being wrong on both fronts.
At the urging of a couple of readers I explored inside the First Tennessee Plaza and realized the interior first-floor area is called the First Tennessee Plaza Retail Mall. So, we have a mall in the heart of downtown. Who knew? Everybody but me? Fair enough.
The single business with its own exterior business is one that I profiled when they first opened in August 2014: Brown Bag. Offering breakfast, lunch, bulk pick-up and catering, they strive to offer healthier fare. Not health food all the way, but healthier. Open 7:30 AM – 2:00 PM Monday through Friday, here’s their menu. And they are local. They opened their first restaurant six years ago on Hardin Valley Road, followed with the downtown location a year-and-a-half ago and a more recent restaurant in Franklin, Tennessee.
For some reason, when I wrote that story I didn’t explore inside. I think I had a vague impression that it is an off-limits area to anyone who doesn’t work there. Turns out there is nothing to that at all. If I had explored, I would have found Garrett’s Downtown Deli (menu on front page), which has been in that spot for eight years, open 7:00 AM – 3:00 PM. It’s under new ownership by Suzanne and Alfred Dalton. Alfred is retired military and the couple have made Knoxville their home for the last five years as he instructs R.O.T.C. at U.T. In 2012, Southern Living Magazine called it, “a great place to eat,” and last week my neighbor who worked in the building for twenty-five years said it is “simply the best.”
The busiest spot of all the options was the Prime Time “NY Style” Hot Dog Connection. Open from 11:00 AM – 3:00 PM, their main offering is “all beef” hot dogs. You’ll also find a rotating menu of soups.
I also found Lora Samuelson’s Lora Jean’s Gourmet Popcorn and enjoyed two bags – one of cheese and another her “K-Town mix,” and I really struggled not to eat both large bags of perfect popcorn on the spot. Lora told me she had been open five weeks and business has been great. From Illinois – she and her husband moved here a couple of years ago – she brought “Illinois-style popcorn.”
She plans to perfect what she’s doing (I’m not sure how it could get better) and then she wants to conquer the world – or at least this part of it. She’d like to see her popcorn available in downtown theaters and she’d like to eventually open up on Market Square. I’m betting on her. She’s open Monday through Friday, 11:00 AM – 4:00 PM and she delivers downtown. And there is this – she has 20 “likes” on FB. That’s just dumb. Click that link and give her a like and check out her popcorn.
Finally, and this was the business that drew me to the plaza, Best Bagels and Deli has opened. Upon returning from New York and eating great bagels everyday, sometime back in the 90s, I searched for the best bagel I could find and landed here – at their S. Peter’s Road location out west where they’ve been for seventeen years. Now under the ownership of Maria and Chip Guinn, they just opened the location in the tower and I had to try a bagel to see if it was as good as I remembered. It was. They have over twenty different bagels (menu) and hand-made spreads. I had the asiago with honey walnut cream cheese. It was as good as I remembered.
They are in a location where I normally look for food, but they are local, tasty and available for anyone living, working or playing downtown – generally Monday through Friday breakfast and lunch or lunch. Give them a try and tell them “Urban Guy” sent you. They won’t have any idea what you are talking about, but it will be fun. Bon appetit.