Kefi Leaves Our Reviewers Eager to Return

Kefi, 120 East Jackson Avenue, Knoxville, October 2018

(Written by AppalachianGastroventures for Inside of Knoxville. This is the third installment in their monthly series of restaurant reviews, allowing for further exploration of local restaurants after their opening. Check out their blog for many more dining experiences!)

There is grilled cheese, and then there is grilled cheese. There’s a difference; trust us. But if you’ve never had halloumi, you might not know the pleasure of the wonderful cheese that doesn’t melt when it is grilled.

Halloumi, Kefi, Photo by AppalachianGastroventures, June 2019

Let us explain. Or actually, let Wikipedia:

Halloumi or haloumi (/ h ə ˈ l uː m i /) is a semi-hard, unripened, brined cheese made from a mixture of goat’s and sheep’s milk, and sometimes also cow’s milk. It has a high melting point and so can easily be fried or grilled. Rennet is used to curdle the milk in halloumi production, although no acid-producing bacteria are used in its preparation.

The island of Cyprus is most famous for its production of halloumi. Located southeast of Greece in the Mediterranean Sea, its residents have been making halloumi for eons. If you look closely at specialty grocery stores, you can find it among racks of other cheeses, and lucky for us it’s been on the menu for our visits to Kefi in Knoxville’s Old City.

Kefi, which according to its website roughly translates to “profound passion,” opened its doors last year. Lovers of Greek and Mediterranean food, we first visited with high hopes and returned with eager appetites.

And nothing has disappointed. Including the halloumi.

Hummus, Kefi, Photo by ApplachianGastroventures, June 2019

The unique cheese is one of several cheese mezze that Kefi offers. There’s a feta broulee and a saganaki of pan-sauteed kesseri cheese. But while the saganaki gets the tableside wow factor with its flaming presentation and shouts of “Opa!” the real triumph is in the halloumi. When we dined, credit card-sized slices as thick as a slide of bread were paired with strawberries, microgreens, and balsamic vinegar. Other fruits can also be used.

Halloumi doesn’t melt, which makes it perfect for grilling and serving hot. Its texture makes it squeak a little bit when it’s chewed, revealing a brininess that is a perfect complement to the strawberries and greens, with the balsamic drizzle deepening the flavors.

We probably could have ordered several more dishes of halloumi and left happy, but that wouldn’t have been fair to the rest of the menu. As with any mezze restaurant, small dishes are brought as they are completed, and we started with a sampling of spreads and breads: tzatziki, hummus and spicy feta.

Garides, Kefi, Photo by ApplachianGastroventures, June 2019

For our second course, we had a salad of greens, radish, tomato, cucumber, lemon-vinegar dressing, and zaatar, a distinctive Middle Eastern spice blend that is typically made from dried thyme, oregano, marjoram, toasted sesame seeds, and salt. The result is a taste that is very Mediterranean, aromatic and tangy at the same time, and it melded perfectly with the acid of the lemon-vinegar dressing.

Fried cauliflower followed, and the perfectly-browned florets were complimented by dried cherries, hazelnuts, microgreens, and maple, creating a delicate and earthy dish.

The final hot mezze we ordered was simple but craveably addicting: plump shrimp doused in a garlic butter sauce and showered with tomato and feta. The only lament was that there wasn’t enough bread with the dish to sop up all the delectable sauce, and picking up the plate and tipping it into one’s mouth ala cereal milk is frowned upon.

During a follow-up visit, we tried the tyropita, a delicate ricotta and parmesan filled filo dough pastry similar to spanakopita. The phyllo dough was buttery and flaky and the cheese oozed out of the center, making for a delicious complement to the halloumi. Other Greek standards are on the menu, from lamb to octopus, which we’re looking to try on future visits.

Tyropita, Kefi, Photo by AppalachianGastroventures, June 2019

We left room for two desserts, and while the baklava is the star of the bottom portion of the menu, we opted for something we’d never tasted before: Kokakia, cream puffs with chocolate glaze and raspberry sauce that was refined and homey at the same time, like something you’d find in an outta-the-way café. We also had Galaktoboureko, a semolina custard flute with a honey-citrus drizzle on it. Think phyllo dough spring roll meets a cheesecake-like filling, with the perfect amount of acidity glazed on top to buzz your tastebuds.

Kefi offers a variety of alcohol, but their calling card is their cocktails on tap: a flight of three creative and generous pours was only $13. The guava margarita was good, the 6 Island punch appropriately tropical in its fruitiness, but the Tears of Chios (mastiha liqueur, vodka, lime juice, agave, red grapes and mint leaves) was unique and refreshing and the star of our flight.

Kokakia, Kefi, Photo by ApplachianGastroventures, June 2019

The only problem (if you can call it that) with mezze-style restaurants is that there is so much on the menu to choose from and salivate over that you’re often left with a feeling akin to picking your favorite child. You want to love them all and can’t, but we’ll definitely be back again to try.

AppalachianGastroventures is written by a foodie couple living in West Knoxville that likes to call downtown their second home. Check out their blog at www.appalachiangastroventures.comInstagram, and Facebook pages.

Editor’s Note:

I’m probably taking a couple of days off this week to slip out of town. I’ll be back soon with more exciting news!

Comments

  1. Joyce Lang says

    We Love Kefi. The food is a delight to the palate, the staff are marvelous and the atmosphere perfect. A true Knoxville Old City Gem

  2. Glad to see the review was very positive – I was confused by the title, which made it sound like the reviewers were not satisfied with the experience!

  3. Any possibility of a title edit at this point? Funny how people perceive words and make decisions before digging deep. My stomach stirred when i first saw the heading. Then I was all smiles. Thanks for a GREAT review.

    • KnoxvilleUrbanGuy says

      I changed it early this morning. It should be showing up with a more clear tagline. Sorry.

  4. Danielle Nance says

    This restaurant is such a great addition to Knoxville’s restaurant options. Love that the atmosphere and food is very unique to current offerings. We went for a birthday dinner and everything was fantastic. Loved it and can’t wait to go back.

  5. Debra Pope says

    I was not excited by some of the entrees at Kefi, but I was raised in a Greek household and very few of their dishes mimicked my Grandma’s recipes or seasoning. The lamb was heavy with cinnamon and that was a huge turnoff. The cocktail sampler is a good value and some of their apps were good.

  6. Chris Eaker says

    My wife and I ate at Kefi for the first time last Saturday. We were very pleased with everything we had, which included the feta brulee, hummus, and grape leaves. They were all delicious. And we had two cocktails which were both top notch. They’ve done a great job with that restaurant, and I wish them the best success.

  7. I knew where your review was going with the review…but I wouldn’t have known that from its title. “Kefi Leaves Our Reviewers Wanting More” seems negative. I thought, sounds like the place didn’t live up to the hype. I would only recommend that you change the title to something like “Kefi Leaves Our Reviewers Eager to Return…and SOON!”?

    • KnoxvilleUrbanGuy says

      I thought of that last night after I hit “publish.” It’s funny how you can have something in your mind that is entirely clear, but not so much when it lives on the outside world. I may change the title.

    • Chris Eaker says

      I thought the same thing. I had just eaten there and I was very pleased, but I interpreted the title as “I was hoping for more, but was disappointed.”

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