(Photos and article provided 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 was a chill in the air as we grabbed a pair of bar seats recently at J.C. Holdway, a late October summer finally succumbing to the nip of November air, but you wouldn’t know it from one bite of the seared diver scallops dressed with roasted yellow, red and orange cherry tomatoes and a corn butter.
The sweet corn burst with flavor like at an August picnic, and the tomatoes tasted vine ripe as chef Joseph Lenn milked every last drop of summer from the regionally sourced ingredients. It might have been cold outside, but we were instantly transported to July, when summer’s bounty seems endless and the doldrums of daylight savings time is a forgotten idea.
Transporting may be what Lenn does best.
When the James Beard Award-winning chef made the transition from Blackberry Farms to downtown Knoxville in 2016, the opening of J.C. Holdway was one of the more anticipated restaurant unveilings in recent memory. Three years later, his vision has settled in nicely, maturing into a regional foodie destination and the maker of culinary memories.
J.C. Holdway bills itself as a smokehouse of sorts with a large wood-burning oven, and firewood does double duty as decoration, and it’s not hard to see why.
The Springer Mountain roasted chicken transports you to your dinner table growing up, except this time, the roasted chicken skin is so perfectly crispy that you wonder how it’s not fried, the potato puree so creamy you wonder (but not for too long) just how much butter is in there.
The sweet and spicy pork ribs take you a different direction with a distinctly Asian flare. Covered in peanuts and scallions and with a zing of flavor, the ribs are fall-off-the-bone good and leave you wanting more.
The wood oven comes into play again for the grilled New York strip steak. While “freaking delicious” is an appropriate (and journalistically accurate) description of the perfectly cooked steak, it’s probably more helpful to know that the smokiness provides an intense wood-fired flavor that permeates each tender bite.
A potato-leek pave elevates au gratin potatoes to an elegant and finely sliced cube, and Brussels sprouts play a supporting role in the dish, but perfectly charred with a hint of sweetness, they nearly melt in your mouth.
No visit to J.C. Holdway is complete without the skillet corn bread, sweet and salty. Served warm with a healthy side of Muddy Pond sorghum butter, our server advised us to immediately spread the butter. As it melted into the cornbread’s crispy crevices, we were not disappointed.
Dessert shouldn’t be skipped either. On a recent visit, it was hard to pick a favorite between the goat cheese cheesecake topped with a carmelized pear and lemon-thyme ice cream or the caramel apple and peanut semifreddo garnished with caramel corn and melon ball-sized scoops of tart apple.
As for the scallop dish, the cherry tomatoes were picked a week before they hit our plate from the restaurant’s garden, and the corn came in from Georgia, but with oyster mushrooms, eggplant and jalapeno presented a perfect bed for the buttery scallops. J.C. Holdway’s menu will soon change with the seasons, but for a few more moments, it was sweet summer.