Getting To Know Knoxville With East TN Tours

I generally have a very easy time making friends. I love meeting new people and can strike up a conversation with just about anybody. That said, I was a little concerned, before we made the move from the Chicago suburbs to Knoxville, about making new friends. I have a couple of old high school friends here and several of my blogging friends hooked me up with a fantastic person who used to blog (but doesn’t anymore). Beyond that, I wondered how I’d do. The boys are grown and out of the house so I don’t have the benefit of meeting people via being a room mom or scouts. I work from home. To make friends, it was going to take some effort.

I was recently invited to go on a food tour put on by East TN Tours, and I jumped in. (I agreed to write this post in exchange for the afternoon.) Boy, am I glad I did. Not only did I get to taste some amazing food at five local restaurants, but I learned some area history from tour guide/owner Lauren and yes, I met some people (including two Chicago natives, which was so much fun but also not shocking since I’ve met quite a few Chicagoans here for some reason).

East TN Tours

The tour started at the Knoxville Visitor’s Center on Gay Street. We found Lauren, grabbed a name tag, and before we left the building she confirmed dietary restrictions with those of us who have them, and conducted an icebreaker. From there we took off (on foot) down Gay Street towards our first destination. On the way, Lauren gave us a little bit of history with the help of a binder full of pictures.

Our first stop as Clancy’s Tavern & Whiskey House where we had the most delightful Shepherd’s Pie made with lamb. My picture is blurry so you’ll have to use your imagination: imagine a DELICIOUS dish. It’s one of Jim’s favorites so I taunted him via text with that blurry picture and then promised we’d get there for dinner soon.

Next up, The Tomato Head in Market Square. I love walking around Market Square–it’s a vibrant little slice of heaven in the middle of downtown Knoxville–and in fact; Jim and I were just hanging out there after dinner about a week before the food tour and stood outside The Tomato Head, drooling at their menu. On the food tour I enjoyed a bowl of tomato bisque soup. It was super hot outside and I was talking with my new friend Vanessa about how I was definitely going to choose the salad over the soup, but then the server said that one of the soup choices was tomato bisque and suddenly i forgot all about how I had been sweating outside just five minutes before that because that flavor happens to be a favorite. The soup was creamy and delicious.

The Tomato Head soup

Next stop: Balter Beerworks. I was excited to find out we’d be stopping there because Jim and I have enjoyed dinner there before. It’s a fun brewpub where the tables are long, similar to a German biergarten. Lauren told me something I didn’t know that made me like the place even more: the word “balter” means “to dance without skill, while having fun”. I AM IN. I’m super talented at baltering, you know. The chef came out of the kitchen to talk to us and tell us about the deconstructed burrito bowl we were about to eat, and we couldn’t wait to dig in. This was my favorite food of the day.

Deconstructed burrito bowl Balter Beerworks

Old City Wine Bar was our penultimate stop and it was lovely. The bar itself was a sight to see, with many wines “on tap”.

Old City Wine Bar

We enjoyed a delicious salad there, and I can’t remember everything that was in it in addition to goat cheese but look at this beauty:

Old City Wine Bar salad

Finally, even though we were all so full of food, we stopped at Sugar Mama’s Bakery, an adorable little place that has beer AND baked goods. They have an “all-local” tap wall and they’re using some of the owner’s family recipes for the delicious pastries. The business started as a food truck before they eventually moved into their brick and mortar location. I was actually so excited about these desserts that I didn’t take a picture before I ate them. Sorry.

What I loved about the food tour was the variety in restaurants and the fact that they’re all hyper-local. Lauren was friendly and very knowledgeable, two great qualities in a tour guide. I loved meeting new people and I loved that at each stop, we all sat in different spots so there were lots of fun conversations going on for the duration. If you try this out, make sure to wear comfortable shoes because you’ll be walking a lot, and also make sure to arrive hungry! (By the way, water was provided at each stop and we had the option to pay for other drinks.)

I want to thank Lauren so much for a fun afternoon. You can check out her site and also follow her on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Thanks to all of my new local friends, too: it was great to meet you!