Guest post by Emily Winsauer from Knox Vegan
Hello, Chattaneighbors! It’s Emily from Knox Vegan.
If you haven’t made the trek to Knoxville in a while, now’s a great time to plan a weekend trip to the ever-so-slightly north.
The Knoxville vegan community is having a bit of a moment—not only are local restaurants starting to offer more plant-based options and actually mark the vegan items on their menus, but we finally have an all-vegan food truck and an all-vegan restaurant.
So leave work early, bring your bike, and head to the Scruffy City for the weekend!
If you hop on I-75 right after work, you can make it to Knoxville in time to grab dinner at Sanctuary Vegan Cafe, Knoxville’s only all-vegan restaurant. It’s further west than anything else in this post, so it’s a great pit stop on your trek in, and it’s hard to argue with comfort food favorites like chicken-fried seitan with mashed potatoes and gravy, buffalo tofu fingers, the roasted-beet reuben sandwich, and lentil meatloaf.
One caveat—Sanctuary is only open until 8pm on Friday nights. If you can't make it in time, you have an extra hour to get to Yassin’s Falafel House for the spicy falafel wrap. It’s hands-down the best falafel I’ve ever had anywhere in the world, and their baklava is vegan as well. Square even made short film featuring Yassin, who is a beloved figure here in K-town. The Vegan Soul tamales at Good Golly Tamale are another incredible option, and they're open until 10pm.
I don’t get to stay in many Knoxville hotels, but out-of-town friends seem to love The Oliver, a swanky boutique hotel right off Market Square. Conveniently, one of the best cocktail bars in town is hidden just past reception behind a sliding wall panel. This is Peter Kern Library, purveyor of swanky literary-themed cocktails. Dump your bags and settle in downstairs for a Holly Golightly or a Holden Caulfield. If you’re looking for lodging at a different price point, there are several other downtown hotels and lots of cool Airbnb options, including a loft on Market Square at half the cost.
When you roll out of bed on Saturday morning, skip the hotel coffee and head straight to OliBea in the Old City for breakfast (well, by way of the Market Square Farmer’s Market). A short 10-minute walk away, OliBea is a hybrid of hardcore Southern foods and fresh, bright Mexican influences like jamaica to drink and spiced mochas made with Abuelita hot chocolate (ask for it made with almond milk).
While they occasionally have specials that can be veganized (avocado toast topped with tempeh and broccolini has been my favorite), you’ll probably be choosing from tempeh bacon, tofu chorizo, and smashed potatoes made with olive oil instead of butter—and local bread with house made jam, of course. Pro tip: get the tempeh, chorizo, and potatoes, and mix them all up with the the Rushy Springs Farm hot sauce of your choice. You’re welcome.
If you brought your bicycle, I suggest you head south across the river via the Gay Street Bridge to South Knoxville. The bridge offers of beautiful view of Knoxville and the new bike lanes along most of the route make it a comfortable ride. Pedal along Sevier Avenue to Island Home Avenue into the Island Home Park neighborhood, then continue along the river until you hit Island Home Park, which is the head of the Will Skelton Greenway.
Mountain bikers can hop off the greenway at Ijams Nature Center and enjoy extensive trails, or you can continue on the greenway past sunflower fields to enjoy beautiful views of the river. On your way back, stop by Mead’s Quarry for a beer from the Yee-Haw Brewing Beer Wagon and dip your feet in the water to cool off. When you’re sufficiently refreshed, head over to So Kno Taco Cantina for the Thai Portobello Tacos, chips and guacamole, and a margarita.
If biking isn’t really your thing (or if you’re super fast), head over to The Gentle Barn, where you can visit with a wide range of rescued former farm animals, including turkeys, chickens, horses, cows, and pigs. The program begins at 11am and you’ll need to reserve your spots in advance, but it’s a truly special place that’s worth planning ahead to visit.
When it’s time for dinner, head to Kaizen, where the heavenly Mapo Doufu will make your whole trip. It’s currently my favorite meal in town, and I could eat it every day. That said, the Coconut Tom Yum and (very spicy) Dry Fry Eggplant are also truly delicious.
It’s Sunday Funday, y’all! Since you used up so much energy biking around yesterday, I think you should take it easy. Brunch at The Tomato Head is a great place to start. There are plenty of vegan options on the lunch menu, but I personally like to raid the brunch menu and make all kinds of substitutions. As a former employee, I feel no shame whatsoever about that, and neither should you.
My favorite thing to do is pick whichever of the Huevos Rancheros is tickling my fancy and substitute potatoes for the eggs, soy cheese for the dairy, etc. I think the apple salsa has honey in it, but the mole is vegan and the soysage is delicious! If all of that sounds a little fussy, the vegan Kepner makes a great breakfast sandwich, and anything counts as brunch is you have a mimosa with it.
After brunch, walk around downtown and do a little shopping. Nothing Too Fancy is a local favorite for cool and clever t-shirts. Rala’s new location in the Old City has tons more room for Dolly Parton onesies, stylish art prints, minimalist jewelry, and much more. Don’t forget to stop by Knox Whiskey Works to grab a bottle of their stellar Cold City Old Brew Coffee Liqueur to take home!
The East Tennessee History Center is one of my favorite spots downtown, and you’re in luck, because it happens to offer free admission on Sundays. Oh, and if you’ve ever wondered what’s inside the Sunsphere, you can head up to the observation deck and enjoy unparalleled views of the city.
When you’ve had enough of the downtown experience, kick up your heels at one of Knoxville’s breweries for a few hours. There’s something for everyone: Schulz Brau for the classicists, Alliance for outdoorsy types, Crafty Bastard for the beer snobs, Last Days of Autumn for the earthy DIY-ers, and Hexagon for the folks who enjoy a little ping-pong, Pac-Man, or foosball while they drink.
Since you only have one meal left, I’m going to give you a bunch of choices—A Dopo for classic Neapolitan pizza, Bida Saigon for veggie pho, Nama for sushi, or the Bistro at the Bijou for a range of Southern fusion options.
But wait… what about that food truck?
I would love love love it if you had a chance to visit Dinner Bell Fresh while you’re in town, but their schedule is pretty irregular on weekends. Check them out on Instagram to see if they’ll be around!
When you make it up to Knoxville for the greatest weekend getaway of your life, hit me up at KnoxVegan on Instagram to say hi! If you’re up here more frequently, you may want to subscribe to Knox Vegan News so that you don’t miss any new and delicious plant-based developments. Thank you so much to Corey at ChattaVegan for letting me share this guest post with you, and I hope to run into you all at Sluggo’s or Cashew next time I’m in Chattanooga!
Huge thanks to Emily for contributing
and all her hard work at Knox Vegan!