I’ve made it no secret that one of the main reasons you will find me pounding the pavement at least 3 days a week is so I can stuff my face.
The past few days have been no exception. Between a birthday (and the birthday balls), a wedding shower, an engagement party, brunches & dinners, my belly has been expanded almost to breaking point, full of good food. Last night I continued with my belly expansion crusade.
A firm believer in the ‘Better late than never’ mantra, I took J out for his 3 day belated birthday dinner to one of Knoxville’s best restaurants – Rouxbarb.
Due to its unpretentious location right next to the railroad tracks and neighboring a local dive bar, Union Jacks, Rouxbarb long went unseen during my college days. That, and my very limited college budget left me “splurging” for such delicacies as Sonic tater tots and a box of s’more Pop Tarts rather then the wonderfully prepared fare that Rouxbarb has to offer.
I actually heard about Rouxbarb far before I ever laid eyes on it. Chef Bruce Bogartz has one Metropulse’s ‘Best Chef’ award for 4 years running, Garden and Gun magazine named it’s smoke trout chopped salad one of its 50 Best Southern Foods, not to mention acclaim from the like of Southern Living, The James Beard Foundation, AAA, and countless local publications. This place is no joke.
My first visit there was for a business meeting several months ago. Chef Bruce approached our table and struck up conversation leaving me astounded at his personable demeanor. Immediately, I got the “Come on in, sit down, I’m going to make you an unforgettable meal and I really want you to enjoy yourself” vibe. And that exactly what we did. I couldn’t wait to take J.
Walking in to the restaurant, one first becomes aware that it is not a very big space. Maybe 15 or so tables and a raised ‘bar’ area surrounded by stools. Bar in quotations as the restaurant does not serve alcohol, so it’s BYOB, or wine, or as the table next to us did, a handle of Absolute Vodka. Either way, the ambiance is quite cozy and I have to say, I like it that way. It feels far more intimate then any bigger restaurant can.
Being the booze hounds that we are, J and I brought bottles of both red and white wine*.
*The white became a personal favorite of mine after restaurant week: 2010 St. Urbans-Hof Weingut Riesling. Definitely give it a try. I never liked Rieslings until this one, and it’s only about $16.00.
We started off with the mussels. The menu touts that they are served with apple cider, Benton’s bacon, and chili broth. Heed your warning, they DO NOT skimp on portions here. My eyes widened as I saw our waiter bring out a gigantic bowl, filled to the brim with the shellfish.
Oh and they were so good… Perfectly cooked in a spicy broth that I happily sopped up with my bread. I seriously questioned bringing the broth home and using it for something else, or slurping it like soup for lunch today, or bathing in it. I resisted the urge, however, and already regret it.
Following our appetizer, we received our respective meals. I knew from my last visit that I wanted the shrimp and grits. I was so tempted to indulge in one of their mouth-watering specials, but these are by far the best shrimp and grits I’ve ever had. Coming from a Northerner, that may mean a lot. J, however was talked into getting a special: a huge rib-eye smothered in a pimento cheese sauce and served with a side of Brussels sprouts and fries. We also received a plate of cheesy biscuits served with a side of pickled carrots and rhubarb preserves. Those, I did ensure I took home with me.
Based on the pictures, I can assume that I don’t need to elaborate regarding just how delicious our food was. But it truly was. Perfectly cooked and prepared in a Southern style that makes me wonder what I had been missing for the first 20 years of my life.
As my Sassy Swan super powers are usually crushed by any sort of delectable sweet, we decided to go all out and not just limit ourselves to one desert but instead get a desert sampler. Go big or go home.
There was a key lime cheesecake, a pecan pie (my favorite), a lemon chess pie, an apple pie, banana pudding, chocolate mousse, two kinds of ice cream, and a raspberry sorbet that I couldn’t get enough of.
Do you see that? Do you see that empty desert dish that once held an array of 10 different deserts?? That right there friends, exemplifies why I run.
Please do yourself a favor – if you live in the area make it a point to get to Rouxbarb at some point. It’s the perfect mix of Southern charm and cooking all in one place.