Chez Guevara Serves Authentic Mexican in Knoxville

chez guevara mexican knoxville beaverdamusa.comThe Chez Guevara Mexican restaurant in Knoxville is a hole in the wall, and that’s probably just the way the owners want it.

The self-described “festive joint… in kitschy digs” couldn’t be more understated. There isn’t even a sign outside. We’ll save you the trouble of looking, though. It’s in Suburban Shopping Center, at 7903 Kingston Pike, in Knoxville. Look for the Open sign right in the corner of the L-shaped strip center.

Simply stated, you need to try out Chez Guevara if you like traditional Mexican food. The burritos were big and plump, and the tacos tasted — well, the way we think tacos should taste.

The menu is extensive, and everything we ate was delicious. They serve green and red salsa with their chips, which is a nice touch. The beer menu is elaborate, but they don’t have draft. It’s a dimly-lit place with Americana decor — which we found a bit ironic, given the traditional flavor of the food.

The prices are a bit higher than typical Mexican restaurants in the area, but the food and the experience is worth it.

Chez Guevara is open for dinner only, 5 p.m., to 10 p.m., every day.

 

True Food Kitchen in Atlanta

good grub logoOur latest restaurant adventure came at True Food Kitchen at Lenox Square Mall in Atlanta’s trendy Buckhead neighborhood.

This is a vast departure from the places we normally talk about. If you want to read about giant pizzas, barbecue, or chips and salsa, this isn’t the column for you today.

True Food Kitchen caters to the posh in-crowd and specializes in food the posh in-crowd is eating right now. Many of the dishes are either vegan, vegetarian, and/or gluten-free. Kale, hummus and turkey are all mentioned more than once on the menu.

The visit got off to a rocky start when the hostess erroneously crossed through our name on the wait list. Had it not been for another employee who was undoubtedly tired of looking at me, we might still be standing there.

They are especially proud, and rightly so, that the vast majority of their dishes are made from scratch and change seasonally, and that their food comes from sustainable farms.

They tout their “natural refreshments” which are juices with clever names made from natural ingredients. We tried “Kale-Aid,” which features kale, cucumber, celery, apple, lemon and ginger. It was delicious and refreshing, as the name implied. True Food Kitchen doesn’t serve sodas, incidentally.

Our table ate the turkey burger, mediterranean chopped salad and turkey lasagna.

The turkey burger was huge with a similarly huge flax seed bun. It was served with lettuce, tomato, avocado and mayonnaise. All the sandwiches are served with a side order of either kale salad or sweet potato hash. Or, they will serve half of each. I understand both were quite tasty.

The Mediterranean Salad consisted of cucumber, olive, cherry tomato, quinoa, feta cheese, sprouted almond & lemon oregano vinaigrette.

The turkey lasagna is baked in a bowl. It’s plenty cheesy, hearty and quite tasty. Of course, it is in bad taste to comment on a portion size when talking about a frou-frou place like this, but the lunch serving was a bit scant.

Their dinner menu, which you can see on their web site, is unsurprisingly heavy on seafood. Prices are lower than they sound like they would be, which is a nice surprise.

The Atlanta location is the only one in the South. Other locations are spread mostly throughout the west. I wouldn’t want to go every day, but it was a nice change of pace.

Sarge’s Shack in Pulaski, Tennessee

good grub logoSarge’s Shack has been an institution in Giles County, Tennessee, for many years.

We tried it last Friday night for the first time in a long, long time. The place started filling up at 4 p.m., and stayed that way until dark. (We were staying just across the road.) When we got there, we were seated immediately, though. We wanted a booth, but the hostess wouldn’t let us have the vacant one. She said she had just seated that section and she had to rotate. After we were seated at a table — which was near the hostess stand — we heard one of the servers explaining to the hostess that if customers ask for a booth that is vacant, they get the booth. It’s not her fault. She should’ve been taught that during her training.

The salads were fresh, and probably a bit larger than I was expecting. The steak was cooked as ordered and tasty, but not out of this world. The treat, however, is Sarge’s Rice. You can google recipes to copy it, but you will never have it as good as it is there. The main ingredient besides rice is Dale’s seasoning, according to the recipes I found. It is delicious in a buttery, salty, sinful kind of way. And they pile about a pound of it on each plate.

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Sarge’s also serves whole catfish — which is the only way catfish should ever be served. I cannot vouch whether it’s good or not. If you happen to know, comment and tell the world.

Sarge’s is a come-as-you-are type of place. It’s tucked away in the beautiful countryside just off of Interstate 65 at Exit 14. The food won’t change your life, but for the price it’s a pretty good meal.

Ohio Hospitality at the Franklin Tavern

Image via Franklin Tavern Facebook page.

Image via Franklin Tavern Facebook page.

Who says you can only get southern hospitality down south?

The people at the Franklin Tavern certainly wouldn’t say that, and they would be right.

The Franklin Tavern is located in the hamlet of Franklin, Ohio, just off of I-75, between Cincinnati and Dayton. The tavern beverage menu is extensive, and their food menu is impressive as well. Think of it as home-cooked bar food with lots of extras. One of their specialties is the Buffalo Chicken Dip, which is served with tortilla chips and is delectable.

We enjoyed talking with our server, Candace, who took time to get to know us. Jackie, one of the owners, came by and talked for a while. We lost track of time trading stories. It was almost like we were regulars.

We were there on karaoke night, but we got there before that started. I think Candace was genuinely disappointed we weren’t up to the task of staying around and joining in the fun.

The only thing I would change would be the TV channel, because they had the Cincinnati Reds game on. But I guess I can forgive them for that.

A Chuy’s Review (Kind of, Because I Don’t Do Chains)

good grub logoI never talk about big chain restaurants. I’m not interested in writing about those places, and you shouldn’t be interested in reading about them. I mean, do you really need my take on an Applebee’s burger? Do you want me to hack up the place with a Chili’s review that starts, I want my baby back, baby back, baby back…?” Nope.

Calhoun’s is as close as I’ve gotten to reviewing a chain, and I only did that one because it is chiefly regional, and still has an indie feel in my book.

I simply love indie places — from dives to white tablecloth (but mostly dives). We never, ever eat at a chain when we’re out of town unless it’s a pit stop on the way to somewhere. I think I appreciate little places because it’s an adventure. Red Lobster? Popcorn shrimp? That party has been going on since the ’80s. No adventure there.

The other day, though, we ate at a Chuy’s for the second time. This time, we ate at the one in Knoxville, Tenn. In case you’re not familiar, Chuy’s is a Tex-Mex place based in Austin, Texas, with locations also in Alabama, Arkansas, Tennessee, Georgia and Florida. Each Chuy’s is a different experience. They don’t have that “chain” feel the way most do. If they know what they’re doing, it will stay that way. The vibe is colorful and upbeat. Watching the person make tortillas in the dining room is a neat experience. And Chuy’s happy hour consists of a nacho bar served out of the trunk of a car. Just put an automobile in a restaurant, and I’m automatically interested.

I’ve had Mexican at about a million places, but Chuy’s stands out simply because of the freshness of the food. It’s almost hard to explain, but when I eat there I can sense the freshness. Nothing comes out of a can.

Image via Chuy's Facebook page.

Image via Chuy’s Facebook page.

I had the taco salad. It was tasty, fresh and presented well. Next time, though, I will try something different, only because I need more decadence in a taco salad than the way Chuy’s builds theirs. The “big as yo’ face” burritos are a leading contender for the next trip. Chuy’s also prides themselves in making a variety of fresh sauces. I got the Tex-Mex.

The salsa is made up entirely of freshly chopped ingredients — not pureed or processed like most places. The chips are light and crispy, but not overly unique.

I thought it was interesting that our server, Jen, had transferred to the Knoxville location from Texas when she moved here. That might say as much about the company as the freshness of the food. The next time you see a Chuy’s, try it. If you’re like me, it’s easy to forget it’s a chain — and that’s a good thing.

Calhoun’s

good grub logoCalhoun’s is a long-time favorite Tennessee barbecue restaurant for good reason:

You’ll almost always get a good meal there.

Calhoun’s has seven locations in East Tennessee, including four in Knoxville. The most unique, however, is the location in Lenoir City on Ft. Loudon Lake. Weather permitting, this Calhoun’s features a covered outside dining area at the water’s edge. It’s fun to watch the boats come in to the dock.

Calhoun's on Ft. Loudon Lake in Lenoir City, Tennessee. (image via calhouns.com)

Calhoun’s on Ft. Loudon Lake in Lenoir City, Tennessee. (image via calhouns.com)

Many of Calhoun’s dishes are a party for your taste buds. But you may be surprised which dishes taste best.

The pulled pork and the ribs are both good — real good. However, there are lots of barbecue places around; and Calhoun’s pork doesn’t necessarily stand out.

A pleasant surprise on Calhoun’s menu is the Bar-B-Que Steak Calhoun. It’s served with Calhoun’s own barbecue sauce. The hickory smoked prime rib is special, as well. In short, the beef is better than the pork.

One of the most incredible tastes on planet earth, however, is Calhoun’s cheddar cheese salad dressing. When you go, get a salad and get this dressing. They should not even serve another dressing variety. Another favorite — and Calhoun’s original — is the Spinach Maria, which is served as a side dish. It’s loaded with cheese and spices. Both dishes are delectable. Their cornbread is incomparable, as well.

Make sure to wash it all down with one of Calhoun’s craft beers. They make good food taste even better.

Bottom line: consistently satisfying food and drinks in a fun atmosphere — a good value.

Visit the Calhoun’s web site. Make sure to see a menu.

Mom & Dad’s Italian, Valdosta

mom and dad's italian valdosta beaverdamusa.comWe love local places. I’ve always been amused by people who eat at Red Lobster while they’re at the beach.

A few days ago, we stopped in Valdosta, Ga., and were referred to Mom and Dad’s Italian Restaurant. Mom and Dad’s is a little place in a nondescript building with a simple, retro feel. Black and white photographs of the owners’ family hang on the wall. The owner’s son, who runs the Valdosta location, even stopped by our table to tell us the story of his family’s restaurant history. It was a nice touch. Our server had the perfect combination of knowledge and pleasantness. She spoke with us quite a while and it was enjoyable. (And I’m usually not one for too much gratuitous server interaction.)

Here are some highlights from the menu:

The soup and salad course was a treat. The house salad was crisp and fresh, with a tangy vinaigrette dressing. The minestrone was rich and delicious. Although no one at our table had it, the spinach salad comes served with warm bacon dressing. I’m pretty sure “warm bacon dressing” may be the three happiest words in the English language.

I can speak to the chicken parmigiana. It was fried crispy, and served with a delicious marinara sauce. Naturally, it was topped with mozzarella cheese. It was truly delicious, and it was huge.

The tortellini came with a red meat sauce, and I understand it was delicious as well. Again, the portion was generous.

The wine list featured several local wines, and plenty were reasonably priced. The dessert menu was nice as well.

In all, it was a tasty, fun experience – elegant enough but not stuffy. The dress code is “come as you are,” which is a bit disappointing. There’s nothing wrong with changing out of the T-shirt to eat food this good.

Mom and Dad’s Italian restaurant is off of Interstate 75, Exit 22, in Valdosta. The address is 4143 North Valdosta Road.

You can visit their web site and see a menu here. They’re on Facebook, but the account is not too active. Hopefully they’re too busy cooking.

The Tomato Head; Knoxville, Tennessee

Original art pieces dot the walls at The Tomato Head locations in Knoxville, Tennessee.

Original art pieces dot the walls at The Tomato Head locations in Knoxville, Tennessee. (Image via thetomatohead.com.)

I first visited The Tomato Head 20 or so years ago. It was the first time I ever saw blue corn chips. Since then, I’ve been a frequent visitor to their Downtown Knoxville location on Market Square. And more recently, I’ve found myself at their newer West Knoxville location. The downtown location is kind of a hippie place. It helps anchor the eclectic Market Square vibe. The West location has more of a generic ambiance. In other words, the food is the same at both, but if it’s your first trip, go downtown.

The menu reads kind of like a fairy tale. Their sandwiches are as unusual as the unique pieces of art pieces dotting the walls. And, their pizzas rival any you’ll find anywhere. I’ve never had a bad meal there. The beer selection is out of this world. And, both locations feature a bakery. Both locations also have a great Sunday brunch menu.

So the next time you find yourself in Knoxville, check out either of The Tomato Head locations. A word to the wise, though: expect a wait at peak times, and all day long downtown during patio weather.

Visit them online at thetomatohead.com.

Sernicola’s: Great Italian in Little Cowan, Tennessee

sernicolasI’ve always thought of Cowan, Tennessee, as a charming little place. But I never thought of it as somewhere to get a great Italian meal until we tried Sernicola’s.

We stopped at Sernicola’s while passing through Cowan a few weeks ago. It’s a little place just off the highway on Tennessee Avenue. On the way in, a couple who got there at the same time we did bragged on the salad bar. “It’s the best in the county,” he said. I’m not sure how much competition is there, but he seemed to think we should be impressed.

So on the guy’s recommendation we started with the salad bar. It was nothing fancy, but it had everything we were looking for. It was fresh and tasty. In fact, the vegetables seemed to be cut up right before they opened for dinner. The bleu cheese dressing was good; and I’m a connoisseur of that.

For dinner, we ordered pizza — mushrooms and onions on half and mushrooms and pepperonis on the other half. It was ridiculously good. They put loads of cheese and sauce. But the most impressive part was the amount of pepperonis. They were piled on top of each other like nothing I had ever seen. There were almost too many (but not quite).

Sernicola’s serves beer. If you want wine, you have to BYOB, and they charge a $1.50 corkage fee. I found that a little steep, but that’s your decision.

Visit Sernicola’s web site here. Cowan, incidentally, lies on US Hwy. 41-A at the bottom of the mountain just below The University of the South in Sewanee. Learn more about Cowan here.

Catfish Cabin II: Fried Catfish Restaurant in Athens AL

The World’s Best Fried Catfish Restaurants
Are Found in Only North Alabama

North Alabama is Mecca for fried catfish. Once you’ve had it there, you won’t want it anywhere else.

The folks there fry it better than anywhere else on earth in our opinion. From Florence and Muscle Shoals, and east along Hwy. 72 over to Athens in Limestone County is where you’ll find some of the world’s best fried catfish restaurants. The Tennessee River provides a perfect backdrop for many of these places. We didn’t count, but there are probably just short of a million catfish restaurants around there, and if you ask a dozen people where to find the best, you’ll likely get a dozen passionate answers.

Though it’s not on the river, we tried Catfish Cabin II on Hwy. 72 in Athens. Their fish was mouth-watering. Crispy on the outside, tender on the inside and brought to the table fresh and piping hot. Their hush puppies don’t disappoint, neither does their slaw. Of course the tea is syrupy sweet, just like God intended. Regardless of where you go, don’t get the fillet, because that’s not how to do it. If you don’t get the whole fish, you might as well go to a drive-through window at a fast food chain.

The atmosphere is just what you’d expect from a country fried catfish restaurant like this. And if you go on Friday or Saturday night, be prepared to wait. The secret has been out on this place for decades.

There may be other places, and they may be better. But the next time we are in North Alabama, we’re going back to Catfish Cabin II and eat this southern delicacy the way God intended.

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