Many Chattanoogans are anticipating the opening of the Tupelo Honey Café at Warehouse Row on Monday.
Since I have eaten at the chain’s Knoxville restaurant three times since it opened on Oct. 15, 2012, I can say overall that Chattanoogans are in for quite a treat.
It is like traditional Southern food with an avant-garde twist. Also, its atmosphere complements the taste with a one-of-a-kind look combining small-town Southern charm and sophisticated urban ambience.
The restaurant in Knoxville is located in an old building in the Market Square area of downtown Knoxville, a gathering place that in recent years has rapidly shown signs of catching up with downtown Chattanooga in terms of all-day vibrancy.
And Tupelo Honey Café is the hottest restaurant going there right now, even though such other unique eateries as the Tomato Head have also been quite popular in Market Square over the last few years.
Besides Tupelo Honey Café, the only other restaurant in Knoxville that has also been the must-go-to place in the last year is the Cheesecake Factory at West Town Mall, a larger chain with also excellent food and, of course, yummy cheesecakes.
Tupelo Honey Café – which was named for the Tupelo honey that is one of its trademark condiments and is placed on each table – started in downtown Asheville, N.C., in 2000.
According to one online story, the restaurant chain has been owned since 2008 by Steve Frabitore, who has expanded into South Asheville; Greenville, S.C.; and Knoxville.
A Tupelo Honey Café is also to open in Johnson City and apparently Charlotte as well as Chattanooga.
For some reason, I could not find out online during a quick check the original proprietor of the Tupelo Honey Café in Asheville. But the business has apparently had the same executive chef – Brian Sonoskus – since 2001.
My wife and I first went to the Knoxville Tupelo Honey Café for lunch on Feb. 15 to celebrate St. Valentine’s Day a day late. However, due to its popularity, it was still as crowded as a typical restaurant on St. Valentine’s Day.
We had to wait about 20-30 minutes for a table, even though we thought we were beating the crowd by arriving about 11:30 a.m.
Groups of people can always be seen waiting outside the Tupelo Honey Café in Knoxville like groupies at a rock concert, but that just means people like it. The stores around Market Square also are known to have a few people with the Tupelo Honey Café pagers in their hands.
After we sat down that first time for lunch, I decided to order Not Your Mama’s Meatloaf. It was delicious and somewhat unique and came with macaroni and cheese and about three seasoned asparagus spears. For good order, and perhaps after getting caught up in the Southern spirit of the occasion, I ordered a side of fried okra.
The best treat, however, was an item I did not order. After the waitress left, she came back with some simply delicious large and soft biscuits.
They were quite sumptuous as I enjoyed them with some tasty blueberry jam and washed them down with some great sweet iced tea.
I also enjoyed my main meal as well, and then we finished with some great pecan pie and ice cream provided by a Knoxville area dairy.
The only complaint I had was that the waitress did somehow forget one of our requests. But she more than made up for that by bringing us some extra biscuits and blueberry jam for us to take home with our food we could not finish.
With my stepson, Chris Whitelaw, and his family in town in mid-August, we took them there on Wednesday, Aug. 14. With the Tupelo Honey Café in Knoxville, however, you will likely always be waiting a little while to get seated, even on a weekday, unless you get there right when the restaurant opens in the morning for breakfast.
We had to wait roughly 30 minutes, but we entertained ourselves by wandering around lively Market Square with our pagers, which were starting to become like old friends by now.
Although we did have to wait perhaps 5 or 10 minutes longer on our food than we wanted once we ordered it, probably due to our large group of six and the way it is prepared, the delicious biscuits made the wait more tolerable. The male waiter was also helpful, enthusiastic and knowledgeable.
Since I am one who tends to get the same menu item each time, particularly if I found it satisfactorily pleasing before, I ordered the same meatloaf meal and again enjoyed it – along with the fluffy biscuits.
I also sampled some of the other food that the other diners ordered, including Tupelo’s Encore Cheesy Grit Cakes, which were delicious.
Chris’ family also seemed to enjoy the meal. This was despite the fact that they usually eat more of a European-style diet and were admittedly a little thirsty later in the evening after not being used to Southern-style seasoning.
That night after the restaurant closed for the evening, a sprinkler system malfunctioned and part of the basement of the restaurant flooded. As a result, the eatery had to close for more than two weeks for repair.
But on Sunday, Sept. 1, a day after it had reopened, my wife and I went there after church to celebrate her birthday.
Despite the fact that it looked like the usual large number of people were standing outside the attractive and historic downtown Knoxville building with their omnipresent pagers, we managed to get seated within 15 minutes, probably because we had only two people.
We both enjoyed the food again. My wife ordered a Fried Egg BLT, and guess what I had? You are right, the meatloaf. We topped it off with another delicious piece of pecan pie and ice cream.
Our waiter, Jonathan, was extremely friendly, sincere and efficient. And yes, part of the reason for my good feeling was that he gave us some extra biscuits with our recyclable to-go boxes.
The total of our meal plus tax was $40.53.
Among the other popular items on the very diverse menu are Fried Green Tomatoes, Brian’s Shrimp and Grits, Nutty Fried Chicken, and Jumbo Lump Crab Cakes with a Lemon Cherry Pepper Aioli.
While nothing can compare to a home-cooked specialty dish prepared by a loved one, this restaurant, which prides itself on “scratch-made fun,” seems to come pretty close.
The atmosphere is great as well, and I am sure the Tupelo Honey Café at Warehouse Row will be very similar. I can tell by a photograph I saw in the Times Free Press that the interior looks very similar to the Knoxville restaurant.
So get ready for the large and fluffy biscuits and blueberry jam, Chattanoogans. You will enjoy them!