Friday, July 29, 2011

Art, Food and Cocktails this Weekend: J Daniel, The Market and Downtown Wine

I usually talk about the things I've done lately and that was my intention for today's blog, but there are several things happening that warrant a mention. We'll take them in reverse order:

The Market at Union and Gay, Knoxville, July 2011
In terms of food, downtown may be reaching a turning point today: The Market (formerly General Store) is opening at noon in the Fidelity Building on Gay Street. I'm slightly ambivalent because I love Just Ripe and I don't want this to hurt them, but I'm hoping we're big enough for two small grocery stores. There will be some similarities between the two, but I'm thinking some differences, as well. This will make the second location for The Market which started in Maryville. According to the News Sentinel, they focus on specialty foods, local produce and meats.

Interior of The Market at Union and Gay, Knoxville, July 2011
The Maryville location has a seafood counter, which would be great to have downtown. So, some of that sounds similar to Just Ripe, but the H.T. Hackney company, which owns the building is a partner in the store and they supply various dry goods to grocery stores, so hopefully, and here is the difference, they will have the other grocery store items we've been missing downtown and hopefully those items won't be convenience store prices.

Downtown Wine has been hosting free in-store tastings each Friday night from 5:30 to 7:30 with specials on various wines or other beverages. Today the party will rock on with free samples of Aperol Spritz and Classic Mojitos. The Aperol and the Don Q rum used to make the drinks are specially priced.
J. Daniel Photography, Tomato Head, Knoxville, July 2011

J. Daniel Photography, Tomato Head, Knoxville, July 2011
And then the art: J Daniel Photography has a showing at Tomato Head that has run all month and will finish its run this weekend. I wish I'd gotten down there to see it sooner. Lush, beautiful flowers and scenes from east Tennessee give you just a little taste of rural here in the middle of urban. "J" just happens to be a reader of Stuck Inside of Knoxville and the Urban Nation needs to come out and lend its support.
J. Daniel Photography, Tomato Head, July 2011

J. Daniel Photography, Tomato Head, 2011
The photographs pictured here are, of course, poor representations since I had to stand in chairs and do my best to photograph the photographs. To see  a better representation go to the website or to the Facebook page. Why not pick out a couple to hang in your loft and remind yourself that the urban jungle only extends so far?

I'm sure there will be much more to do around town from Shakespeare on the Square to great local music, but I wanted to highlight just a few. Have a great, safe weekend, everybody.

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Thursday, July 28, 2011

Amy Black and Jailbox on the Blue Plate Special

Amy Black, WDVX Blue Plate Special, Knoxville, July 2011
I got a chance to attend the Blue Plate Special recently and listen to great music by Amy Black and Jailbox in a double bill. As always, listening to a live broadcast of music on WDVX at noon in downtown Knoxville is always a treat and one of the things that is very unique about our little city.

Amy Black, Knoxville, July 2011

Amy Black with Nick Nguyen, Knoxville, July 2011
Amy Black is a soulful young singer whose blues-infused country music is informed by her powerful vocals. Currently based in New England, Amy spent her childhood in Alabama, so she comes by her country roots honestly. While her music may sound more similar to alt-country performers such as Kasey Chambers, she's not afraid to pull out a little Loretta Lynn, which she did to great effect during the show. Backed by Bonepony guitarist Nick Nguyen, Amy's usual full-band set was softened a bit and it was the ballads that really got me, like Whiskey and Wine from her most recent album One Time which is featured in the video below.

Jailbox, WDVX Blue Plate Special, Knoxville, July 2011
Jailbox, Knoxville, July 2011
Jailbox is a two-man group from Missouri. They are currently on a tour that will continue as long as their van survives (or so they said). Their music is delicate, acoustic and reminiscent to me of the Civil Wars. Their website mentions Iron and Wine and Ryan Adams: both influences shine through. Built on harmonies and subtle melodies, the duo is at their best when singing counter-harmonies. Their latest EP is Empty Rooms. I particularly like the song below.

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Wednesday, July 27, 2011

The Black Cadillacs Explode at Preservation Pub

Black Cadillacs, Preservation Pub, Knoxville, July 2011
But before they exploded I had a set of misadventures and near-misadventures. I reported here that they would give a roof-top concert beginning at 10:00. This was pretty exciting to me because I really love their live show, I hadn't seen the roof-top at Preservation Pub since it was opened and besides, doesn't it make you think of those iconic shots of the Beatles atop Apple Studios? OK, I'm probably alone on that one. I did wonder how they would get around the sound ordinance.
View from atop Preservation Pub at Night (Trust me, it is)
Misplaced Opening Act for the Black Cadillacs
At the door I was told the cover charge was $3. Not bad. Then the fellow asked if I was going to the rooftop. Of course I was! Why would I miss the concert, right? So, he told me in that case it would cost me a $5 cover charge and I would be asked for another $15, which would also get me two beers, before being allowed onto the roof. Now the cost was getting steep, and I can't stand beer, but I was in. I didn't want to miss this. I paid the next guy $15 and walked out into the night sky of Knoxville.
The crowd rocked, Oscar Wilde watched from the wall.
It was pretty cool though, as you can see in the photograph above, I couldn't figure out how to take a picture of it. Despite the cool factor, I quickly realized my mistake (though not quickly enough to preserve my life savings): The only thing happening on the top was a meet and greet with the band. Now I like talking to musicians, but really what am I going to say to these guys? "I really love your music, man." No. So, I walked around taking in the views from every direction.
Cranking it up: Black Cadillacs, Preservation Pub, July 2011
I fell into a conversation with a twenty-eight year old recent UT graduate who pointed out that nearly every building in sight was missing a few lights, giving us "First Bic," and so on. Chris told me he is moving to Atlanta. Knoxville is just a college town. He dismissed my alternative opinions as irrelevant. Washington D.C. came up and I allowed as how I think that's a great city to visit. He assured me it was a rat hole. Seattle seemed to be the only city worth anything. I asked him why he didn't move there and he said because he was moving in with his Dad in Atlanta to save money since he's unemployed. I wish I knew as much about the world, life and Knoxville as Chris.

I decided I preferred the smoke on the first floor further erudition at the hands of my new twenty-eight-year old friend. The concert was supposed to start at 10:00 and by then it was nearly 11:00. There was a guy on the stage who turned out to be the opening act. His songs seemed confessional and emotive and totally misplaced before the unappreciative patrons.

While waiting I met a guy who said he was from Denmark. In short order he told me he was gay, drunk and he loved Berlin and Amsterdam, though he saw many cute people in Knoxville. He kept grabbing my hand, pushing his face close to mine and bugging his eyes like he would mesmerize me. He placed his hand in the air hovering just over my head. I'm not sure if he wanted to pick me up or put a spell on me. At first he said, "Oh you are going to be so easy." Later he said, "You are just such a buzz kill." I hated to give up my spot beside the stage, but suddenly had a longing to be on the terrace with Chris. As soon as he said something to the cornered couple beside me, I ran.

After catching my breath and plotting how to avoid the guy from Denmark, I returned downstairs. Very soon the band was setting up and lining up the shots and beer which seem to be an integral part of the show. Whereas the entire end of the bar was empty during the first artist, a loud, excited crowd built in anticipation of the second act. By around 11:30 they began playing.

What followed was an hour and a half of a loud, high-energy free-for-all. Lead singer Will Horton's on-stage persona reminds me greatly of Chris Robinson of the Black Crowes, which isn't a bad pattern to pursue. The music which has always been a wall-of-sound blend of blues and southern rock seems to be changing slightly. I kept thinking all night that they were reminding me of a band I'd never thought of before in connection with them. I finally got it: The Black Keys. I think they did a Black Keys cover late in the show. They were on fire and the crowd was with them all night. They finally stopped around 1:00 AM, but the crowd wanted them to keep going.
It was a bit jarring a few hours later to see Will waiting tables at Oodles Uncorked. The band is trying to stay on the road and apparently they don't make enough to cover the expense, hence the meet-and-greet at Preservation Pub and waiting tables at another West owned establishment. It's nice of them to support young talent.
Black Cadillacs (with guest) finish encore, Preservation Pub, Knoxville
One more thing: at one point they brought a very talented guy onstage to play a lap slide guitar. It was a very welcome addition to the sound. Even though they have a big sound, they need a star instrumentalist. No one is really capable of a great lead break and they need someone who can handle those duties, whether it be the guy who sat in or someone else. Until then, they are a very fun band to hear, but a small piece required to reach next level is missing.

You can check out their webpage here, listen to or buy their latest album All Them Witches here and check out their promo video below.

The Black Cadillacs Promo from Brett Lorenz on Vimeo.

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Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Food in London and Paris

Churchill Arms Pub, London
Since the last couple of blogs have been about food, this seems like a good time to talk about food in these fabulous cities. I'm sure there are readers of this blog who have a far more discerning knowledge of the food in London and Paris than I'll be able to bring to bear after my week in each place. I'm fortunate to be able to travel to the two cities and I certainly didn't have a budget that allowed eating at the most expensive, famous or highly rated restaurants. Still, eat we did, and we weren't so budget conscious that we didn't find good food. The word on Paris is that you'd have to work very hard to find bad food - and then you'd probably fail.
Pub in London, July 2011
I'll start with the food in London. Fish and chips is the thing, right? It is, and it's available at every pub on every street. After eating fried fish and french fries a couple of times, though, can you really keep doing it? I switched to broiled fish before the week ended. We had a favorite pub that had far better fish than the other places we ate. I also ate Italian a couple of nights: Pizza (which was great, made by an Italian family I met) and Lasagna (which was awful, made by a different Italian family). Urban Woman had a meat pie (which I tasted: good) and we had great croissants from a couple of different places near our hotel. Our bill usually ran around $45.00 to $55.00 for two for dinner.

Starbucks: Dependable for restrooms

Pret a Manger: Morning coffee and croissants (London)

Caffe Forum: Evening coffee and pastry (London)
Coffee, an essential food group in our family, was hard to find, at first. We spotted a nearby Starbucks and got coffee initially, but I felt a bit guilty about that. After a couple of days we began to recognize the shops that had great coffee, and from that point we had our favorite morning and evening coffee/croissant places. Each were run by eastern Europeans who were very accommodating when confronted with my ignorance regarding pounds, their language and the way things worked in general.
Grocery Store in Kensington, London
They had conventional, American-style grocery stores, called Waitrose, which weren't quite as large as a Kroger, but they weren't that much smaller. They looked and operated pretty much like our grocery stores. One even had a Starbucks inside. The best thing about seeing a Starbucks or a McDonald's in either country was the fact that they likely had a restroom inside - and that was sometimes the Holy Grail on the streets of London and particularly Paris.
Fresh Fruit Store, Paris

Bakery, Ninth Arrondissement, Paris
Eating in Paris was an entirely different experience. There was one very new grocery store near our hotel (which was in a residential area). It was still smaller than the London version, but it was a good size. Our hotel manager was proud of it, perhaps because she felt it would be what American's expect. For us, it was the small places to buy food that brought the most pleasure. Each focusing primarily or exclusively on one food group, there was a fruit store, many bakers, some selling breads others selling confections. There was a butcher, a rotisserie chicken shop (for take-away), a cheese shop and many wine stores. I absolutely loved buying one item in one store, a couple in another. I guess it might get tedious if one was in a hurry, but very few people seem to hurry in Paris, which contrasted with London where everyone seemed to run.
Two semi-urbanites in the big city: Cafe Select, Paris

Typical restaurant with outdoor seating to the street, Paris
Restaurants were a delight, with the emphasis always on outside seating. Dinner was generally taken around 8:00, 9:00 or 10:00 at night. The sun didn't fully set until 10:30 and if people were concerned about work the next morning, they gave no indication of such. Meals were leisurely and delicious. We ate Italian a couple of times, but our favorite restaurant was Cafe Select and they had a wide range of chicken, fish and lamb dishes. Of interest, a coke comes in a bottle with no refill implied and costs around $7.00. A cup of coffee or a glass of wine costs the same. Our bill in Paris usually ran from $60.00 to $85.00 for two for dinner.
Terra Corsa: Cheese and wine, wine and cheese, Paris
So, what's the takeaway for our tiny city? First, Just Ripe is similar to food stores in Paris. It does sell a wider variety of products, but its size is comparable and the individual products are similarly organic and fresh. The seating and foods to eat in are similar to the cheese shop pictured here. Second, I think we are ready to support, perhaps a store or two like the coffee/croissant shops pictured from London (Pret a Manger is London based, but has expanded to New York, Chicago and D.C.), but I'm virtually certain that we are ready for a bakery. There is nothing quite like buying a hot, fresh baguette ($1.50), stepping onto the street and ripping the end off to eat as you walk down the sidewalk. Rick, are you listening? I also wonder if a cheese shop or bagel/croissant shop might not do well. Rick, you could do all that, couldn't you?
Finally, I think of Knoxville as having a healthy dose of outdoor seating, which I and many downtowners love. But, look at that picture with all the tables outside. It was everywhere, and often most of a restaurant's seating would be outside. Their weather seems to be better than ours for longer stretches, but I'm betting we could support much more than we currently have, particularly as the population grows and the people watching gets commensurately better.
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Monday, July 25, 2011

A Tale of Two Lunches: Harry's Deli and Lunchbox

Today and for the next few days we'll continue the food theme. If anything defines a city it's the food, right? Certainly to some degree you remember the cities you visit by the food you find. A memorable meal can be savored long after the taste of the food has faded. As often as not, a treasured memory of a meal may have as much to do with the time, place, circumstance and company as the actual food itself - if the food is good. We've all got memories of meals with atrocious food, as well.
Urban Woman outside Harry's Deli, 100 Block, Knoxville

Chalkboard menu at Lunchbox, Market Street, Knoxville
I don't often have the chance to have lunch downtown as I did with Buddy Ray at Bella Luna's last Friday (see below), but the summer affords me a few more opportunities to leave work behind and sample the mid-day offerings of the city. So, on two consecutive days recently I visited two lunch-spots I've been wanting to investigate, but hadn't been able to catch open: Harry's Deli on the 100 Block and the Lunchbox in their new location on Market Street.

At Harry's we were greeted by a very friendly and informative young man at the counter who went to considerable lengths to make sure that we understood what we were about to eat would be fresh, local and made in the deli. He said the only thing from a can would be the mustard, which was fine with me, since I can't stand mustard.

Interior of Harry's Deli, Gay Street, Knoxville
The space is pretty straightforward with good photographs of downtown sights and sites lining the walls. The tables and chairs are comfortable and simple. When we visited, there were very few customers, though we may have been a bit late for a lunch crowd. It was a bit of a concern to me. They also serve fresh breakfast and that may be more heavily frequented.

Pasta with meat sauce special, Harry's Deli

Lox on fresh bread, Harry's Deli, Knoxville
My wife ordered the daily special, which was a pasta with a meat sauce. I ordered Lox simply because I've heard of Lox, know it is a Jewish dish and, as a tip of the hat to Harold's Kosher Deli which used to be on the same spot, it seemed like a good thing to do. The pasta was delicious (we shared) and the Lox were very good (we didn't share: Urban Woman does no uncooked fish). I don't have anything to which I might compare the Lox and I don't think they will make my top ten list of favorite foods, but it was good and the bread was obviously fresh. We'd had the bread before, as it is sometimes available at Just Ripe. Our total with drinks was around $22 for two.

Food for dine-in or take-out at the Lunchbox, Knoxville

Casual seating at the Lunchbox, Market Street, Knoxville

Art at the Lunchbox, Market Street, Knoxville
The next day we ate at the Lunchbox on Market Square. The restaurant has been downtown since 1981, has two other locations and caters, so it is quite the operation. The food there is packaged for take-out or eat-in, though it's also made fresh in the store. My wife got a sausage quiche which came with mixed-fruit and a muffin. I got a Southwest Chicken Wrap. The quiche and wrap were both excellent and the staff checked in with us several times to make sure we had everything we needed. Interesting art lined the walls and a good-sized crowd took food out or dined in. Our total with drinks was a more modest $18.
Southwestern Chicken Wrap, Lunchbox, Market Street, Knoxville

Quiche (slightly eaten) at Lunchbox, Knoxville
I could easily recommend both places. I've enjoyed a number of delis in New York City and while a true NYC aficionado might challenge me, I think each of these places, in its own way, compares favorably to what I had there. I worry a bit about Harry's. Lunchbox has a long history, a location in the center of downtown workers, slightly lower prices and easily taken-out food. Harry's set up is different with their emphasis on organic and local food, but with slightly higher prices on a block in which their neighbors Unarmed Merchants are going out of business, I'm a bit concerned for their future.

So, as always, it's up to you: Do you want a great deli on the 100 block? There's only one way to make sure they stay. I'll try to catch them for breakfast soon, if possible, and I'll let you know how that goes.

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Saturday, July 23, 2011

Bella Luna Opens on Market Square!

Yesterday marked the opening of Bella Luna at 15 Market Square. Thanks to my friend Buddy Ray, who, after catching the Blueplate Special at WDVX offered to treat me there. He thereby became the official sponsor of this blog post.

Entrance to Bella Luna on opening day
Bella Luna is the project of chefs Donna Parang and Christin Love. Christin greeted me at the door, a bit curious about the shabby looking guy taking pictures. She was perfectly gracious and offered to help in any way. Later when I returned, I met Donna who was equally pleasant. Donna and Christin are both graduates of the Culinary Institute at the University of Tennessee. Their venture is focused on simple Italian food in the tradition of northern Italy, which is the area where Donna's maternal family originates.

Much about the restaurant is still in development. Our lunch was taken on the first lunch shift, so not everything has been worked out. A full bar will open soon and the small stage at the rear, which some of you may remember from the space's Abodes' incarnation, will feature live music, with jazz mentioned as a likely possibility. The seating area is very spacious and open and would likely accommodate a small space for the dancing enthusiasts among us.

After walking beneath a painter and his ladder at the door, the signs that the restaurant is still in development were few. The seating, like the food, is intended to be simple. The lighting was lovely, though it was daylight out, so I'm not sure what it is like in the evening. The walls have room for art to be added as they grow. Our waiter was attentive, though not intrusive, and seemed very comfortable with the menu. The combination of lighting, menu font and my fading eyesight (I forgot my reading glasses) rendered the menu a blur and he was very kind to read a good bit of it to me. The menus are temporary, so that may be improved upon later or, more likely, I need to remember my reading glasses, though that brings up my fading memory.

Piadina con Gamberi Gigliati e Pesto
The food? Very good and very reasonably priced. Buddy Ray ordered the Piadina con Gamberi Gigliati e Pesto $7 (Grilled Shrimp and Pesto Flatbread) which is "House-made flatbread with pesto, roasted red pepper, and grilled shrimp topped with arugula and herb greens." It was very good. The flatbread had an excellent taste and consistency, crisp and easy to bite. The tastes of the ingredients on top mixed wonderfully and there was a spice on the shrimp which served them very well. If I had a small criticism, it would be that the shrimp could have been more flavorful. Being from the Gulf Coast I'm a bit picky about my shrimp. I'd love for them to purchase shrimp from the Shrimp Dock, but I don't know if they sell commercially.

Taglatelle con Pomodoro
I ordered the Taglatelle con Pomodoro $7 (Pasta with Tomato Sauce) which is "House made tagliatelle with pomodoro sauce and fresh basil." It was also excellent. I had them add sausage for a little extra spice and that made a great difference. I'm not sure what kind of sausage it was, but it, the pasta and the sauce were excellent.

I did wonder about bread, which wasn't brought to the table. I was told that fresh bread is coming, but the details weren't worked out before the opening. The potential vendor is a local baker who is a friend of the chefs and with whom downtown residents and customers of the Market Square Farmer's Market and Just Ripe are very familiar. His bread will be a great addition. Christin and I agreed he needs to open a bakery downtown.

Interior of Bella Luna on opening day
We concluded our meal with cups of espresso ($3.95 per cup), which is something I got into the habit of doing in Paris and will probably have to limit now that I'm back in my normal financial mode. It was, like everything else, very good. True to the theme of the restaurant, it was Lavazza Espresso, which is Italian coffee also served at the French Market.

Our final bill was run up a bit by the fact that the espresso was pricey and I added sausage to my dish, but otherwise lunch may be eaten at Bella Luna for a fairly modest price by downtown standards. With a little art, open bar, jazz on the stage and fresh bread, this restaurant is set to be an excellent addition to downtown. Please go by and give them a try.

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Friday, July 22, 2011

Flash Mob on Market Square: Old News with Pictures I had to Use

I'm not sure I could even hold the smile for five minutes.

Even horses do it.
So much happened while I was away. I loved what I was doing, but I felt so responsible to my readers. What to do? Call in Grand Master Shaft, Ace Photographer for support, of course! From London I got word of the Flash Mob and I e-mailed the information to Mr. Shaft back in Knoxville who was all over it.

Hear it? The sound of no hands clapping.
It was interesting reading the comments on the News Sentinel (isn't it always). So many people dismissed the entire exercise as stupid and meaningless, even going so far as to deride the people who participated as having nothing better in their lives than to think standing still for five minutes was fun. Don't you just wonder who these people are when you read these comments? Maybe it's not their bit, but why do they feel compelled to critique another person's fun? It's kind of like ragging on local wrestlers! (oops) I do sometimes wonder if these people have any joy in their lives.

That must hurt: The five minute slap!

"I'm telling you off for the next five minutes. Shut up and listen. Closely."

The event appears to have been a success for our little city. I wish I could have been here to watch the faces of the (few, apparently) people who didn't know it was about to happen. Shaft reported that an air of nervousness settled on the square in the moments prior to the event as people watched each other in anticipation of the proper start.

Don't mess with these guys for the next five minutes!

My back would still be hurting.
Many of the participants seem to have made plans for their special pose. It appears some of them may have planned better than others because some of the poses were definitely harder to hold than others. I don't think it would have occurred to me to plan ahead, but I would definitely have had to choose an easy one like, "Urban Guy sitting on a bench," or "Urban Guy leaning against a wall."

Frozen Couple Bliss

Frozen Solo Bliss (can you spot the three celebrities in the background?)
Still, the night proved that we can flash mob with the best. Who knows, maybe something special will break out First Friday in August.

Frozen Violence I: The Vampire

Frozen Violence II: Hans Solo

Frozen Violence III: The Bloody Aftermath
So, I know the news is old, but these pictures deserved to see the light of day. Enjoy.

Soft Ending: Even Kitties do it.

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