Guy and I visited my sister and brother-in-law in Knoxville after first stopping in Greensboro to celebrate our son's birthday. We had dinner at Leblon Currascaria, a Brazilian Steakhouse. This is a new fixed-price-concept restaurant that is sweeping the country. One price gets you the exotic salad bar, then you are given a coaster-like piece of cardboard that is green on one side and red on the other. When you turn it over so the green side shows, the gauchos (carvers) come to your table with meats that have been grilled over an open flame and slowly spin-roasted. No less than 10 selections of beef, chicken, lamb, pork and sausage come to your table, so that you can taste test them all. The salad bar was to die for. That's where my raves end. I was sorely disappointed in the meats, especially the pork which tasted spoiled to me. The filet mignon was overcooked and wasn't that tender, and the bacon wrap tasted spoiled also. I thought it was overpriced and overrated.
Knoxville is an interesting city. Guy calls it a big little town. The population of the city was 173,890 in 2000. The county's population was 411,967 in 2006. It's an easy city to get around in because of the highway systems that have been designed to transport you easily from one part to the other, and the surrounding Great Smoky Mountains make for beautiful scenery. Knoxville is hilly, which is a stark contrast to the flat land of East Carolina. The abundance of hardwoods in red, gold and yellow foliage also made the town pretty. (East Carolina has an abundance of pine trees which just stay green all year.)
We arrived just in time for the big game: University of South Carolina (Gamecocks) were playing University of Tennessee (Volunteers). The University of Tennessee sports teams are called "Volunteers" or "Vols" and are extremely popular in the surrounding area -- so much so that the telephone area code for Knox County and 8 adjacent counties is 865 (VOL), and orange and white is everywhere, reminding me of a giant creamsicle. Our niece, Corey, is a junior at UT and hosted a pre-game party on Saturday night which we visited briefly. We had a great time -- everyone was on supercharge because of the game. I also had a full day shopping with my sister and we found some great bargains. It was like being let out of a cage since New Bern has zero shopping. Williams Sonoma, Bed Bath & Beyond, World Market and Cooks Corner were some of my favorite places. I got some pretty placemats and napkins, Nielsen Massey vanilla paste, saffron threads, celtic sea salt and even some 550 Levis, but then time ran out and we had to quit. There were so many more stores to cover, but no more time. I would move to Knoxville just for the shopping. I'll be posting some recipes once we're back home.
On the way back home, we visited Asheville, NC, another beautiful mountain town which reminded us of a Colorado resort town. Because Asheville sits up higher, the mountains are very visible just about all the time. So every where you go, you see these gorgeous mountains and the blue sky -- breathtaking. Downtown Asheville is a cross-section of Asheville life and the main drags (Broadway and Biltmore) are filled with bistros, sushi bars, assorted restaurants, art stores, and of course, the Mast General Store which has 5 or 6 locations in NC and even one in Knoxville at the Old Brewery. The Mast General Store is worth a visit. They have the old candy barrels filled with candy, and lots of interesting gadgets, memorabilia, kitchen items, and even clothing and shoes. We ate at the 1896 Restaurant, for lunch and dinner, and both meals were great! Very upscale food, well prepared with excellent service. Prices were fair. For lunch I had a tuna wrap that I don't think had a drop of mayo in it, but did have mango, avocado, sprouts, dried cherries and a sauce that had nice kick to it. It came with cream of vegetable soup that was really good. I heartily recommend this restaurant. We snuck a look at Biltmore Village, which was mostly closed (Sunday), but looked interesting. They are adding to it, and more construction is underway, even a new hotel. We'll try to go back there next time we hit Knoxville so we can finish touring this fascinating city.
Traveler's Tips: Knoxville's Best restaurant: Puleo's Grille -- 3 locations. Great prices, fantastic food. Puleo's is a traditional steak and seafood restaurant that has been blended with southern comfort and traditional Italian offerings. I could have ordered everything off the extensive menu -- it all sounded delicious. Each of us ordered something different and none of us was disappointed. Their Caesar salad is wonderful. We didn't get to try the Chocolate Lasagne because we were too stuffed, but it sure sounded great. I would love to move this restaurant to New Bern -- I'd be eating there every night.