Knoxville stood there waiting for us to have lunch somewhere in it's quiet clean downtown while we wasted time just soaking up the sun and stretching our legs along Gay St ( insert obvious jokes here ). We sauntered as far as the river, and back onto market square where we finally decided on a place to satiate our growing appetites.
Cafe 4, we figured was as good as any , feeling a little o erwhelmed by the array of choices the square spread before us - pub grub, Thai and strictly vegetarian being among the many options. Sensing a slight chill in the air, but still enjoying the cloudless sky, we opted for outside seating with a hearty grilled cheese and tomato bisque, refered to on the menu as The Grilled Cheese Dip and dip we did. Mmmm. Also, the fried green tomatoes with goat cheese and balsamic reduction ( dont know what that means) pretty much rocked our world. Service was super friendly and the hanging out stretched long until we finally decided it was time we explored some more.
Ok, Knoxville, what you got?
The Sunsphere (above), to give it it's proper title ( more respectful than my own description of "big goldy thingumee" ) was designed and built by a local architectural firm for the 1982 worlds fair, and offers a 360 degree view of the city and provides the skyline with something unique and instantly recognizable to the approaching tourist, incoming college kids And conference goers, all of which dominate knoxvilles human traffic .
Old city seems to be on the cusp of a Renaissance , with new bars and cafes nestled into the turn-of-the-century buildings, with an eye firmly on the college demographic; coffee shops, vintage clothing stores pepper this growing area, and somewhere we found ourselves popping into The Crown and Goose for refreshment. Finding the place virtually empty, we sat at the bar and tried their own house IPA, brewed for them by the smoky mountain Brewing Company.
The IPA was light and refreshing , and with a spring in our step , it was time to mooch on......hmm, we thought, so far so good. I'll bet the student area is SUPER- cool... Right?
Well, not really. The strip through campus where we expected to find the head shops , hookah bars , vintage clothing and killer vinyl was actually populated by all the major franchises and peddlers of plastic food and shaky tables. They were all here in a line, so if that's your thing, you just roll out of your dorm and into a bucket o' chicken for just SOMETHING 99!!! YEAH!!
underwhelmed by the over abundance of colorfully packaged nothing, we headed back into downtown for a stroll through it's oak lined streets and maybe half an idea to come back and say hi again sometime soon. Not least of all , to check out the Blue Plate Special. - a free concert from local and touring acts at the visitors center, hosted and broadcast every afternoon by WDVX . If acoustic music is your thing, check this one out, preferably live, but you can always catch it online.
From here we headed west through the Smoky Mountains to ......
This, my second trip to Asheville, luckily allowed me a little more time to soak up the atmosphere and charms of this mountain town which has become synonymous with the arts and local artisans, as well as touring artists eager to put Asheville on their schedule.
As such, Asheville feels like a very mellow sleeping Gulliver, unphased by us langouring Lilliputians running along it's limbs, admiring the galleries , browsing the bookstores and slurping from the coffee houses along it's winding streets.
Actually , Asheville has an embarrassment of coffee houses, enough to inspire my wife to utter the words " man, if you can't find a coffeehouse here , there's something wrong with you." So true. I guess in such a throng of choices it pays to stand out , and arguably the most memorable coffeehouse is The Big Bus, the appropriately monickered London Double Decker forever parked and catering to all your caffeination needs on the first level, with ample seating on the top deck, just a thin spiral staircase away. "How long have you been here?" I asked the Barista, to which she replied "'Me, or the bus?", clearly a comedian. Once I'd sewn my sides back together she informed me that they'd been in business since 1996. Not bad,
And the coffee is pretty durn good.
After a leisurely noodle around the "Downtown Books and News" Bookstore - one of the best we've ever seen, we thought we should hook up with my bandmates; The HiBs. Hannah Flanagans sounded like a good spot, situated as it is close to downtown.
Once again , we walk into an empty bar, so with elbows on bar , we inquire of the barman, what's local and what's good? He points us at what is , in his opinion , the best IPA on the east coast , the Highland IPA from the Highland Brewing Co. Taking him at his word , I had to sample , and indeed found it to be most tasty. I wondered if our friendly barkeeper recommended everything this highly , as some might do in the name of dedicated salesmanship, but my suspicions were swiflty quashed when a girl came inquiring about a particular beer available on tap. " How is it?" she inquired. " it's crap." replied our dedicated bartender, without blinking an eye.
We basked in the honesty, quoffing at a leisurely pace, me on my Highland IPA, my wife on another local brew ; Pisgah Pale Ale, completely organic - even their trucks run on vegetable oil, a factoid I believe wholeheartedly as I heard it from - you got it - our honest barman.
It would be impossible to leave the subject of Asheville without mentioning some of it's many eateries . Every bit as numerous as the coffee houses , the streets fill with a variety of aromas from around the globe . Caribbean , Indian, Thai, and in a town populated by so many hippies, artists and loveable leftys of every stripe , a fine array of vegetarian options.
We grabbed a late breakfast at The Early Girl Eatery, who use all local produce and, man - the banana walnut pancakes blew my mind. Great food In a great atmosphere.
The next day , lunch at The Laughing Seed, a completely vegetarian restaurant served me a veggie Sloppy Joe that, according to my carnivorous buddies, beat the 'real thing' hands down.
Sometime after lunch , it was time to hit the road......