J.C. Holdway in Knoxville, Tennessee

I’ve grown up visiting family just outside of Knoxville, but spent very little time actually exploring the city, and even less time dining out there. (Because, really, why would I when we had Granny’s southern homecooking?!) So when we traveled to Knoxville recently for a family wedding, we stayed the night in town and explored the area, including a fantastic meal at J.C. Holdway.

Joseph Lenn established himself as a legendary chef during the decade he spent at nearby Blackberry Farm, rising to executive chef and winning the James Beard award for Best Chef Southeast in 2013, the first chef in Tennessee to receive the coveted award. When he opened his own restaurant, J.C. Holdway, late last year, he chose a corner location in Knoxville, near bustling Market Square.

Named after Lenn’s late uncle, J.C. Holdway reminds me of all things I love about the south, with good food and hospitality at the center of it all. The casual-cool atmosphere invites you to pull up a stool at the bar and watch the chefs at work in the open kitchen. When you get to the table, the menu items are meant for sharing and aren’t wimpy morsels of food, but rather hearty servings with simple flavors and unique combinations. Everything is cooked perfectly and much of it is sourced locally, naming many of the nearby farms on the menu. This isn’t farm-to-table to fit a trend, it’s food as it’s meant to be served.

To top it all off, you’ve got friendly service, good cocktails and a variety of wines; not to mention presentation in gorgeous Le Creuset cookware, perfect for the wood-fire oven in the center of the restaurant. This is fresh, southern cooking, not a menu of over-sauced or deep-fried heavy entrées. And on that note, nearly everything was gluten-free, or could be slightly adjusted to easily accommodate. Even the cornbread is gluten-free, as is on the menu! (I can’t tell you when I last had cornbread!)

J.C. Holdway is a delight and a great addition to the Southeastern map of restaurant gems. I look forward to returning, and hopefully, seeing Blackberry Farms, where Lenn first made a name for himself.

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