It seems as though all of Knoxville and much of the southeast has been awaiting the day that Joseph Lenn, former executive chef at Blackberry farm, would open his own restaurant. That day has come and we were treated to a preview of what he's planning to show to the world on Tuesday when J. C. Holdway opens its doors to the public for the first time. Located on the corner of Union Avenue and Walnut Street in the Daylight Building, the space is filled with natural light from the windows that line the exterior walls. It is simply decorated with serviceware and artwork from the lovely Amy Campbell-Rochelson. Amy is a food lover and radio host who spends a lot of her time painting the likenesses of those important to southern foodways. Featured in J.C. Holdway are Glenn Roberts of Anson Mills; Allan Benton of Benton's Smoky Mountain Country Hams; Colleen Cruze of Cruze Dairy Farm; John Coykendall the master gardener and seed saver extrordinaire of Blackberry Farm; and J.C. Holdway himself who is the uncle of chef/owner Joseph Lenn. The kitchen is situated just beyond the bar and is open for all to watch the action. We were seated at the chef's bar that is comprised of six seats and a prime spot to see all of the magic happen. A pleasant surprise to see Karl McKim (formerly of Plaid Apron and Foothills Milling Company) cooking on the line along side Chef Joseph and Ashley Quick. We started with cocktails at the bar while we were waiting on our dinner companion to arrive. I chose the Bees Knees, a gin cocktail with fresh lemon and honey, while Mr. KnoxFoodie chose an Old Fashioned. Both cocktails were well balanced and delicious. It was a joy to see classic cocktails grace this menu. Other bar options are affordable wines by the glass and bottle, draft and bottled beers with such names as Blackberry Farm Brewery. We decided to go with the Hogwash Rosé for our dinner beverages and it was a perfect choice with its acidic notes and light body.
The dinner menu is sorted into starters, small plates, mains and desserts. We had a really difficult time deciding what we would dine on so we let Chef Joseph decide for us. He did not disappoint! He started us off with a bowl of crispy hushpuppies atop a basil aioli. We were so happy to see hushpuppies on a menu here in Knoxville! They were light, crispy and the aioli added brightness to the dish. Those little nuggets of joy were followed up by the best chicken liver mousse we have ever tasted paired with a pork terrine, quick pickled okra, grainy mustard and house made bread. We spent most of our time watching these plates being assembled just hoping that one would make it to us and it did! The mousse was smooth, buttery and salty with a lot of chicken flavor. The terrine held its shape well and was a tasty accompaniment to the rustic, house made bread. Not to be forgotten with this course were crispy smoked chicken wings tossed in an Alabama white sauce. These things were SO good! The sauce was creamy and acidic, and the wings were smoky and crispy. YUM. Small plates come out and we are presented roasted shrimp with creamy Geechi Boy Mill grits and a smoked trout salad with watercress. The spicy andouille with the cream and briny tomato in the shrimp dish melted our hearts. It was so delicious. The flavors in the trout salad were more subtle and delicate but equally as pleasing to our taste buds.
At this point I am trying to figure out how I am going to eat any more food and here come the entrees. The pork loin and pork shoulder were served side by side with Sea Island red peas, eggplant puree and wilted turnip greens. The greens, smoked pork and red peas made for one of the best bites of the night. Next up was catfish on a bed of Carolina gold rice, tomatoes and squash. The floral notes of this very special rice paired with a tomato vinaigrette and the flaky catfish created a southern dish that is both light and filling. I can taste the rice as I am writing. Last of the entrees was a Denver steak with roasted potatoes and beets. The beef from Simpson Farms was well cooked and nicely paired with the roasted vegetables and watercress. After we have stuffed ourselves on steak and fish and pork our server, Julie, asks us about dessert. Do we want one? That answer is obviously yes, but how could we decide which one? We decided to try them all and not one let us down! I ordered coffee, served beautifully in a blue Le Creuset french press with matching cup and saucer. The coffee, we were told by Joseph, is an unwashed bean from the Maryville roaster, Vienna Coffee Company. The term unwashed means that the beans are dried on the seed and removed from the hull after drying. This process creates more earthy flavors in the coffee itself. I also found that the coffee has a thicker mouthfeel than most. It was delicious and I drank the entire pot myself! Mr. Knoxfoodie and our friend, Anna, decided an Amaro was what they needed with dessert and chose the Amaro from High Wire Distilling in Charleston. It's a delightful bitter with a sweet, slightly menthol finish. Dessert arrives and we are treated to a peanut brittle semifreddo, lemon buttermilk tart and chocolate cake with Cruze Farm coffee ice cream. Every last one of them we would order again and again. The sweetness in each was delicate and came along with some sourness and/or bitterness to balance them perfectly. The chocolate cake and coffee ice cream paired well with the Amaro and the coffee. The semifreddo was salty and sweet, reminescent of a Butterfinger. The lemon buttermilk tart was simple and straightforward but oh so tasty.
We enjoyed our first visit to J.C. Holdway. The staff is knowledgeable, friendly and service was attentive. We would like to congratulate Chef Joseph Lenn and the General Manager, Tonya Combs, on the opening of this beautiful restaurant. We wish them success and good eating. Cheers guys!