On a recent Saturday evening Tony and I indulged for no particular reason in an “urban western cuisine” (translation: mostly wild game) dinner by a prominent chef known for his culinary inventiveness and his philanthropic generosity. The following day we also grabbed a quick bite at the roadside grill of a Southern Gospel celebrity out near the mountains.

Saturday’s menu did not disclose prices online, which always makes us a little nervous. However, I am pleased to write that we did not have to take a second mortgage on the house to pay for dinner.

The restaurant sits in an old renovated three story building in one of the up-and-coming neighborhoods of Knoxville and was an easy 20 minute escape from our subdued suburb. We had a charming table on the second floor overlooking the antler-capped bar. What’s not to like when antlers are involved, right?

Enough chatter. On to the menu. I regret feeling it inappropriate to bring my real camera with me and made do with my trusty iPhone instead. The snaps reflect that mistake, my apologies.

The Fettine. Pretty certain this is a made-up word to describe Wild Boar and Lamb Pâté, rolled with Huckleberries and fired over Mesquite, but no matter. After the roll had chilled, wafer-thin swirly and heavenly creamy slices appeared before us to enjoy with pickled okra and onions.

The First Course(s). From bottom to top: Lobster Hushpuppies with Roasted Tomato Sauce (melty and decadent); a riff on the Nashville Hot (Spicy) Chicken of Hot Quail Legs with Blue Cheese Fondue over Texas Toast and drizzled with hot sauce (mmm!); and luscious Elk and Foie-Gras Sliders with Blueberry Jam.  The Quail, of course, tasted like chicken. The Elk, like a non-gamey lean beef, preferable to me over Venison. And who doesn’t like lobster?

The Second Course. Texas Red, the real chili. No beans, no tomatoes, just silky chunks of Buffalo that had basted in red chili all day. Topped with an Avocado Corn Salsa and Crispy Tortilla Strips, we both decided that we are forever banning the beans from our prep of this football Saturday classic.

The Main Course. For Tony, the house specialty of garlic stuffed Beef Tenderloin with Julienned Root Vegetable Hash, and a three-hour reduced Syrah demi-glace on the side.

I chose Antelope Short Rib atop Crispy Cauliflower with Fermented Lime Vinaigrette.

I could tell the Tenderloin was spectacular, as Tony only offered me one little bite. As for the Antelope, now I understand why apex predators like Cheetahs and Lions eat this delicate grazer. Because it was damned delicious.

After four courses of perfectly portioned and outstanding cuisine (and a bottle of an exceptional California red), there was no room either in heart, stomach or mind for dessert. Next time. A number of other menu items called to us, so we will return if only for a lunch.

Onto the following day. An early morning wander along the shoals with CTF before attempting a scenic drive with stopping points, about which I will write in good order.

We’d passed this roadside joint numerous times; and with CTF having come along on the outing its outdoor tables were the welcome sign we needed. Quite a few four-pawed were lunching with their humans, too, including Luna the adorable Pittie. One of the staffers who tidies the outside dining spaces walked around with a biscuit jar treating all of the pups, that is how dog-friendly the place is.

Southern Gospel. Southern Cooking. Southern Hospitality. The food is served cafeteria-style, and is notable, for better or for worse, for its portions. 😬

We each opted for “The Little T” and an Unsweet, the only size of which was “Tanker.”  Though it was Angus, we were a little underwhelmed in that, It tastes a little like an Austrian burger kind of way; that is, slightly unflavored. My coleslaw was undeniably spot on, however.

Tony Gore is, apparently, a self-made Southern Gospel celebrity and minister; and his group is one of the most requested artists on Gospel Music Television and in radio markets across the U.S., South Africa, and Ireland. (And of course, his music is played inside his restaurant.) Southern Gospel’s cultural origins lie with White and African-American evangelical Christians beginning in the early part of the 19th century. Quite likely the folksier versions of this music appealed to the Irish settling in Appalachia, too, is all we can guess.

Over a span of 18 hours or so we dined on Wild Boar, Lamb, Elk, Quail, Lobster, Antelope and Angus amid settings that could not have been more different. But we were able to observe a (disappointing) common denominator. Americans dress like slobs. On Saturday evening, most couples or groups stepped it up and donned non-quarantine attire; in our line of sight, though, a dude wearing his baseball cap backwards throughout the meal and what appeared to be a “Girls Night Out” group, some in their finest yoga pants. On Sunday (I know, I know we were at a roadside barbecue joint) the parade of yoga pants (and flipflops) continued, along with jeans better reserved for working around the house. But, this being 2020, that we can go out at all is something to appreciate.