Having missed the International Biscuit Festival last year while on our amazing trip to Seaside, Florida, we were determined to get our biscuit fix this year! It has become a foodie festival tradition and one of the best parts of May! BiscuitFest as it is lovingly referred to around these parts quickly became one of Knoxville’s most popular food festivals bringing over 20,000 biscuit lovers to the event each year. In fact, it’s insurmountable popularity brought about an expanded festival site for the 6th annual event allowing for more space and for strategically placed lines to keep the flow of traffic off the main road. While the festival usually only takes over Market Street adjacent to the weekly Farmer’s Market on Market Square, this year they more than doubled the space by setting up vendors along Church Street as well – a much needed change!We met up with bestest buds – Matt & Erin – bright and early Saturday morning for a jaunt to Downtown Knoxville. While the festival takes place over a few days with different events in various parts of Knoxville, the main attraction is Biscuit Boulevard – a biscuit competition on the last day in the streets of Downtown K-town where regional restaurants and bakers create a signature biscuit for ticket-holders to sample. We had gotten wind that last year’s event was a bit over-crowded and disorganized, so we decided the early bird gets the worm or the biscuit in this case and headed to BiscuitFest as soon as ticket sales began at 8:30am. There was already a small crowd forming, so we made our way to the ticketing tent with the shortest line and grabbed four tasting passes – one $10 tickets gets you 5 biscuit samples and 1 opportunity to vote for your favorite. Remington and I always get two tickets and then share each of the 10 samples we select because 1. they are typically full size (if not jumbo size) biscuits that fill you up quickly if not shared and 2. this way we each get to try more signature biscuits!!
Arriving early gave us a few minutes to get our bearings, scope out the year’s offerings and make a game plan on which biscuits we for sure did not want to miss. Biscuit Boulevard participants included a variety of vendors from our newest health food grocer Whole Foods to annual faves like Tupelo Honey and Flour Head Bakery. The full list of participants is at the bottom of the post.For our first stop, we headed to a newbie at this year’s event – King Arthur Flour – who helped sponsor the Southern Food Writing Conference. Their adorable Bake for Good Truck was parked on Church street and behind it sat their tent promising a choice of topping. The Bake for Good Truck was also spotted around town all weekend – handing out chocolate chip cookies at Whole Foods on Friday and then over at Earthfare Turkey Creek on Sunday.
We opted for the strawberry-rhubarb because why not start with a sweet, dessert biscuit first?! I love the pairing of strawberries and rhubarb, plus I love pie, so it is hard for me to resist that combo piled on top of a biscuit!The strawberry rhubarb topping was perfectly balanced – just enough tart to offset the sweet with big chunks of berries and rhubarb. Their biscuit was dense and a bit chewy and to top it off they offered canned whipped cream.We noticed a pretty substantial line already forming down the street behind the Whole Foods Mobile Kitchen and it wasn’t even 9:00 yet, so we got in line and waited for them to start serving up their Smoked Fried Chicken Biscuit with Red Pepper Bacon Jam.Whole Foods just opened their first store in Knoxville a few months ago in March of this year. Known for their hotfood/salad bars, ready made food counters, and regional selections, our local store offers something unique with their “Biscuit Basket” counter where they serve up biscuit sandwiches!Their golden biscuit was filled with a juicy smoked and fried chicken thigh topped with a jammy red pepper sauce with hints of smoky bacon.The biscuit had a slight crumbly texture to it with a crusty exterior and fluffy interior. The chicken was perfectly cooked, succulent and juicy with a bit of crunch and smokey flavor. But that red pepper bacon jam! That’s where it’s at. Slightly sweet, but also savory with hints of heat and bites of salty bacon goodness. Yum!The Tomato Head is one of my favorite local restaurants – historically they hold the top spot on Urban Spoon more often than any other restaurant (I don’t know if that’s a fact – but they are ALWAYS #1 – go look, I’ll wait). They participate annually in BiscuitFest in partnership with FlourHead Bakery – a local artisan bakery owned and operated by the same people as Tomato Head – and they ALWAYS bring their A-game! This year was no different and definitely no less disappointing. The Miss Jewel biscuit was an UBER fluffy, creamy square biscuit baked with a topping of benton’s sausage, roasted collard greens, cheese, and a mayo based sauce. It was seriously SO GOOD. I could have eaten an entire pan of these! It looks heavy, but the light, fluffy texture of the biscuit and perfectly paired toppings made it not feel heavy going down. This one got both our votes – in fact it got ALL FOUR of our votes. Way to hit it out of the park Tomato Head!Our newest buddy, Jasper, Matt & Erin’s 7 month old son came out and partied with us – it was just too much fun for him though and he crashed early. He patiently hung out or napped in his dad’s arms while we got our fill of carbs! Soon enough little buddy we shall turn you into a foodie nerd just like your Aunty K and Uncle Rem. 😉Tupelo Honey Cafe is another fave local spot – well, technically local to Asheville – but we love it. They use fresh, local ingredients full of southern flavors. We wanted to get in their line quickly because they sold out last year and their biscuit is always a favorite of ours.This year they offered a choice between two biscuits – Blueberry Fields Forever or Orange Jalapeno Cloud. We chose the latter for two reasons: we are already extremely familiar withe their blueberry compote and orange jalapeno cloud??? Come on! Their signature buttery, flaky biscuit was filled with whipped cream cheese and orange jalapeno marmalade. Tupelo’s biscuit is a no-brainer – always the perfect flavor and texture. I swear they lace the dough with crack. Now that was a lot of cream cheese, but it was whipped into submission and balanced with a to-die-for spicy sweet marmalade. I now need jalapeno in everything orange ever forever. Thank you for always bringing the flavor train Tupelo.We hit up the Plaid Apron‘s tent next for their cleverly named Grittin Porky in the Jam Patch Biscuit.Theirs was a dense doughy biscuit injected with a fresh berry jam filling oozing out of the top.Mason Dixie Biscuit Co. came all the way from DC to offer up the Nina Lee biscuit. A three person operation with a love of southern comfort food and heart for their community, they claim the best biscuits south of the Maxon Dixie line.The Nina Lee promised to win your heart with a signature buttermilk biscuit topped with savory collards, ham hocks, roasted tomatoes, and a secret sauce.Their claim was not far off! The biscuit had a great texture – soft, fluffy, but with a bit of crunch. Collards had a nice flavor, but it was the bite as a whole that was well balanced. The biscuit with the collards played well with a hit of acid from the roasted tomato and salty meaty flavor of ham hocks. A well-rounded biscuit!
By now we were pretty thirsty! A carb-loaded morning so far and we were parched for something refreshing!And look at that adorable bubble making Lipton tea trailer! Lipton was handing out free samples of cold sparkling iced tea in three flavors – raspberry, lemon, and peach.The perfect refreshment!We headed over to Blue Coast Grill & Bar who brought the southern comfort home with a Southern Chicken Pot-Pie Biscuit.A dense, chewy biscuit topped with a creamy pot-pie filling of chunks of chicken, potato, carrots and peas.How can you go wrong with a comfort classic like chicken pot pie, especially if it’s on a biscuit?? The only thing I could add to this one is that it honestly could have used a tad more salt, but the flavors of chicken pot-pie were there.We headed over to Gourmets Market tent to get a taste of the Big Nasty, but soon learned the error of our ways for waiting so long to head their direction! Their line went down the parking lot behind Market Street and snaked back around into the alley. We waited in that line for over 45 minutes to try Gourmets Market’s signature biscuit creation. Yes, yes we are crazy!Gourmets Market is a great little retail shop located in Knoxville’s Bearden district filled with lots of fun things for foodies – unique ingredients, coffee, tea, specialty cheeses and meats, fun kitchen gadgets, tools, cookware. Basically, if it’s some odd tool or ingredient you cannot find anywhere else – you know Gourmets Market will likely have it. If you love to cook or bake, you have to check it out. Attached to the market is Cosmo’s Caffe where we have enjoyed many delicious breakfasts and lunches – they cater too!The Big Nasty was a big ol pile of flavor – a cathead biscuit topped with spicy fried chicken, a poached egg and then finished off with ghost pepper cheese, chipotle cream sauce, a slice of fresh tomato, and a basil leaf.A little difficult and messy to eat without a fork and knife, but that one good bite where all the flavors came together made that wait worth it. I mean, a FRESH hot drop-style biscuits topped with juicy FRESH fried chicken, ooey gooey spicy sauce and then fresh acidic bites from tomato and basil – does it get any better? I hear that they will be featuring the Big Nasty on their menu soon at Cosmo’s Caffe, so head on down to Gourmets Market in Bearden to give it a try if you missed the festival or if you just need a second helping! I won’t judge if you do. While we were waiting in that long, hot line for the Big Nasty, we realized we would need more sustenance to sustain us. Okay, really we just couldn’t wait that long to try another signature biscuit. So we sent the husbands off on a pilgrimage to procure our next sample selection…they came back with The Gertie from Biscuit Love. Biscuit Love was originally founded in 2012 as a food truck, but in 2015 they set down roots with a brick and mortar space in Nashville, TN doing full-service breakfast and lunch daily from 7:00-3:00. I hear it’s some of the best breakfast in Nashville and that a trip over there is not complete without a trip to Biscuit Love. Let’s talk about what they brought to BiscuitFest though – The Gertie was an angel biscuit topped with peanut butter, caramelized banana jam, chocolate gravy, and crumbled pretzels. Caramelized banana jam you say? Chocolate gravy? Tell me more. The foodie in me is very intrigued by this new devilry. These flavors all pair well together and I do love getting to try new things like the jam and chocolate gravy. BUT the peanut butter was a bit too strong in this pairing – it over-powered and masked the other flavors. I would have loved if it had more of the caramelized banana jam, chocolate and pretzel flavors come through.Photo credit: Brownie Bites – our dear friends and fellow food lovers!
The Biscuit Shop of Starkville, Mississippi drove over to K-town with their Sprinkles biscuit, which is a regular on Michelle Tehan’s menu at her small, family business with humble beginnings.Photo credit: Brownie Bites – our dear friends and fellow food lovers!
Our group kept calling it the Funfetti biscuit – you know like that cake you had as a kid filled with flecks of funfetti sprinkles! We even had a hard time referring to it as a biscuit because doesn’t it look like a piece of cake? Chock full of bright, cheery sprinkles with a sugary glaze, it sure could have fooled me!Photo credit: Brownie Bites – our dear friends and fellow food lovers!
After taking a bite though, it certainly had the texture of a biscuit and it was surprisingly not cloyingly sweet. Such a fun idea for a breakfast food that I can get behind.Last, but certainly not least of all was Mama’s Farmhouse. Their tent was sneakily hidden around the corner on Church Street, but it was hard to miss for all the noise they were making. They’d hoot and holler every time they got a vote. Located in the heart of Pigeon Forge, TN at the base of the Smokey Mountains, Mama’s is a new restaurant serving Southern Cooking Family Style for Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner daily!Mama Says Don’t Say Maybe to Chocolate Gravy was a fresh scratch-made buttermilk biscuit with chocolate gravy, strawberry butter, whipped cream and fresh strawberries. Seriously, they were rolling out and baking up fresh biscuits right there at the festival! Impressive to say the least and not much beats getting a still warm from the oven buttermilk biscuit. The biscuit itself had a great texture – sometimes buttermilk biscuits that are rolled out get too tough and chewy. The chocolate gravy? This was true chocolate gravy – it had the spoonable consistency of red eye or milk gravy and an undeniable chocolate flavor. Very very unique. The strawberry butter was amazing and I wish it had more of it on the biscuit…it was a great acidic balance to the very rich chocolate gravy.
While many of the signature biscuit creations this year were drool-worthy, there can be only one winner – well one for People’s Choice and one for Critic’s Choice…
2015 INTERNATIONAL BISCUIT FESTIVAL BISCUIT BOULEVARD WINNERS:
People’s Choice (tallied from the voting jars at each booth): Mama’s Farmhouse with the “Mama Says Don’t Say Maybe to Chocolate Gravy” biscuit.
Runners up: The Tomato Head/Flour Head Bakery with “Miss Jewel” and Gourmet Market/Cosmos’ Cafe with “The Big Nasty”
Critics’ Choice: Mason Dixie Biscuit Co. with “The Nina Lee Biscuette”
Best Biscuit Name: The Plaid Apron with “Grittin’ Porky in the Jam Patch”
The Last Biscuit Standing: Gourmet Market/Cosmos’ Cafe with “The Big Nasty”
The Best Biscuit Booth: WATE/Sapphire with “Buttermilk Cathead Biscuit with Benton’s Bacon Jam”
K&R’s Choice: The Tomato Head/Flour Head Bakery with “Miss Jewel”
What? We had to list our own winner! We actually tossed in a vote for the Miss Jewel and the Orange Jalapeno Cloud…but Miss Jewel was our top contender this year.
Until next time BiscuitFest…cannot wait to see what signature biscuit creations you can conjure up in 2016!
LIST OF ALL 2015 PARTICIPANTS:
Whole Foods Market
King Arthur Flour
Tupelo Honey Cafe
The Tomato Head/Flour Head Bakery
Gourmet Market/Cosmos’ Cafe
The Plaid Apron
Sundress Academy for the Arts
Blue Coast Grill & Bar
The Biscuit Shop
Mason Dixie Biscuit Co.