Chef Tim Love has brought his white table cloth western bistro, Lonesome Dove, to Knoxville’s Old City and it’s a real treat! When he decided to enter the food space quickly filling up with resident award winning chefs, Love bought the old Patrick O’Sullivan space that sat empty on the corner of North Central and Jackson Avenue. (Note: please forgive the lighting in some of these pictures, the low light of the restaurant really set the mood, but it’s not great for photography).
He has turned that space into a tiered restaurant reminiscent of something you’d find in New York City. I counted four or five different levels for seating, including a chef’s table in the kitchen. Setting up shop in Knoxville is really a homecoming of sorts for the chef being a UT grad who got his start in a restaurant in this very city while attending school. And to say that Knoxville welcomed him back with arms wide open would be an understatement. His love for this city is evident in the respect he paid to the Patrick O’Sullivan space by maintaining it’s integrity and rustic charm. Even more so, you see it in the way he is pouring into this city.
When you first walk into the restaurant, you are greeted by the hostess stand to the left and a massive bar area along the right-hand wall.
The bartenders here are connoisseurs of the drink and while you can find quality whiskey and bourbon to imbibe along with a full bar, don’t miss out on the specialty cocktails they are crafting. They are something special. Even with a reservation, be prepared to wait for your table, particularly on the weekend. It’s a good chance to pony up to the bar and enjoy a drink – we were asked no less than four times if we wanted a drink while we waited. It’s a time-tested tactic. Making you wait, ups the chances you’ll get a drink at the bar. But more so, they are setting the pace from the get-go. Letting you know that you’re not here to be rushed. Take off your coat, relax, have a drink.
This is the Sullivan Smoker. The cocktail is literally smoked tableside under a glass cloche. Bulleit Rye Whiskey gets paired with sweet vermouth, angostura bitters, and a Luxardo cherry; then the entire glass is smoked with a blaze of oak chips.
The big reveal is when they uncover it in front of you and billows of smoke come wafting out at you. It makes ordering this drink a must, and makes every table around you say “What is that? I want one of those!” Then you taste it and every sip hits you in the back of your throat with hints of smokiness. You might just not believe you are in Knoxville for a moment.
This is the Jalapeno Cucumber Margarita. They use El Jimador tequila – one of our favorites – and house made margarita mix so you know it’s going to be good. Not overly spicy, this drink is actually pretty refreshing thanks to the cooling cucumber notes. For Remington’s tastes, he felt it could have used more of a kick (he likes spicy).
Once we were seated at our table, which was towards the top of the restaurant, our excellent server gave us the rundown of the menu and made his recommendations. You can order smaller individual portions of the starters giving you the opportunity to try more flavors, which is what he suggested to get a taste of Love’s cuisine. Soups and salads are ample portions. Apparently the bowl of chili is enough for two to share. While the entrees may come with a side or two, they are smaller portions and so he also suggested ordering a side from the bottom of the menu to share. These sides are family style and should be plenty for two people, if not more.
Going off our server’s suggestion, we ordered two servings of three different starters so we could each have a taste. Left to right is the Escarole, Lobster hushpuppies, and Deviled Blue Crabs.
Escarole with margarita ice, chili oil and avocado was to die for. This one bite was one of the best bites of the whole night. Such a flavor bomb! With the cooling saltiness of the margarita ice, it paired beautifully with the spicy chili oil and delicate fish.
The lobster hushpuppies are coated in blue corn chips served with a cilantro parsley salad and smoked tomato butter. The butter was honestly the best part of this dish. I thought the lobster hushpuppy itself actually lacked flavor because the only note that came through was blue corn chip. Considering these were highly recommended, they were a bit disappointing.
Deviled Gulf Coast Blue Crabs…yum! You better believe I scraped every last bite out of that shell. I am shameless when it comes to food. The Lonesome Dove hot sauce on top was the perfect partner for the divine crab.
Other starters we’ve heard are a must try – the Elk-Foie Gras Sliders. Which, Remington got to try one evening at the bar. He said that they are uniquely tasty. Rich, juicy, and the blueberry compote caps it all off. And from the Bar Snacks menu, friends have raved over the White Tail Deer Tartare.
After we finished up the starters, bread service arrived. I did not manage to snap a very good picture of it though because the light in the restaurant was very low, so I’ll just tell you…it was some of the best bread service around. A basket of warm housemade baguette, corn bread, and focaccia arrived with fresh butter.
For the salad course, I tried the Shaved Vegetable salad intrigued by the smoked tomato vinaigrette, blue cheese, and pecans. The salad was LOADED with blue cheese, so only order it if you really like blue cheese. Thankfully, I do. However, I did not get a lot of the smoked tomato dressing and I felt the vegetables just needed some salt. Had it not been for the blue cheese and pecans this salad would have actually been a bit boring, especially compared to what the hubs ordered.
This is the salad to end all salads. Is it healthy? Heck no. Aside from the butter lettuce, there’s not much in terms of health food about it. Okay, maybe the pickled jalapenos. Chili Buttermilk, Lardoons aka BACON CROUTONS, Goat Cheese…need I say more? I could eat this salad every day of my life. It was SO GOOD. And it was HUGE. We could have shared this as a salad and been totally satisfied. Or you can get some starters and this salad for a “lighter” supper.
That’s not to say that I think the entrees are worth missing out on because they are not. Clearly, we were just getting warmed up with the starters and salads because both of our mains were outstanding. The elk loin above is one of the most popular items on their current menu. It gets beautifully plated with crispy Chinese Kale, Hen of the Woods mushrooms, Salsify, and Candied Blackberries. The perfect bite was a little bit of everything together. Chef recommends the loin be cooked medium rare, which is how I like a good piece of meat anyway. The meat itself was so buttery and delicious. Elk is fairly lean, so the loin is going to be the best cut with tons of flavor but no fat.
Remington ordered the Roasted Garlic Stuffed Beef Tenderloin with Western Plaid Hash, Grilled Asparagus, Syrah Demi-Glace. This has been on the menu at Lonesome Dove for 17 years!!! It’s that good, y’all. A testament to the performance of the dish, especially when menus get rotated regularly. This dish stays on the menu year round due to popular demand. The tenderloin was medium rare, bordering on rare (YUM). So tender you almost don’t need a knife. Roasted garlic permeated every bite, and the delicious, almost slightly burnt flavor of the demi-glace just takes this dish over the top.
And because I am a sucker for good roasted beets and goat cheese, we also got an order of the Beet Home Fries with Goat Cheese and Lemon for the table. We were told these would have a bit of spice to them, but neither of us picked up any heat at all. That said, they were still amazing. The serving was enormous. This bowl may look small, but honestly there were enough beets for a large table of 6-8 people to get a taste.
Never ones to pass on dessert, we actually saved part of our entree to ensure we had room in our bellies!! Rem got the cheesecake special, because of course he did. The flavor was tres leche that day. Remington is an absolute cheesecake snob, but had nothing but positive comments about this. The texture of this cheesecake was softer than most, but done so deliberately to mimic the moist, dense, mouthfeel of a tres leche cake.
I couldn’t say no to the Ancho Chili Chocolate Cake that helped Chef Tim Love win the Iron Chef against Morimoto. It’s a nearly flourless chocolate cake with the most insanely divine texture. The cake itself is so rich and decadent that it doesn’t need a lot of dressing up, so it comes simply with almond brittle, chocolate sauce, and vanilla ice cream. Not overly spicy, the hint of ancho chili really amps up the intense chocolate flavor in the cake. My only complaint? It wasn’t big enough. I wanted an entire 8 inch cake!! Truthfully though after that meal, it was the perfect size. After indulging, thanks to the reasonable portions of most dishes, we walked away totally satisfied and full, but not stuffed to the brim or complaining of a belly ache.
Lonesome Dove also has a space on the top floor that can be used for events. I believe they also seat guests here on really busy nights for overflow, but it’s a great location for a wedding reception or other event. The space is beautiful with big windows looking out over the Old City.
I love that they saved the old penny bar from Patrick O’Sullivan’s. It’s a piece of nostalgia in Knoxville history and makes a great statement in this room.
Lonesome Dove is truly a game-changer for Knoxville. It’s a restaurant fit for a big city, with big city prices to accompany. However, the fact that this place is routinely packed (even the bar is hopping on a weekday) shows that Knoxville is ready to take a step towards something different. With Knoxville’s downtown still experiencing a revival, Lonesome Dove could easily become an historic cornerstone to our Old City that is working on a much needed face-lift. The atmosphere, service, and unique experience make this like no other restaurant currently in K-town. It’s absolutely worth a trip for a special occasion, a great place for social lubricant in the evenings, or stop by for the Sullivan Smoker alone!
Also, Costco currently has two $50 gift cards you can pick up for $79.99 that are good for any of Tim Love’s restaurants. Heck of a deal!
P.S. Don’t forgot to visit Back Dough to get your late night donut fix where they open up the back door of the kitchen and serve fresh, hand-made donuts. Cash only! Get ’em while they’re hot! And be sure to check out Love Shack on the back patio when it is open for dang good burgers, fries and chili!
I promise this is not a sponsored post, we just really enjoyed our experience and food at Lonesome Dove!