Last Saturday, downtown Knoxville played host to thousands of people as they wet their pallets for the 7th Annual International Biscuit Festival. It’s a wonderful time of year that we look forward to annually. Southerners, man, they love their biscuits and this year was no exception. They came out in droves. We have never seen BiscuitFest so incredibly crowded.
Even with the few crazy lines last year, we were still able to try 10 different biscuits and be done by lunchtime. This year, even though we arrived early, we only managed to try 7 biscuits after waiting in 4 incredibly long lines.
We hit Biscuit Boulevard right at 9am and this is the ticket line that awaited us. Ticket sales started at 8:30am and the line was two blocks deep! We spent 30 minutes in this line before we finally purchased our tasting passes. Here’s a tip: As in years past one ticket at a cost of $10 is worth 5 biscuit samples and is also your voting pass; when you are ready to vote you tear off the end and toss it into the voting jar of the biscuit booth who won you over. These votes make up the People’s Choice Award. We always purchase two tickets worth 5 samples each. Then we (usually) sample 10 different biscuits splitting them each so that we get to try MOAR biscuits. Like I said, this year, we only managed to try 7 biscuits plus Tupelo’s biscuit minus the strawberry topping as they had already run out of it. There were 16 vendors sharing their Signature Biscuit creations, although we only actually saw 14 vendors set up along Market Street and Church Avenue.
First up, we hopped in line for Oliver Royale‘s Sweet Southern BBQ biscuit. It was already growing in length to rival the line for Gourmet Market last year and having recently eaten brunch at Oliver we had high expectations.
This was a tender delicious biscuit topped with slow-roasted barbecue pork, a sweet and tangy cherry barbecue sauce that packed a wallop of flavor and a house-made pickle that added a bite of needed acid. This was definitely a great way to start off the day. The pork was tender and flavorful and that sauce was killer. The only minor negative was that the biscuit was so tender it crumbled under the weight of the sauce making it messy to eat. In spite of that, I thought this was one of the most flavorful biscuits in the competition. Well done, perfectly prepared, balanced flavors.
Since we had to divide and conquer this year to accomplish as many biscuit tastings as possible before vendors sold out, while I waited in Oliver Royale’s line, Rem hopped over to Blue Coast Grill & Bar to sample their Soda Pop biscuit that is made with the addition of sprite in the biscuit batter. They were pumping out the biscuits and moving the line right along, so he made it back quickly.
They had a diamond shaped biscuit topped with tomato, pesto, mozzarella and a drizzle of balsamic vinegar!
Tons of my favorite ingredients in a biscuit! This reminded me of a cross between a delicious caprese salad and a panzanella salad with the thick biscuit. I got to gobble this one up all on my own because of Rem’s hatred for tomato. More for me. 🙂
Alex Belew catering out of Murfreesboro in middle Tennessee brought “The Southern Boy” biscuit. They were cranking out fresh, hot biscuits and local sausage to be topped with homemade pimento cheese and potato “chips”. Because they were churning out “fresh” ingredients baking off biscuits and sausage, this line would get pretty backed up. Once they had a bunch made, the line moved quickly, but we waited for a while for this one.
The biscuit itself here was quite good with a thick fluffy inside, but a nice crunch on the outside. The pimento cheese was the star and the potato chip provided a great salty crunch to the profile. I wish there had been two or three potato chips to make sure every bite had some. Overall a great savory bomb of a biscuit, but frankly the sausage was the weakest link. That’s okay though since it’s the one component they didn’t make themselves.
Rem hit up Primo while I waited in line again. When it’s this crowded and the lines are this insane, your best bet is to divide and conquer. Primo is a new Italian restaurant inside the Sunsphere where we got to enjoy a fabulous Italian dinner on our anniversary. The head chef Bruce Bogartz has been a staple in the culinary scene around town for years now and the man knows what he’s doing. We just knew this would be a flavorful biscuit.
He brought a smoked ham hock and cheddar biscuit that was super moist and crumbly, not your typical biscuit texture, but loaded with flavor. The biscuit got loaded up with your choice of topping – either a homemade pesto or strawberry moonshine jam. We obviously went with the jam and it was totally the right choice. The sweet jam with a bit of tart and tang from the moonshine and berries added a nice punch to the heavy biscuit.
This photo taken by Matt Browne.
Our buddy, Matt, that tagged along chose the biscuit topped with pesto so I snagged his photo to share. Gotta love those classic Italian flavors together!
Chef Tim Love, of Lonesome Dove out of Texas, actually got his start in Knoxville and he’s coming back home! He is opening up a Lonesome Dove and Love Shack in the Old City block of downtown where Patrick Sullivan’s was anchored for years. So he has been be-bopping his way around town at local events to get the word out, support the local economy and meet some friendly faces. His team prepared a Wild Boar Toad in the Hole biscuit. They took two layers of biscuit and injected the wild boar and egg yolk into the center, then baked it on-site. The biscuit itself was flaky and tender with yummy layers much like those easy and delicious canned goodies you find in the grocery store. Overall, it had a good flavor, but the very center of ours was goo – completely underdone. So a great idea in theory, but in execution at a fast paced event like this where you are churning them out quickly, maybe not the best solution. 🙂
OliBea was another new vendor this year that partnered with B97.5. They are a newer, local breakfast and brunch joint that set up shop in the Old City as well. We’ve yet to make it down there for breakfast, but have been dying to because we only ever hear stellar reviews. We may have to change that very very soon after the amazing biscuit creation they brought to BiscuitFest – they definitely brought their A-game. It was a thick, tall biscuit that was perfectly tender, moist and delicious drowning in a flavorful crispy chicken and chorizo gravy. The gravy had little bits of everything in it, including potatoes. It was like a tiny homage to the breakfast bowl. This got one of our votes for sure! Absolutely nothing negative to say here.
Finally, we hit up one more line in hopes of getting a sweet biscuit to finish our day. We were not disappointed, although a bit nervous they’d even have any left by the time we got up to the table. Marble City Kitchen, again another new vendor, is the new restaurant partner of the Hilton downtown; and they had a line that went all the way down to the end of the block on W Church. When we got in line, we were standing at the intersection of W Church and Walnut. It was a bit crazy.
Marble City Kitchen’s biscuit, the Bourbon and Blue, was a sweet concoction of sweet blueberry cobbler with crunchy sugar pieces and a blueberry glaze on top of a thick shortbread meyer lemon biscuit. Then it was topped with vanilla bourbon cream from their very own barrel of George Dickel. I loved all of the flavors here between the super subtle lemon biscuit and blueberries to the bit of texture from the sugar crunchies in the blueberry cobbler and then the sweet, rich bourbon cream. There’s nothing much better than boozy whipped cream, am I right?
Here are the results of this year’s competition:
- People’s Choice Award – Marble City Kitchen with the Bourbon and Blue Biscuit
- Runners up included Deep South Biscuit Company & Alex Belew Catering
- Best Biscuit Name – Primo for “Boss Hog” & “The Gambino”
- Critic’s Choice Award – Deep South Biscuit Co of Atlanta, GA
- The Last Biscuit Standing – Alex Belew Catering of Nashville, TN
- Best Biscuit Booth Award – Blue Coast Bar & Grill
- Miss or Mr. Biscuit Pageant – Hayden Brackeen
- Biscuit Songwriting Competition – Griffin Cavendar Vann, performed on the South Knox Studio Flatbed Music Stage. Her winning tune was “Kitchen”
- Grand Champion of the Southern Biscuit Flour Biscuit Baking Contest – Matt Sandbank. His Caraway Biscuits won over eleven other competitors and topped the Sweet Category
- The other category winners were Maisie Styles in the student category, Paige Sandbank in the savory category, and Felice Bogus in the special category.
And that’s a wrap on another delicious biscuit event, albeit a not as successful event (well depending on who you are)! I am certain a ton of money was raised, which is great for the food charities they donate to and for the local economy, BUT we saw a ton of people still purchasing tickets well into the day and then leaving with said tickets completely blank. Friends of ours that came out for the first time this year said they waited for 2 hours in two different lines and did not get a single biscuit. I hate it for them because it’s never been that bad before and it’s an event we have always enjoyed, but I don’t think they will ever be back!! Vendors were “selling out” of biscuits 90 minutes into an event that should have lasted for 5 hours. If I am honest, with how crowded and somewhat chaotic it was, we may not go back next year and that makes me sad. We shall see what improvements can be made to tame the lines and the queuing issues. Several people have suggested pre-sale of tickets so that no one is waiting in line just to purchase a ticket and so that vendors have a better idea of the headcount. I think that’s a great idea!! Hopefully, the Biscuit Boss will catch on. 😉
Until the next biscuit – <3 K&R