It's possible that the best restaurant in Knoxville isn't in Knoxville. It may be in Maryville. In fact, it may be one of Blount County's best kept secrets.
We'd heard great things about the Foothills Milling Company, so I had pretty high expectations. We finally made it over there late this afternoon, and it exceeded my expectations.
The menu has a variety of creative offerings, but appears to be focused on what they can do best. The only problem is that it all sounded so good I wanted to order one of everything.
If you're looking for the standard chain-style steak, chicken, and seafood six-page menu, look elsewhere. If you're looking for appetizers such as Vidalia Onion and Goat Cheese Tart or Buttermilk Fried Quail and Waffle, and entrées such as Duck Two Ways, Cedar Planked Salmon, or Slow Roasted Fillet, this is the place.
As tempting as they were, we skipped the appetizers and salads (the Pear Salad sounds interesting) and went right for the entrées.
After we ordered, our server brought us an "amusette" (a starter from the chef to stimulate the palate) of basil/grits fritters with mild red Thai chili sauce. Oh my! I may have to go back and just have a plate full of these. Then there was fresh rosemary/thyme focaccia bread, baked in house by Whitney who also makes all the desserts.
Then came the entrées.
The Mrs. had the Low Country Shrimp and Grits, "sautéed with locally cured bacon, house made Andouille sausage and Creole white wine cream sauce."
I had the Stuffed Lamb Sirloin, "stuffed with house made Spanish chorizo sausage and goat cheese, served with creamy dried tomato orzo and baby green beans." (I substituted asparagus for the green beans.)
The dishes were every bit as delicious as the descriptions. It was one of the best meals we've had in a while. Everything was excellent, including the service.
The Foothills Milling Company Restaurant started out in Wear's Valley, and relocated to Maryville several months ago. It's a family run restaurant, operated by Tommy Vaughan, who works the front of the house, and his brother Bart Vaughan and Bart's wife Whitney who run the kitchen. They are originally from Memphis, but like the scenery better here.
They were in Wear's Valley for about five years. I asked Tommy Vaughan if it was different catering to a tourist clientele. He said they never really attracted much tourist business up there. It was mostly local by word of mouth from all over East Tennessee. The same holds true with their new Maryville location, with people coming from Blount County, Knoxville, Tellico, Anderson County, and all around.
They have renovated the space (formerly occupied by Luce's) to create an elegant yet casual restaurant with traditional Southern charm (including white linen napkins and tablecloths) that offers fine dining in a relaxed atmosphere. The layout provides for intimate special occasion dining, and there is a separate dining room for small group functions.
They serve beer and wine, and I'm no wine connoisseur but they have what appears to be a well rounded wine list. We had the Toasted Head Chardonnay and it was very nice.
Prices are moderate to high by Knoxville area standards (entrées range from $18 for Horseradish Crusted Grouper or Short Rib Stuffed Meatloaf to $30 for the half-pound Slow Roasted Fillet) and worth every penny. Portions are satisfying and just right.
The Foothills Milling Company is located at 315 S. Washington St. in Maryville. Reservations are recommended, and can be made at their website or by calling 865-977-8434. If you go before 6PM there's a pretty good chance you can get a table without reservations or waiting. They are open for dinner at 5PM, Tuesday through Saturday.
(Note: the website menu may not always be up to date. The menu tonight was slightly different.)
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