July 3, 2017

A Knoxville Stay-Cation with East TN Tours

Sometimes a big, extravagant summer vacation just isn't possible. Whether because of scheduling conflicts, budget or both, big trips may not be in your future this summer. I feel your pain. After a spring that was jam-packed with travel, I have no trips on the horizon.

But what if I told you there were all sorts of incredible things to enjoy right under your nose? Maybe you should consider a "Stay-cation" this summer! I recently had the opportunity to take a walking tour in Knoxville and become a tourist in my own town. It was a blast and I really enjoyed the experience.

The walking tour I participated in is called the "Chef’s Table Tour with East TN Tours." For a flat fee, you get to do the tour and enjoy yummy food to taste at each stop along the way. My tour experience was complimentary as part of an agreement to write about it on the blog, but you all know I don't recommend anything unless I really mean it!

East TN Tours is owned and operated by Lauren Quinn who was also our tour guide for the event. I met up with Lauren at the Knoxville Visitor’s Center at the corner of Summit Hill and Gay Street on a Saturday afternoon for our tour.

One thing that is great about Knoxville is free parking in all the downtown garages on the weekends. Plus, the Visitor’s Center offers free parking for tours. Maybe your city has a bustling downtown area that you've been meaning to explore. There are probably all sorts of restaurants and places you haven't visited. Even after living in Knoxville for nearly 20 years, there are plenty of spots I haven't tried yet.

Lauren was a great guide, offering us portable mister fans to beat the heat. She is obviously passionate about local culture and history and gave our group lots of fun facts along the way.

We walked from location to location, spending a bit of time at each for the food portion. By partnering with local restaurants, East TN Tours is able to pre-arrange each experience along the tour.

Another fun part of the tour was getting to talk with other folks in the group.

Our first stop was Clancy’s Tavern and Whiskey House, on Gay Street just next to the historic Tennessee Theatre. In fact, this is usually where we go right before seeing a show at the Tennessee. When my brother and his girlfriend were visiting, we took them there to grab a bite before seeing Rent and it was delicious.

An Irish pub with a large drink menu, Clancy's offers something for everyone. Plus their food is tasty and they have vegetarian options.

For the tour, everyone else had Shepherd's Pie and I had a veggie burger. So good!

Next we walked over to Market Square and enjoyed some treats at Tomato Head. I had the tomato soup, which might seem like a strange choice on a hot summer day, but theirs is so good I couldn't pass it up.

From there, we walked down Gay Street to Jackson and our next stop, Balter Beerworks.

Balter is a new-ish brewery located in an old service station on South Broadway. This wasn't my first time there, but it was my first time enjoying some of their yummy food.

Balter serves their own craft beers and food made from scratch. My husband likes to go for the $1.50 tacos, which are pretty darn great.

For the food tour, we sampled Balter’s burrito bowl, a layered dish with rice and beans, topped with blackened chicken, lettuce, charred salsa, pico de gallo, crema, cilantro, cotija cheese, and house made chips. Mine was meat-free but it was still so hearty and delicious.

And believe it or not, this is only a half-sized portion.

Next, our tour continued down into the Old City for a stop at a spot I've been meaning to try, Old City Wine Bar. Located on West Jackson Avenue, it is nestled in the midst of an area having a real resurgence.

Old City Wine Bar is a nice little spot, with more than 48 wine offerings on tap by the glass and three times as many by the bottle.

There's also a limited tapas-style food menu. For our tour, we were treated to a light summer salad with baby Swiss chard, dried cranberries, cucumber, and creamy crumbled goat cheese. It was great.

Our final stop on the East TN Food Tour was at Sugar Mama’s, a bakery/bar in the 100 Block of Gay Street. This is a cute local spot I've been meaning to try. With craft beer, homemade baked goods and other yummy food options, what's not to love?

I didn't get a good photo of the front of Sugar Mama's so I'm stealing this one from another member of the tour. Visit her awesome blog here. 

Our dessert options at Sugar Mama’s included a basket of pastry samples. We tried things like a cherry danish made from a 100 year old recipe, chocolate chip cookies, snickerdoodles, curry shortbread, and fudge cream. 

It was all very tasty and I even bought some extra items to bring home for my husband. 

We all left Sugar Mama’s with full stomachs and smiles on our faces. Everybody walked back to the Visitor's Center where we went our separate ways. This was a great experience and one that I'd highly recommend to anyone looking to explore Knoxville.

There were several other bloggers on the food tour, and we got a group photo. Check out their blogs below from left to right: 
Whether your town has options like this or not, there are all sorts of ways you can find adventure without getting on a plane or a train. Look for ways to take a stay-cation this summer and get creative. I'm sure you'll find all sorts of fun to be had!