My Breakfast Obsession: Olibea – The Best Breakfast in Knoxville

Gorgeous Mis en place at Olibea in Old City
Gorgeous Mis en Place at Olibea in Old City

This article from Travel & Leisure recently came out touting Knoxville as one of the top ten places to visit in the US.  If you’d shown me this article even a year ago I would have probably laughed and said NO WAY is Knoxville worth it.  Spend your dollars and time in nearby cities like Nashville and Asheville.  Yet, the last year or so has brought significant changes to Knoxville, and I can see why its starting to get some national attention.  I appreciate this article, though I think it is very one sided (MEAT! and BEER!).

This grilled cheese! Made with Cruze Farm local cheese and topped with a duck egg.
This grilled cheese! Made with Cruze Farm local cheese and topped with a duck egg.
Knoxville's own Olibea early on a Saturday morning.
Knoxville’s own Olibea early on a Saturday morning.

Though, to be fair, meat and beer seems to be a real focus of the Knoxville area.  Which frequently leaves my husband and I feeling a bit left out.  We both came from larger cities where being a pescetarian was NO BIG THING.  Most every restaurant not only had options on their menu, they put as much thought into those veggie and alternative options as they do their carnivorous ones.  That just isn’t the case in Knoxville.  While Knox Mason is a superb restaurant, its not one I can really go to.  There is like A dish we could order, but we’d still have to get it tweaked.   Of course, Chef Matt Gallaher just opened Emilia, which I have not yet had the chance to try, but with a true Italian focus it already looks to be more promising for alternative diets.  You had me at mussels ya know?

Breakfast goodness at Olibea
Breakfast goodness at Olibea

Which brings me, with much preamble, to what I am writing about (and obsessed with) today, which is Olibea.  I’ve long wanted to write about Olibea, operated by Chef Jeffrey DeAlejandro.  Well, since 2014, when it opened in the Old City section of downtown Knoxville.  It is my husband’s favorite breakfast in Knoxville.  It is my favorite breakfast in Knoxville.  It is even my MOM’S favorite breakfast in Knoxville, and that’s saying something.  My point, here, is that this restaurant offers creative, quality, delicious food to a variety of diners.  Chef Jeff says on the Olibea website that:

“I always felt that breakfast was a fresh start to my day. That no matter what happened yesterday today was going to be good cause I had breakfast. My idea for OliBea is simple: to bring you the best local/fresh ingredients as I can without killing your pocket. A place for you to come every day and have a chef-driven breakfast. Let Olibea be your fresh start, from my great grandma’s homemade cinnamon rolls to my house cured bacon.”

And it IS that place for my husband and I.  This may seem ironic when their Chef is frequently posting photos and offering classes on whole hog butchery.  I have no issue with this.  I think pork is delicious.  I just choose not to eat it.  But I DO choose to eat at Olibea as often as possible, because they care about the quality of ingredients, the presentation of food, and serving a well rounded clientele.

Their house pickled Mossy Creek mushrooms are divine.  They have meat alternatives on the menu, and even offer a veggie version of their sausage gravy, which is delightful.  They have amazing daily specials, such savory carnivorous delights as brisket tacos, and pulled pork enchiladas.  The staff are friendly, and while the place itself is small, the atmosphere is always convivial, and people frequently share larger tables.

Biscuits, potatoes, and vegetarian herb gravy with fresh Cruze Farm butter.
Biscuits, potatoes, and vegetarian herb gravy with fresh Cruze Farm butter.
Olibea omelet with spicy pickled mushrooms and potatoes on the side. YUM.
Olibea omelet special with spicy pickled mushrooms and cheddar cheese and potatoes on the side. YUM.

And let’s take a minute to talk about their biscuits.  Crumbly, large, and with a hint of saltiness they are delicious by themselves, slathered with locally made Cruze Farm butter, or dipped in syrup.  Their omelets are always vegetarian adaptable, and they’ve even spiced mine up for me by adding more chilies.  I suspect that they don’t get may requests for that here – I once heard someone complaining about the “spicy mushrooms” and was baffled they thought the same mushrooms I was eating were spicy.  But for this New Orleans transplant they were simply FLAVORFUL.  Oh my God flavorful.  I can’t resist this omelet now, and I order it almost every time we go.  That plus a biscuit and I’m set til dinner!

Lemon pancakes made with Cruze Far buttermilk. They look so deceptively simple. But THESE. ARE. GOOD.
Lemon pancakes made with Cruze Farm buttermilk. They look so deceptively simple. But THESE. ARE. GOOD.

I should also take a minute to mention their pancakes.  How boring, you’re thinking, and I get it.  Pancakes are pancakes are pancakes.  Except they are not.  These lemon pancakes are made with Cruze Farm buttermilk, and are light, airy, and exactly the right size.  Drizzled with butter and syrup, or topped with some of their house made jam, they are irresistible.  I kept telling my mother, no, these pancakes are special, and she didn’t believe me until she tasted mine.  Now, that’s her order at Olibea, with a side of eggs, because sweet and savory together RULE.

The veggie dish from the fall featuring a duck egg, beets, and other goodness on a baked acorn squash. Pretty, pretty good for you, and delicious!
The veggie dish from the fall featuring a duck egg, beets, and other goodness on a baked acorn squash. Pretty, pretty good for you, and delicious!

And they have at least one dedicated vegetarian entree on the menu.  Their Grits & Escabeche is the plate du jour at the moment, and it is rich, hearty, and delicious featuring oh-so-creamy Riverplains grits, Mossy Creek mushrooms, bright, charred dandelion greens, and topped with a runny, yolky, sunny duck egg. I adore this dish and just lament that I can’t order it more, but because I’m pregnant right now, I am not supposed to have the runny duck egg.  And this is one dish that just isn’t the same without it!

Long counters and bright colors make this a cheery, convivial spot for breakfast or lunch.
Long counters and bright colors make this a cheery, convivial spot for breakfast or lunch.

They also have delicious Stumptown coffee and daily fresh squeezed juices.  And the place inside is beautiful!  They don’t serve alcohol at the moment, which is probably good.  If they did, I might never leave.

Olibea in knoxville, Tennessee
Olibea in Knoxville, Tennessee

There are a couple of places in Knoxville I think stand out from the pack, and I’ll write more about them.  But for me, Olibea is above and beyond, and I wanted to give it a whole post of its own.  I appreciate it that much.  And I hope other Knoxville area restaurants will follow suit, with creative non-meat focused dishes as well as above board carnivorous options, quality ingredients, and deliciousness for more than just the barbecue crowd.

Strawberries, Cupcakes, Hops, and Caffeine: A Fabulous Spring Birthday Weekend for My Husband

The first birthday surprise I ever gave my husband. Of course, he wasn't my husband then!
The first birthday surprise I ever gave my husband. Of course, he wasn’t my husband then!

My husband’s birthday is today.  Birthdays on Mondays are awful things, though, so we celebrated this past weekend.  I always try to give my husband a birthday that makes him feel special.  We share a childhood history of disappointing birthdays.  We were neither of us very popular children – bookworms both, and birthdays can be a sore spot.  After my years of living in New Orleans though, where every adult I know celebrates their birthday somehow, often with week long series of events that range from fancy dinners to rolling skating to casual drinks and intimate gatherings.  This seems to me to be RIGHT.  We don’t celebrate enough in life, and why should kids get to have all the fun?  Plus – any excuse for CAKE right?

This year, though, I’m pregnant.  Which means my energy isn’t up to par, I can’t share a bottle of anything with him, and I am, basically, a lame going-out-on-the-town partner.  And yet – we had a fabulous weekend.  We kicked it off Friday evening with a beer for him and a ginger beer for me at a new brewery and restaurant in town, Balter BeerWorks.  This place recently opened, and we hadn’t yet checked it out.  They seem to have a great happy hour, and we were eager to sample their menu, but since we were meeting friends for dinner shortly thereafter, we restrained ourselves.  We pledged to come back soon – though soon ended up being later that night!

Inside Knoxville's Balter Beerworks.
Inside Knoxville’s Balter Beerworks.

After Balter we headed to Woodlands Indian restaurant.  My husband and I share a love of Indian food, and Knoxville actually has several great options for Indian.  We shared a dosa with our friends, and then several dishes.  I have been craving Mattar Paneer since pretty much the moment I got pregnant.  Eating it only makes the craving go away for a short time, though, so we’ll definitely be back.  It’s scrumptious!  We finished the evening with an after dinner drink at Balter – our friends hadn’t been there either and wanted to check it out.  I think we’ll all be back again soon, as we would like to sample the food.

Oloibea's grilled cheese with a duck egg and smashed potatoes on the side.
Oloibea’s grilled cheese with a duck egg and smashed potatoes on the side.

Saturday, though, was my favorite day.  We kicked it off with breakfast at Olibea, which is, in my opinion, far and away the best breakfast in Knoxville.  My husband had the grilled cheese with a fried duck egg you see pictured there, which should be enough for any human for a single meal, but it was his birthday, so he got smashed potatoes too.  I love Olibea so much it is soon going to get its own post.  Stay tuned!

I could eat my weight in strawberries!
I could eat my weight in strawberries!

After breakfast, we went strawberry picking!  The season is just beginning here in Tennessee and Saturday was a perfect day for it – cool, sunny, and text book spring.  It was a lovely drive out to Mountain Meadows Farm, where they have pick your own strawberries for $3.75 lb.  While a bit early, we still managed to pick 5 lbs, and plan to go back next weekend for more.  Not only have I craved berries like mad with this baby, but I also want to make some strawberry lime jam.  Because yum.  It was a seriously lovely morning though, and the drive alone was pretty, though the farm is only 30 minutes from our house!

Cupcake toast! Daniel is having their seasonal key lime cupcake, and I am having the Chocolate Raspberry cupcake.
Cupcake toast! Daniel is having their seasonal key lime cupcake, and I am having the Chocolate Raspberry cupcake.

After strawberry picking we came back and left our strawberries, and then got ready for phase three – coffee and cupcakes in the Knoxville Botanical Gardens.  While you may have noticed I like to bake ;), I also like to support local bakeries.  When I was a kid I always wanted a store bought cake for my birthday, with pretty decorations, and I didn’t get one until my sweet sixteen.  So for birthdays, I like to go to local bakery extraordinaire Magpies, and get our goods.  We picked up 18 mini cupcakes (the better to sample more flavors!) and then headed to grab coffee at our favorite local coffee house, Wild Love Bakehouse.  Then we met up with friends at the park, where we lounged for hours enjoying the gentle breeze and bright sunshine.  This I could do EVERY DAY.  But as it happened to also be National Picnic Day, it worked out perfectly.  We may even make a picnic party a Daniel-Birthday-Tradition!

Salted Caramel Porter and Watermelon Limeade at Last Days of Autumn Brewing.
Salted Caramel Porter and Watermelon Limeade at Last Days of Autumn Brewing.

We ended the evening by checking out a new local brewery that is actually conveniently near the Botanical Gardens.  Last Days of Autumn Brewing is a great space.  They had live music, and my husband loved their salted caramel porter.  I loved the fact that they had a nonalcoholic watermelon limeade.  Forks on the Road food truck was there, which was also part of our reason for going last night.  They specialize in sliders, wings, and fries, and do offer a veggie slider.  I was disappointed that though the truck tweeted they’d be there from 6, they didn’t show up until almost 7, and weren’t ready to serve food until more like 7:30.  My pregnant self had not eaten anything but a cupcake and a couple of strawberries since breakfast, and it was 8pm by the time we had food in hand.  This equals bad.  Even when not pregnant I have a tendency to get hangry, and I definitely hit the danger zone last night.  My husband brought me a delicious veggie slider and sweet potato fries, and I DEVOURED them.  There are no pictures of this meal, because HUNGRY.  After, though, we were both tired, and so we called it a night.  We headed home and curled up with blankets and watched a bit of mindless tv and I fell asleep shortly thereafter.

Strawberry Almond Frangipane Croissant. AH-MAZING.
Strawberry Almond Frangipane Croissant. AH-MAZING.

Sunday  morning we headed our for coffee and pastry at the aforementioned Wild Love Bakehouse.  I actually can’t express how much we love this place.  For me, it has changed significantly how I feel about living in Knoxville.  It’s beautiful, elegant, and DELICIOUS.  They make the best croissants I’ve had outside of France.  In fact, I’ve had croissants in France that were not as good.  This is another placer that more than deserves its own post, but it has become our Sunday morning ritual.  After breakfast and coffee shop time, we did a bit of grocery shopping, and then headed home where I did use some of our strawberries to make my husband a special strawberry galette.  Recipe coming!  And for dinner a simple meal of a spicy carrot ginger soup and crusty bread.  Because moderation!

So basically, it was a low key weekend full of sunshine, sugar, hops, and friendship.  What do you like to do for you birthday?

My husband, chilling at the botanical gardens for his birthday.
My husband, chilling at the botanical gardens for his birthday.