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.

Wild Love Bakehouse, or Where to Eat in Knoxville, TN

Gracie might be watching her girlish figure, but I. Need. Pastry.
Gracie might be watching her girlish figure, but I. Need. Pastry.

It’s nearly 7 am and my husband and I are scrambling around getting ready.  I am putting the finishing touches on my makeup, he is trying to coax Gracie, our husky, to eat her food quickly, so that she can be walked before we leave.  Gracie is stubborn, and has never been too interested in food (I swear she is the reincarnation of some sort of early Hollywood Grand Dame), so this can be a daily ordeal.  This morning, though, we are in a hurry.  Because we want to get to the bakery in time to have first pick of the goodies.  Which is becoming a regular thing for us, and I MIGHT have a bit of an addiction problem.

Prior to the recent opening of Wild Love Bakehouse, though, my husband and I felt a bit starved for coffee shops.  When we first moved to Knoxville we lived in what I call the Wasteland of the West, aka, west Knoxville.  We were surrounded by chain restaurants and box stores, and couldn’t safely walk anywhere.  The closest “coffee shop” was Starbucks. Cue whining. Last year we moved to North Knoxville, though, and were at least close enough to a bus route that my husband could commute to and from campus on his own.  He doesn’t drive – but thats another story for another day.  And suddenly, in the last year, a number of new places have opened that have been helping assuage our we-don’t-live-in-New-Orleans-or-London-anymore sadness.

I'll take one of everything please.
I’ll take one of everything please.

There are coffee shops in the downtown area, however, they were typically packed and required a trip downtown.  I like going downtown, but it IS a trip from our house, and the whole point of your neighborhood coffee shop is that it is close.  So when Wild Love opened last November, we were thrilled, before we even saw the place.  It is, in fact, run by the proprietors of one of the downtown coffee shops, Old City Java.

So. Much. Pretty.
A rainy Sunday morning view of what is usually a sunny and bright patio.
A rainy Sunday morning view of what is usually a sunny and bright patio.

We went early on its first morning, and let me tell you, it was love at first sight, and heaven at first bite.  Inside it is full of light, with light wood tables, elegant picture windows, and a glass wall into the bakery portion of the shop where you can watch all of the tasty things being made.  It has a large selection of outdoor tables, and people frequently bring dogs with them to enjoy the outside area.  It has a distinctly northern European feel.  Its design is functional though – while there are several new coffee shops open in Knoxville now, Wild Love is far and away our favorite space to WORK.  Two long counter provide multiple outlets, and several long tables provide many work stations.

Window to the baking world.
Window to the baking world.

Its not just a place for students, writers, and their ilk though.  Strollers and toddlers can frequently be seen throughout the day.  Do I mention this just because I find it reassuring? As we have a baby on the way and I’m the kind of writer who tends to only be productive in a coffee shop? Maybe, she says, blushing, but I also think it is a testament to how much Knoxville NEEDED this kind of space for people of all ages. It is one of the major things I have been missing in Knoxville, and it is now practically in my backyard.

Strawberry Almond Frangipane Croissant. AH-MAZING. #noiwillnotshare #selfishpregnantlady
Strawberry Almond Frangipane Croissant. AH-MAZING. #noiwillnotshare #selfishpregnantlady

It is also simply delicious.  I swear, this Strawberry Almond Frangipane Croissant is one of the best I’ve ever had, including in my travels through France.  Check out the layers of dough in your croissant.  It’s looks properly laminated enough to even impress the judges of the Great British Bake Off right?  That’s right, fan girl here, and I AM NOT ASHAMED.

The quiche is velvety soft, and their savory scone du jour, the Green Onion, Feta, and Creme Fraiche is nearly irresistible.  They also serve a small selection of sandwiches, salads, and soup at lunch.  Ingredients are seasonal, locally and ethically sourced (check out this Instagram photo of the bakers picking their own strawberries), and they always seem to have a great vegetarian option.  Everything is made from scratch, and in small batches, which is why my husky needs to eat her food quickly!  Because I want to get there before they run out of insert-delicious-dish here.

Hot black loose leaf tea with a wee delectable shortbread cookie on Valentine's Day.
Hot black loose leaf tea with a wee delectable shortbread cookie on Valentine’s Day.
This is a sea salt ricotta and strawberry jam biscuit. YUM.
This is a sea salt ricotta and strawberry jam biscuit. YUM.

Their coffee is also impressive, single origin, and they have the best iced coffee/cold brew in town I think.  My husband loves their pour over, and I am fond of their lattes and cappuccino as well.  They serve Counter Culture coffee, and they care about each cup.  I once thought mine tasted off, and they quickly replaced it.  They also serve a good selection of hot teas, and their Rose Lemonade is so popular they have a hard time keeping it in stock.

In short, it seems this place was dreamed up with me in mind – and its mine!  All mine!  I’m kidding, of course, I am happy that the place is such a success, and hope their success continues.  And I will continue to get there as close to opening as possible, because that strawberry croissant!  And the Black Sesame and Sea Salt Bagel.  And the strawberry, rhubarb, and rose water hand tart.  And…  You get the picture.  And the next time you’re in Knoxville, you should get the real thing.

Wild Love Bakehouse.  Seriously.  You won’t be disappointed.