The Daily Pulse:

Knox Mason Opens Today!

It's a new year, and what better way to kick it off than a new restaurant downtown? We honestly can't think of anything else more exciting. And thus, we have the great pleasure of announcing that Knox Mason will officially open this afternoon in the space where Harry's Deli (and before that, Harold's) used to be on the 100 block of Gay Street.

As we mentioned when we announced the future opening back in November, the chef is Matt Gallaher, formerly of Blackberry Farm; he also worked as Gov. Bill Haslam's executive chef in Nashville. The menu still isn't up on the website (nor is any other information), but we stopped by last night during the soft opening for a drink and a couple of snacks, and we can tell you that that the restaurant is offering a step above the traditional Southern fare found elsewhere downtown.

Gallaher has kept the same stainless steel tables as Harry's and the same layout, but the addition of salvaged wood paneling has transformed the space into a much cozier affair -- including the countertop/bar/chef-table seating, there are just 49 seats in the entire restaurant. Also gone is the abysmally bright fluorescent lighting in favor of warmer globes and sconces. (I loved Harry's, and I had some sensational entrees there last winter when they were trying out daily specials in the evenings, but it was hard to enjoy paying $20 for entrees with lighting that looked like a school cafeteria.)

Knox Mason offers an interesting list of classic and original cocktails, and the menu ranges from snacks like deviled eggs, pimento cheese, and chicken liver pâté to entrees of cornmeal-encrusted trout, beef short ribs, and braised fresh bacon (we assume calling it pork belly would have just been too passé). Best of all, everything on the menu is under $20. That's right: Knox Mason is actually kind of cheaper than Tupelo Honey. Oh, and more good news? Knox Mason will also be serving Sunday brunch, just in case you're as burned out on the brunch menus of everywhere downtown as we are. 

Since the restaurant wasn't officially open and we didn't have an actual multiple-course meal, we can't comment on how the food compares to other upscale restaurants in town that mix semi-Southern food with fine dining, like RouXbarb, Chez Liberty, or Bistro by the Tracks. But we can say the menu looks promising, and the pimento cheese is good, and we're totally excited to have someone doing this downtown instead of out in Bearden. Our only complaint would be that the red wines by the glass are neither thoughtful nor interesting. (And does White Zinfandel ever need to be on a wine list that isn't Applebee's? There are so many good rosés!) It's a minor quibble, and one that we hope will get resolved soon, as every new restaurant inevitably has quirks and issues that take weeks or even months to resolve.

So enjoy, Knoxville. On a day when two other bigwigs in the food scene -- Cruze Farm's Colleen Cruze and Blackberry Farm's excecutive chef Joseph Lenn -- were named to Knoxville's 40 Under 40, you have a new entry in the growing attempt to put Knoxville on the culinary map.

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