Saturday, May 30, 2009

Weekend Editorial

Well I've been pretty silent recently on affairs political (excepting of course red light cameras which is not a political issue but moral), but today that changes.

This latest dust up about Bill Lockett, the County Law Director, and whether or not he should step down has flared up my anti-dual government system again. It's just the latest in a long list of examples of how this inefficient and unnecessary system creates unneeded distractions and drama for the people of Knoxville

I've run for county commission as some of you may remember. I took 3% of the vote in the 1st district as a write in candidate and was involved in a number of debates. During that time I discussed my desire to see a metro style government develop in Knoxville. Here again is more evidence that this should be the case.

First it was the ousting of county commissioners because of the sunshine law, then removing the appointed replacements, then it was Mayor Ragsdale and p-cards, Now it's the Law Director and taking money, could someone please tell me what these people do for us besides create scandal.

While running for commission I tried and tried to find out what county commission did that was so important, I never could find anything. We're paying for them to cause problems, as best I can understand it, and I cause enough problems in my own life that I feel I don't need to pay others to do the same.

The reality is, the city government does alot more real day to day governing, and alot less dramaticizing. One system works the other doesn't. Let's please grow up and move on ahead with the business at hand and let these clearly irresponsible people go back to only being irresponsible on their own time, not ours.

There, now I've said my peace.

Fun with Stencils!

Hey, are you interested in an exciting career in art? Want to make your 'mark' on the world? Well create a stencil and any urban landscape can become your canvas! 

Seriously, I like these little fellows, but a note to the artist: less is more! One 'installation' per block is probably a bit much.

Friday, May 29, 2009

The Splendor of Alcoa Highway and Highway 321

As much as I love Knoxville, I have a secret. Every month I get a little antsy and have to leave our wonderful city for a moment. Thankfully, I don't have to go very far to take that much needed, deep breath.

Almost every month for the past seven years, I've taken Alcoa Highway to Hwy 321 through Maryville and Townsend to The Great Smoky Mountains. Just thinking about it now makes me want to blow off work and head that direction.

I've grown accustomed to driving this route, and I know it by heart. Besides the natural beauty that you come across along the way, there are numerous other gems at which I stop from time to time. There are also others I've never been to, but my goal this summer is to take: "An Alcoa Highway/ 321 Vacation"

Here are some hot spots:

1) Green Acres Flea Market (Alcoa Highway) - I'm going for the first time this Saturday and am so very excited. Not that I'm in the market for one, but I hear they have a lot of belt buckles.

2) Foothills Milling Company (Maryville) - Get your Mr. or Mrs. (or in my case, my parents) to take you here for dinner sometime. It expensive, but delectable.

3) The Drive-In (Maryville)- This is the best place to go for some redneck culture shock. It's fabulous, really. I think on Saturdays, they even set up a little flea market on the premises.

4) Various flea markets, thrift stores, craft stands, and antique malls (between Maryville and Townsend) You could spend a whole day stopping in places like this along the way. There are a couple of quaint places where the locals sell wood carvings, mountain honey (mmm) and boiled peanuts. You run into some very interesting people to talk to as well.

(A word of advice: if you see a handwritten sign on the side of the road that says "hot boiled peanuts," you should pull over.)

5) Nawger Nob (Townsend) Local arts and crafts and good people to talk to

6) Deadbeat Pete's (Townsend) Sometimes the food is hit or miss, but this is one of my favorite places to eat. They have a backporch that overlooks the Little River, they serve drinks in mason jars, and their signature burger "The Deadbeat Pete" has guacamole on it. This is the best place to go after, say, tubing down the river.

7) The Dulcimer Shop (Townsend) Beautiful, handcrafted dulcimers. Oh, baby. I could die happy in this store.

8) And finally, the Collosus of Clout, The Great Smoky Mountains.

Now I'm wondering if they'd notice my absence from work today...

All photos by the illustrious Tracy Jackson

Thursday, May 28, 2009

the pol goes french

So last night Mrs. The Pol and I celebrated our three year anniversary. If anyone knows me then you'll understand that that alone should earn my wife the congressional medal of honor.

In this spirit I wanted to take her to a nice dinner. I chose Le Parigo downtown as we haven't eaten there and the menu looked wunderbar. We set a reservation for 7 and I had my hopes on it all day. When we got there we were seated immediately, which was mostly due to the fact that there was NO ONE ELSE THERE.

Begin griping:

I am a foodie, I love to eat, I love good food, I am willing to shell out my hard earned money for well crafted unique dishes, but I also like the trimming that come along with dining. I need to not feel like I'm groping in the dark and relying on faith to make sure I'm not wasting my money. All that to say more people need to go to Le Parigo.

We each had a drink and and appetizer. Their wine list though not extensive is rock solid, and the food turned out to be first rate. Mrs. The Pol had a salad, which came out in a wonderful cake looking design, which I'm not really sure how they did it and it was great. I had something a bit more exotic, Pork Belly with Brussel Sprouts. Never having had Pork Belly I was excited. I was not disappointed. The flavors were delicious and sensual bringing out the depth of the food.

But then we left.

We didn't feel comfortable being all alone, which is sad I know, but it's just how it goes.

So please, on your next special occasion or spur of the moment indulgence go to Le Parigo. We need food quality of this order in Knoxville. The price point is high, up to $35 for an entree, but their lunch menu starts at $6 and just may be one of the best values in town.

(End Rant)

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

BBQ Quest: Sweet P's

A few people suggested Sweet P's BBQ to be one of the stops on BBQ Quest, but at the time it was merely a catering business and I had plans on passing just because I wanted to find a place where I could sit down and indulge. Well lo and behold, Sweet P's opened its own establishment earlier this month, and after several more recommendations from commenters and a hard sell by our own Em, I decided it needed to be our next stop.

photos and original artwork by max.

Sweet P's is slightly off the beaten path but not too far away, located at Willow Point Marina on Maryville Pike. I don't know the rules at the marina, so I don't know if you can visit Sweet P's by water unless you already have access to one of the slips, but the restaurant does have an outside deck where you can eat and gaze at the boats. Thanks to yesterday's rain, Mr. and Mrs. The Pol, Max and I opted for inside, which was spacious and covered with World's Fair memorabilia. Thumbs up. There's a bar with a very random assortment of beers and the restaurant even has its own cornhole setup, which a few customers were taking advantage of Tuesday night.

The Pol and I grabbed what was described as chopped pork, which made me cringe a bit when I ordered. But don't be fooled, it really is pulled pork -- properly pulled pork -- and it is delish. The meat is tender, chunky and has a nice flavor. And, Sweet P's lets you sauce your own meat with your choice of thick, thin or hot sauce. The thick sauce, which had a hint of garlic, was good without being overwhelming. The Pol said the hot sauce had 'nice heat' to it as well.

Max and The Mrs. Pol both got the barbecue burrito, which came with pork, beans, slaw and cheese (I think). Max says the cheese overwhelmed the pork a bit, but I will give anyone props for trying to do creative things with barbecue.

One great thing about Sweet P's: the fried pickles. Fried pickles are a delicacy, my friends. Sweet P's does fried pickle spears in both a regular and a spicy version with a mustardy/mayo-y dipping sauce. Tasty. One not so great thing about Sweet P's: the beans. When I eat barbecue, I want bona fide baked beans oozing in sweet, worcestershirey sauce. These beans were a straight-up pinto/white bean mix. Good for a meat-and-three, not my choice for barbecue. The mac-and-cheese and slaw were good, but nothing to jump in the lake about.

I'll definitely recommend Sweet P's based on the pork and atmosphere alone. The people who work there were super nice and accomodating, and I've said this before: that goes a long way. The Pols and I gave it 7.5 wigs out of 10, though Max gives them 9 and even left Sweet P's with some of his original artwork. We hope to find it hanging on the wall when we return.

Sweet P's (follow that link to get to a menu)

3725 Maryville Pike
Knoxville, TN‎
(865) 579-0100‎

The Apocalypse

I was hunting lightning strikes last night during the storm that rolled through. These two are slightly underexposed.

Huckleberry will make things OK.

My exposure settings were still locked in from the storm photos. This is what happens when you try it in the apartment. Audrey took this btdubs.

Stay Classy Knoxville

There's a relatively new shop in town that unfortunately I'm just now getting to. Its the understatedly hip men's store, Swagger. 

You've probably whizzed by the Bearden location many a time. It's located at the intersection of Kingston Pike and Lyon's View, just across the street from Fresh Market. Next time you're in the area be sure to stop in for a look-see. If you're on the prowl for some of the immensely popular TOMS Shoes, look no further. Swagger has the largest offering and widest selection in Knoxville. 

While TOMS are fast becoming a mainstay of the popular culture, Swagger also doles out a multitude of sneakers, appealing to a slightly different audience. They have some very hard to find brands, including J-Shoes, Clay and Creative--not to mention customizable Air Force One's, done in-house. Check out their blog for info, including deals and trivia (seriously). 

Following the more urban thread, the owner Jeremy will open a skateboard shop in the downstairs called Menace and Moonshine. Here is a pic of the still very much in progress skate shop, that opens in June. The goal is to offer everything a skater could ever want, and compete with the Knoxville skater standby, Pluto. 

The owner Jeremy is a California educated, Knoxville native, who shares the Wigshop's affection for Knoxville, and is making great strides in bringing forward a different kind of culture to the masses. 

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Reason No. 146 that i love knoxville

The Saturday Market Square Farmer's Market

Friday, May 22, 2009

dayhiking and hot springs

The Smoky Mountains are ridiculously amazing! And if you haven’t hit them up yet, you might as well do it this year. I think Knoxville resembles the diversity you find in the mountains in lots of ways. There’s something for everyone, but you have to be willing to get out of your car. If you wanted you could pin up a map of the park to the wall, literally throw a dart and hit a trail, stream or feature worthy of a full day’s adventure. And since there are no entrance fees, you could do it on a tight budget of a half-a-tank of gas. We heard about a small creek trail near Cosby that folks travel from all over to see and hit it up in late March.

The only bad thing about our trip was the drive, which happened to take us through Pigeon Forge. But once we passed through and headed north from Gatlinburg, things start to look, well, a little more country. Off 321 we turn north to enter the park at Greenbrier. The trailhead for Potter’s Creek Trail was at the end of the Greenbrier road and we actually had trouble finding a parking spot. This seems a little odd because the park is known by the number of visitors who actually never get out of their car. They just drive around the place without ever setting foot on a trail. I mean, c’mon!

At only a few minute into the trail we hit wildflowers, lots of little irises, trilliums and purple and white flowers. We continued our saunter almost to the next trail junction, but decided to cut the hike short for our next leg of the trip- Hot Springs!

My wife will probably kill me if she finds out I’ve fibbed our secret Knoxville getaway. From Greenbriar, we headed north for about 45 minutes to Hot Springs, NC, a mecca for AT through hikers, whitewater bums, and Knoxville bo-bos like us. From Knoxville, the trip is only about an hour. Ever since we moved to Knoxville we’ve been going to HS, usually on Sundays, and always to take a warm bath in the naturally hot waters at the spa.

For $25 ($30 after 6 o’clock) you can rent a tub for two for an hour right on the French Broad River. For the most part, they are a series of hot tubs with jets with privacy fencing around them. Supposedly tub #8 is the hottest, since it is closest to the water source. What better way to relax after a long hike than to take a long soak!

After the springs we stopped in a new restaurant in Hot Springs called the Iron Horse Station. To our surprise the place was really nice for a small town, and the burgers are really good. I was craving a ceasar salad for a side and they were out of lettuce, which I guess happens when you have to pack in food for an isolated place like that. So we opted for French fries and steamed veggies, which had to have been the only place that actually serves really good steamed veggies with a burger. Not the frozen carrots and broccoli here, we got asparagus and eggplant and zucchini! The meal was complimented by the intermittent dialogue between the bartender and the town bum, who kept trying to sneak 40s of bud ice into the bar in his back pockets. Next door looked like a coffee shop in the daytime, and around the restaurant seemed like overnight rooms for guests. I imagine this new spot would be the perfect layover for throughikers, but for dayhikers, it’s a nice ending to a perfect daytrip from Knoxville.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Hot Springs Resort and Spa
315 Bridge StreetHot Springs, NC 28743

Iron Horse Station
24 South Andrew St. Hot Springs, NC 28743
Google Maps

Thursday, May 21, 2009

The Front Porch Mexican Bluegrass

If you have never been to The Front Porch in Cosby, Tennessee--seated on scenic Highway 321 in the heart of the Smokies and just a stones throw from Knoxville--then you must go. It is a Wigshop order. It's a Mexican Bluegrass restaurant, and it's one of the greatest places on earth.

When you come upon The Front Porch from either direction on 321, you're greeted by a colorful sign and an even more colorful restaurant. The place is an oasis along the long country road, which is dotted with small markets, shops and gas stations, but nothing quite as grand as The Front Porch itself. It's about a 50 mile trip on Interstate 40 from Knoxville (exit at Wilton Springs) and then another 4 or 5 miles from there. I can't give you exact directs, but that's the kind of place the Front Porch is. (Plus, Google Maps can give you proper directions).

The Front Porch is a favorite among Cocke County residents, the rafting community that flocks every summer to the Pigeon River rafting companies located just up the road in Hartford, Tennessee, and Knoxville and Asheville area residents looking for a day trip or a fun night out. If you're heading into the Smokies for a day hike, you might as well make The Front Porch your pit stop for a great, fun dinner on the way home.

It's fun any night of the week, but I recommend going on a Friday or Saturday when there are live Bluegrass shows at 7:00 and 9:00pm. Get there early and stay for both shows. The bands are local groups with an amazing amount of talent. I'm always impressed to watch (and hear) a good old fiddle player, and most of the bands tend to play traditional Bluegrass tunes, those tried and true old favorites.

It's definitely an all ages place; you'll see toddlers dancing to the music right alongside their grandmothers.

The restaurant is owned and operated by a Cocke County family, a group of women who know how to cook. The Mexican food is definitely the way to go, but they do have decidedly American features on the menu, like a hamburger or ribs. I recommend the Tacos al Pastor. It's delicious pork served with fresh corn tortillas, black beans and jasmine rice. Drizzle a little of The Front Porch's fresh (and spicy!) salsa over the pork, order a side of guacamole to plop on before you wrap your tortilla, and you're in heaven. I'm a big fan of the Veggie Fajitas, too: among the more traditional fajita veggies like onions and peppers, you get big chunks of squash and zucchini. The Burrito Dan is also very popular, and both the guacamole and cheese dip appetizers are yummy dishes to share before you order. And I definitely would recommend an appetizer, because I will forewarn that the service is laid back. I'm not going to say it's slow, because you don't go to The Front Porch to eat in a hurry and leave; but it's definitely a longer dining experience. And why wouldn't it be? You are there to see the live show, after all.

The Front Porch is BYOB, though due to a county ordinance, you can only bring in beer. No wine or liquor. I think you may be able to get away with wine coolers, but don't quote me on that.

Back when I lived down on the Pigeon River, we used to spend many a night at the Front Porch, eating and drinking and dancing among friends. Due to time and travel I hadn't been in a few years, but we've added it back into our rotation this year; and I always look forward to taking friends who are visiting the area. It truly is a gem for East Tennessee and just a really, really fun time.

The Front Porch Restaurant
2912 Cosby Hwy, Cosby, Tennessee
(423) 487-2875‎

Now, if you want to make your trip to Cocke County a true day trip, I recommend you take a whitewater rafting trip down the Pigeon River with Smoky Mountain Outdoors. The little river town of Hartford is home to 11 or so rafting companies that can take you on a 5 or 6 mile trip down the Pigeon River, and I recommend SMO. We've had a lot of rain lately (hallelujah!), so you're looking at a good, thrilling 2 hour trip down the river. It's a laid back community. You're not going to get a crazy Class 5 rapid ride from the Pigeon, but it's definitely still worth a trip. Get yourself a nice, sunny day and a cooler of beers waiting for you in the car after your trip, head on down Hartford Road (toward HWY 73) to the Front Porch; and that's what I call a nice little Saturday.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

A different kind of diversity

Every now and again Knoxvillians feel the winds of change calling. Usually at the start of the summer season they sing out, beckoning us to get the heck out of Dodge, if even for a day trip. Sometimes leaving Knoxville is just as important as taking a stroll through Market Square in helping us realize what a gem Knoxville is.

For my first summer excursion I chose to head south on I-75 to Dayton, TN. Every May the folks in Dayton have their now famous Strawberry Festival. Now you may remember Dayton as the site of the historical Scopes Monkey Trial, but be not fooled, in May it's all about the strawberries. 

The festival is technically a week-long event, but my partner-in-crime and I decided to hit up the culmination of a weeks festivities. We drove down on Saturday just in time for the parade (well, just in time to grab a corn dog, funnel cake and a front row seat in between some senior citizens).

Our expectations were pretty high for this event. The night before we watched the mocumentary Drop Dead Gorgeous about a small-town beauty pageant in the Midwest. We knew what we were getting into, and expected a show both on and off the parade route. 

Needless to say, all our expectations were met if not exceeded. From the beauty queen (first of many) who started the parade with her ride in a muddied Hummer to the bloated man in a blazer running for State Senate riding in the back of a vintage convertible, it was perfect. 

It was great to get out of town for the day and be surrounded with people who have different priorities and operate at a slower pace. Now, clearly my investigation of these people goes only so deep-its easy for me to assign a certain belief/priority set to someone wearing jean shorts and a well-coiffed mullet.

Surely we are not that different, but for this writer, sweeping generalizations pretty much do the trick. 

My only regret was the fact that there were not more out-of-towners there sneaking a peek at small town life. I know the Strawberry Festival doesn't need to be overrun with self-important hipsters taking pictures of mullets (I think two is enough), but I do urge everyone to take the effort and experience a fascinating and refreshing kind of diversity offered just outside the city limits. 

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

BBQ quest: Pup's Pit BBQ

This weekend was the annual World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest in Memphis, and I was seriously craving some barbecue after hearing about it from all my hometown friends. I told this to the guy who runs Pup's Pit BBQ on Walker Springs Road, where I stopped for lunch on Saturday. He told me I'd come to the right place as his was one of the only barbecue joints in town that takes the time to appropriately smoke the meat. My interest was piqued, because that's been my biggest beef with the pork in this town: it's never smoked long enough.

photos by the MG.

You kinda have to know Pup's is there or you're gonna miss it. It's wedged between a used car shop and the interstate onramp at Walker Springs. Like F.A.T.S. it's either take it to the picnic tables outside or take it to go. Oh, and one of the best parts of the setup? Your only utensil option is a spork.

They have a diverse menu, which on Saturday included stuff like shrimp and catfish, but since I'm in search for the perfect pulled pork sandwich, that's what I got. Dude was right about smoking the pork. He smokes it a very long time. Perhaps -- and I hate to suggest anyone oversmokes their pork -- but I think it was a little too long. The hickory flavor was a little too pronounced and the meat was dry. The sauce was more or less ketchup. The mac and cheese tasted like it was out of a box. BUT the beans, ohhhhh the baked beans. They were perfection.

I don't want this to sound like a bad review -- The sandwich still hit the spot on a day that I was seriously craving some 'cue, and I think I prefer oversmoked to undersmoked. It's also a decent stop for someone who might be interested in F.A.T.S. but lives out west and doesn't want to drive all the way in to town.

Pup's Pit BBQ
112 Walker Springs Rd
Knoxville, TN 37923
(865) 690-9822‎

Monday, May 18, 2009

The Doors of Knoxville

So I have been taking some pictures of different doors around town that I like. Why you ask? Because I like doors dang it.

Unfortunately there isn't a door in the side of the sunsphere, which would make for a great picture.


Beauty withheld.

Because plywood can make a nice door if done properly.

Strong. Beautiful. Church.

Friday, May 15, 2009

a smorgasbord, if you will

There's a few interesting things going on this weekend that I wanted people to be aware of because they're a little under the radar.

First, UT is hosting an electronics recycling event tomorrow, Saturday, May 16. The event is open to the general public and will be in parking lot S66 on campus. To get there, take Neyland Drive to Joe Johnson, turn right on Chapman Drive and take the immediate right into
the parking lot.

When I heard about this I thought about the broken printers piled high in closets at my parents' house and, how, in this electronic day and age, we are more inclined to just throw away old computers and printers than recycle them. So jump on this very green bandwagon and take in your unused gadgets and gizmos.

Secondly, there is a free lecture open to the public at the East Tennessee History Center about the creation of the Smoky Mountain National Park. That's all I really need know to be there. It's at 2:30pm on Sunday May 17.

And last, but not least, if you read my post about Knoxville's Botanical Gardens and still haven't had a chance to go, they are having an event called Open Garden Days this weekend. It is Saturday from 10-5pm and Sunday 1-5pm. You'll have the chance to tour gardens there for just $5 which in turn will help them in future conservation of the area. If you're feeling a little cheap (which I usually am) or just would like to help out, they are still in need of volunteers. If you're interested, please email Chyna at I'm going to go Sunday to volunteer, because I am cheap AND want to help. Come one, come all!