Tailgating is a broad term and takes many forms. Traditionally, it involves a spot at a parking garage, a tent, music, coolers, a grill, food, alcohol, cornhole boards, alcohol, footballs for the kids to toss around and probably more alcohol.
But that’s not the only way to tailgate, especially if you’re heading to a road game in a city/ state/ area that you’re unfamiliar with and have no local friends to join at an aforementioned type scenario.
Luckily, if you or you and your partner come to Knoxville, there’s a wonderful assemblage of places to go to get your pregame or postgame eat and drink on, with most of them a free, short walk or an expensive, short Uber away from the stadium. And if you’re from this area and go to game regularly, skip the burgers and dogs at the parking-lot tailgate for some real-deal food and drink.
Obviously this is a highly subjective topic, and if you disagree with me, it’s okay — I’ve already forgiven you for being so blatantly wrong. This list is in no particular order, though I will say some recency bias might be in play here because No. 1 on the list is “The Brass Peal,” which I happened to try for the first time this past Sunday — the day after the Vols’ win against Alabama.
The Brass Pearl
My friend was in from out of town, and she’s a big fan of seafood. I’d heard good things about The Brass Pearl, even though it’s a relatively new to Knoxville (it opened in January of this year), and so despite my particular distaste for any seafood other than perhaps sushi, we gave the Pearl a whirl.
The thought of seafood in general makes me think about a disgustingly-slimy oyster sliding down my throat. Then further, opting to eat seafood in a landlocked state seems kinda silly. Regardless, we ordered the Lobster Mac ‘N Cheese as an appetizer and my reservations of seafood in general disappeared immediately. It was, plainly, delightful. My friend ordered the Fisherman’s Stew, with mussels, shrimp, fish, grilled lobster tail melded together in a spicy tomato risotto. Those ingredients are straight off the menu, because in the moment, I only agreed to try it on the condition that I didn’t know what was in it. None of the fishy flavors overwhelmed the taste of the amalgamation, and I‘d eat even it again even after finding out what was in it. Lucky for me, a New York Strip dish was one of the specials that day, and the perfectly-cooked, medium-rare center paired wonderfully with the charred and crunchily-seared exterior.
It’s a bit pricey, and they’re only open 4PM - 10 PM, Wednesday through Sunday, but call ahead, make your reservations and don’t bother thanking me later.
Pete’s Coffee Shop/ Restaurant
Pete’s used to be a Saturday, gameday institution. I can’t count the number of times my dad and I got up early to beat the crowd and hit up Pete’s before making our way to the games. They’ve always opened at 6:30, and if you weren’t there by 7-7:30 —there was a guaranteed wait. But as Pete, who is the founder / owner/ operator — has gotten older and his family has grown with the success of the restaurant, the group decided to cut weekends from their schedule so that they can spend more time together. Can’t blame them there, eh?
So if you’re coming to town and really making a trip of it, catch breakfast at Pete’s on Thursdays before gamedays or the following Mondays. The home fries alone make the trip worth it, even if your team takes an L on Saturday.
Boyd’s Jig and Reel
The Jig and Reel is like a bar, restaurant and small concert venue all in one. Per the website, the Jig and Reel is “at the heart of Scottish culture in East Tennessee.” The food makes any other bar food taste like nothing but outdated meat and overused fryer oil. They’ve got just about any whiskey or scotch you could want for your Sunday morning re-tox and often have live music to round out the weekend.
The vibe is incomparable and a good representation of East Tennessee culture. Let me be the line and let the experience reel you in.