Beale Street. Broadway. Bourbon Street. Bleeker. All famous streets and they all happen to start with a B. Though they are famous for other things, you could probably get something pretty doggone good to eat on each of them. But as far as I’m concerned the place to “B” most recently wasn’t in New York, New Orleans, or Memphis – it was in Knoxville, on Biscuit Boulevard.
I suppose that on the remaining 364 days of the year, it goes by another name. But on this spring Saturday, it was all about the biscuits. Sweet biscuits, savory biscuits, fried biscuits, and biscuits that didn’t even look like biscuits. They were all there, and so were we.
We started out the morning with two Biscuit Boulevard tickets, entitling us to ten different biscuit creations between us. I figured ten biscuits between two people equaled five each – it’s been a long time since calculus, but I’m pretty sure that’s the right math. It would have been, had Daughter eaten her fair share. It ended up being more like eight to two, but we managed.
With a quick walk down the Boulevard to survey the scene, we learned pretty quickly that we’d better get busy – it had just opened and the lines were already getting long. Our first sample was from the Biscuit Love Truck: a ball of deep-fried biscuit dough stuffed with mascarpone and lemon curd, drizzled with blueberry compote. They called it a Bonut. Across the way the Hilton had a sweet potato biscuit with maple-smoked bacon and blackberry-chipotle jam. Mixed reviews from Daughter (the words “sweet potato” were enough to cause a face), but I was loving life already.
Tea at the Gallery gave us a rosemary biscuit with a dollop of strawberry jam embedded in the top – simple, but a nice flavor pairing. While waiting in line for the Southern Living biscuits, we grabbed a blueberry oatmeal scone from Sapphire restaurant, drizzled with icing. More things in life should be drizzled with icing, don’t you think? That kept me from starving while we waited for the two classic creations from the Southern Living booth. One was a strawberry shortcake biscuit, the other I would have called a pig in a blanket, and the pig in this case was notably flavorful. I was particularly interested in this booth because of who I recognized working there. Whitney Chen Wright, one of our favorite finalists on The Next Food Network Star a couple of seasons ago, is now the Deputy Food Director for Southern Living, and she was back there cranking out the shortcake. Sometimes I’m shy, but I chose not to be this day, and introduced myself. Daughter was not sure at first if she should support my endeavor, but in the end was impressed, since Whitney turned out to be super friendly. She even offered us an extra biscuit. It’s nice to know the Deputy.
Now it was time to tackle the big lines. R.T. Lodge had a deep-fried biscuit stuffed with braised short rib and pickled onion. I figured this one would be all mine because of the onion, but I offered a bit to Daughter anyway. She did pick off the pink rings, but tore into the short rib meat with abandon. She thought it was brisket (her second carnivorous love, after chicken nuggets), and said, “I could eat a whole plate of that.” This one ended up winning the Critic’s Choice award, and it got our votes, too.
Tupelo Honey is a restaurant I was familiar with; the original is in our beloved Asheville, North Carolina. We had to walk a block down a side street (Gravy Lane? Not really…) to get to the end of the line for their Green-Eyed Monster Pimento Cheese Buttermilk Biscuit. I loved this one. The biscuit was rich with cheese – just crumbly enough to have a great texture, without falling apart. I would have been thrilled with a couple of these even without the Green-Eyed Monster, which turned out to be a battered and fried jalapeno pepper. The pepper was a bit spicy for me, but the concept and flavor combination was excellent. They notched a Runner-Up nod in the People’s Choice Awards.
Another long line was for a biscuit with a really long name: the Plaid Apron’s Buttermilk Biscuit with Candied Benton’s Bacon, Clabbered Cream, and a Honey/Balsamic Reduction. The bacon was baked into the biscuit, studded with bits throughout. The cream was in the center, running out into the street (it caught me by surprise) on the first bite. For me, that’s where they should have stopped. The balsamic reduction was a bit too out there, even for me. Next time I’ll ask for it sans reduction, and I’ll also be prepared for the cream that comes clabbering out.
First place in the People’s Choice went to the only biscuit I saw that came with gravy. But this was not your grandmother’s cream gravy, unless your grandmother had a little Cajun in her. Applewood Farmhouse Restaurant (another family favorite on trips to Pigeon Forge) won the prize with a big half-biscuit covered in andouille sausage and shrimp in a cream gravy base.
Somehow or another we missed a few prize-winning biscuits. (Not sure how that happened. I’m a little embarrassed to admit it.) I kept seeing people with a cheesy-looking concoction, but never saw the booth from which it came. I think it was the other Runner-Up, Flourhead’s Sweetwater Valley Smoked Cheddar and Onion Biscuit. Best Biscuit Booth went to the Rel Maples Institute of Culinary Arts at Walters State Community College, who had a Bananas Foster Biscuit. The picture I saw weeks later looked amazing. I think these two might have been off the “beaten” boulevard somehow. The others we missed due to good judgment: ten biscuits were about all we could handle before going to the Blackberry Farm Biscuit Brunch. Five hundred pounds, here I come.