Downtown: my favorite neighborhood

Gay Lyons sips champagne during a neighborly Sunday brunch.

Gay Lyons sips champagne during a neighborly Sunday brunch.

Alan and I lived in Farragut’s Concord Hills neighborhood for about eight years. Following that, we lived in Sequoyah Hills for another eight years. Both are lovely, charming neighborhoods which we enjoyed immensely. We had a lot of friends in both. But, guess what. Never have we  lived in a more truly neighborly place than we have since we moved downtown.

Case in point. A couple of weekends ago, our friend Gay Lyons called us up on a Friday afternoon. “What are you doing Sunday?” she asked. “Why don’t you all just walk over to our place around 11 and we’ll have a little frittata brunch.” And that’s just what we did.

Sunday dawned bright and hot. We rolled out of bed, drank a cup of coffee, read the News Sentinel and glanced at the New York Times and then leisurely strolled the few blocks over to the Lyons’ condo at Kendrick Place. Our mutual friends Larry and Jane Martin came, too. After a late Saturday evening event, they and their little dog, Tuck, had spent the night at a downtown hotel, so they ambled over to the Lyons’ as well.

Brunch was absolutely lovely. No stress. No agenda. Just a few friends spending a couple of hours together on a pretty Sunday. At around 1, we all went our separate ways.

Don’t get me wrong. We’ve gone to friends’ for brunch before. And we’ve had folks over. But it’s always been more planned. And you have to get in the car and drive somewhere. Downtown is the only place I’ve lived where get-togethers are so casual. On Monday, I ran into my buddy Mickey Mallonee, also a downtown resident, on Gay Street. She was on my list to call and catch up with. “Got lunch plans?” I asked. She didn’t, so we walked to the Bistro at the Bijou for a nosh.

In the suburbs, you don’t often run into your neighbors, even if you are friends with them. Everyone just pulls into their drive, opens the garage door, drives in and closes the garage door. You don’t often just run into them.

Jack Neely has called Market Square “a place of serendipitous meetings.” (Click here for a story about that.) But I think all of downtown is. When Governor Bill Haslam was mayor here, he called downtown “everybody’s neighborhood.”

I’m sure glad it is mine.

Peach caprese salad

Peach caprese salad was made from peaches from Market Square Farmers' Market.

Gay's green tomato pie was out of this world. Never had anything like it.

Gay's green tomato pie was out of this world. Never had anything like it.

Gay made blueberry muffins in her madeleine pan. Very cute.

Gay made blueberry muffins in her madeleine pan. Very cute.

The frittata featured veggies from the Farmers' Market, too.

The frittata featured veggies from the Farmers' Market, too.

Alan happily goes through the buffet line.

Alan happily goes through the buffet line.

Jane takes her turn.

Jane takes her turn.

We brought this champagne to make mimosas. But we liked it so well, we drank it straight.

We brought this champagne to make mimosas. But we liked it so well, we all drank it straight.

Larry wondered how Tuck and the Lyons' cat, Caesar, would get along.

Larry wondered how Tuck and the Lyons' cat, Caesar, would get along.

Even though Caesar outweighs Tuck by three times, he chose to keep his distance.

Even though Caesar outweighs Tuck by three times, he chose to keep his distance.

Tuck was non-plussed.

Tuck was non-plussed.

Bill was on clean-up duty.

Bill was on clean-up duty.

13 Responses to “Downtown: my favorite neighborhood”

  1. Cynthia, Thanks. That was a lot of fun. We are so glad you, Alan, Jane, Tuck, and Larry could come.

  2. Thanks for writing about our neighborly downtown. We feel the same as you do. Still not sure how Caesar felt about the occasion. While not “nonplussed” like Tuck, he was pretty laid back–of course, that could’ve been because of the catnip Bill dosed him with. Love the photo of him peeking down from the third floor stairs.

  3. Thanks for the hospitality, you all! That’s what makes this the best neighborhood in town. Our friend, Realtor Suzy Trotta, says she is showing nine places downtown to interested buyers this weekend. I told her they’d better be nice folks!

  4. Agreed. I loved living in Old North Knoxville and Island Home, but nothing compares to downtown. And, with the additions of both Union Avenue Books and The Market, there’s rarely any reason to leave the neighborhood!

    Brunch looks fantastic, though I wouldn’t have expected anything less with Gay preparing it.

  5. I’m ready to sell and become a permanent part of this great neighborly downtown! I fell in love with downtown Knoxville when I moved here 6 years ago. I’ve been waiting for my son to graduate from high school. He’s a senior this year. I guess it’s time to put the sign in the yard! I’ve always said there is something so magical about downtown Knoxville. It has the feel and fun of a big city, but not the crime and funk. Or as I like to say – Knoxville is everything that New Orleans is not! Meaning it has all the good things that New Orleans has to offer — minus the bad. And the fact that the river is below us as opposed to 18 feet above us, just seals the deal for me. Ha!

  6. Cynthia, if you know anyone who wants to try out the neighborhood without having to buy, I know of a nice 2 BR, 1 Ba Craftsman-style apartment with a private roof deck overlooking Market Square for only $1,500 a month. Available September 1.

    We now return you to your regularly scheduled programming.

  7. Chyna: agree about those two great additions! Shaun: I’m ready for you to join us downtown! We’ll have so much fun. Just ask our friend Tim Young! John: Haha! Great idea. Hope someone sees this and takes you up on that!

  8. Cynthia, you brilliantly described both the obvious and subtle joys of urban living. This former Manhattanite did not think that he would ever see such a successful renaissance in Downtown that would make a true urban lifestyle possible. One would have to go back to the pre-depression 1920s to find a Knoxville where extensive apartment dwelling co-existed with vital downtown commerce. And, even then, I have trouble imagining that it was as pleasant (or as clean) as now. Comparing the historic downtown photographs and the vital street life with those of today, one silently hopes for the remaining sad facades, incongruous sprawl-era buildings, and empty lots to once again be a part of an energetic downtown way of life.

    Each month now seems to add another amenity to those things that make urban living a joy. Now that decent grocery shopping is possible, it changes everything for a lot of people. Thanks for being such a great advocate.

  9. Art: Great comments. Glad you love downtown Knoxville as much as Alan and I do! Last night was a First Friday and I just couldn’t believe the diverse nature of the offerings — and visitors — we ran across.

  10. Our First Friday included stops at the Oliver Hotel, Downtown Wine and Spirits, The Lunchbox, Art Market, and dinner at Bella Luna. We ran into friends at each place, which always makes things more fun. A leisurely stroll home is the perfect end to any evening downtown.

  11. Cynthia! Wonderful blog. Our family has enjoyed reading your reflections and observations. The brunch was and downtown Knoxville is as enchanting as you described. It’s about time people knew it! Keep up yhe good work. Look forward to seeing you all again soon.

  12. Thanks, Jane and Larry! We need to cook up another fun downtown outing!

  13. As requested, here’s the recipe for Green Tomato Pie.

    Green Tomato Pie

    3 large firm green tomatoes
    ½ c. water
    ½ c. raisins
    two pie crusts
    1 c. sugar
    2 T. flour
    ¾ tsp. cinnamon
    ½ tsp. ginger
    ¼ tsp. nutmeg
    2 T. butter, cut into pieces
    grated zest of 1 lemon
    1 ½ T. fresh lemon juice
    ¼ c. bourbon (or brandy)

    Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Slice the tomatoes and put them in a skillet. Pour water over the tomatoes and simmer for five minutes. Add raisins and simmer a few minutes more. Drain the skillet, reserving the liquid, and place the tomatoes and raisins in a nine-inch pie pan lined with uncooked pie dough. Mix sugar and flour and sprinkle over the tomatoes. Sprinkle with cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg. Dot the surface with butter. Add lemon zest and lemon juice. Pour bourbon over the top. If there is room, add some of the reserved liquid. Top with strips of dough to form a lattice crust. Bake for 15 minutes at 450. Reduce the heat to 375 and bake 30 minutes longer or until the crust is golden.

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