My three tips for unbeatable Biscuitfest experience

Chef Jeffrey DeAlejandro from OliBea, the breakfast and lunch spot in the Old City, called his offering “The Dirty Sanchez.” It featured chorizo gravy and carne machaca. Had huge lines.

The 2017 International Biscuit Festival, i.e., Biscuitfest, has come and gone. Saturday’s weather was beautiful, if steamy, and this year’s event featured more vendors and 50 percent more biscuits than last year, according to festival founder and “biscuit boss,” John Craig.

Once again, the footprint expanded to include Market Street, Church Avenue and Clinch Avenue in downtown Knoxville, allowing more room to move around for the teeming hordes of biscuit lovers. In addition to sampling gourmet biscuits, you could listen to live music on the Flatbed Music Stage (literally a flatbed pickup truck parked at the corner of Church Avenue and Gay Street), watch biscuit-making demonstrations, cheer on your favorites in the baking contest, root for the best Mr. or Miss Biscuit in a kooky pageant and purchase any number of biscuit-related items.

This was the eighth annual Biscuitfest and, from our downtown condo at the corner of Market Street and Church Avenue, we can see everything from beginning to end. So, here are three tips I think you should follow next year to have the best Biscuitfest experience ever:

  1. Arrive early. The festival starts at 9 a.m., but you should arrive between 8 and 8:15. That way, you can walk around and plan your attack. Your $15 ticket buys five biscuits, and you want to pick the best ones. So you need to see what the offerings are and plan accordingly. The crowds don’t get really thick until about 9:30 or 10, meaning you will have time to execute your plan after the 9 a.m. start time.
  2. Bring someone to split the biscuits with. These are not just biscuits — they are meals. You can’t possibly eat five of them. And, with a partner, you can divide and conquer — you can split up and grab the biscuits you really want to try based on tip number one!
  3. Get a variety of sweet and savory biscuits. They are about equally divided between those featuring meats and those that are more like desserts. I’d recommend getting a combination so your taste buds stay awake to all the great flavors.

See how peaceful and calm it is around 9 a.m.? You can actually sit down and enjoy your biscuit haul. This will not be the case later.

Here’s Market Street an hour later.

Church Avenue.

This block-long line to get an OliBea biscuit reminded me of the Delta Customer Service line in the Atlanta airport last month after all the flights got canceled!

Tupelo Honey Cafe offered The Jammin Cackalacky. (Cackalacky is a slang term for North Carolina, where Tupelo Honey is headquartered.) It featured pork confit and onion marmalade. Dang!

And here’s the line to get it!

From Alex Belew Catering in Murfreesboro: toffee bread pudding biscuit with vanilla topping and bee pollen vanilla smoked salt. This biscuit won the People’s Choice award.

Wampler’s Farm Sausage passed out sausage and cheese biscuits brushed with a honey glaze. Yum.

Hahaha. Here’s Suzy Trotta of Trotta Montgomery Real Estate, dressed to promote her team’s “baniscuit,” a biscuit with a banana glaze on it.

Here they are!

Matt Barrick of WATE was tasting some of his own wares when we caught up with him!

WATE teamed up with Shoney’s to offer Golden Sunsphere Biscuits.

Shoney Bear stopped by. Here he’s with Annie LaLonde of Shoney’s.

Over at the booth of The Drawing Room, the classy bar and restaurant in the new Tennessean Hotel, there was no shortage of biscuits. This booth took the Best Booth award.

“Papa” was ladling gravy onto The Drawing Room’s biscuits.

Looking yummy, these biscuits were runners-up for the People’s Choice award.

Another runner-up in the People’s Choice category was Phoenix Pharmacy and Fountain with its Biscuits and Berries entry.

The Critic’s Choice award went to Frussies Deli & Bakery for Porky Pastrami Biscuits.

Jilynn and Dave Parmly were enjoying their first Biscuitfest!

West Egg Cafe from Atlanta offered cornmeal streusel biscuits with brown butter buttermilk syrup.

Stoop sitters.

Murray’s Cheese wisely uses Biscuitfest to show off its products using a biscuit as a base. Here: A buttermilk biscuit is topped with New Zealand Honeydew Honey, a Piave Vecchio stands alone and brie is topped with Murray’s spiced cherry preserves on a Rutherford Meyer cracker. Murray’s Cheese won the Last Biscuit Standing award for being the last booth to run out of biscuits!

It was nice to meet the National Watermelon Queen, Madison Laney!

I found Allan Benton of Benton’s Smoky Mountain Country Hams in a familiar pose. He was handing out samples, as usual.

Marble City Kitchen, located in the downtown Hilton, called its biscuit “The Point of No Return.” The biscuit was piled with beef short ribs and horseradish creme fraiche.

You can’t have biscuits without coffee! I love the Honeybee Coffee trailer.

Century Harvest Farms served sage and cream biscuits with grassfed beef and potato sausage, heirloom tomato jam and collard relish! That’s serious stuff!

Century Harvest brought products to sell, too. Smart.

A young man from Blackberry said the kitchen staff was up all night making 1,000 tiny biscuits to use for tasting the jams!

I didn’t make it to all the vendors because soon it was time to go see what was happening in the baking tent.

That’s where I ran into, from left, City Councilman George Wallace, Judith Foltz, Gay Lyons and Biscuit Boss John Craig.

Inside the tent, I ran into one of the judges, food writer and soul food expert Adrian Miller. I thought his shirt was wonderful!

Emcees for the contests were Erin Donovan and Brent Thompson, the Biscuit Queen and King.

Two other judges were Rita Cochran, left, and Toni Tipton-Martin. Rita is director of operations at Food Network Kitchen, and Toni is an author.

Host Brent Thompson talks to two other judges while the biscuits bake. They are, at left, Marian Bull, a contributor to GQ magazine, and Jane Black, a freelance food writer published in The Washington Post, The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal.

My favorite judge, Mary Constantine of the News Sentinel. She lets me take pictures of her eating!

Here were the finalists in the “special biscuits” category.

“One, Two Three Thymes a Biscuit” by Paige Sandbank.

She served them with these cute little lemon characters! Loved!

These “Beurre-acha Shrimp Biscuits” by Julie Morrison looked great to me!

Kimberly Asbury of Orange Beach, Alabama, made “Alabama Scotch Egg Biscuits.” They featured soft boiled eggs and sausage wrapped in biscuits and baked.

Here’s the finished product. The egg yolk still was runny, if you can believe!

And she was the winner! Only one point separated her from the runner-up, Sandbank.

I asked one judge why the delicious-looking shrimp biscuit didn’t score better, and she said the biscuit wasn’t fully cooked in the center when it was served. Ouch.

Here are Erin and Brent, from left, with the winners in all the categories: Evie Braude in the student category, Alexis Durand in the sweet category, Connor Mathis in the savory category and Kimberly Asbury, who took the special biscuit category, as well as the grand prize.

There was just one contest left: the Mr. or Miss Biscuit Pageant! We had two entries, both women.

Here’s Heather Hebert dressed as a biscuit with butter and jelly walking across the stage balancing a biscuit on her elbow!

And the winner, who was Christina Sayer.

Want to know why she won? Click below!


I wanted to give a big shout-out to these two great women who helped Biscuit Boss John Craig pull the whole festival together: Jessie Bailin, left, and Lindsey Collins. Great job, ladies.


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7 Responses to My three tips for unbeatable Biscuitfest experience

  1. Maria Cornelius, on May 22nd, 2017 at 5:10 pm said:

    Best description ever: “teeming hordes of biscuit lovers.” What an event this has become!

  2. Alan Carmichael, on May 22nd, 2017 at 9:59 pm said:

    Another successful Biscuit Festival. The biscuits looked delicious. I think I can have two biscuits a year.

  3. Deborah Sams, on May 23rd, 2017 at 6:20 am said:

    My first Biscuitfest—and I loved it! This is a truly comprehensive overview of the event. I feel like I was there again. Thank you!

  4. Mickey Mallonee, on May 23rd, 2017 at 11:34 am said:

    I love the names of the biscuits.

  5. Monique Anderson, on May 23rd, 2017 at 11:45 am said:

    I loved the dance!!!

  6. Cynthia Moxley, on May 23rd, 2017 at 2:26 pm said:

    Maria: Yep, they have done a fantastic job. There is now some concern that they have outgrown the downtown site and should move it to World’s Fair Park. Not sure how I feel about that.

    Poor Alan. That’s about how often you are allowed to have steak and desserts, too!

    Deborah: Glad you could come! Hope you make it a tradition, as we have.

    Mickey: I do, too! Very creative.

    Monique: It was a hoot!

  7. Sara Rose, on May 23rd, 2017 at 4:25 pm said:

    The Southern Food Writers Conference was an incredible experience that preceded the Biscuit Festival. Thank you to both you and Alan for inviting me to attend as your guest!

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