Celebrating New Year’s Eve with friends at J.C. Holdway gave us an opportunity to not only contemplate what 2023 would hold for us, but also for this downtown Knoxville gem.
Eight of us made reservations on the first day — actually the first hour! — they were available for the six-course prix fixe menu, which, we accurately assumed, would sell out pretty quickly even at $195 per person.
J.C. Holdway is owned and operated by Chef Joseph Lenn, a James Beard Award-winning chef and Blackberry Farm alumni, who opened the trendy spot on Union Avenue six years ago. It’s been receiving rave reviews ever since.
Let’s just say I hope all my decisions in 2023 turn out as well as this one did!
Chef Lenn says that, in general, business is very good at J.C. Holdway. The year-end numbers aren’t finalized yet, but customers definitely are back after the pandemic shut down restaurant operations following a banner year in 2019.
“Part of it is word of mouth,” Chef Lenn said. “But part of it is people thinking that downtown is a great place to hang out and have fun. They aren’t afraid of parking anymore. Having free parking after 6 p.m. is a huge help.”
People are still discovering the restaurant, he said. A group from West Knoxville was in recently and had a great time. “How long have you been open?” one of the guys asked. “Six years,” Lenn responded.
Chef Lenn is optimistic about the restaurant — and downtown Knoxville in general — in 2023. “Valentine’s is just a month and a half away,” he noted. “We’re already planning for that. Reservations open up a month out.” That will be followed by other banner weekends: University of Tennessee graduations are always huge, the Big Ears Festival weekend in late March will generate a packed house, and, he mentioned, the Tennessee Theatre’s Broadway play series brings out the pre-show crowd.
“The Broadway series is great for us and great for downtown,” he said. He’s really braced for the sold-out “Hamilton,” which will run Feb. 7-19.
We ordered the matching wine pairings. And this course came with champagne: Stephane Coquillette Carte d’Or. “It smells like brioche!” sommelier Jason Drotar noted. It was a perfect match.
You see those curtains in the background? They are part of an upgrade J.C. Holdway made since the pandemic. Chef Lenn said that customer feedback indicated that some thought the restaurant was too noisy and the chairs were not comfortable The solution: sound-absorbing panels on the wall, drapery and cushions on the chairs.
Wine pairing was a 2017 Voerzio Martini Barolo. “It’s the softer side of Barolo,” Marks said. “There’s no better pairing than Barolo and white truffles.” We agreed!
Agrodolce is a sweet-and-sour condiment. (I looked it up!)
Pairing was a 2019 Vieille Julienne, les Trois Sources, from Châteauneuf-du-Pape.
But, wait! There’s more!
Chef Lenn’s sister, Meredith Quillen, lives in Woodbine, Georgia, where she has a mandarin orange tree in her yard. Every year before she visits her brother and parents here in Knoxville for Christmas, she goes out and harvests all the mandarins from the tree. They were put to good use in these tantalizing little surprises — and in those delectable oysters on the opening course! Cheers to Meredith!
I told you that the lobster got five votes for “best bite” of the night. Other vote-getters were the oysters, with two votes (Gay and me), and the duck, which garnered Jerry’s vote!
When Chef Lenn was listing all the big events for which he is preparing in 2023, he did add just one more: the Bassmaster Classic. It is returning to Knoxville March 24-26.
Chef Lenn said the 2019 Bassmaster Classic in Knoxville was the biggest Bassmaster tournament ever. “It will probably be even bigger this year because Knoxville has more hotels,” he said, “and Knoxville is an easy place for people to get to.”
He said many tend to underestimate the amount of money spent by visitors here for the catch-and-release tournament. “There’s a lot of money in fishing,” said Lenn, himself an avid angler. “It is the Super Bowl of fishing, and it has a huge economic impact on Knoxville.”
Well, the best plans are often the ones that get changed. We had planned to leave J.C. Holdway and head to World’s Fair Park for the New Year’s Eve ball drop and fireworks. But it just looked so crowded and the guys wanted to watch the end of the football game and some of the women were in high heels, so, anyway, we headed back to the hotel room!