Here’s to 2023 — and an amazing Knoxville eatery!

Chef Joseph Lenn, center, poses with his parents, Jerry and Emily Lenn at his restaurant, J.C. Holdway, on New Year’s Eve.

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!

Prepared to attack the evening! We gathered in the hotel room Michael and Judith Foltz had rented at the Marriott overlooking World’s Fair Park. From left, Jerry and Emily Lenn, Gay and Bill Lyons, Michael and Judith Foltz, and Alan Carmichael.

We shortly headed to J.C. Holdway just a few blocks away where Chef Lenn’s proud mom noted the “Sold Out” sign on the door.

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.

We were greeted by Chef Lenn’s fiancee, Laura Cole, staffing the host stand. In real life (ha!) she’s a finance professor and director of Masters Investment Learning Center at the University of Tennessee. (“Take a picture of the shoes!” she said. “They’re the best part of the outfit!”)

Lord, I love a martini!

And so does our friend Michael Foltz!

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.

In no time at all, a fantastic first course arrived: oysters with caviar, a delectable little chicken croquette and a brioche square topped with Ebenezer cheese and mushrooms. I am not a big fan of raw oysters, but this one was a showstopper! It was complemented by the delicate flavor of mandarin oranges. More on those later!

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.

We saw our friends Martha Breazeale, left, and Theresa Stone also welcoming the new year with good tastes!

Oh, my! Butter-poached lobster atop a grit “panisse” with hollandaise and bay oil. At the end of the evening, when we all voted on our “best bite,” this lobster got five of our eight votes. (A “panisse” is basically a grit cake, by the way!)

Its paring was a Chablis: Moreau-Naudet. Here’s sommelier Jason Drotar mimicking the label! Ha.

Michael Foltz making a point to Emily Lenn.

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.

Gay Lyons making a point to Jerry Lenn. And those curtains again.

General Manager Adam Marks assisted Drotar with the wine service. See those noise-calming panels behind him?

Mafaldine with white truffles. (Everyone but me had foie gras in their pasta. But I opted out of that.)

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!

Smoked duck breast, golden raisin agrodolce, swiss chard, and autumn frost pumpkin.

Agrodolce is a sweet-and-sour condiment. (I looked it up!)

Pairing was a 2019 Vieille Julienne, les Trois Sources, from Châteauneuf-du-Pape.

Michael Foltz and Bill Lyons were at the end of the table. Here they are between courses no doubt discussing sports! You can see that Bill was following the national football semifinals  on his phone!

Laura stopped by our table. One big change we know will happen in 2023 — she and Chef Lenn will get married! Such a great couple.

By now, we were getting pretty full, but we weren’t about to turn down the dry-aged New York strip with celery root puree and chanterelles! Or the 2018 Epoch Estate Blend from Paso Robles, California, that accompanied it.

Chef Joseph Lenn with our friends Kevin and Maria McHale at a nearby table.

Although the evening was a sellout, the timing of the food service was flawless and the space did not feel overly crowded. Here’s the back dining room, where we were seated.

Dessert was milk chocolate mousse with hazelnuts and cornbread ice cream. “Cornbread ice cream?,” someone at our table commented. “It must just be ice cream with cornbread crumbled on top of it!” But, no! It actually was ice cream that tasted exactly like cornbread! Delicious cold cornbread!

But, wait! There’s more!

Out came these little frozen delights that tasted like an over-the-top version of Creamsicles!

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!

And to our fantastic server, Leah Smith, who was a saint to put up with us!

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!


Tears of joy from Stetson Bennett IV, the University of Georgia’s quarterback. Georgia beat Ohio State 42-41 in the last minute of the Peach Bowl, a semifinal of the national championship.

And then it was toasting time! Happy New Year!


Get a room! (Oh, they have a room, and we are in it!)

The Lyonses at midnight.

Happy New Year, Judith! We’ll get out of your room soon!

Cheers, Honey!

It was a fun, fun night!


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9 Responses to Here’s to 2023 — and an amazing Knoxville eatery!

  1. Carolyn Leahy, on January 6th, 2023 at 2:15 pm said:

    Great commentary on what appeared to be a wonderful evening!

  2. Monique Anderson, on January 6th, 2023 at 3:24 pm said:

    Looks like a fun time

  3. Martha Weaver, on January 6th, 2023 at 3:41 pm said:

    Oh, how I miss Knoxville and friends there‼️
    Hooray for 2023 and all of you wonderful people

  4. Cynthia Moxley, on January 6th, 2023 at 4:22 pm said:

    Carolyn and Monique: We need to grab our guys and go there sometime soon!

    Martha: Wish you were here!

  5. Gay Lyons, on January 6th, 2023 at 4:25 pm said:

    And thus are traditions born. What a delicious, fun night with great friends.

  6. Laura Cole, on January 8th, 2023 at 10:23 am said:

    Your group was so lively! Thanks for spending NYE at the restaurant. I’m with Jerry–while all the dishes were tasty, my vote for the best was the duck… quack quack!

  7. Joseph Lenn, on January 8th, 2023 at 3:39 pm said:

    Thanks for celebrating with us! I am glad you noticed all our updates such as the soundproofing and seating updates (amongst others). I feel very lucky to have guests like you and the rest of our NYE diners grace our doors… it’s the reason I continue to love cooking!

  8. Rusha Sams, on January 8th, 2023 at 5:19 pm said:

    A good time was had by all! Thanks for sharing all the good times and good food. We really do have it all in K-town!

  9. Cynthia Moxley, on January 8th, 2023 at 5:44 pm said:

    Gay: It would be a good tradition!

    Laura: Hope we weren’t TOO lively! Ha.

    Chef Lenn: J.C. Holdway just keeps getting better and better!

    Rusha: Couldn’t agree more about our fun, fun city!

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