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The Best Ever

Cityview’s resident raconteur recounts his own “best of Knoxville” over the course of the past 60+ years.

Vintage Family Black and White Photos
I have noticed that people love lists. They especially love lists about what others think are the very “best.” “The Best 25 Places to Retire,” or “The Top Ten Places to Hide From the Police,” for example. I recently read an article outlining “The 1,000 Most Significant Lies Told by President Trump in His First 200 Days in Office.” There have been lots of lists. Do you remember when celebrity play lists were popular? Like I cared what music Boy George liked to listen to.

As a special gift to Cityview readers, I have prepared a list of my all-time favorite things. As a lifelong resident of Knoxville with more than a few gray hairs, I think you might enjoy my list of some of the best things I have experienced during a lifetime in and around my hometown.

Best Ice Cream: I thought I would start with an easy choice. Homemade peach ice cream at Wallace’s Fruit Market was the best ever around these parts. On a hot summer night, my father would load up the car with all the kids in the neighborhood and off we would go to the hilltop market on Clinton Highway. One of the best treats of my childhood.

Best Car: On my 30th birthday I bought an Austin-Healy 3000 sports car. I went middle-age crazy and pushed it all over town. Although it was great looking and sounded like a sports car should, it was temperamental and refused to start from November to March. I still loved it and thought it fit my image at the time.

Best Pizza: There have been many good pizza restaurants around town over the years, but the winner in my book is Big Ed’s Pizza in Oak Ridge. Sorry, Pizza Palace—you’re good too.

Best Red Velvet Cake: No contest. Regas on Gay Street.

Best Bakery: I have great memories of both my mother and my wife buying baked goods from Wade’s Bakery.

Best Steak: In about 1966 my new bride, Norma, had visited relatives in Florida and upon her return I decided to surprise her with a picnic in the mountains. I picked her up at the airport and we drove to Metcalf Bottoms Campground and cooked the greatest steaks we ever had, creek-side on a small hibachi. The steaks were a special ribeye cut prepared by Raymond Duncan at Rocky Hill Market. I’ve eaten at great steakhouses from New York to San Francisco, and none have ever been able to top it.

Best Football Game: Although I did not initially want to go, my cousin insisted that all the men in our family should attend the Tennessee vs. Notre Dame game in South Bend in November 1991. My sons, Robbie and John, sat together in the end zone and I had a single ticket on the field. At halftime, I left my seat and stood where I could best observe my sons enjoy Tennessee’s great comeback. You will remember that Tennessee rallied from a 24-point deficit to win the game 35-34. After the game, my son John went onto the field and “borrowed” a piece of sod from the spot where Notre Dame missed what would have been the winning field goal. It was Johnny Majors at his best.

Best Cafeteria: This is a close one, but the winner is Wright’s Cafeteria on Middlebrook Pike. The S&W Cafeteria once on Gay Street is a close second.

Best Hamburger: How about the big, greasy cheeseburger at the Blue Circle. That was back when I could eat onions. Now I rely on Litton’s.

Best Barbershop: Although the Marble Front was at one time the social center for downtown businessmen, I select the original Lion’s Den when operated by Cecil Groce. Downtown cosmetologists Bobbie Dunn and Melissa Hill are survivors of that great historical treasure.

Best Deli: Without a doubt, Harold’s Deli on North Gay Street is my all-
time winner.

Best Hotdog: I grew up eating hotdogs from Smoky Mountain Market at the south end of the Henley Street bridge. My grandmother lived behind the market, and I ate those wonderful hotdogs from earliest childhood until it closed for business in the early 1980’s. This is one “best” I really miss.

Best Bar-b-que: This is a very hard category, but my selection is Ott’s Bar-B-Q when it was near Dixie Lee Junction. When they had pork, it was the very best.

Best Chipped Ham Sandwich: I vote for Babe Malloy’s Drive-In on
Chapman Highway.

Best Fried Chicken: Aside from my mother’s prize-winning fried chicken that fattened me up when I was young, I go with Chandler’s Deli on Magnolia.

Best and Most Memorable Character: Without a doubt, Knoxville grocer Cas Walker wins this honor hands down. Everybody’s got a Cas Walker story and most of them are true. When he started out in the grocery business, he used to throw live chickens off the roof of his store every Saturday to draw a crowd and generate business. His early morning television program produced many classic moments and was a major stepping stone for Dolly Parton. He was a friend of my mother’s and once told her about a lady who filled out an application to work as a cashier in one of his stores. One of the blanks on the application read “Sex,” and she wrote in “Yes, one time in Nashville, Tennessee.” He was a major player in business and politics and was a true humorist without trying.

Best Race: Although our family owned thoroughbred race horses for several years, my favorite race was a Turtle Race held for charity in the late 1940’s at Alumni Gym at UT. My father took me and we would jointly select turtles to win very slow races on the basketball court. The turtles were sponsored by various Knoxville businesses, and I won with a turtle named U-Lik-A Cleaners. This is one of my great memories of my father.

Best 50’S Happy Days Cruisin’: The Southern Circle on Chapman Highway. Every hot rod owner in Knoxville was there, drinking Coca-Colas and eating onion rings on Friday and Saturday nights.

Best Salesman: Gary Cox at Rice Buick GMC is the best I ever saw at taking care of a customer. A true professional.

Best Jukebox: This recognition also must, of necessity, acknowledge the Best Public Swimming Pool, and the award goes to the Alcoa Pool. It was a holiday to go to the Alcoa Pool from Knoxville and watch the teenagers dance at the snack bar to those great 50’s songs on the jukebox. Whittle Springs Swimming Pool also had a good jukebox and gets an Honorable Mention.

Best Movie Theatre: The winner is the Tennessee Theatre. As a kid, I would ride the KTL bus to downtown and sneak Krystal hamburgers in to eat them during the movie. I saw the movie Shane there, but did not know that I had entered during intermission. I didn’t know movies had intermissions, and I have never seen the first half of that classic. One night in the crowded theatre, my mother made our whole family leave before the movie started because she thought she saw sparks fall from the balcony and thought someone was throwing matches. Actually, it was the gold leaf paint flaking off of the domed ceiling and floating to the orchestra seats through the projector lights giving off the appearance of a flame.

Best Drink: I would say it is the Orange Julius at the original Nan Denton’s on Gay Street. Goes great with a corn dog.

Best Salad: The shredded lettuce with bleu cheese dressing salad at the Original Louis on Broadway. I could survive on an IV of that dressing.

Best Shopping: I would have to say it was in the 50’s when my family would drive slowly through downtown Knoxville and then around Sears Department Store on Central just looking in the windows. No walking necessary, and no buying involved.

Hope you enjoyed my list of all-time favorite things. Now, what’s on yours?

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