Finn’s Restaurant & Tavern makes diners feel at home—even with the ghost
With his light green eyes, close-cropped red hair and tall, trim frame, owner Jon Ferrie of Finn’s Restaurant & Tavern could fit easily into a Colin Farrell/Ralph Fiennes movie, though Ferrie would be the good guy who takes care of everybody, keeps the other guys from quarreling, and makes everything better with a hearty meal of, say, Irish Cottage Pie or Corned Beef and Cabbage.
With an Irish twinkle in his eye, Ferrie creates the vibe at Finn’s that makes people want to relax and stay awhile. “People have stressful lives,” he explains. “They like to have a place where you can go after work and not have worries. We’re not quick in and quick out. I want people to enjoy themselves. People come in and spend at least an hour and a half at dinner, then go into the tavern for a bit of music and finish the evening. A dining table is a sacred place.” Ferrie’s cooks and servers are fully on board with this mission: “I tell my staff, ‘I want your personality to shine.’ They are all individuals.”
Get started with a Wing of Kerry—a pound of jumbo baked-and-deep-fried Buffalo chicken wings with Guinness BBQ/Spicy Asian/Parmesan Ranch dry rub, and let the sweet aromas of lamb, onions, creamy potatoes, peas, and spices whet your appetite. A Guinness with its hint of roasted unmalted barley would not go amiss here.
Many remember the Baker Peters House, which has stood since 1840 on the corner of Kingston Pike and Peters Road, as a jazz club. But since late 2018, the first thing diners see at the top of the stairs are the words Céad Míle Fáilte painted on the wall. They mean “a hundred thousand welcomes” in Irish Gaelic. The house’s first owner, physician James Harvey Baker, was shot in June 1863 by Union troops through a bedroom door that is still displayed in the dentist’s office downstairs. Baker haunts the place, but in a friendly way, says Ferrie.
Baker may have his ghostly eye on the wedge salads as they come from the kitchen. “They look like ice cream sundaes,” says Ferrie, and the homemade ranch dressing, blue cheese crumbles, heirloom grape tomatoes, diced Apple Wood bacon, and balsamic reduction make them extra special. So, if you feel a cold chill around your neck, you might offer the late doctor a crunchy bite.
Ferrie, a native of Ireland, ran restaurants in tony spots like Montauk, Long Island, and Palm Beach, Florida, before his Irish Times restaurant became a Turkey Creek landmark in 2007. He and his wife, Rachel, took a liking to the Baker Peters House on a night out a few years ago. “It was our love for the preservation of history,” says Ferrie, who saw that it would be perfect for his concept of a warm, welcoming, family establishment. When the property came open, he jumped on it.
“It feels like a home,” says Chef Jason McCormick. Its different rooms have different personalities, including the Abner room downstairs. Abner, Baker’s son, was killed after the Civil War following an altercation with a Union soldier in downtown Knoxville. His portrait sits on the mantel, looking out over the large table that seats board meetings or wedding parties.
It’s hard to resist the potato-crusted Salmon Leap with a citrus butter sauce and mango chutney and served with fresh vegetables and mashed potatoes. “The Irish and their potatoes,” chuckles Ferrie. The Fish ‘n’ Chips are, as Winston Churchill described them, “good companions.” Fish and chips were two of the foods not subject to rationing during the Second World War. (The government feared that the dish was so embedded in the nation’s culture that any limit would damage morale.) Finn’s achieves the perfect balance of a thick, puffy crust with crispness followed by a touch of chewiness. The boneless pork chop is brined for 36 hours to impart a flavorful, juicy tenderness. The Baker’s Burger uses a mixture of brisket and short rib that takes it from standard pub fare to beautifully rich, beefy flavor and moistness.
Desserts include Traditional Irish Bread Pudding and Guinness Chocolate Mousse. “It’s a true Irish experience,” says Ferrie, “reflecting a culture well-known for its food and ambiance.”
Though Finn’s is not open for lunch during the week, it offers a Sunday brunch from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., all the more in demand with the return of in-person church attendance. Be sure to drop by for a chippy and a chin wag with your mates.