Where Down Home Meets Chic
Rebel Kitchen brings an Appalachian approach to French cuisine on West Jackson Avenue
For starters, the name Rebel Kitchen is a misnomer. Chef Preston Williams is all about farm-to-table Appalachian cuisine, but his food and atmosphere tend more toward a tony Charleston vibe. “Rebel” actually refers to Williams’ original idea of “taking French cuisine and making it more rebellious.” But the irony of the name works to their advantage in the re-energized artists’ beehive of West Jackson Avenue, just down the block from Boyd’s Jig and Reel.
Rebel Kitchen shares its location with the Old City Wine Bar, where a jazz trio plays an eclectic mix from Stompin’ at the Savoy, to Flyin’ Home. Wide picture windows across both storefronts and outside table areas allow diners to drink in the passing pedestrian parade of the Old City’s tony clientele. Rebel Kitchen’s hostess stand is a white industrial oven, with a laptop perched atop a stack of French cookbooks. Square butcher-block tables and an open kitchen in the back help the relatively small space feel open and airy. The artistic sensibility extends to asymmetrical hand-thrown pottery and spiral-cut wooden bowls.
Rebel Kitchen servers know the wines and the dishes. Our server, baritone opera singer Ian Bolden soon to make his jump to New York, is a certified sommelier. “The whole point of our wine bar is to educate people about wine and pair it with great food,” says Bolden, who also delighted us by singing several verses of On the Street Where You Live with us at the table.
Bolden’s explanation of each culinary creation was also an education in surprising savory ingredients. “We tend to get a lot of people who are foodies,” says Bolden. “If you want to know what Rebel Kitchen is all about, try the Beets & Blackberries from our ‘Start’ menu. Preston beats buttermilk into a crème fraiche and serves it with thin slices of smoked duck breast, pickled mustard seed, duck-fat vinaigrette, beet tartare and shallots.”
Chef Preston is a “small-town guy” from Asheville, trained in Oregon and 10 years in New York. Wiry in his black T-shirt, black apron, black goatee and short black hair, Williams could be played by a young, well-coiffed Johnny Depp.
The Small Bites menu begins with Chicharron spring greens seasoned with togarashi with sweet soy and lime. House-made bread served with rendered duck fat and fried rosemary that has a distinctive taste. Melt-in-your-mouth Veal Rillette with mustard greens and pickled onions, shallots, garlic, radishes, and chamomile. Pork Jerky pairs kohlrabi and strawberries with pickled beet spears. On the Start menu, don’t miss the house-made, no preservative, fresh Pork Sausage, with its distinctive smoky flavor, served with sweet potatoes, apple molasses reduction, and ramp vinaigrette. Turnips & Sorrell with shallots, strawberry vinaigrette and herbs is another “what Rebel Kitchen is all about” farm-to-table dish with a continental attitude.
Main dishes are headlined by Duck with barley berries, couscous, cilantro and radish; Oyster Mushrooms with mustard greens, garlic scape & pickled red onion; and a Striploin cooked to perfection with Yukon potatoes, oyster mushrooms and herbs, chimichurri sauce with lime.
The best thing about Rebel Kitchen is flexibility. You may want to sample the small bites with wine pairings or go for a three-course meal. With Small Bites under $6, a Start between $9 and $15, and main courses ranging from $17 for Spring Vegetables or Oyster Mushrooms to $28 for the Striploin, Rebel Kitchen has it all. Overall, it is among Knoxville’s more intriguing fine dining experiences.
108 W Jackson Avenue
Friday and Saturday 5–10pm