Posted by: wrmcnutt | August 31, 2009

Restaurant Review – Cafe 4, Knoxville TN

Knoxville, Tennessee, has been said to have the most restaurants per capita of any city in the nation.  It’s an exaggeration.  Dallas does.  But folks in Knoxville do like to be waited on, and don’t like to wash dishes, so the “scruffy little city” does have a high density of eateries.  And I’m not sure but that it could stand to have one fewer.

Cafe 4, located on Market Square, and in the hippest, coolest, most urban district, tries to live up to it’s claim to being “an urban retreat.”  To be fair, we ate at Cafe 4 on a Tuesday night.  Not a time to expect the A team to be in the kitchen.  But when you pay that much for a meal, ($25/each) it’s reasonable to expect some gastronomic flair.  The cuisine at Cafe 4 is lacking in flair.  Not to say that it was bad. Just disappointing.

The decor of Cafe 4 makes all manner of grand promises.  It’s all clean lines, chrome, and light woods and indirect lighting.    The dining room is two stories tall. They have an attached music venue, the Square Room, separating from the dining area by a wall of glass.  It really does look like a place where you can get the latest in urban cuisine, prepared by great cooks and served by enthusiastic young waiters.

We were seated promptly when we arrived.  They were doing pretty good for a Tuesday, probably about 30% full when we arrived at 8:30.  But there was a little bit of a wait for our waiter, and that set the theme for the service that evening.  He wasn’t unfriendly.  But we always seemed to be looking for him five or ten minutes before he arrived.  Overall, my dining experince probably took a half-hour longer than it should have because he kept turning up late.  And that brings me to the food.

We started with pints of Stella Artois on draft, and my companion ordered the calimari.  I was not impressed when it arrive.  The sauce looked like thousand island dressing, and all I could smell was  breadding and oil that should have been changed after the Saturday night rush.  It smelled like the county fair midway, minus the animal smells.  I’m not a calimari person, but she pronouced it “ok.  Well, maybe a little rubbery.”  Make no mistake, timing good calimari is hard.  There’s a magic moment when it is no longer under-done, and not yet rubbery, and nailing that moment is hard, especially in a deep fryer.

She went on to order the shrimp and grits, and I had the barbeque ribs.  She pronouced the shrimp and grits “adequate, but salty” and hit a pocket of unblended salt that made her make a face, but she finished her entree with some enthusiasm.  My own ribs were falling of the bone tender, but the sauce was sweeter than I like.  The cole slaw was bland and the baked beans were so tasteless and mushy I suspect that they came out of a can.

I give Cafe 4 two pints out of five for service.

I give Cafe 4 three pinte out of five for atmosphere.

I give Cafe 4 one and one half pints of five for cuisine.

That’s a score of 2.12 pints of five. 

There are many places to eat in Knoxville.  While I didn’t have a bad time, I won’t be returning to Cafe 4 any time soon.

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  1. I don’t think I have seen you give over 3 pints for cuisine yet. Tell us a story of a restaurant that truly wowed you.

    • Ok – I’ve got a couple, but I don’t recall the menu’s. That’s why I haven’t reviewed them.

  2. and some time soon….can we get back to Alex and the Promise of Power?

    • I dunno – what’ll you give me if I do?

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