So many modern restaurants purport to be virtuous: natural, sustainable, organic, fresh, local, etc. But good intentions don’t necessarily yield a good meal. All the virtue in the world is no substitute for talent in the kitchen.
Talent in the kitchen: these are words that well describe the allure of Olibea’s, a storefront cafe in the up-and-coming Old City part of Knoxville. In this hip eatery, staffed and patronized by the food-savvy set, all the current culinary virtues reign. Just about everything served is local; farms that supply provender are listed by name on a wall-board. From duck or chicken eggs (your choice) to sourdough bread, the kitchen contains nothing, absolutely nothing delivered by Sysco food trucks. Everything made from the good groceries is four-star delicious.
Each week, chef and proprietor Jeffrey DeAlejandro butchers a hog, from which he smokes strips of pork belly that become bacon of the gods. When I stopped eating long enough to tell Mr. DeAlejandro that his biscuits are the best I’ve had in recent memory, he jokingly called them “Number 7,” meaning that they were the seventh version of a recipe he had been toying with. I gulped, worrying that he might toy more with the recipe and these perfect biscuits — creamy, tangy, and crisp-edged — might be supplanted by something else. I can’t imagine any better; but then, having had a few of the inspired items that come from his kitchen, neither can I imagine Number 8s being anything less than stellar, too.
Breakfast and brunch, until 1pm, are the only meals served. I have loved the biscuits, a daily special of pork cheek tacos (topped with a brilliantly sunny duck egg), pancakes with sage sausage, cute little “squared potatoes” (elegant home fries), and espresso. I long to return for Tennessee Benedict with local ham, for a confit Cheshire pork shoulder tostada, for local sourdough, and for grilled cheese made with Sweetwater Cheddar. Heck, I suspect even the vegan tofo chorizo and vegan tempeh bacon are tasty. But as long as Chef DeAlejandro is smoking pork belly, that’s the meat for me.