It’s going to knock you out; Knoxville’s “must try” Pizzeria is number six on the list

* This post is part FIVE of a series on ten restaurants worth checking out in Knoxville, Tennessee.

Cheese glorious cheese! The D'Amato at Hard Knox Pizzeria.

Cheese glorious cheese! The D’Amato at Hard Knox Pizzeria.

Every Top 10 restaurant list needs a pizza place. And although Knoxville isn’t known for making pizza pies or any Italian food for that matter, there is one pizzeria worth frequenting. Located in Western Plaza, Hard Knox Pizzeria will knock you out. Instead of trying to be all things to all people, Hard Knox is focused on their craft of delivering hot and fresh pizza from their classic wood-burning oven.

"Wood is good" at Hard Knox Pizzeria.

“Wood is good” at Hard Knox Pizzeria.

And the menu reflects that; they have pizza, flatbread and calzones. And if you’re freakin’ lost, they have a salad. That’s it.

For lovers of white pies, I highly recommend the D’Amato pie with loads of mushrooms and some nice dollops of ricotta. Old school red sauce traditionalists should check out the Bonecrusher pizza with its “real deal” Italian sausage and a nice, sweet-meets-heat combination of their divine tomato sauce and crushed red pepper.

Hard Knox is scaled back dining with stools and a few tables. I usually grab a pie to go and take it just down the street to Bearden Beer Market for some beers and revelry. Remember with a 750-degree oven, your pizza cooks in minutes and there’s not much else that beats the smell of all those fresh cheesy, saucy, crusty pies popping out of the oven, one after the other.

Kale Chips and Beer

Kale chips dressed and ready to go

Kale chips dressed and ready to go

Kale chips are quickly becoming one of the healthiest snack fads. Easy to make, nutritious and quite tasty, the finished product has the texture of popcorn with the crunch of a classic American chip.

Lightly coated in olive oil and tossed with your favorite single season, the kale is then baked for about ten minutes at 350 degrees. The trick is to make sure the kale pieces are de-stemmed, torn into bite-size pieces and not touching on the cookie sheet before you pop them in the oven. That way they’ll firm up properly and result in this hard to believe crunchiness.

The finished snack... ready to eat

The finished snack… ready to eat

The best I’ve made so far is olive oil and Parmigiano Reggiano. Don’t skimp on the cheese. Get the king of parmesan and not the sand that comes out of that plastic shaker. Other good single seasonings include smoked paprika, garlic or just a dash of sea salt.

Chris Morton of the Bearden Beer Market recommends an easy-drinking pilsner that won’t overshadow the kale, like Finch’s from Chicago or even the very hot-selling Bitburger Pilsner. Best of all, kale chips appealing duet of being healthy and tasting good, leaves a little extra wiggle room for that extra beer.

Hard Cider is ‘sessionably’ on the rise

The adult beverage market in the U.S. has a new player on the block, and it might not be what you would expect. In fact if you had posed the same question just a few years ago, most beverage marketing firms, and in particular beer enthusiasts, probably wouldn’t have predicted that hard cider would have become the upstart that it has.

This year alone, the domestic cider market is on track to eclipse $50 million in sales. Now that’s a lot of apples. Luckily for Knoxville, that spike in popularity was seen well in advance by Chris Morton, owner of Bearden Beer Market. Morton started introducing new ciders to the market shortly after opening BBM in 2010. His sales signal a near double digit growth for hard cider in 2012 and notes that the percentage growth for cider nationally is catching up to that of craft beer.

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Wine and beer pair with whatever you’re grilling

The first holiday of the grilling season is upon us, and if you master anything this weekend let it be that salty, savory grilled meats and tasty beverage treats go hand in hand. Whether you’re a burger traditionalist, a health-conscious outdoorsy type that’s refined the art of preparing your favorite saltwater catch or a beef-mastering, brisket-loving devotee, there is a beverage to pair with your barbecue of choice.

I’ve teamed up with the beer king of Knoxville, Chris Morton of Bearden Beer Market, to present appropriate parings of both beer and wine.

With all the innovative ingredients we Americans put on our hamburgers these days, it might seem tricky to find the right wine to match. The simple key to a good selection is versatility. Two red blends have recently arrived in local stores that will have your burger screaming for a little more wine and a little less of anything that takes away from the true flavors of the beef.