Bjorn discovers the Muscadine Festival, Tsali Notch Vineyards, and Hunter’s Cafe

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Covering a lot in one review today. This past Saturday morning, Daisy Mae, Bjorn Jr., and I headed down to Sweetwater for the National Muscadine Festival. The first thing we noticed was the lack of  signage everywhere outside a half mile radius from the festival. The first sign we saw told us to turn off 68 towards downtown Sweetwater.  It was conveniently placed on the opposite corner of the intersection. The second thing we noticed, after being directed by police off the main street and onto narrow back streets, was that it wasn’t clear where we could or couldn’t park. So we just pulled off in the first available spot we saw. Since we didn’t get towed, it was probably okay.

It seemed as if most of the events were scheduled for Friday, the day before, which we thought was odd. But the main street through downtown was blocked off, and there was plenty of space for Bjorn Jr. to run around and have his picture taken. The flowers were in full bloom. The weather was great. Vendors were set up, and we were able to sample some muscadine juice and take in the crafts, crowds, and aromas.

There really wasn’t a lot going on. There was music playing, and it looked like they were setting up for some live music later on. But the downtown area was nice and we were glad we got to explore. The antique and knick-knack stores were actually nice and reasonably priced. I know Daisy Mae enjoyed her browsing time. As this was the first year of the festival, I’m sure they’re still learning and I bet next year will be even better. If I could suggest something, please shoot for Saturday-Sunday rather than Friday-Saturday though.

Since we arrived at lunch time, we decided to try out Hunter’s Bakery & Cafe. Not sure what I was expecting, but after reviewing the menu, I told Daisy Mae that I expected more, I don’t know, “Southern” food in such a place.  This was more due to where we were rather than anything to do with the restaurant itself.  But the menu had a lot to choose from. We had never heard of Hunter’s before walking through the door.

After narrowing it down to about ten things, I chose the Black Jack Burger ($7.69) while Daisy Mae had a salad with added salmon ($6.99 for salad and $3.99 for salmon), and Bjorn Jr. had the obligatory grilled cheese. To start, we ordered bruschetta.

The bruschetta was really good, and the serving was large, especially considering the $4.99 price. The meal was off to a good start. The main courses arrived and we were pleasantly surprised (as I said, we didn’t know what to expect). My burger came with pepper jack cheese and cajun seasoning, and was very tasty. Daisy Mae’s salmon was also very good, much better even than most places in Knoxville we’ve tried. And the portion was very large, especially for a salad add-on.

To conclude our meal, we ordered a “No Bake” cookie, which had had us drooling since we walked through the door. It was large, costing $1.99, and was enough for all three of us.  That place at the mall couldn’t even dream of serving cookies that good.  Hunter’s had some other fantastic-sounding desserts, but alas, we were full.

After a little more browsing in downtown Sweetwater, we headed back to the car and found our way over to Tsali Notch Vineyards. The drive was nice, the vineyard is definitely located in a picturesque setting. They have something like 21 miles of producing vines, with 5 varietals of muscadine grapes. But all we had was one bucket.

The staff were friendly and informative, so off we went to pick our grapes. Unlike some other places we’ve been, we were encouraged to try some grapes while we picked. This made it much easier to identify the tastier grapes and to quickly learn which ones to skip. After an hour or so of picking, our bucket was full. $21 got us a bucket full of grapes, a bottle of muscadine juice, a lot of memorable photos, and an hour of fun running around a vineyard.

And that was enough for one day. Or so we thought. On the way home we stopped by Sweetwater Valley Farms to grab some of their wonderful smoked cheddar. Expect our grill to fire up to cook some chicken covered in that cheese really soon…