Out to Lunch: Café 4’s vast menu sure to have your favorite

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By Bethel Poston

My wife, Carol, and I occasionally feel an almost magnetic pull to Market Square in Knoxville, particularly during the Christmas season, to revive memories of times spent there during the 1940s and ’50s.

We both remember bus trips from Oak Ridge to Knoxville for a day of shopping and lunch. We both think our mothers made us visit every store on Gay Street.

In 1956, I sold shoes part-time on Gay Street while a student at the University of Tennessee. Carol was secretary to the house-wares buyer at Millers Department Store on Gay Street.

Going out the back of Millers and crossing an alley at the back, you were in Millers Annex with an entrance that faced the former Market Square Building. The Annex occupied the building next door to our “Out to Lunch” visit to Café 4 at 4 Market Square.

Café 4’s website, www.cafe4ms.com, says it is an urban retreat with a twist on Southern comfort food.

From its appealing menu, Carol went to the Market Square Minis section and selected crab cake sandwiches. They are served by the pair and garnished with tomato, lettuce and black pepper aioli. She almost finished both sandwiches and devoured all the homemade fries.

Other Mini sandwich selections were Southern pork barbecue or buttermilk fried chicken, each served by the pair.

Café 4’s blue-plate special changes daily. The chicken cordon bleu with whipped potatoes and buttered green beans was a satisfying choice for me.

We both only tasted the made-on-site rolls, saving room for the tasty entrées and thinking of possible desserts.

Other blue-plate specials are home-style meat loaf, country-fried steak, chicken Parmesan and Ahi tuna Nicoise.

Eating near us were Cathy Bilbrey and Sally Luper, legal assistants at the nearby Market Street law office of London and Amburn.

“We’ve had just about everything on the menu,” Cathy said.

The Mac-N-Cheese Bar section of the menu offers a selection of ingredients to add to macaroni prepared with Café 4’s, three-cheese sauce, finished with buttered panko crumbs. Cathy’s large dish, saturated with lobster, looked appetizing.

Other ingredients available are bacon and French onions; ham, Parmesan, and fried Arugula; or grilled chicken and jalapeno.

Sally was doing a good job on a hickory burger garnished with cheese, bacon, hickory barbecue sauce and onion rings.

All burgers are served with a choice of house-made fries, house-made chips or a spring salad mix with house vinaigrette. She subbed with cheese grits.

Lunch manger Despina Klonaris told me Café 4 opened Dec. 1, 2008. Six members of the Klonaris family are involved in operations, including Despina’s mother, Lori, who is general manager.

I knew Despina’s grand-father, John Klonaris, as a regional salesman for GE Appliances when we sold
the brand at our Poston Furniture stores some years ago.

We had previously eaten at Kalamata Kitchen in West Knoxville, which was also operated by the Klonaris family.

TVA employees Rick and Sherri Buchanan work within walking distance of Café 4. On this cold day, Rick warmed up with firehouse chili topped with Cheddar cheese, cilantro sour cream and scallions.

Other soups available are roasted tomato bisque and roasted corn chowder.

From the small-plate selections, Sherri chose the roasted vegetable quesadilla of squash, zucchini, onion, mushrooms, pico de gallo and sour cream.

Other small-plate selections are crawfish and crab cakes with roasted corn and jalapeno hollandaise; a fried green-tomato stack served with goat cheese, red pepper relish, and balsamic reduction; or sweet corn cakes with sour cream, avocado, chipotle ranch and pico de gallo.

Previous readers of my “Out to Lunch” articles will know that I love hot dogs.

Emily Brewer, a seventh-grader at Grace Christian Academy in Knoxville, made my day when I saw her served with an all-beef Angus hot dog with cheese and banana peppers. I had already placed my order ... maybe next time.

I then reviewed the menu that offers Carolina, New York, Tennessee, chili cheese, bratwurst and sausage hot dogs. It would take six visits for me to try each one.

Emily’s mother, Robin, works at Fort Sanders West. She had a black-forest flatbread sandwich of ham and Brie with pecan spread and apples. She also added a Greek salad. I couldn’t find it on the menu, but it looked tempting.

As with many of my visits, we discovered we had a mutual acquaintance: Janice Hildebrand Santoro, who was in my graduating class at Oak Ridge High.

Robin was going to a Christmas party at Jan’s, who now lives in Kingston, about 10 minutes from my house.

Emily’s grandmother, Dorothy Crowe, had a flatbread pizza with roasted red peppers. It looked fascinating to me. I had to ask what it was, because it didn’t look like pizza.

Café 4 is open seven days a week for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Check the website or call 544-4144 for business hours.

The street level dining room seats 90 with an upstairs mezzanine loft, where you can chill out with coffee, latte, wine or a selection of unique beers plus free WiFi.

Every morning, a full downstairs bakery makes a wide variety of cupcakes that are displayed in a case as you enter. Despina recommended we try the eggnog cupcake.

Carol said she was too full, so I told our server, UT senior Matt Cottam, to bring one with two forks. Carol had a bite, and I was forced to finish the rest, which was no problem.

Despina said customer favorites are Low Country shrimp grits with andouille sausage, red peppers, onions, tomatoes and goat cheese; mac-and-cheese selections; and the flatbread sandwich of lobster, applewood bacon, wild lettuces, tomatoes, Dijon crust and smoked gouda cheese.

Café 4’s extensive menu offers steaks, salmon, linguini, soups, salads and sandwiches.

“Watching people move about Market Square, seeing the Christmas lights of downtown Knoxville and our wonderful food on this ‘Out to Lunch’ adventure made me really get the Christmas spirit,” Carol said.

Linda Widner of Townsend and Deborah King of West Knoxville made a special stop to tell the manager how much they enjoyed their lunch.

Deborah had a Mediterranean salad with humus and pita bread. It was so large I don’t think that together Carol and I could have finished the serving.

Linda had chili and a house salad on her second visit to Café 4.

On my next visit, I’m leaning toward the crawfish and crab cakes from the small-plate menu.

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Bethel Poston is a Roane County businessman and entrepreneur who writes about places of interest in our area. E-mail suggestions and comments to postonplace@bellsouth.net.