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Emma’s Southern Kitchen offers classic Southern cuisine and more

Knoxville News Sentinel

Driving down Sutherland Avenue recently, I noticed Emma’s Southern Kitchen for the first time. I was excited about stumbling upon a restaurant that was new to me. I had previously dined at that location when Stock Burgers was there. Later, it became The Burgers (I reviewed the Lenoir City location but not the Sutherland one). In fact, the owners of The Burgers were responsible for the Emma’s concept, which focuses on Southern cuisine.

The Grub Spouse and I dropped in for dinner recently and found the parking lot jam-packed because of a private party that had booked the patio. We finally improvised a parking space, and as we approached the entrance, we saw absolutely no mask usage other than our own. Not among the guests inside the restaurant, not with the staff, not with the crowd of folks packed onto the patio.

We did find an isolated two-top in the dining room and few other patrons in our immediate vicinity, so we decided to stay inside instead of doing carryout. Our server did not wear a mask, so we kept ours on when interacting with him.

The menu starts with staples like fried pickles, wings, and chips and salsa. We were curious about their fried mushrooms ($8), so we placed an order to kick the meal off. Emma’s goes way south with a lineup of taco dishes, and you’ll find a fair number of meal-size salad selections, including a Caesar, taco salad and balsamic-covered greens featuring grilled chicken or jumbo shrimp.

If you’re in the mood for something handheld, you could try one of their four Runabout sandwiches or one of four styles of burgers (I’m not sure if any of these are carryovers from The Burgers days). The Spouse got the Cuban sandwich ($10), prepared in traditional style with thinly sliced pork loin, black forest ham, Swiss cheese, pickles and mustard on a roll from Flour Head Bakery.

I looked over a section of entrees called Ms. Emma’s Soul of the South, which features chopped steak, fried chicken tenderloin, fish and chips, Charleston shrimp and a veggie plate. I went with the chicken-fried chicken ($11) – a fried breast piece topped with white sausage gravy, mashed potatoes and a choice of another side. I ordered broccoli. (You’ll see later why I’m belaboring this particular point, but The Spouse and I agreed that indeed requested broccoli and that our server repeated it back to me, and I confirmed it.)

Our mushrooms came out first. They were juicy and piping hot, not a bad experience. But overall, no big surprises here in the world of frozen, deep-fried ‘shrooms. Our entrees came out a little later. The first thing I noticed was a side dish of Brussels sprouts instead of broccoli. I pointed out the error, and our server said a replacement broccoli would be right out.

As for the rest of the meal, some parts were better than others. The Cuban sandwich was one of the higher points, but the side of okra The Spouse ordered with it was par for the course. I could say the same about the fried chicken breast and mashed potatoes, although I do give Emma’s kudos on their scratch-made sausage gravy. Even the bite of Brussels sprouts I tasted was a very good effort, in my opinion.

By the time I finished my meal, the substitute broccoli still had not arrived. In the meantime, we both ordered one of their homemade banana puddings ($3 each). I thought highly of this particular recipe, from the thick, creamy filling to the ground wafer bits to the on-target ratio of banana slices. Just as we finished our desserts, the side of steamed broccoli finally arrived. We put it in a to-go box along with half the Cuban and half the mushrooms.

If I were basing a decision on whether I’d return to Emma’s based purely on the food, I’m not sure the overall product would compel me to give it another shot. And when I factor in negligent service (a comped dessert or two might have smoothed some of my ruffled feathers) and the total disregard for mask protocol, I can safely say that my return to this particular address will only occur when a new restaurant is occupying it.

Emma’s Southern Kitchen

Food: 3.75

Service: 3

Atmosphere: 3.75

Overall: 3.5

Address: 3701 Sutherland Ave.

Phone: 865-801-9116

Full bar service

Kids’ menu

Hours: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays

This Sutherland Avenue eatery’s menu offers Southern classics as well as tacos, salads, burgers and more.

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