Making your way through Knoxville’s historic Fourth and Gill neighborhood, you might notice the precipitous wooden facade surrounding Elkmont Exchange before you realized the gem of a restaurant sitting behind it. Pulling into the parking lot reveals an urban oasis of rustic influence that begins before you step foot in the building. Managing partner Nick DeVore has been at the helm since October 2018, and he is committed to making this more than just a unique building by infusing that same creativity in the classic food and one-of-a-kind brews. The custom-designed space, handcrafted menu and state-of-the-art brewery make this downtown hot spot the perfect place to connect with friends and inspired tastes.
Before Elkmont Exchange opened its doors in late 2017, its creators dedicated their home at 745 North Broadway to honor the beauty and heritage of East Tennessee through every aspect of the building. Featuring topographic imagery in the fire pit and interior mural, a custom river rock bar top, and natural wood and rustic forged metal elements throughout the patio and dining space, the space truly embodies the spirit of the Smokies in even the smallest details. As a nod to the history of craftsmanship in East Tennessee, local artisans were brought in to create everything from the massive chandelier to the metal planters on the wall. Even the handrails are custom made by local artists. Their ingenuity has been recognized as recipients of the 2018 AIA East Tennessee Honor Award for Renovation/Restoration, 2018 Keep Knoxville Beautiful Orchid Award and 2018 City of Knoxville Equity Award for strengthening the community.
The commitment to artistry goes beyond outward appearances and into the menu created by Executive Chef Jesse Rossbach. During culinary school at Johnson and Wales University, Jesse fell in love with butchery, then life led him to high-volume restaurants. At Elkmont Exchange, he combines his passion and experience to offer guests quality, handcrafted plates while upholding the pace of such a large restaurant. Since he joined the team last summer, Jesse has revamped the menu to be “streamlined, cohesive and approachable,” with classic items he hopes will become staples at Elkmont, like the popular short ribs that are cured in-house.
“Being allowed to be creative translates to the guest,” Jesse says of his menu.
His goal is to offer recognizable items people know, made better and unique by doing everything in-house, from making sauces to curing and smoking meat. Rotating seasonal vegetables and spices allows him to keep the menu fresh while incorporating as many local ingredients as he can find. He’s not trying to reinvent the wheel with off-the-wall recipes, but he is passionate about giving people the food they want to keep coming back for.
“As long as you respect the process, it’s going to come out alright,” Jesse says.
His favorite dish is the sauteed trout, sourced directly from North Carolina mountain farms. He pairs it with roasted butternut squash, caramelized onions and sauteed spinach and is served in lemon butter sauce. Jesse is also looking to make more items that incorporate the foundation of Elkmont Exchange: the beer.
The unique brews featured on Elkmont Exchange’s 24 taps are made possible by its state-of-the-art brewery, featuring a mash filter, one of only two of its kind in Tennessee. Unlike most brewing equipment, which requires soaking processed grains in large vats, the mash filter makes the same strength beer using fewer raw materials and less water, therefore a lower impact on the environment. This also allows for using uncommon ingredients, like unmalted grains, spices, fruits, coffee and even hemp. Brewmaster Chris Meadows compares traditional brewing equipment to drip coffee whereas the mash filter is more like espresso.
Chris also enjoys the opportunity to partner with other local artisans and makers to create fun and delicious new flavors. The Big Hempin’ IPA is a collaboration with Blühen Botanicals that uses hemp seed and terpenes for a recognizable aroma, while the Siduri brew was created to benefit the Pink Boots Society, which empowers women in the brewing industry. It’s the creativity and innovation that makes Chris excited about leading the team at Elkmont Exchange.
“The owners empowering us [artisans] to do what we can and like to do lends more authenticity to our products,” Chris says, “because the makers have more control in what they make.”
Inspired by local history, rustic flavors and challenging collaborations, Chris most loves the interesting alchemy of brewing at Elkmont Exchange.
“I love taking similar ingredients that everyone has available, then transforming something common into something really unique that people enjoy.”