The French Market in downtown Knoxville offers UT students a side of European culture and authentic Parisian flair with their meal.
The Market opened on Gay Street in 2008. Since that time, owners Allen and Susan Tate have seen their dream evolve into one of Knoxville's premier restaurants. Allen marvels at how far they've progressed from their unassuming beginnings.
"My wife wanted to open a little art, décor, and flower shop and she suggested we do crepes on the side for fun," he said.
"We didn't have one table or chair when we first opened. Little by little, we've grown into a full blown restaurant."
Today, the Tate's crepes attract substantial crowds.
"On any given weekend, we will serve over a thousand customers in here," he calculated. "That's certainly not bad for a restaurant with only 30 chairs!"
With numbers like these, it would seem the hype generated by the couple's artfully selected menu is well merited. Crepes are available in both sweet and savory, with numerous options available in each category. Savory crepes come filled with fresh, hearty ingredients such as organic baby spinach, Roma tomatoes, marinated artichokes, sautéed mushrooms, and smoked salmon. For customers with a craving for something sweet, the Nutella, Strawberries and Crème crepe is one of the most popular on the menu.
Frequent customer and upcoming UT sophomore Lola Reinke describes her choice of savory crepe as "incredible."
"It's delicious," she said. "It's definitely a treat to have this kind of flavor right here in Knoxville."
But to say that the fanciful fare is the only draw of the French Market is to leave out an important part of its appeal. The elegant décor and atmosphere is largely Susan's vision.
She gathered inspiration during the couple's two year stay in Paris. Most of the ornamentation and furniture right down to the tables and chairs were imported from France, and genuine Parisian touches abound.
"The paint on the walls is the exact shade used in Paris on all the windowpanes," Susan said, gesturing toward the frothy, sea foam green hue.
The many framed prints adorning the walls hail originally from France, as well. These include vintage advertisements of French women in their finery, a framed Laduree bag, and colorful maps of Paris.
"On one of our trips to Paris, we brought them back. Just rolled them up in a tube and framed them when we got here!" she said.
Any artwork not imported from France is the creation of Susan and Allen themselves.
"I took some of the photographs while in Paris as did my husband. Then I printed on them on watercolor paper and painted them," she explained.
Décor is not the only authentically Parisian element of the bistro. Even the flour, both traditional and buckwheat, used to make the crepes is imported regularly from France, as are the dainty macaroons and petit-fours. Attention to detail is what helps lend the French Market some of its distinctive European charm.
"It is very reminiscent of what I would like to feel if I was going to spend an afternoon in Paris," said Reinke, who has visited the City of Lights herself. "Eating here truly feels as though you were in France, or in a fairytale. It has that way of taking you away, which is nice."