Sweeten up your Thanksgiving with our holiday pies!

Tomato Head Thanksgiving Pies Are Now Available!

Our autumn-inspired flavors include Spencer Mountain Farm sweet potato, Shwab Farm apple, and pecan. You can also order vegan and gluten-free versions of each 9″ pie. Regular and vegan versions are $29.50. Gluten-free pies are $32.50.

Just stop by the bakery counter at either location, or call 12 Market Square at 637-4067 or 7240 Kingston Pike at 584-1075 by the close of business this Saturday to place your order. Pies will be ready for pickup the Tuesday and Wednesday before Thanksgiving.

Yum Yum Yum!

Holiday Pies

Holiday Pies

November’s Featured Artist: Sheila Lutringer

This month at Tomato Head the walls feature a broad assortment of work from artist Sheila Lutringer. It’s an intriguing exhibit that includes mostly acrylics and some pencil, but the subjects are eclectic and run the gamut from self-portrait to pie – all of which reflect the artist’s broad range of interests and inspirations (and a few of our own).

The pieces vary in size, but one near constant is a vivid sense of color and detail. She says “I love color and movement. I’m using a lot of the color spectrum, but at some point, I’d like to work with a more limited palette. Sometimes less is more, but right now, there is a ton of color. It’s part of my current journey to wherever the next visual stop is.“

Her style is generally varied, though Sheila opines that “My work at The Tomato Head really is the best reflection of what I’ve been doing artistically lately. Pieces like “Blue Thoughts” and “Peridot” are my favorites. Mostly I describe my style as “hand-drawn.” Cross-hatching and other shading techniques, as well as the layering of color, are really interesting to me right now. There is a looseness I’m trying to control in a lot of my work. There are some tighter pieces where a face is involved or where there are minute details as in a teeny landscape, but in general, there is drawing in my painting.”

Sheila’s one of those lucky people who’s been certain of her vocation from early on; she recalls that “I was the kid who was praised for her art in 1st grade and so decided then and there that she would be an artist. I felt sure of it all my young life.”

Like several of the artists that we’ve featured on our walls, Sheila is keen on encouraging young interest in art: “Mom & Dad always called me their artist. I appreciate that they built a confidence in that.”  And that’s something that’s particularly important to her these days because, she says, her constant companion is her 2 year old daughter.

“She loves coloring with her washable markers and crayons. Play-doh is also a favorite medium. It’s amazing to see her improve in her dexterity and imagination each week. Perhaps she has an artistic future, but whatever she does, I hope to be as encouraging to her as my parents were to me. “

Sheila Lutringer

Sheila Lutringer

Our love for National Peanut Butter Month

At last, the chill of autumn seems to have arrived, and with it comes a heightened sense of holidays. There are an incredible number of things to celebrate, including a fete for which we are truly grateful: National Peanut Butter Month. Actually, there are a whole bunch of food products that claim November as their month; but to our minds only peanut butter seems worth the fuss – of course, that’s due to the fact that peanut butter is so very, very lovable, and its appeal can last a lifetime.

My family had the typical, usually loose rules about food: clean your plate; don’t spoil your appetite with snacks; eat your peas. And most of those didn’t bother me much once I learned how to push food around my plate and hide peas in my pockets. There were, however, more onerous restrictions, killjoys really, about how to eat certain things; and those really bugged me. After all, they were silly rules, like, “Don’t drink milk out of the carton” and “You can’t eat peanut butter straight from the jar!”

Who among us, I ask you, can resist the urge to lick peanut butter right off the spoon and plunge it back into the jar for a second helping?!? Even as an adult I still lick the spoon, though I have let go of the urge to double dip – not out of a new found maturity, per se, it’s just that I’m always embarrassed when, inevitably, I get caught. Even so, I’ve progressed from the first time when I was caught, quite literally, with my hands in the peanut butter jar. Even as my mother swatted my hands away for a second scoop, I was thinking, yeah, this is worth it.

I don’t know what it is about Peanut Butter that creates such longings, but at Tomato Head we celebrate it every day in one way or another. If you’ve yet to try our peanut butter cookie, you just need to go do that now. It’s a tender little bit of heaven that strikes a craveable balance between cookie sweetness and the habit-forming flavor of peanut butter. And our baker (with a wicked grin, I’m sure) tops the cookie with a nearly irresistible pool of chocolate glaze that makes it hard not to eat the cookie in about 10 seconds flat.

Of course, there’s another worthwhile holiday lurking about the corner near the end of this month, and it’s one that particularly suited for our other favorite nutty indulgence: Peanut Butter Pie.

Resistance is futile once this pie is on the table. We take a lot of rich, creamy peanut butter and blend it with cream cheese to create an enticing fluff to fill up a chocolate crust. Once we add a little chocolate topping, it becomes a seriously beautiful dessert that never weighs us down or makes our fingers too sticky.

And in the midst of all this nutty happiness, we’re going to tell you part of our secret for unforgettable peanut butter ecstasy. It’s something you can do at home – and, honestly, it’s a treat you and yours deserve. It’s a simple matter of using all natural and trans-fat free peanut butter.  It’s a difference that’s worth looking for; it tastes better, and it’s better for you, whether it’s in a cookie, pie or straight off the spoon.

We hope to see you soon for a little peanut party to celebrate this special month.  And if you like to eat your peanut butter pie without utensils, that’s okay by us – after all, it’s finger licking good and, although we can’t speak for mamma, we certainly won’t slap your hands.

Inverted Peanut Butter Cup Cupcakes

Inverted Peanut Butter Cup Cupcakes

November’s Featured Brewery: Highland Brewing Company

There are many things to love about Asheville; it’s not only a pretty cool city to have close enough to us to call a neighbor, but it’s also the home of great beer. For the month of November, we’re particularly thankful that the Highland Brewing Company lives just over the mountains.

Highland, Asheville’s first legal brewery, embodies most of the things we love about a brewery. Of course, the brew tastes fantastic, but also the brewery’s whole culture grows from a positive perspective. The company’s founder and chief bottle washer, Oscar Wong, runs the company with a mantra: Honesty, Integrity, Respect. And that informs everything from workplace attitudes and relationships with suppliers to real care for the beer itself and the smart people who drink it!

And Oscar is one of those lead by example types; so his belief in giving back to his community leads not only to his personal active involvement with charitable organizations, but it also means that Highland Brewing keeps its helping hands busy with good causes like Southern Appalachian Highlands ConservancyAdopt-a-Stream, and Manna Food Bank, among others.

In addition to that good work, the Brewery makes a concerted and successful effort at being really nice to all of our taste buds. And November makes a perfect time to show your gratitude for all the blood, sweat and hops that Highland puts into their causes. This month we’ll feature a variety of Highland brews that will tickle your beer loving buds to no end, including a couple of special offerings that won’t last long.

We’re happy to offer some of the froth from the Brewery’s two new series!

First up, we’ll offer something from the Kinsman Series which features blends of all natural ingredients into their existing Flagship beers. We borrowed this info from Highland’s Website:

“Head Brewer Hollie Stephenson describes the series as, ‘All natural – whole or chopped spices; fresh, chopped, pureed, or dried fruit; oak spirals – and not in extract or concentrate form. Ingredients will be local where feasible and as fresh as possible. For example, we hand-cut the dried chipotle peppers and hand-cut and scraped the vanilla pods and beans that went into the Black Mocha Stout.’”

We’ll have the Black Mocha Stout (with Madagascar Bourbon vanilla beans, dried chipotle peppers, whole cinnamon sticks and Nicaraguan Cocoa Nibs from the French Broad Chocolate Lounge) on tap until it runs out, so get a move on!

Then we’ll move on to the Warrior Series, which Highland describes as a product with “bold aromas and flavors, often high gravity, styles will vary widely and will be released a few times per year in limited quantities of kegs and 12-ounce four packs.”

Our first Warrior will be the high-gravity Blackwatch: “It’s a double chocolate milk stout named for Scotland’s Black Watch, the historic military regiment that protected the Highlands. Brewed with five malts, roasted barley, flaked oats and one pound of cocao nibs per barrel, we created a rich, high-gravity ale reminiscent of brownie batter and marshmallows with an aromatic nose and a lingering dark chocolate finish. Contains lactose and cacao nibs.”

In the 3rd week of the month you’ll want to keep your own watch for the arrival of Cold Mountain Winter Ale. It’s a seasonal brew and a highly anticipated entry into the beer world!

Highland has a good description and some considered advice: “Our spiced winter seasonal complements all your holiday festivities. It’s typically malty in body, lightly hopped, and rounded out with a delicious mix of spices that vary from year to year as we search for the best vanilla, hazelnut and other flavors. If you see it in the store, don’t wait!”

We hope that they’ve allocated enough for us to last through the end of the month. We hope.

But make sure that you also take the time to grab a pint of Thunderstruck Coffee Porter. It’s a “robust porter has a full body with some hints of chocolate from the Chocolate Malt and Midnight Wheat. The mild hop aroma showcases the roasted flavors and subtle fruit and spice notes of the artisan fair-trade, organic coffee, roasted in the neighboring town of Black Mountain at Dynamite Roasting Company.”

It’s a fantastic month to celebrate all the wonderful things that help make life good. And so we’re reminded of the over-quoted but always good to remember thought that “Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy.”

Happy November!

Oscar Wong from Highland Brewing Company

Oscar Wong from Highland Brewing Company

Our Featured Artist: Barbara Johnson

When you visit Tomato Head this month, you’ll be amidst a series of paintings that are full of images that are industrial and/or mechanical. But, if you’ll take a moment to consider each one and let them sink in while you sit and eat, you may find yourself asking what it is you really saw.

The collection on display this month is from the Mendelson Series composed by local artist Barb Johnson. The images are drawn from photographs that Barb took while visiting Mendelson’s Liquidation Warehouse in Dayton, Ohio. The choice to paint disconnected parts of old machinery may not strike you as an obvious choice, but Barb was captivated: “The light was coming in in such an interesting way, and there were so many things about the pieces as far as texture and color and shape that drew me to them.”

As for what draws her eye to anything she might paint, Barb says, “In so many artist statements I see this over and over again, and I would have to repeat it: light. The way the light falls on objects or changes them, their mood.  Light intrigues me. But as far as subject matter it’s hard to say. I like still life and landscape, but it’s funny when I took these photographs I thought I want to paint these things.”

As the idea for the series formed, though, an interesting thought occurred to her about the objects and the elements of life that they represented: “What got me about it was the fact that there were rows and rows of old machinery and mechanical pieces. Obviously they’re aged, and I think that someone used these for their occupation. They were productive, and now they’re just lying there to be refurbished or thrown away; and sometimes, unfortunately, that’s what happens to some people.”

And as she painted, Barb noticed a curious phenomenon: “It’s funny, I would paint them and stand back and say, wow look at that face. And I would have other people say, ‘Do you see a face in that?’ I would say, I do, do you?”

Even so, Barb isn’t interested in telling you what to see or worrying too much about it. In fact, after 15 years as a teacher, one lesson that she’s learned as well as any is that you can’t let worry about what people think destroy your creative drive: “When I taught I had general art, advanced art and Advanced Placement students – I had the whole gamut. And kids would come in and say, ‘I can’t do art.’ Unfortunately, that’s brought on by someone who says to them, ‘You’re not really an artist’. For me art isn’t about creating a thing to hang on the wall; it’s something you can do to fulfill yourself.”

“You have do it for yourself and not worry about what ‘they’ think about it. You fight the inner critic all the time. I have to tell myself, just keep going. If I feel that it’s right, that it’s working in the composition, I keep going.”

In addition to pursuing her own work Barb still teaches, but she offers private lessons now. And her experience leads her to one consistent piece of advice for anyone who is drawn to art: “Get the basics down and take those and run with them. And paint and paint and paint.”

“I have a student who says, ‘I just do this because I love it, not to put it up on a wall.’ I think that’s where we all ought to be.”

Barbara Johnson Art

Barbara Johnson Art

Celebrate National Pizza Month with us!

If you read our last post, then you know that we’re in the midst of National Dessert Month. And yet, that’s only one part of the story of October.  One of the most important holidays of the year is already upon us, but it’s one that we never stop celebrating. Unlike Christmas and Thanksgiving, which are typically limited to the last quarter of the year, here at Tomato Head National Pizza Month is like the song that never ends – it just goes on and on my friends, but at our restaurant it gets better with each round.

Even though Mahasti didn’t really start out with pie in her eyes, there was a big pizza oven in our original space that she couldn’t overlook, let alone move. Of course, hindsight being 20/20, we wouldn’t have it any other way – and we suspect that neither would many of our friends and guests.

Even though the month has a lot of neat designations that honor the foods we love, for us October is bittersweet – like anybody we look forward to the good times and fun stuff that start with this month, but it also means that the Farmer’s Markets are closing and so too the season of the really fresh, local produce that inspires many of our pizza specials. But the end isn’t here yet; there’s still some good stuff coming from our farming friends.

So this month we’re celebrating pizza in high style with a special that features some of the beautiful, organically farmed bok choy and organic Chinese long beans that we’re getting from local growers. Bok choy, a Chinese cabbage, shows up all around town (it’s even in stock at the Fellini Kroger), but Chinese long beans haven’t quite made it to the average Knoxville shop (though, Lowe’s has carried the seed on and off for several years).

The long bean comes from a prolific and pretty vine that’s actually more closely related to the southern cowpea than it is other green beans. And that sucker is long – it can easily grow to over a foot in length, even longer if you let it go to seed. Its scientific name includes the designation sesquipedalis, which is also the source of a very long and polysyllabic word, sesquipedalian which, unsurprisingly, means having many syllables.

What’s most important about our long beans is that they’re fresh, local, organic and on a pizza. This special pie is veggie rich, redolent of the East, and has a homemade kick. Mahasti and the mad scientists in the Tomato Head Test Kitchen have piled the long beans, bok choy, red peppers, chicken, and roasted peanuts on top of a white pizza with a soy, brown sugar sauce. The kick comes from our housemade kimchi – a spicy Korean relish that’s based on fermented cabbage (which, according to some, is a good cure for the morning-after).

There are so many flavor associations going here that it fires almost all of our taste bud pistons from sweet to savory.  You’ll have to grab a bite to believe just how good it is. The combination of these tastes makes a special kind of flavor party that’s perfect for our celebration. So get your party hats on, grab some napkins and tuck in – pizza month is here, and we can’t wait to share it!

Chinese Long Beans

Why October makes perfect sense as National Dessert Month

The scent of autumn takes on many nuances as it wafts through October. There are smoky gusts of bonfires in the air, a musty, earthy smell swirls from the trees alongside multi-colored leaves, and beneath all of that the air itself has a new and brisk scent that’s as crisp as it feels. Inside, the fragrance of home changes too, from baskets of fresh apples, pears and the smell of baking which takes on richer, sweeter tones as the year begins to fade.

It makes perfect sense that October is the month we celebrate desserts. It is, after all, the month for treats (and a few tricks, too), plus the weather affords cooler days and warmer kitchens and stimulates the appetite for baked goods. Of course, we keep delicious treats handy all year round, but somehow they taste sweeter once October rolls around.  Maybe we feel like we’re in training for the feast days that lie ahead? Regardless, it’s a sweet month, and while our celebrations include the familiar abundance of tender cookies and cupcakes piled high with thick frosting, it’s the best time of year for a sweet we don’t see as often as we’d like: sweet potato pie.

It can be difficult to pin down the origin of any recipe, but it seems likely that this dessert springs like sweet water from the foul well that was plantation life in the colonial South. In fact one of the first, if not only cookbooks published by a former slave, Abby Fisher’s What Mrs. Fisher Knows About Southern Cooking, published in c. 1881, includes a pretty straightforward recipe for our featured treat. Whether it was adapted from European traditions or the evolution of an African recipe, the dessert has become a soul food staple and what author and baker Rose McGhee calls the “sacred dessert of black culture.”

If you grew up with your mother’s sweet potato pie recipe, then of course you’ve already had the best rendering of the treat. Even so, we’re pretty confident that you’ll enjoy our version that sits regally in a tender crust; it’s a traditional recipe that has the added advantage of using local sweet potatoes – it’s worth a trip to the restaurant.

But then, good dessert is always worth the effort – especially since our world class bakers are hard at it to make National Dessert Month as sweet as possible.  As the month goes along, you can expect to see more flavors of autumn show up in our dessert case – I hear that there are some ginger treats on the way that are good enough to wake the dead!  But for now, you and your sweet tooth can look forward to good stuff in cupcake form including the likes of Chocolate Stout, Vegan Pumpkin Chocolate Chip and Gluten Free Apple Walnut! Now that’s a way to celebrate!


October’s Featured Brewery: Yee-Haw Brewing Company

There’s something special brewing at Tomato Head in October – well, it’s not actually brewing here, but it is flowing happily from our taps. What makes our taps so special this month is that what’s coming out of them epitomizes everything we love in beer: the beer tastes good; the brewery offers a nice variety of styles; and all this goodness comes from right here in East Tennessee – only about 90 minutes from either of our locations. We’re talking about Yee-Haw Brewing Company, an East Tennessee craft brewery located on Buffalo Street in Johnson City.

For many Knoxvillians Yee Haw isn’t just a beer or the noise you make when mounting an old tire swing to propel you from the bank to the river, it’s also the name of a now closed print shop that produced some of Knoxville’s most iconic and distinguishable posters, handbills, and old-fashioned church fans. Yee Haw Industries closed a little over 3 years ago, but the press’ co-founder Kevin Bradly and Joe Baker, one of the Brewery’s owners are longtime friends. In addition to the name, Kevin’s work at Yee Haw Industries has been an important inspiration for the brewery’s logo and imagery.

The beer, though, has another branch of noble lineage. Brewmaster Brandon Greenwood comes to Yee-Haw by way of a little brewery called Lagunitas. He’s also an organic chemist with a penchant for perfection, which means that he spends a lot of time in Yee-Haw’s state of the art lab making sure that the beer is consistently delicious.

After all, the most important thing is the beer itself, and Yee-Haw beers are all in good nick, as you can taste for yourself. We’re pouring Yee-Haw’s Pale Ale, Pilsner, Dunkel, Eighty Shilling, and a seasonal Oktoberfest at both Tomato locations.

Yee-Haw’s Pale Ale gives a really nice sense of the brewery’s ethos: balance. You’ll find plenty of hops here but no make-your-mouth-shrivel bitterness; there’s a good dollop of malt that brings some sweetness and, therefore, balance to the flavor.

The Pilsner makes for a perfect antidote to the season of fading light. It’s light, bright, and comforting, and it shows a nicely crisp personality that will send your mind floating to the wilds of Bohemia. It’s also a nice match for food – it’s a great refresher alongside our #2 pizza with Benton’s Bacon, ham & Andouille Sausage. But it’s a versatile beer that’s works equally well with light, mild food and/or anything with a lot of spice.

If Bohemia isn’t your ideal drinking inspiration then perhaps you’d prefer to hop over to Bavaria with a draft of Yee Haw’s Munich Dunkel. This classic German dark lager was the first of Brewmaster Brandon’s frothy loves. You’ll understand once you taste it; rich, but not heavy, it’s a complex beer to savor.

Eighty Shilling is fairly light for the Yee Haw range. Here’s what the brewery has to say: “Decidedly smooth with the slightest bit of sweetness, grab ahold of our Eighty Shilling Scottish ale. The best of both worlds, hops play second fiddle here with just enough bitterness to complement the malt-driven notes of caramel and toffee.

The seasonal beer is of course, Oktoberfest, which the brewery describes as, “A traditional, malty German amber lager, our Märzen Oktoberfest is one seasonal you won’t want to miss. Munich malt is at the heart of this beer. You’ll enjoy clean, rich and toasty flavors without sweetness thanks to an ever so slight hop bitterness.”

Yee Haw Tap Handles

Our Featured Artist: Jessica Payne Art

From now until October 5, Tomato Head features the many-hued and luminous paintings of Jessica Payne. One of our favorite local artists, Jessica’s work fills the space with vivid color and imagery that never fails to excite conversation. One of her favorite memories is when, “I was eating at the downtown Tomato Head during one of my exhibits a few years ago, and I saw a family in the middle of the room looking around and discussing my paintings.  At one point a little girl, maybe 8 or 9 years old, went up to look closer and immediately turned around and with a frown said, ‘Mommy it’s already sold.’”

Jessica grew up in Knoxville as the youngest of six in a long line of artists, and drawing and painting were hobbies that she came by naturally – both her father and grandmother spent their free time putting color on canvas.

But while she took art classes and thought at times that her career might veer toward the arts, it was only after she took a degree in Social Work and Women’s studies and started a path to law school that she felt a tug to a more creative vocation.

It was in the week of her 25th birthday while she sat outdoors when she committed to a different way of life: “I spent my birthday weekend sitting and observing so many beautiful things that had been around me for a long time. I felt an intuitive pull to change my life in a drastic way.”

Promptly thereafter, Jessica joined Americorps where her urge to create found expression in the earth as she worked to help establish Beardsley Farm; later the same urge would lead her to study cooking, until finally through a variety of online courses and her own drive, she found both an approach and technique for painting that helped unlock her artistic life.

She says: “A huge thing I learned from artist Flora Bowley, after taking her online course Brave Intuitive Painting, is to keep painting until something works.” This approach helps keep Jesssica’s creative energy in flow, and it works in conjunction with her technique of layering.

“I find something that works and then focus on that. If it doesn’t work, I paint over it. I often keep painting over my canvas until something clicks or sparks with me. This opens the door to the philosophical idea of non-attachment. I’m not afraid to paint over something that I spent a while creating if it no longer works/looks pretty.”

Jessica’s technique results in vibrant and multi-faceted imagery that contains the genuine chaos of natural creativity that, she says, eventually evolves into order: “After I have a few layers of marks and colors, I like to take my painting outside and look at it far away. I like to see if I can see any images in the painting…sort of like seeing images in clouds.  Sometimes I see birds, mountains, vases, trees. Working and expanding upon what is already there after the spontaneous marks, is part of my process, too. This process is so fun and mysterious.”

One of the most fun aspects of Jessica’s art is that her paintings often shine. She says, “I love things that sparkle.  My inner five year old is always ready to play with glitter! Because of the use of glitter and mica, my paintings change when the light source changes. There are many times when I walk by a painting and it sparkles so much that it looks like it is plugged into electricity. When the sun hits a painting with glitter, it glows.”

The color, the variety of imagery, not to mention the playful use of glitter and mica, give our featured artist’s work a liveliness that almost leaps from the walls in a joyful celebration of the beauty that surrounds us and lives inside us, too.

Don’t let it pass you by.

Jessica Payne Art





© 2016 The Tomato Head Site by: Robin Easter Design