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





Tomato Head Open Call for Artists

The Tomato Head is accepting submissions for its 2016  art exhibition schedule. Artists may submit a CD or email of 5-10 images of wall-mountable work to:

Tomato Head Exhibits Committee (for CDs)
c/o Bethann DeGrow Smtih
1710 Jefferson Avenue
Knoxville, TN 37917


Labeled CDs are requested by October 26th, 2015. Please include a brief bio, artist statement and sizes for each piece of work submitted.

For more information, contact Bethann DeGrow at 865-546-6852

Flour Head Bakery’s Chocolate Zucchini Pan Cake

If you polled farmers about garden humor, I suspect that you’d find out that the poor, prolific zucchini is a popular subject for jokes. That’s because, like rabbits, this summer squash greets life with a singular drive to be fruitful and multiply. I have one gardener friend who tells tales about drive-by squashings; these midnight capers involve sneaking from house to house to leave big bags of the squash on the doorsteps of unsuspecting neighbors, all in an effort to make sure that the squash glut gets eaten – just by somebody else.

That’s why we have recipes galore for zucchini; from bread to cookies, thrifty and clever cooks have found all sorts of ways to use up legions of the rapid reproducer, and do it in a way that combats the inevitable squash fatigue that comes with late summer.

But what’s really great about these recipes is that they’re also excellent options for the devious parent who stays awake at night plotting ways to sneak vegetables into the food of their unsuspecting offspring.

There’s almost an industry about his kind of cunning cooking. You might remember some flack over the publication of Jessica Seinfeld’s cookbook, Deceptively Delicious, which involved accusations of plagiarism by the author of a similar cookbook that dealt with sneaking good food into kids’ diets.

Well, there’s no controversy with this recipe – it’s all ours and comes from the tried and true food resource that is Mahasti’s kitchen. It’s a chocolate sheet cake that’s not only delicious, it’s also easy to transport – and that’s a boon for tailgating, picnicking, and all sorts of places where you might want to accomplish the dastardly deed of feeding little people squash and making them love every minute of it.

The key to sneaking good vegetable matter from the garden and into your kid is subtlety.  So make this when the kids are not around. Or at least have the secret ingredient already prepped and ready to add to the recipe in a flash while you distract your kid with something like taking out the trash (even if you don’t succeed in assigning the chore, the inevitable whining will keep the juvenile mind occupied long enough for you to slip the zucchini into the batter unnoticed). And don’t be tempted to shortcut on the grinding or grating of the squash; you don’t want the vegetable to look anything like itself! After all, if you can’t see it or taste it – it isn’t really there. With this recipe – all they’ll taste is delicious.

One of the byproducts of using zucchini is that it adds lots of moisture to the cake, so it’s really tender. And in addition to the nutritional value of the vegetable, this recipe uses whole wheat flour in addition to white – so it’s a treat that you can feel pretty good about serving. Even with these nods to healthy eating, the cake remains a decadent taste sensation. From the first mouthwatering bite of cake and indulgent dark chocolate frosting the cake is chocolate, glorious chocolate, all chocolate and nothing but the chocolate. You’ll probably find yourself wanting to make this even when the garden isn’t overwhelmed with squash production.

Flour Head Bakery’s Chocolate Zucchini Pan Cake

1 stick unsalted butter

1/2 cup vegetable oil

1.5 cups sugar

1 tsp vanilla

2 eggs

1/2 cup buttermilk

3 cups finely shredded zucchini

1.5 cups All purpose lfour

1 cup White Wheat flour

3/4 cup cocoa powder

1 tsp baking soda

1/2 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp salt


1-1/2 cups dark chocolate chips

1/2 cup half and half

Melt the butter in a small saucepan over medium heat. In a large bowl mix together melted butter, oil, sugar, vanilla, eggs, and buttermilk. Add zucchini and stir well.

In another large bowl whisk together the dry ingredients. Pour the wet ingredients into the bowl with the dry ingredients and whisk until all the dry ingredients are mixed well with the wet.

Pour the mixture into a 9 inch x 13 inch greased foil pan and bake in a 325 degree oven for 30-25 minutes until the top feels springy or a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Allow cake to cool.

While cake is cooing, heat half-and-half on the stove in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add chocolate chips, and remove from heat. Whisk the mixture until all the chips have melted. When the cake is cool to the touch, pour the chocolate mixture on top of the cake and spread out with a spatula or the back of a spoon.

Cut the cake into squares and serve right out of the pan.

The Season is the Reason for the First Tomato Head-Saw Works Collaborative Beer

The Tomato Head has partnered with Saw Works Brewing Company to create the anniversary beer honored after our 25th anniversary this August. It will be featured during our party on August 29th on Market Square, but otherwise it is only available in the Saw Works tasting room and at both Tomato Head locations.

The style of the anniversary beer is probably not what you would expect from Saw Works’ typically straightforward beer styles. The body is similar to a Scottish Shilling or English Mild, with a twist of chocolate rye malt. Neutral bittering hops keep earthy flavors out of the beer. The result is an ale body with chocolate rye notes that are usually found in darker beers.  The anniversary beer is the perfect transition from late summer to fall. The body is light enough to drink in August’s heat, while the flavor looks forward to the coming season.

Scott, co-owner of The Tomato Head, came up with the recipe for this beer for everyone to boogie with while they get down to Scott Miller and the Commonwealth and a slew of great musicians playing at The Tomato Head anniversary party starting at 4:00 p.m. on August 29th. As a special treat, you don’t have to wait until then to try the special beer.  It is already on tap at both Tomato Head locations at this very moment, so take a break from whatever you’re doing to taste the fruits of this rare moment in local history.

Silver Anniversary Ale

© 2016 The Tomato Head Site by: Robin Easter Design