Micah Talley cut his culinary teeth at Blackberry Farm, but knew his own restaurant would combine that fine dining education with his Blount County roots.
“My dad owned and operated 411 Restaurant, which used to be this blue-collar, everyone’s quick stop in to grab breakfast before they’re heading out to work,” Micah said.
Diamond Jack, owned with his wife, Rachel Talley, opens Friday in Maryville and will offer upscale casual food in a whimsical environment.
“What we do here takes a little bit of a funky mind state for you to accept it,” Micah told Knox News. “You’re eating essentially high-quality gas station food and you’re drinking fine wine with it.”
Diamond Jack’s bar food menu includes items like Gas Station Peanuts — Georgia peanuts boiled with housemade smoked pork skins; and Little Smokey Cocktail Wieners — Super Bowl-style sausages made in-house with a simple sauce of smoked paprika, apple cider and garlic.
There’s also charcuterie from Knoxville’s new Hen + Hoc butcher shop; deviled eggs from J&M Windy Acres; a toasted Benton’s Country Ham and brie sandwich; and a brown butter chess pie made with crème fraîche and Georgia peaches.
Micah joined Blackberry Farm out of high school as a steward, eventually rising to dining room manager of the Main House and obtaining his introduction-level sommelier certification. He then spent several years as general manager at J.C. Holdway in Knoxville.
Executive chef Ashton Stroud spent time at The Tomato Head and J.C. Holdway and general manager Ben Gordon was a bartender at Blackberry Farm.
The bar will source organic and sustainable farmer-owned wines by the glass and the bottle, as well as high-end spirits and outside-the-mainstream beers from small producers.
“We want the experience to be something that’s a little bit different than what folks are getting out of this region,” Micah said. “Somewhere you can stop in and eat a few snacks and have a glass of wine or a bottle of wine and go on to another restaurant.”
Rachel, a real estate agent, decided if Micah’s life’s work was in the restaurant business, they should start their own.
The couple, high school sweethearts who have been married for six years, bought the house at 298 Highland Ave. as a residence while they eyed larger restaurant spaces. But the house, built in 1920, offered an opportunity to start small.
Micah’s mother, interior designer Jennifer Talley, based the aesthetic around his vision of a pink neon sign. Each room in the restaurant has its own look and feel with touches of whimsy, like portraits of ladies blowing bubbles with pink bubblegum.
“The bones are natural and approachable, but then each room is loud in its own right,” Gordon said.
The brand was inspired by a cartoon of the same name and Jack “Legs” Diamond, a Prohibition-era gangster who set up fly-by-night illegal drinking and gambling spots in small towns.
Knoxville artist Paris Woodhull designed the logo and the Diamond Jack character, a mustachioed gangster holding a glass of wine.
“We wanted the experience to be exclusive and kind of have a little bit of a speakeasy type vibe,” Micah said.
The house was essentially a shell when restaurants in Knoxville began closing in the spring as a reaction to the spread of COVID-19.
“That was very scary,” Rachel said. “But we knew at that point we were in it.”
The couple has scaled back on staff and hours for now and added additional outdoor seating to cope with the effects of the pandemic.
They’ve watched the Blount County food scene grow thanks to standouts like Amici Maryville, the Restaurant at RT Lodge, The Walnut Kitchen and Foothills Milling Co.
“(Our community) kind of has the opportunity to be this little mecca for food, because you have a lot of folks that end up in this region that have worked at some really great places,” Micah said.
Diamond Jack is open 2 p.m. – 10 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday at 2 p.m. – 12 a.m. Friday and Saturday.
Email business reporter Brenna McDermott at email@example.com and follow her on Twitter @_BrennaMcD.