I don’t recall how I first heard of Ola’s Southern Cuisine 2, but I’d had it on my list for a few months. Ola’s number finally came up this past weekend, when The Grub Spouse and I met at the South Knoxville location for an early dinner. The restaurant is one of the few remaining tenants in a largely abandoned shopping center on Chapman Highway.
The menu primarily revolves around seafood and soul food. Seafood options include a boil bag (featuring snow crab, shrimp, corn and potato) as well as an item called Best of Both Worlds: crab and shrimp plus sides of mac and cheese, collard greens and Angel Eggs (Ola’s take on the classic deviled eggs). I was intrigued by the Southern-fried lobster tail but wound up ordering the Asian Blazing Salmon ($28). That dish is served over white rice and comes with two sides; I went with fried okra and cornbread. I wanted to order an Angel Egg as a side, but the kitchen had run out of them for the day.
In the soul-food category, The Spouse considered entrees like curry chicken, jerk wings and the PBJ Lamb Chop meal: two chops coated with the chef’s own peanut butter and jerk-jelly glaze. The Spouse wound up getting the Smotherly Love Chicken ($17), boneless chunks of baked chicken prepared in seasoned gravy and served over a bed of rice. That meal also comes with two sides, and The Spouse got cornbread as well as mac and cheese.
For what it’s worth, Ola’s serves a number of lunch specials from 11:30 am to 2 pm These include the curry chicken and jerk wings as well as hands like Southern-fried catfish and the Atomic Dog with chips. Lunch sides include Tweezy Cheezy Garlic Bread and an Angel Egg served with shrimp.
The woman who took our order at the counter was gracious and hospitable, not to mention patient as I peppered her with question after question about specific menu items. After The Spouse and I took our seats, I took note of the spacious dining area, which is sparsely populated with tables and booths but boasts intentionally tasteful aesthetics. We were also treated to a running background track of classic soul and funk hits layered into a steadily driving dance mix.
The same woman who had taken our order brought our meals out to our table when they were ready. They were both served with packets containing plastic cutlery and napkins, but she brought us additional napkins unprompted.
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I was very pleased with everything we ordered. The tender, flaky salmon was robustly flavored and enhanced by a sweet Asian glaze. The Spouse’s smothered chicken was also yummy, thanks in large part to the distinctive notes within the gravy.
We agreed that the sweet cornbread was decent, but it wasn’t the strongest item in the lineup. Kudos to Ola’s, however, on the other sides. The mac and cheese satisfied with its creamy goodness, and the fried okra — a dish I don’t normally go out of my way to partake of — was hot, crunchy and mighty tasty. (I have to admit that fried okra is actually starting to grow on me.)
We both went halvsies on our meals and boxed up the rest for next-day enjoyment. And we agreed that we would definitely go back to Ola’s. We’re especially intrigued by the Sunday brunch menu — served 11:30 am to 2:30 pm — which features dishes like chicken and waffle, shrimp and grits, and fried catfish with grits. (They go back to the seafood and soul-food menu from 3 to 5 pm on Sundays.)
I hate to see any kind of sprawling retail center go to waste, but if nothing else, I hope tenants like Ola’s Southern Cuisine 2 can do their part to bring customers to their front doors. Based on my experience there, I’d say there’s more than enough reason for diners in search of quality seafood and soul food to justify a trip to Ola’s.
Ola’s Southern Cuisine 2
Address: 7220 Chapman Hwy.
No alcohol service
Dept. of Health Score: 100
Hours: 11:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. Wednesdays through Saturdays; 11:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sundays
Visit this South Knoxville eatery when you’re in the mood to sit down to a seafood or soul-food meal done right.