David Rule is home. After two stints at the renowned Tennessee restaurant and hotel Blackberry Farm, including one as the butcher, the chef is opening his first restaurant in his hometown of Maryville, Tennessee. “I don’t know that I know any different because I’ve never really lived anywhere else,” Rule says. “These are my people.”
Rule built the Walnut Kitchen with his people in mind. Marysville, a city 15 miles southeast of Knoxville, is “overwhelmed with large chain restaurants,” according to Rule. With the Walnut Kitchen, he aims to provide more of a balance: “My goal is to simply offer this region a really good dining option.”
The seasonal menu will highlight the charcuterie skills Rule developed at Blackberry Farm under the late proprietor Sam Beall. Dried beef, cured meats, and other “neat presentations [of] proteins” will dominate, but the chef is also eager to cook vegetables. “I missed vegetables while I was focusing on the meat, so we plan to do both great.”
A small retail butcher counter will give Maryville residents the opportunity to take home the local beef, pork, poultry, lamb, and fish that Rule plans to serve. Plus, the Walnut Kitchen’s location, on a route that leads to Great Smoky Mountains National Park, means that the retail operation, which will also offer burgers, steaks, chicken, and other meats, will fulfill national park visitors’ grilling needs.
Walnuts, however, will not feature prominently. The restaurant’s name actually comes from three black walnut trees Rule took from two different farms he visited while sourcing ingredients. Rule milled the trees, and they now form the restaurant’s table tops, bars, and wood accents that appear throughout the space. To this he added rusty tin and hundred-year-old oak slats from demolished farm buildings for a look that is “rustic, but by design.”
Now, with a full staff that’s ready to open — hopefully by the end of the week — Rule looks forward to the Walnut Kitchen becoming an everyday restaurant for the people of Maryville. “From a price point standpoint, we’ve managed to stay at a place where people shouldn’t be afraid to come in here on a regular Tuesday night,” he says.
But given Rule’s fine-dining experience, for special occasions, he’ll offer a six-course tasting menu served at seats by the open kitchen. But, Rule reiterates, “day-to-day, if you want to come in, get a good steak, a good burger, good seasonal vegetables and not have to dress up to do it, we’re definitely that place.”
Here now, take a look around the Walnut Kitchen:
• The Walnut Kitchen [Official]