Sarah E. Kucharski photos
A Litton’s classic cheeseburger glistens alongside a plentiful serving of onion rings.
Established in 1946, Litton’s Market and Restaurant is a Knoxville institution known for its award-winning burgers.
Freshness is key to the burgers’ repeated selection as East Tennessee’s Best. Choice western beef for the burgers is ground and pattied up daily, and each burger is served on a golden hued homemade bun from Litton’s own bakery. The burger is then topped with lettuce, tomato and sweet onion, and served with a side of hand-cut fries or another side of choice. To add either an enrobing of cheese or bacon is $1.29 extra.
Those in search of a monster burger won’t find it here, though the servings are ample and the side of fries quite generous. Diners eating together should go ahead and spend the extra $2.75 to substitute onion rings for an order or two of fries because there’s plenty to share. The onion rings are crispy with a blessed economy of batter breading and can be used to replace the slices of plain onion served with each burger to add an extra bit of crunch between the buns.
The Litton’s Burger itself is a classic; however, it can be gussied up with homemade chili, jalapeno, cheddar cheese and onion or, in true southern fashion, served with pimento cheese, sautéed onions, and jalapeno.
Litton’s originally was located in the small north Knoxville community of Inskip where the market offered a wide range of groceries, produce, hardware, feed and a full service gas station. Founder Eldridge Litton’s son, Edwin, grew up helping with the family business and became a partner in 1953. Together the father and son added a deli counter in 1962 and sold the first “Litton Burger” for .89 cents. The market continued on through the family. Upon returning from Vietnam, Edwin’s son Barry managed the business, and eventually the butcher by trade opened his own fresh meat market in the Fountain City neighborhood.
One day in 1981 one of Barry’s customers asked him to cook a burger on the market’s three-legged electric skilled. The next day the customer returned with four more customers, and Barry sold the rekindled “Litton Burger” with bacon on a hoagie bun for $1.99.
Meanwhile, Barry’s sister Kelly had been studying the culinary arts. She received her Certificate of Accomplishment for Rich’s Cooking school with Nathalie Dupree in 1982 and attended the Cordon Blue Cookery School Limited in London in 1983. That year, the brother and sister turned the meat market into a full service restaurant.
There is plenty to choose from at Litton’s for those looking for something other than a burger. The chicken salad uses all white meat and is finely shredded and includes minced celery, onions and sweet pickles. Blue Plate lunches change daily. Tuesdays bring fried chicken and Thursdays bring meatloaf. There’s also the choice of market favorites, which include the Jim Fielden, a hamburger steak smothers in grilled onions, a rib eye steak, filet mignon, center-cut pork chops, charbroiled chicken breast, fresh Schrod served broiled, fried or baked Boston style, sea scallops, or fried oysters when in season. Vegetarians will be limited to a salad or veggie plate with the choice of four items: baked potato, sweet potato, slaw, fresh cooked greens, dried beans, green beans, cottage cheese, soup and salad.
Along with the restaurant, Litton’s opened a bakery in 1983 under the direction of self-taught baker Lynda Jones.
Though Jones swears she would rather be back in the kitchen than out in the public, she is an absolute delight. Her philosophy is, “If I don’t like it, we don’t make it,” which is a great way to also earn recognition at East Tennessee’s Best. The two signature desserts are Key Lime Pie and Baby Jane, a cake type dessert with strawberries and white chocolate rum mousse.
Entire layer cakes are available including the decadent red velvet, classical Italian cream, rich caramel and the traditional chocolate, German chocolate and strawberry. The Neapolitan Delight cake combines chocolate, strawberry and white cake with cream cheese frosting. Cheesecakes are creative interpretations with flavors including Baileys, Snickers, amaretto, chocolate malt, white chocolate pumpkin, and strawberry. Then there’s the pie … and the cookies … and the brownies … and the bread.
Today the tradition of passing Litton’s down through the generations continues. Barry’s son Erik, who attended Johnson and Wales University in Charleston, S.C., works in the family business in preparation to one day take over management—meaning Litton’s customers can look forward to a long future of friendly, family dining.
Litton’s Market and Restaurant is informal, large and good for groups. Hours are 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Thursday, and 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday. It is closed on Sunday. Gift cards are available, as is online shopping for bakery goods.
2803 Essary Road, Knoxville, Tenn.
865.688.0429 • www.littonburgers.com