Tom + Chee Knoxville: Vegan Comfort Food
The newest Tom + Chee franchise opened on Friday in Knoxville, Tennessee to the delight of locals like me, who have been waiting for an opening date since the sign went up what seems like decades ago.
However, the lack of notice of the soup-and-sandwich chain's opening did nothing to stem the tide. I went for lunch with two friends, and the line curled around inside the restaurant until the tail almost reached the cashiers.
A restaurant representative kept us occupied during the wait (which was about 40 minutes in all, including waiting for food - not excessive given the crowd) by going down the line explaining the menu options.
And speaking of menu options, they have vegan cheese (Tom+Chee national confirmed it was Teese, by the way), so this makes just as fun and indulgent a lunch spot for us as it does for our omnivorous friends. It's not an afterthought, either—it's plastered all over the menu (and the walls!) as "vegan cheese," so there's no need to worry if the dairy-free option has casein or any other animal by-products.
By the way, it's so refreshing to be treated like an important, if small, portion of a restaurant's customer base, particularly by a franchise (The Tomato Head an Sunspot do a pretty good job of that locally).
So, that said, what can you get to eat? Good question.
You can certainly veganize some of the existing sandwich combinations, but you'll probably save money by building your own grilled cheese to be exactly what you want.
Here are your options:
Choose a bread: the white, sourdough, wheat, and rye breads are all vegan, but the gluten-free and (shocker!) glazed donut are not.
Add vegan cheese (it's listed under "Fancy Cheese"). FYI, it's the cheddar-style Teese vegan cheese.
Add toppings. Here's the list of all vegan toppings from Tom+Chee corporate: bell pepper, carrot, cucumber, diced tomato, fresh mushrooms, iceberg lettuce, fresh onion, fried onion, pickles, spicy cherry peppers, spring mix, banana, blueberry compote, dried cranberries, garlic hummus, garlic seasoning, graham crackers, lemon candy, strawberries, almonds, basil, and even potato chips (BBQ, plain, salt 'n' vinegar, and pretzels are all vegan)!
Tell them you're vegan. Even if you choose all vegan options, you still need to let them know you're vegan, because they may use butter to grill your sandwich. They list soy butter as an option, which suggest that dairy butter is the default. Make sure to be clear that you're vegan and request soy butter just to be sure.
Get a cup of soup! Both the chunky tomato and classic tomato soups are vegan. There are also soups of the day, but you'll need to check with the staff about those.
Bizarrely, none of their dressings are listed as vegan, including the balsamic vinaigrette. So maybe this isn't the best place to get a salad?
By the way, if you have other dietary requirements, Tom+Chee's allergen information reports whether each item has gluten, soy, or nut ingredients as well as animal ones.
I decided to start simple, with a grilled cheese on rye and classic tomato soup, but I'll be going back soon to try out new combinations.