Knoxville, TN — Road food. It’s one of the things I love most about traveling. Burgers, BBQ, and Beer: the 3 B’s of life on the road (but I don’t indulge in the beer until the motorcycle is parked for the evening). Traveling provides the best excuse for eating the stuff I don’t usually have at home.

Last fall, I rode from Orlando to Knoxville to trace Tennessee’s “White Lightning Trail” for an upcoming article in Rider magazine. I wanted to ride the infamous “Thunder Road,” a loosely-defined network of back roads used by moonshiners back in the day to outrun the revenue agents who pursued them. Tennessee has embraced its likkered-up history and has even mapped out a route in the southeastern portion of the state that lets you follow in the footsteps of the bootleggers and moonshiners.

First stop in Knoxville: Litton’s Market, Restaurant & Bakery. Litton’s is known for its great burgers and desserts. I looked forward to trying their signature “Thunder Road” burger—1/2 pound of fresh ground beef topped with pimiento cheese, sauteed onions and a jalapeño pepper.

Litton’s started out as a grocery store, hardware store and gas station in 1946. Third-generation owner Barry Litton moved the business to its present location 30 years ago and opened a meat market. “A gentleman came in one day, said, ‘can you fix me a burger?'” Barry Litton recalls. “I said yeah, and pulled out an electric skillet we used for my own lunch. I cooked up eight ounces of hamburger meat with two strips of bacon. Next day, he brought three people back and they all wanted me to cook them burgers.” And that’s how a Knoxville institution was born. Litton’s today grills up around 3,000 burgers a week and goes through 2,500 pounds of potatoes for their fresh-cut fries. The restaurant has a bakery on-premises too, but I was so full after consuming my burger and fries I couldn’t bring myself to try any of the delicious-looking treats.

I sat at the counter, and manager Nick DeVore served me up a burger and fries. “I threw a couple onion rings in there too, so you could try ’em,” he told me. Suffice it to say, the burger was great: juicy and fresh; the pimiento cheese and grilled onions the perfect topping, the bun freshly-made in their bakery. The fries and rings were delicious, too. I’ll confess, though, to leaving the jalapeño pepper—much as I love them, I just don’t have the cast-iron stomach that I used to!

Barry Litton says that between lunch and dinner, the restaurant serves 6,000 people a week. Despite the high volume, Litton’s still feels like a family diner with friendly servers and great food. It’s a recommended stop on your own “Thunder Road” tour.


Litton’s Market, Restaurant & Bakery

2803 Essary Road
Knoxville Tennessee 37918
(865) 688-0429

11:00am – 8:00pm Mon – Thur
11:00am – 10:00pm Fri – Sat
Closed on Sundays

About Glen Abbott
Glen Abbott is a Florida-based travel writer & photographer specializing in motorcycle touring and travel. He is regular contributor to Harley-Davidson's HOG Magazine, and his travel features appear regularly in motorcycle magazines and other publications.

View all posts by Glen Abbott »

  1. carl

    October 27, 2015

    I am originally from Knoxville and grew up in that part of town where Litton ‘ s is located. Needless to say that I absolutely love their burgers. The bun is the best hamburger bun I have ever tasted. I have lived in 8 different states and visited a dozen other states and have only found burgers on 2 different occasions that could compare with Litton’s. You need to be prepared to wait in line for up to an hour or more at dinner time, especially weekends when the weather is nice and when it is football season. The other great thing about going there is that after you finish eating you can go across the street to a beautiful park that the locals call “the duck pond”. It is a public park built in the 1930 ‘ s that has a man made pond about 2-3 acres large with fishing and dozens of ducks. Plenty of space for 100 ‘ s of people. Most people who grew up in Knoxville before the 80’s can remember going there as a kid to feed the ducks. You still see people taking their kids to do the same thing these days. Perfect place for a couple or a family to go to after eating dinner to enjoy a beautiful park. Anyone who visits Knoxville and wants great food for a fare price in a wonderful atmosphere should definitely make the time to go to Litton’s in Fountain City, that is the name of the community it is located in.

  2. John in France

    January 16, 2011

    It’s lunchtime – I shouldn’t have read that just now! That burger I could handle right now!! Bon appetit!
    John in France recently posted..Picking Apples in Paris!

  3. Jeremy B

    January 16, 2011

    That looks delicious but thank goodness you didn’t ruin it by posting the calorie count of that thing! 🙂
    Jeremy B recently posted..Australia on my mind

  4. greg urbano

    January 15, 2011

    that looks like an awesome burger joint!
    greg urbano recently posted..Day Two – Off and Running

  5. inka

    January 15, 2011

    Hmmmm, road food at its best, it seems.
    inka recently posted..Karagöz and Hacivat- Turkish shadow theatre

  6. Migrationology

    January 14, 2011

    That looks like a wonderful burger! I like the amount of onions topping it!
    Migrationology recently posted..Mama Chapati in Morogoro- Tanzania

  7. i love the jalapenyo pepper just poking out the top tempting you to take it on!
    jamie – cloud people adventures recently posted..6 Months of Blog Action &amp the 2011 Road Ahead

Leave your comment

CommentLuv badge