Kopita now offers a full dinner menu at 507 South Gay Street


Kopita, 131 South Gay Street, Knoxville, October 2022

Kopita opened at 524 South Gay Street in July 2019, becoming downtown’s first vegan restaurant. A pandemic soon followed, and for a time during the early months of the pandemic, Kopita expanded to offer a sister restaurant, Kopita Meat, just two doors down. The two later reunited, offering an expanded menu. When larger dining space became available just downstairs and across the street inside the Embassy Suites at 131 South Gay Street, Avi Zenatti, chef and owner with his wife Illana Brodt took the opportunity to expand the restaurant and expand the menu even more.

The restaurant operated with the same menu for the first few weeks, but has now moved to a larger and more comprehensive menu. I stopped to talk with Avi and was joined by Orel Brodt for the conversation. I followed with dinner at the restaurant.

Kopita, 131 South Gay Street, Knoxville, October 2022
Kopita, 131 South Gay Street, Knoxville, October 2022

Avi said he recently read an article about his native Israel that explained a new trend of opening quality restaurants inside hotels. He said the big chefs are following the trend there, but he thinks it may take a while here. He’s doing everything he can, and has plans moving forward, to make this time now for Kopita.

Since moving they have started a late night menu and they will soon start offering their food at the Radius rooftop bar. Eventually they will start a room service menu. He said, “It takes time, but everyone who comes here loves the food.” Orel added that an additional hurdle could be education, as not everyone knows about food.

We reviewed the new menu and Avi pointed out the signature drinks, like the Jerusalem cocktail made with Arak 100 Proof Turkish liquor, fresh grapefruit juice, simple house-made chamomile, freshly squeezed lemon juice and float of champagne. Other drinks include a Moroccan Mojito and a Desert Rose Martini. Beer and wine are also served, along with a range of interesting soft drinks such as Israeli grape juice, non-alcoholic Israeli beer and hot Moroccan tea.

Kopita, 131 South Gay Street, Knoxville, October 2022
Kopita, 131 South Gay Street, Knoxville, October 2022
Kopita, 131 South Gay Street, Knoxville, October 2022
Kopita, 131 South Gay Street, Knoxville, October 2022

The restaurant is open six days a week, as Avi explained: “On Sundays, I decided to give people a break. It’s a different operation here. There is a lot of preparation during the day and a lot of work at night. He said the kitchen is thoroughly cleaned after food service hours. It is open on Mondays since so many downtown restaurants are open.

They are open from 11:30 a.m. to 9:00 p.m., except Friday and Saturday when they are open until the last person is served. He said the previous weekend they were open until midnight after the game because people kept coming in. He said the bar would finally be open until midnight with a limited menu from the kitchen.

Although the new menu is significantly expanded with dinner dishes, it also includes all the lunch dishes that the restaurant’s fans have enjoyed over the past three years. Avi said they intended to have a separate menu for each meal, but soon learned that some returning customers also wanted the lunch they liked for dinner, so he accommodated them. It also has a full section for vegan options, which has grown, but the menu also has a full non-vegan section.

With so many iterations in such a short time, including a pandemic, Orel stressed that some customer confusion is to be expected. She said that restaurants usually go through a big change every three years and this one went through several changes during that time.

Kopita, 131 South Gay Street, Knoxville, October 2022
Kopita, 131 South Gay Street, Knoxville, October 2022
Kopita, 131 South Gay Street, Knoxville, October 2022

Avi said there are great benefits to being at the hotel, many of which relate to maintenance and cleaning (like bathrooms) by the hotel’s “excellent crew”. He is happy with Ilana’s decor and says that more work will be done. They also continued their Shabbat dinners. “Our last Shabbat dinner, we had 110 people.” They take place on the first Friday of each month. “It’s become a tradition here and people love it.

He said they were also increasing their restaurant business. I interviewed them the week before Pride, and he said they were planning and hosting a wedding reception for two gentlemen during the festivities. He also continued to work with UT Restoration. “It’s like a new restaurant but keeping the same team. I keep learning.”

One thing that hasn’t changed is the emphasis on including only fresh ingredients. He said he had just been to Market Square Farmers’ Market (where I see him regularly) looking specifically for beans, which he couldn’t find. He said, “If I had found beans, I would have cooked them today. I go to the market on Saturday and if I find good lamb I will make a special. Some items are Friday and Saturday only so he can make sure he can sell everything so he stays fresh.

Kopita, 131 South Gay Street, Knoxville, October 2022
Kopita, 131 South Gay Street, Knoxville, October 2022

“Every day we learn something new, and I’ll be developing more articles… People are starting to recognize our steaks (the Denver Cut, 16 ounces, $38) served with salad and potato. He’s also proud rack of lamb (weekend only) with 5 pieces for $40, plus sides “People only come for the rack of lamb.” They also offer a unique Moroccan spicy fish tagin (cod or mahi mahi) ($30) The desserts are still evolving, but they continue to offer their popular baklava and they’ve added ice cream from the Phoenix Pharmacy and Fountain.

We enjoyed a delicious meal there with friends after the interview. We started with hummus and babaganoush with their unbeatable pita for the table. I had the beef and lamb brochette (pictured at the top of this post) over rice, and it was delicious. Others enjoyed the Shawarma and Schnitzel pitas. We finished the meal with ice cream and baklava (perfect) and, perhaps my favorite of the evening: the Turkish coffee which was worth the trip on its own and as perfect as I remember when I got it first taken in New York a few years ago.

You can find more details about the restaurant at their website or go directly to the menu, here.


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