One of my favorite things to do is to sneak into hole-in-the-wall restaurants for my feasts. When time allows, I shun the chains and well-known labels, eschewing mass-produced picture-perfect food for something a little more Real. Of course, you often find better food in these places, especially when you manage to figure out exactly what that place does best. So for our first Feast Friday, I take you inside one of these tiny meccas of eating, opening up with a little Thai/Chinese place on Alcoa Highway... Ming Tree.
Ming Tree is, as I've said, a hole in the wall. It holds an unassuming place on US 129, Alcoa Highway, the main thoroughfare between Maryville and Knoxville - and the most direct route from Knoxville to McGhee Tyson Airport. From the outside, nothing much sets it apart: but if you're in the mood for Chinese food, or Thai, it is simply the closest option — and that seems to be enough. I've never been in there when it was empty, despite my sometimes weird lunch times (life as a father is weird).
The inside is nice. There's the usual fare for the area- a couple of display cases, with some asian-themed decorations for sale, and there's the board up with the specials. One of them is for House Shrimp, and it comes with brown rice, an eggroll, and soup, all for 6.75.
I'm sold already.
As they seat me in my booth, I take a moment to look around. I've been here before, but now that I'm here with the intent to write about it, it's different. I notice how much space there is in what looks from outside to be a cramped shop. I notice how soothing and comfortable the blue walls are, and how the flatscreen tvs are positioned so that nearly everyone has a good view of one. It's good. Despite being busy, it's big enough that it's still quiet. I like that.
I order. I go with the house shrimp, but for the soup I break with tradition. Instead of matching a Chinese meal with a Chinese soup like egg drop or wonton, I ask for their Thai chicken soup (Tom Yum). The server smiles and nods (I love the substitution without a blink here. Love it), and before I can even scribble a note down there's a bowl of steaming soup in front of me, complete with fried wontons, duck sauce, and a tall glass of water with a slice of lemon.
The soup is delicious. Amazing. Clean and hot and spicy and everything I could have hoped for. I really can't say enough about it. It was exactly what I was hoping for, clearing out my sinuses and warming my belly... and while I could swear that I was chugging water with it, my glass somehow seemed to stay full.
Five points to the waitress.
The main course arrives just as I finish the soup, with suspiciously good timing. Five more points. The plate looks delicious. A little bit of everything I want on one plate: broccoli, water chestnuts, carrots, mushrooms, and baby corn- not to mention the generous amount of shrimp. The brown sauce is good, just the tiniest bit spicy and sweet. The shrimp are cooked perfectly, which I can tell you isn't easy. The flavors are exactly what is expected in the dish. While it doesn't stand out as much as the soup does, it's still all very tasty. The egg roll was excellent, but I had to give it a few minutes. The inside was nuclear-levels of hot. As expected.
By the time I'm finished destroying this plate, I am pretty full. But man, I want more. And that's really my yardstick for a good meal; if you eat your fill but still want more, they're doing okay. Overall, my experience was very good. They've turned me from an occasional pop in to a regular. Quick, tasty, and a nice place to be... and cheap enough for a hard working dad to be able to stop by with few regrets.
I love it.