By Kathleen Walls
American Roads Travel Magazine
Dining in The Chattanooga Choo Choo is an elegant experience
Photo by Kathleen Walls
Chattanooga has always known how to attract the tourist trade. When Rock City Gardens opened in 1932 the great depression was at its peak yet 900 "See Rock City" slogan painted on barn roofs in nineteen states drew the crowds to the top of Lookout Mountain. Today, smart travelers look for more than just attractions. We expect to be well wined and dined when we vacation. To be a popular destination, a city must have great restaurants. Chattanooga can run with the big dogs here. Anywhere you turn in this revitalized city, you will find unique dining experiences, whether it’s in a refurbished Pullman car or the newest hotel to cater to the fast growing new breed of visitor. From a tiny English tearoom to a working brewery, these eateries have personality plus.
The kitchen at the Broad Street Grill
Photo by Kathleen Walls
Everyone knows hotel food leaves something to be desired. Everyone that is except guests of three of Chattanooga’s most interesting restaurants. When Benchmark Hospitality began designing the city’s newest upscale hotel, a primary concern was creating memorable dining facilities. They brought in Walter Staib. Staib’s opinions are not empty words .As well as a top drawer restaurant consultant, he is also the founder and owner of Philadelphia’s City Tavern, voted one of the Best New Restaurants by Esquire Magazine. Staib’s concept of the hotel’s three facilities; "The Chattanoogan’s The Broad Street Grill, The Foundry and Strouds were created to be exciting and lively, and each was designed to sustain itself as a freestanding entity."
When you enter The Broad Street Grill, you are immediately drawn into the world of food. An antipasto station overflows with an extravagant selection of salad choices, marinated vegetables, seafood, cheeses and meats to start your meal with the most tempting tidbits. The dessert station abounds with every imaginable sweet to end the meal in a grand fashion. Another exciting feature that brings you up close and personal with every step in the preparation of your entrée is the open kitchen. And oh what choices you have! Steaks and chops are the house specialty but seafood is not neglected. Salmon, snapper and tuna hold their own with the prime rib, lamb chops and every kind of beef cut. The vegetable accompaniments such as Grilled Vegetable Provincial, Sautéed Fresh Mushrooms and others turn your meal into a symphony of culinary delights.
The wine and beverage departments are not wanting here either. The Foundry, located adjacent to the Grill, has a full bar and wine cellar. A smooth sounding jazz trio provides background music that makes both food and drink more enjoyable. There are twenty-four wines that may be ordered by the glass and even more by the bottle. Their martini list comprises enough interesting concoctions to tempt even a non-martini-drinker like myself. I had a hard time choosing between the Dirty Martini and the Chocolate Martine. Chocolate won out and tasted quite good.
The people who make this elaborate machine run so smoothly are all experts in their field. Food and beverage director, Massey Hejazi, has decades of experience at some of the finest hotel and resorts in the country. Executive Chef Carl Miller has an international reputation. He has been executive chef at resorts as varied as restaurants in Moscow, Russia and Sandals Resort in Jamaica. People like Executive Sous Chef Michael DuBose, Pastry Chef Neil Edelman and a staff of fifty dedicated people back them up.
Chef Jeff at the Green Room
Photo by Kathleen Walls
The Chattanoogan may be the newest kid on the block but the Grande Dame of the old guard; The Read House refuses to be outclassed. Here Executive Chef Jeff Clumpner presides over The Green Room. This is a voyage into nostalgia. The Green Room is reminiscent of the hotel dining rooms of the fifties where crew cut boys in white sport coats took their tulle and satin-gowned prom dates for the most impressive date of their lives. The menu and the styles have changed but the Green Room still offers the epitome of elegance and many of those former prom goers still frequent the restaurant for the superb steaks and other American Classics served in an innovative way. For example, ravioli or mashed potatoes are pretty basic. Crab Meat Ravioli on a Roasted Corn Broth or Country Walnut Mashed Potatoes, now that’s definitely innovative. That’s one of Chef Jeff’s favorite tricks, just plain good food with a twist that raises it into the realm of the extraordinary.
Of course you wouldn’t expect ordinary in a place like the Read House. It has played host to notables like Winston Churchill and Al Capone- fortunately not at the same time- Tallulah Bankhead, Gary Cooper and Tom Thumb. Dixie Carter and her husband, Hal Holbrook are frequent guests. It even has its own resident Ghost. Analise Netterly who was brought to the hotel by a gentleman friend who promised to marry her. This was in the thirties when extended hotel stays were common. After a while it became obvious he had another lady friend and did not plan to marry Analise. Two versions of the story split here. One is that she just pined away and eventually took her own life. The other is that her lover murdered her. Either way, she remains in room 311 to this day. She doesn’t like men, especially men who smoke. Ironically her room is on a smoking floor so that creates some interesting situations. Al Capone also stayed in that room as a "guest" of the government when he was brought to trail in Chattanooga. Talk about your original "odd couple".
Perhaps the city’s most well known landmark is The Chattanooga Choo-Choo. Most people know that what is now the lobby of the Chattanooga Choo-Choo Holiday Inn was once the railroad terminal. What many are not aware of is one of history’s most ironic cases of de-ja-voux. In 1871, it was the site of the magnificent Stanton House, one of the most luxurious hotels of the era. The once grand resort degenerated into an abandoned hulk. Then in 1905, Southern Railway acquired the property, leveled the hotel and built a showplace terminal. The 85-foot glass dome was the largest freestanding dome in the country at the time. Again the pendulum swung. The day of the passenger train passed and once again a magnificent building had outlived its purpose. It too appeared destined to be razed. Then in 1974, it once again became a resort complex built around its unique history. The massive dome room is now the lobby for the 360-room hotel. The sleeper cars, once the ultimate luxury of the wealthy, now are offered as hotel rooms. Several of the dining cars have become restaurants. The complex sports a wide variety of eateries, ranging from the Silver Diner serving pizza to the elegant Diner in the Diner serving gourmet meals reminiscent of the golden era of the railroad. Their most romantic restaurant is The Station House. All the wait staff are singers. You are royally entertained as you dine. The menu offers ample choices, steak, chicken, pasta and seafood. To end the evening, choose either Café Expresso, for a gourmet coffee and dessert, or the Victorian Lounge, where you can enjoy a cocktail surrounded by the ambience of a more elegant era.
The Chattanooga Choo Choo Holiday Inn offers several choices in fine dining
Photo by Kathleen Walls
The English Rose Tea Room is a touch of Merry Old England
Photo by Kathleen Walls
Lest you think all the good restaurants are in hotels in Chattanooga, rest assured that isn’t the case. If you are searching for "quaint" don’t miss the English Rose Tea House. It’s located just down the street from the Choo-Choo. The owner, Angela Beckvoort is as English as a scone- which you can sample there. Her Victorian Tea is one of the most popular offerings. The cozy teahouse has been there for three years and now has built a solid reputation especially with British travelers looking for a taste of home. The lace tablecloths and delicate china tableware will charm you. It’s also a great place to find English food items to take home in the little gift shop in front featuring many items not found on this side of the Atlantic.
The owner's daughter and niece sample the wares at the Chocolate Kitchen
Photo by Kathleen Walls
View Art District is a spot that feeds the soul as well as the body. Perched on the cliffs overlooking the Tennessee River, a neighbor that was once an elegant showplace has been revived as a Mecca for artists. Culinary art is alive and well here, also. Dining at the Back Inn Café transports you to a little Italian bistro. You can dine in the splendor of the renovated Martin Mansion but for the most enjoyable experience dine in the sunroom or outdoors. The food is superb. The live jazz is mellow. The view of the Tennessee River and the Sculpture Garden is breathtaking. My choice is the Pan Roasted Cold Water Lobster Tail. The chef, Tim Benton, says the Braised Duck Pizza is his personal favorite. For dessert you can’t miss no matter what you get but the Chocolate Decadence is unbeatable. Jerome, the pastry chef, has had extensive training in France. Tim came to his vocation accidentally. He was in college majoring in elementary education and not doing well. So he took a semester off , went to Myrtle Beach and got a job as a cook. He knew very shortly that he had found his niche. So the classroom’s loss is the diner’s gain. As he says, "I fell in love with the whole deal. I thought it was wonderful sleeping late and working late and creating new dishes. I love everything about this business. The positive feed back and the great people, it makes it all worthwhile."
The Back Inn Café isn’t the only eatery in Bluff View. There is also Tony’s Pasta Shop and Trattoria, which features homemade pasta and breads. Rembrandt’s Coffeehouse with its outdoor patio is a must if you want a gourmet cup of coffee or a pastry.
One of the secrets of Bluff View’s success is the joint use of their assets. For instance, a central bakery and pasta shop make bread and pasta for the entire district. Dot Woodward and Andrew Heck start before daybreak baking and making countless varieties of pasta. It’s located on the basement level of Renaissance Commons; the conference building but you won’t have any trouble finding the bakery. Just close your eyes and follow your nose. The Chocolate Kitchen makes the desserts. You can peek through the large window and watch Angela Niemeyer preparing chocolate truffles or other delights. Often you will enjoy the antics of her two young helpers, Ali Niemeyer and Mia Grafton. The two children enjoy eating the treats as much as making them.
Of course the raison-de-entrée for the district is the art so be sure to visit the Hunter Museum of American Art, The Sculpture Garden, The River Gallery and, most of all, the glass blowers studio. Tommy Spake works miracles with molten glass. You can watch a work of art created before your eyes here. Of course for overnight visitors, The Bluff View Inn offers unique accommodations furnished with original artwork and antiques.
Beer lover or not, you won’t want to miss the Big River Brewing Company. Here the food and drink is on a more macho level but equally satisfying. Their pride and joy are the award winning brews made on site. Their Sweet Magnolia, a rich brown ale, was a gold medal winner at the 1998 Great American Beer Festival. Another of their concoctions, Iron Horse Stout, earned top medal in the 1998 World Beer Cup Competition. If you don’t drink alcoholic beverages you can try their homemade ginger ale, root beer or cream soda. They’re equally proud of their innovative menu. It is huge and contains many totally unique items. For starters you might try the Jalapeno Spinach Cheese Dip. Follow that with a Thai Chicken Pizza, or, if you’re really hungry, The Low Country Shrimp ‘n Grits. The Chocolate Raspberry Passion is guaranteed to finish your meal in a grand manner.
Another choice to tempt the palate as well as offer a different view of the city is a dinner cruise on the Southern Belle. You steam down the Tennessee River and dine buffet style. There is a small band and the bar serves frozen daiquiris or Pina-Coladas. You can dance or just enjoy the scenery.
Of course, while you are dining all over town, try to allow some time to visit the local attractions. Chattanooga even makes it easy to get around by providing free electric shuttle service. Nothing beats the Chattanooga Aquarium. This is the world’s first major freshwater aquarium. The twelve-story complex traces the Tennessee River from its birth in the mountains through the Mississippi Delta. It also features the other great rivers of the world.
The old stand-bys, Rock City, Ruby Falls and the Incline Railway are still as breathtaking as ever. For the out of the ordinary visit the Towing and Recovery Museum and enjoy the vintage tow trucks or stop in at Horsin’ Around Carving School and watch ordinary people learn to create carousel horses. For Kids, the Discovery Museum is fun. The Chattanooga History Museum is a great way to get a feel for the city’s past. Try to find time to saunter across the Walnut Bridge for a picnic in Cooledge park. While there you might be tempted to ride the carousel or splash in the fountain. That’s only scratching the surface of this city by the river. If you want your vacation liberally mixed with fun attractions and imaginative food, you will not be disappointed in Chattanooga.
Chef’s Favorite Recipes from Broad Street Grill
Flourless Chocolate Cake
1 lb Dark Chocolate (unsweetened)
1 lb Butter
8 ea Eggs
1 Cup Sugar
8 oz Coffee
1 oz Grand Marnier or Rum
Melt the butter and chocolate together in a double boiler Whisk together the eggs and sugar over bath to 110 degree F.; whip to full volume Add the Chocolate-butter mixture to the whipped eggs slowly Add the coffee and Grand Marnier Bake in water bath at 300 degrees F. until set * Cake pan should be greased and lined with baking paper
Sandwiches En Croute
8 oz Dough *
3 oz Deli meat of Choice
1 oz Cheese of Choice
1 oz Condiment of Choice
Let dough relax, Flatten dough into as even rectangle Lay meat, and cheese Smear condiment Roll the dough into a pinwheel shape encasing the meat and cheese Let rise for about 45 minutes to an hour Bake in an oven at 375 degrees until golden brown
Chef's choice is Roast Beef and Boursin cheese * Can use any ready to proof and bake dough for bread
Chef Jeff’s Favorites from The Green Room
2 slices white bread, crusts removed
1 T mayonnaise
1 T Worchester Sauce
1 t chopped fresh parsley
1 T baking powder
1 tsp Old Bay Seasoning
Pinch of cayenne pepper
Salt and pepper to taste
1 egg well beaten
1 lb crawfish meat pulled apart
Crumble bread and moisten with a little milk. Add remaining ingredients combine well. Shape into small cakes, fry in hot sauté pan in oil until golden brown, turning once.
4 Oz grapefruit juice, preferable red
12 0z peanut oil
3 fluid ounces creame fraiche ( sour cream or yogurt may be substituted)
Salt and pepper to taste
Sugar to taste
¾ lb. spinach finely shredded
6-oz cabbage finely shredded
6-oz savoy cabbage finely shredded
4 oz red onion, julianned
2 avocados sliced thin
2 apples sliced thin
1 grapefruit peeled and cut in segments
1 tsp. black peppercorns
6 tortilla shells
Combine all vinaigrette ingredients together to make dressing
Toss spinach, cabbages and red onion together in a bowl add enough of the vinaigrette to coat. Drain
Presentation suggestion: Pool about one once vinaigrette on a plate. Place a dollop of the slaw in the center to serve as an anchor. Place a tortilla shell on top of this. Fill the shell with coleslaw, placing a crawfish cake on top. Arrange the avocado, apple and grapefruit slices around the shell. Garnish with cracked black pepper.
Provided by American Roads Travel Magazine - Visit American Roads Travel Magazine website.