Let’s face it – if you’re a foodie, regardless of your preferences, you can’t deny that the South has so many unique specialties and dishes to make your mouth water. On our trip across country last year, one of our favorite restaurant picks was located in Tennessee as was a memorable dish we nearly didn’t order: waffles with deep fried chicken, blueberry honey, blue cheese and yogurt. Oh so delish and to die for is the best way to sum up this artery hardening experience!
Returning to Tennessee after months of a very low carb diet was nerve wracking. After all, I put on a lot of weight after several weeks of cross country restaurant reviews – read my write-up about how I took it off again and how I kept it off.
So, what do you do if low carb dining is an integral part of your lifestyle and you’re a foodie? And, what do you do when faced with a fabulous restaurant you’re dying to try that has a lot of high carb dishes on the menu?
Of course, you must try some of them (how much fun would travel be if you didn’t?) but remember that a healthy life is all about balance and as hard as it is when heavy cream and fatty deep fried specialties are staring you in the face, go for the one choice you can’t live without and get a salad to balance it out.
While Anthony and I feel more energized and “lighter on our feet” with a high protein, high veggie and “almost” Paleo diet at home, we don’t deny ourselves unique cultural tastes when we travel. While the South is classically known for its Shrimp & Grits, Biscuits & Gravy, Black Eyed Peas, and bacon on everything, some of the more modern influences integrate a lot more greens and are less sauce heavy than their predecessors. That said, did I try have some grits and bacon in Chattanooga? You betcha! And, it was oh so scrumptious.
Let’s start with a few restaurants I had a chance to try during my most recent stay in June or were strongly recommended to dine at:
Easy Bistro & Bar
Located off Broad Street in what was formerly the world’s first Coca-Cola bottling plant, the soaring dining room and dramatic décor serves as a backdrop for an inspired meal – all served by friendly, attentive servers dressed in black and white. The backlit bar features a national recognized cocktail program and wine list of 250 bottles from around the world, with a focus on France and California.
They’re known for their oysters apparently — fresh and delicious.
Order the chilled corn soup if you get a chance; listen to how they prepare it — it’s made with saffron custard, cucumber and sorghum popcorn! Oh so WOW! I’d also recommend their steak tartare, served with anchovy, cornichon, shallot-garlic sauce, cured yolk and Jimmy red chips and they offer a great array of seafood options as well, both cooked as a main course or as an appetizer. Imagine a combo of red snapper, mussels, shrimp, m.s.m andouille sausage, fennel, dutch potatoes, tomato and okra.
“Easy Bistro’s chef Erik Niel grew up in south Louisiana so he knows a
good shrimp when he sees one.”
Other delicious options worth mentioning are their Crawfish-Artichoke Dip, Shrimp and Grits for those who love Southern Cuisine (served with peppers and fennel, my favorite), old fashioned Brisket, Garlic, confit potatoes and string beans, Pork Belly with peace, creamed corn and jalapeno, Pei Mussels with garlic and fries, and their Gnocchi with peach, Benton’s Ham and cherry tomatoes.
Clyde’s on Main
This is a fairly new establishment in the heart of downtown. Young and hip, it has a great bar scene as well as outdoor tall picnic table-style eating areas which make it a great choice for groups. A great low carb but oh so decadent and southern choice on their menu are their briskets. YUM! I love smoked meat from the south — at Clyde’s, they smoke low and slow and serve their meats straight off the pit, all day long. The result is a very smokey and tasty brisket, whether you go for the beef, pork, chicken or ribs. They also offer a pork and wing combo with baked beans and slaw, another favorite of my mine. The Southern restaurants seem to make creamier coleslaw than any I’ve had anywhere else in the country.
They do a Texas style smoked brisket with sweet and spicy marinated and it is served with Texas toast, baked beans and a choice of slaw, which is either a straight Mayo slaw or a hot mustard slaw. Memphis Style Ribs are slow smoked St. Louis cut spare ribs served wet or dry with baked beans and your choice of slaw. Oh so delish!
For those who care less about carb reduction, the Mac Daddy Mac’n’Cheese dish is most definitely a southern specialty – they serve it with Smoked chicken and southwestern spiced veggies, roasted cauliflower, poblano, red pepper, corn and bacon in a creamy chipotle cheese sauce or you can opt for the Fried Shrimp Dinner which is brined with buttermilk and served with mayo slaw and a baked potato.
Another dish I’d put on the “to die for” list is their Smoked Bison Meatloaf, which is slow smoked, southwestern-spiced ground bison and pork. They glaze it with a Chipotle barbecue sauce and serve it with Gouda mashed potatoes and grilled asparagus.
This is a fun restaurant for apps and there’s no shortage of scrumptious options, from Smoked Brisket Nachos and Vietnamese Spare Ribs St. Louis style to Boiled Peanuts, Beer Cheese Pork Rinds, homemade soft pretzels and something they refer to as Clyde’s Pork Candy. Let’s just say that I could have eaten the whole thing though we ordered it as a plate to share thankfully. The pork “candy” refers to the way they serve it — it is thick cut slices of their homemade candied glaze bacon. OMG!!
There’s a whole page of sandwiches to choose from as well, from a grilled pimento cheese sandwich with bacon, to Choo Choo Hot Fish which is spicy fried cod, creamy slaw, tomatoes, house pickles and a Louisiana hot sauce. You can also get a Smoked Cubano sandwich with Applewood smoked ham, hickory smoked pork, house pickles and melted cheese, a Philly Brisket or Pulled Pork sandwich, a Surf & Turf Po Boy, which they prepare with Creole fried shrimp, slow roast beer and mushroom debris gravy or a Loaded BTL. (Bring it on!!)
Located on Chestnut Street, this fun eatery offers a lovely variety of options for both lunch and dinner. Wine lovers will be happy to know that they have a varied choice even by the glass, which isn’t common at every Chattanooga restaurant where local beer, whiskey, margaritas and bourbon may be a higher priority.
Sipping my very buttery northern Toad Hollow Chardonnay, I decided to go a little healthier for our first official lunch in Chattanooga, so I ordered their Baby Spinach salad with dates, goat cheese confetti, spiced walnuts, pears and strawberries tossed in a sweet seed vinaigrette. That said, the better choice for something a l’il different is their Chopped Salad which comes with arugula, freeze dried corn (cool, right?), couscous, trail mix, marinated tomatoes and buttermilk pesto. The pesto was so good I ordered a side of it for my own salad – creamy and delish! You could get any salad with smoked salmon or grilled chicken and there were plenty of healthy choices at this trendy lunch spot.
Had it not been my first lunch, I very well may have gone for my colleagues choice — their traditional French onion soup (just look at their decadent presentation!)
Other colleagues went for burgers, a pan seared crab cake, sweet ginger calamari, seared ahi tuna with pickled cucumber salad and the white bean hummus dip. They also offer a mean cheese tortellini with asparagus, tomatoes, mushrooms and pesto, and classic Low Country Style shrimp and grits with peppers, onions, Andouille sausage and spicy gravy.
Below, their hummus dip which comes with a fresh warm flatbread, cucumbers and warm tomatoes. I loved their presentation!
Want something a little more classic? They have that too – a prime rib with fries, a Sliced Sirloin with herb-mashed potatoes and grilled asparagus (note how often asparagus is on the menus in Chattanooga), or the Delmonico Ribeye served with any side. Their sides were fun as well, from veggies and roasted mushrooms to wilted spinach, grits, green beans and fries.
Hennen’s also offers a wide range of interesting cocktails for both lunch and dinner, including selections like a Pomegranate Martini, a Jalapeno Rita (imagine Jalapeno Infused Avion Silver Tequila with St. Germain Elderflower Liquor), an Orange Peel Manhattan, a Peach-Mango Martini and something they refer to as a Moscow Mule, which is made from Absolut Vodka, House made Ginger Syrup and fresh squeezed lime juice. YUM!
Now, why on earth would you do Mexican fare in Tennessee you might wonder? While Taco Mamacita feels and behaves like a fast food eatery in so many ways, the joint was founded by locals who have a passion for the cuisine. They use locally sourced food food whenever possible and now have three locations – what’s great is that they offer “naked burritos” and salads for those who are either gluten intolerant or favor lower carb diets like me.
Think nachos, salsa and fresh guacamole. Think of sloppy nachos which they call their secret recipe, which includes spiced ground beef, diced tomatoes, jalepenos, monterey jack cheese, sour cream and Fritos piled on top of a single layer of tortilla chips. Whoa mama, oh so delicious!
For the carb watchers among you, they also have great Cobb Salads, or a Grande Chopped Salad which comes with roasted chicken and your choice of dressing. Then, there’s the fresh Chicken Tortilla Soup, which is made from roasted chicken, diced tomato, freshly sliced avocado, queso fresco, lime and chopped cilantro and served hot pot style with a flavorful house-made broth topped with tortilla strips. I loved their dressing choices — Honey Lime Vinaigrette • White Balsamic Vinaigrette • Jalapeno Ranch and a Smoked Chili Vinaigrette. It’s a great choice if you have kids in tow.
The Flying Squirrel
Head here for a funky hangar-like space with locally sourced food and handcrafted cocktails. What I love about this place is their upstairs lounge area where you can also get a great view of the bar below. It’s also a late night place that has occasional live entertainment. I’d also recommend the cheese and meat platter and their garlic fries. Yum!! Ambiance is trendy and chic here and their food selection is bar style and fun! Take a look at their open nacho plate below, which if you didn’t want the carbs, you could just go for the meat, onions and veggies — it was very tasty!!
Beautifully presented was their cheese and cold meats platter on a large wooden platter — it includes Tennessee beef salami, dry-cured chorizo, Olympic Provisions Etna, accoutrements and their cheese is Sequatchie Cove Nickajack & Shakerag and Sweet Grass Green Hill. BTW, although we didn’t try them, they offered Fried Green Tomatoes as well with maque choux (yum!!)
Our table did order the house cut fries however, which they offer with classic garlic (loved them) or spicy. For the healthier among you, you can opt for the Broccolini with golden raisins, white wine and paramesan or the Panzanella Salad with Sandabama Farms heirloom tomatoes, cucumber, pomodoro, micro basil and parmesan cheese. If we had more time there, I was curious to try their Wagyu Tartare Sandwich which they preparedw ith B&B pickles, red onion, capers, pickled mustard seeds, sunny egg, local lettuce and local Niedlov’s bread.
Great to share are their Cuban Tacos, with smoked pork belly and shoulder, red dragon cheese, mustard and pickles of their Duck Carnitas Tacos, made with crispy duck confit, cabbage, radish, tomato, pickled red onion, avocado purée and cilantro. Vegetarians will be happy to know that smoked tofu tacos are an option and as I mentioned above, they have plenty of salads. The presentation? Top notch!
St. John’s Restaurant
This is a must visit for the fine diners and wine lovers among you. Located on Market Street, seasonal, elevated American fare is served in a vintage space with modern decor. It is housed in a building that went up at the turn of the twentieth century so it has a great deal of history. The flatiron building evolved over the years from hotel to brothel to abandonment. After being condemned and nearly torn down in the 1990’s, local architect and preservationist Thomas Johnson restored it. Today, there are luxury apartments above the restaurant and the ambiance is oh so chic!
Menu options won’t disappoint, from chilled asparagus soup, fava bean salad with beets and feta cheese, Ranch Trout and Lamb Loin to start to plenty of fish, steak and chicken options for mains. For example, I was thrilled to see a Wagyu Beef Zabuton Steak and Braised Cheek on the menu, which they serve with potatoes, green beans and cipollini onions. There’s also a local Maple Leaf Farm Duck Breast and Confit with spring onion and strawberry crudo and fiddlehead ferm-ramp risotto – WOW!
From Ashley Farms, there’s a free range chicken with homemade gnocchi, a Heritage Farm Pork Shank with a panzanella salad (seems to be popular on many Chattanooga restaurant menus) and a Broken Arrow Ranch Axis Venison with grits from Riverview Farms, asparagus, oyster mushrooms, swiss chard pesto and cipollini onions. The venison definitely would have my vote! They do offer a wild Alaskan Halibut with Alabama Lump crab and creamed corn for fish lovers.
Oh so fresh and dedicated to using many ingredients from local farms, something we always applaud!
This fabulous brunch plac e is always busy on weekends apparently. Technically still Chattanooga, it’s located at the end of a residential street on Dartmouth Street. You can sit outside here, in the back room if you happen to be a group, or at the bar, which has a fun ambiance. Their coffee is to die for — while the coffee may not be what is most unusual, how they prepare a cappuccino with Almond Milk is the best I’ve ever had.
Southern style is where it’s at here, however they also offer some modern ethnic dishes you wouldn’t expect to find on the menu, like the Asian Breakfast Bowl, which is served with Rice, Glazed Pork Belly or Tofu, House Kimchi, Pickles, sesame seeds and a soft boiled egg. I had to laugh when I saw one of my staples, but without the bread on the menu….something they call a Boring Breakfast, which is two eggs, choice of meat, roasted potatoes and a house Buttermilk biscuit.
Avo Toast served with Roasted Beets and Chilli Lime Salt, was ordered by our group as was the Asian Breakfast Bowl, Flapjacks with Bourbon Maple Syrup, and the Alibi Burger with tomato jam, lettuce, pimento cheese and pickles. I also ordered a side of Kale and a couple in my group went for the Cheddar Grits (how could you not when in Tennessee?). The house sausage was fresh and delicious as was the bacon.
For the healthier minded among you, they offered a Granny’s Chicken Salad with grapes, lettuce, and tomato and a Cous Cous and Goat Feta Cheese Salad. They serve a mean and oh so delish Bloody Mary with a Chilli Lime Salt around the rim that was so good, I ordered a side of it for other dishes. Grandma’s Special is a fun one for the kids — house buttermilk biscuits, cruze sausage gravy and two eggs cooked any style. They have a veggie breakfast option as well for the vegetarians among you, an omelette, which could also be made with only veggies and The Seuss, which includes Benton’s Country ham, two eggs, roasted potatoes and a Granny Smith Compote.
Adjacent to the Chattanooga Choo Choo Hotel where we stayed sits STIR, a bustling and fun eatery and bar with exquisite seafood, salad and soup options as well as a wide array of cocktails, wine and entrees. When I saw oysters on the menu, I had to oblige. What’s great about dining with a large group is that you can sample a variety which we did — they had oysters from Washington state, holbolk golds from California, bluepoints from New York State and Alligator Harbors from Florida.
For those not into raw on the half shell, you can be a l’il more decadent and btw, I also tried these and they were my favorite among all lunch and dinner choices all week! We sampled both the Baked Cheddar Bacon Oysters (heavy but oh so worth ordering) and the Oysters Rockefeller, which is served with spinach, shallots, pernod and parmesan. They also do a baked crab stuffed oyster option as well. YUM YUM YUM!!
Appetizer options included salmon cakes with citrus dill yogurt, parmesan white truffle fries (WOW!), Tillamook sliders with cheese and garlic mayo, Seafood Ceviche (always worth ordering), fish tacos, Crab Bisque and a variety of salad options, including a seared tuna salad with carrots, cucumbers, cherry tomatoes, avocado, kale chips and a cilantro miso vinagrette.
I went for the Seared Tuna entree which they serve with kale, bacon, red onion, farro, basil and sriracha potato crumbles in a citrus soy sauce. Shrimp and grits was on the menu of course, but so was traditional steak and frites, seared scallops, fried shrimp, chicken caprese, and grilled salmon with a scrumptious citrus dill sauce, pickled red onions, farro and roasted vegetables.
Two thumbs up for the cuisine, drink choices and the ambiance!
Ocoee Dam Deli & Diner
This diner is technically not in Chattanooga, but we stopped here on our way back from white water rafting along the Ocoee River, an hour or so outside the city in a place called Benton. En route back near the Parksville Dam, we experienced a family-owned diner with plenty of traditional Southern dishes on the menu alongside traditional sandwiches, wraps, desserts and salads.
Sure, you can get a classic wrap but why would you want to when there’s fried Tilapia, Country Fried Steak, Ocoee Dam meatloaf, Black and Blue burgers (that’d be the blue cheese crumbles), and so many southern delicacy sides to choose from, such as Mac-n-Cheese, fried okra (below), pickled beets, sweet potato fries, turnip greens (below), white beans, buttered corn, black eyed peas and creamy coleslaw on the menu.
And, how about those classic Southern style deep fried green tomatoes?
OR, deep fried pickles (I LOVE LOVE these and always order them when I head south).
They had plenty of desserts to choose from as well, including traditional pastries, brownies and ice cream — this traditional styled deli in oh so many ways, is a great choice for families.
Other recommendations include…..
This spot is known for their legendary burgers. Every now and then, it’s amazing what a juice medium rare burger with caramelized onions can do to my mood.
More for the meat lovers among you. This joint has German sausage on the menu as well as a wide variety of German beers to choose from.
TerraMae Appalachian Bistro
For something a little different, head to this delicious and recognized bistro on East 10th Street.
Lakeshore Grille on Lake Resort Terrace
This spot is a great spot to go to for American cuisines right on the lake – the views and drinks are the bigger reason to give them a try.
Sticky Finger’s Smokehouse
This spot has apparently been voted as having the best ribs in Chattanooga for six years – if you’re a rib lover, put this spot on your list. Famous Dave’s is another popular place in town that serve BBQ ribs and smoked meats.
212 Market Restaurant
I’m a fan of sustainable and organic cuisine and those sourcing from local farms. Across from the Tennessee Aquarium, which I’d strongly recommend visiting, 212 Market is a great sustainable choice in town.
The English Rose
It is a unique place in Chattanooga and a must visit for tea lovers. Yup, it’s a classic tea room that offers British lunches and they also have a gift shop on site.
Hair of the Dog Pub
I like this choice for beer lovers since they offer craft beer pairings using local ingredients in a traditional pub atmosphere.
Puckett’s Grocery and Restaurant
This place came up a few times and locals recommended it. It is also on our music and entertainment list as they apparently offer authentic and delicious southern comfort food.
I mentioned this establishment in my article on the Chattanooga Music Scene but in addition to live music, they offer basic American fare such as burgers, sandwiches and salads.
Boat House Chattanooga
This is a popular down to earth place among locals, this great seafood restaurant runs along the river and yup, they have oysters, which I have a weakness for…
Root Kitchen and Wine Bar
While I didn’t try this place out, it was recommended by two reliable sources in town when we moved into a food and wine conversation. Chattanooga really isn’t a wine city but some of the finer restaurants will offer you enough well-known options to choose from that you won’t have to resort to spirits or beer with dinner.
Who doesn’t love a Brazilian steakhouse experience when they’re incrediby hungry? This is also a fun place to go with a group.
Tupelo Honey Café
This cafe is known for their elevated down-home dishes made from scratch and gelato and Clumpies and Cupcake Kitchen are the stops to make for those with a sweet tooth and can’t pass up homemade ice cream on a hot summer night.
Sekisui or Totto
Okay, sushi lovers, you might be surprised that you can find fresh and elegant choices in the South. Totto offers an all you can eat sushi lunch from Monday to Saturdays.
Who doesn’t love Italian? This chic trendy restaurant on East Main Street does a top notch job at Rustic Italian cuisine in a modern and sophisticated atmosphere. There’s also a beautifully lit outdoor patio that oozes romance where you can dine during warmer months.
To make your mouth water a bit, how about a braised veal papparadelle or one of my favorites: angel hair with tomatoes and shrimp? There’s also a ravioli with herbed ricotta and pomodoro on the menu for pasta lovers and meat lovers will love the quail breast with fig (OMG), a wood-fired pork shoulder with strawberry mostarda and balsamic or a classic New York Strip steak with balsamic onions. My kinda place, food curation, ambiance and all!
Additionally, a relatively new and fun opportunity for foodies heading to Chattanooga is what’s known as the Scenic City Supper Club (SCSC). SCSC is a dining series aiming to shed light on Chattanooga’s emerging restaurant scene and its dedicated community of chefs, farmers, and producers. Launched in April 2015 by Erik and Amanda Niel of Easy Bistro & Bar and Nooga.com, the series hosts four dinners annually (one per season) to celebrate local talent and bring in chefs from across the Southeast and nationally. The Scenic City Supper Club is a unique opportunity to build an awareness and community around all that Chattanooga has to offer – locally and beyond.
The last thing worth mentioning is Chattanooga’s weekend market, which has a lot of local farmers touting their latest and freshest offerings, from jams, jellies, breads and cheese to organic vegetables, fruits and tea.