Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Chattanooga Cuisine: Your Guide To Inventive Food In the Scenic City

Dining room at Alleia
Copyright ©Alice O'Dea, used with permission
There are two basic categories of good food-- inventive, unique combinations that fuse together ingredients and flavors you wouldn't expect, and cooks who take classics and make them better than you've ever had them before. Both can be delicious, nutritious, and hit the spot whether you're out for a fast lunch or are dining to impress. And, fortunately, both can be found in Chattanooga.

Visitors to Chattanooga have remarked before on the sheer concentration of local restaurants in the downtown area. It's not an easy town to be a chain restaurant in-- downtown's long-standing Chili's and T.G.I. Friday's franchises were only just joined by an Applebee's and, soon, a Noodles & Company in step with the growing tourist trade. The rest of downtown Chattanooga's eateries are not only local, but rival the quality found in much larger cities like Nashville and Atlanta.

Today we'll cover some of Chattanooga's most gastronomical boards of fare, and later installments will take on a few more, as well as Chattanooga restaurants with unbeatable takes on classic eats. 

Even foodies used to the phenomenal offerings in Savannah, Washington DC or Denver find their appetite for unique food fusions and top quality ingredients sated at restaurants including St. John's Restaurant, The Meeting Place, Alleia, and Market Street Tavern.

The unique decor at Alleia
Copyright ©Alice O'Dea, used with permission
St. John's Restaurant is located in a beautiful historic building conveniently located between downtown and the Southside. It was once a hotel, and famously, a brothel, but now the most sinful thing is the delicious dining. Chef Daniel Lindley is "Committed to using local and seasonal ingredients...Whether it is locally sourced pork, produce picked that morning or whole fresh fish flown in overnight from the sea, the [daily] menu focuses on freshness and quality." Menu items have included a sauteed leg of lamb paired with local merguez sausage, roasted fingerling potatoes and an arugula & basil-mint pesto, as well as Riesling poached peaches with cornmeal cake, Jack Daniel's ice cream, and sorghum.

The Meeting Place shares a kitchen with St. John's, but offers a different menu and a more casual atmosphere. Offerings are categorized as either small or large plates, and include everything from a "duck dog," an upscale take on an American classic, duck confit with johnny cake, maple, and pear, to fries topped with local cumberland cheese paired with braised beef cheeks and foie gras.

Fans of Chef Lindley will also enjoy his take on Italian cooking at his latest restaurant Alleia. Instead of the typical Italian fare diners are used to, Lindley focuses on the rustic side of that cuisine and creates it with a combination of local ingredients and Italian imports. If you've never tried grilled lettuce, Alleia's is a revelation, especially when matched with local guanciale and stagianato. As at his other restaurants, Alleia finds new ways to dress up classic cuts, such as the honeydew relish on wild-caught Washington halibut or a combination of peaches, cream corn risotto, and jalapeno.

A glass of wine at Market Street Tavern's weekly Jazz Night
Copyright ©Paige Wiencke, used with permission

Market Street Tavern has been a presence on the Chattanooga food scene for years, but just moved to a new location on the 800 block in 2012. Its menu has been described by Chattanooga food blogger Local Milk as "a modern Dixie menu full of inventive southern fare." Indeed, the menu includes sweet twists on old Southern favorites like cornbread salad and fried green tomato po'boys, with main courses like "chicken under a brick," a bone-in breast of chicken with risotto and brussel sprouts. Modern dixie is right with mouth-watering down home fusions. 

Check back the rest of this week and early next for more tips on the best places to eat when you move to Chattanooga!

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