Thursday, July 19, 2012

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

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 foodie-friendly restaurants, and in the next few days we'll also cover places that do classic dishes better than anywhere else you've had them. 

Oysters on the half shell at Easy Bistro
Terra Nostra Tapas is a unique fixture on the Chattanooga restaurant scene, offering small plates (tapas) of a variety of mouth watering European-inspired recipes. It's the only place in town to get escargot, and also offers other delicacies like foi gras. It's also very vegetarian friendly, with spectacular dishes like pear and walnut quesadillas. Whatever you order, your server will be able to recommend an excellent wine pairing from their list.

Easy Bistro is also a fixture of fine dining in the Scenic City. Go Magazine wrote that "Easy Bistro is wildly sophisticated; as if it were picked up by its cosmopolitan roots and dropped squarely in downtown Chattanooga." Indeed, the menu is packed with fresh, well-prepared flavors and revelatory combinations, like pea cake with sherry and arugula, squash blossom beignets, and potato ravioli with Carolina peaches and crab meat. They also have one of the finest selections of seafood in town, and inventive cocktails like the Bluegrass Julep, a combination of Bernheim wheat whiskey, mint, grapefruit juice, and local mountain honey. In addition to the food, it's also known for its elegant black and white French-style decor in a building that once housed the first Coca-Cola bottling plant Chattanooga is so famous for. 

Fresh salads at 212 Market
Copyright ©Alice O'Dea, used with permission
212 Market is one of the oldest foodie delights still open in the city. It's been serving delicious locally-focused food since before downtown fully revitalized, and long before local food became a hot trend. The arrival of a larger local food movement, however, has meant that 212 has all the larger audience for events like Harvested Here, a week of special dishes that are designed to put an extra focus on seasonal, local produce. Not only did the owners clean up environmentally-damaging spillage from the site's previous tenant, a Studebaker dealership, recycle, and donate food scraps to local farmers for feed, they went on to become the first Green-Certified restaurant in Chattanooga. Today, employees are encouraged to bike to work by the on-site locker room showers and the restaurant is topped with massive solar panels. None of this should distract from the real reason to go, however-- the food. The menu includes dishes like housemade spinach & walnut ravioli with chèvre, ricotta and parmesan, grilled vegetables, tomato basil sauce, or grilled Georgia chicken with cherry tomato vinaigrette, local polenta, basil, and grilled summer squash.

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