Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Where To Eat in Chattanooga: Down Home Southern Cooking

Chattanooga is in the South, so it's only natural that the restaurants with down home Southern cooking are some of the dearest local favorites and under the radar gems.


The bar at Market Street Tavern.
Photo copyright Karen Culp
Market Street Tavern is a great restaurant whose name is a little deceiving. This tavern places less emphasis on pub food than on what Chattanooga food blogger Local Milk describes as "a modern Dixie menu full of inventive southern fare." As we've written beforeMarket Street Tavern's 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. Meat and three leaps over the stereotypes of over-cooked and bland into a realm of quality cuisine that's impressed even hardcore locavores and gastro-snobs.

A fun painting at Public House of The Dude from cult classic film The Big Lebowski
Public House is Jeff Lindley's baby and the third in a line of successful restaurants that include St. John's Restaurant and Alleia. While the fare is every bit as delicious, the atmosphere and price point are more relaxed. Just as Lindley tacked Italian cuisine in his own style at Alleia and offered up his unique take on locally-focused fine dining with St. John's, he also makes Southern cooking his own at Public House. It's menu is chock full of comfort food at its best. The pimento cheese studded with pecans and folded into fresh, generous sandwiches elevates a classic, as do the ramekins of mac 'n' cheese. Daily lunch specials are similarly deceiving. Meatloaf, pot pie, shrimp and grits; they sound like the basics you grew up on, but each is made with dedicated attention to flavor pairings and local ingredients that transform these favorites into something new. 

Sluggo's North Vegetarian Cafe might seem like an odd inclusion. After all, the backbone of Southern fare is meat and three, not tofu and three! Sluggo's will change your mind, however, after you try their vegan takes on everything from thick, creamy sausage gravy to a loaded Phillie Cheesesteak. Through the magic of their kitchen, Sluggos creates Southern plates that fulfill every aspect of comfort food cravings whether or not you are a full-time vegetarian. Chattanooga food writer Locavore wrote in her Sluggo's review "I mean, vegan mac and cheese????????  I am pretty passionate about what macaroni and cheese should (and shouldn’t) be….but this really was delicious.  The color was slightly off-putting, but that feeling was laid to rest once I tasted the creamy, salty, and, yes, cheesy goodness.  Vegan mac & cheese can be tasty!"
An antique postcard featuring Mt. Vernon Restaurant

Mount Vernon has been an institution for decades, and owned by its current proprietors for over 20. It is nestled at the foot of Lookout Mountain and serves up what it describes as "southern dishes prepared from scratch like Southern Fried ChickenSlow-Roasted Turkey & Dressing or our delicious Fried Green Tomatoes." Offering all the favorites simply done in pleasant atmosphere at a fair price, it's no wonder people come back month after month, year after year. Less prone to fusion and flare than Public House or Market Street Tavern, and as conservative in its approach as Sluggo's is liberal, its the perfect place to go for the familiar, or to treat picky eaters to well-prepared food without surprises.