Diane Siskin: Savoring The Season In Chattanooga

Thursday, December 8, 2016 - by Diane Siskin

Recently I spent several weeks in Chattanooga, the first time in 15 years that I did so. Other visits to the city where generally quick and jam-packed with a “to do list” of visiting friends and events to attend.

One of the most pleasant aspects of my recent visit was getting to explore new places in the city and dine in many of the new, and not so new, restaurants that now spread from the valley to the mountains.

One of my first dining experiences was to one of the oldest establishments in the city, but one that I had never been to during all the years I lived in Chattanooga.

Zarzour's Cafe is located at 1627 Rossville Avenue, off Main Street, in a downtown district that has been completely revitalized. The restaurant has not moved there or updated considerably. The aesthetic today is old ----but nostalgic---with old-fashioned tables and chairs, not to mention a “lunch counter” and restrooms which were originally the bathrooms of the old house, in which it is located. The café is family owned and operated since 1918. It is open only from 11 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. for lunch.

Sepia-tinged photographs, along with some “newer” black and whites photos, line the walls. The service is good and legendary. Most of the staff has worked there for a long time. Zarzour’s is the same place but still operating in a different era and that makes it a Chattanooga icon.

The tradition of “a meat and three (entrée, two vegetables, cornbread and tea)  plate‘’ still is offered at lunch and it comes with a reasonable price. This is high-quality comfort food.

A hamburger is also a good choice since Southern Living magazine put Zarzour’s on its top burgers list.

During the week you can see locals from all walls of life. During my visit there were construction workers, lawyers, doctors and even some housewives grabbing a good meal and some conversation.

Put this eatery on your “to-try list” and not only will you enjoy some good comfort food, but also a trip down memory lane.

A newer dining venue the Feed Table and Tavern, is located not too far away at 201 West Main Street and offers along with good food, live bluegrass and other local music on different nights. Featuring nine big screens, it is also a place to watch football and other sports. 

There are some restaurants which have been perennial favorites of mine on visits to the city, those include Foodworks, 205 Manufacturers Road and Rembrandt’s and Tony’s, both on East Second Street (all of which produce good meals for reasonable prices. At Tony’s I could get a gluten-free pasta dish at lunch, which made my day.  At Foodworks, there are also wonderful gluten-free options on the menu at very reasonable prices. Tried the Back Inn Restaurant, 411 E. Second Street, for the first time in a long while, and while the setting is magnificent, the food left much to desire for the prices charged.

The Boathouse on the River, at 1459 Riverside Drive, (on the Tennessee Riverwalk along the Tennessee River) has always delivered with delicious food and a fabulous setting. On my recent visit, we got together with some old friends for a Sunday brunch and were not disappointed. It seems that whatever Lawton Haygood touches becomes a food destination for Chattanoogans and visitors. When he opened Canyon Grill in Cloudland Canyon on the backside of Lookout Mountain, his fans followed him there. It was just announced that he will open another restaurant on Hixson Pike. He is hoping his fans followed further down the road from Riverview. Generally Mr. Haygood’s restaurants feature a wood fired grill and lots of rotisserie items. The food special on the Boathouse’s eclectic and highly creative menu on the day we visited was a 2- and- half pound Fried Flounder, which two of our friends easily enjoyed.

I have tried the restaurant Five at 200 Manufacturers Road, on a prior visit and enjoyed dining there. Ironically, this restaurant (which now occupies the location of the former Chatt Restaurant) is affiliated with a couple of seafood restaurants which are located in my area, Santa Rosa Beach). Those restaurants are the Red Bar in Grayton Beach and Harbor Docks in Destin, Florida.

Five Restaurant and Bar gained its name by only serving 5 entrees: such as a cheeseburger, paneed chicken, gulf fried shrimp, gulf coast platter and a rib eye. All dishes are accompanied by a salad. This is a menu which is very similar in style and offerings to the Red Bar and another Santa Rosa Beach eatery, Louis, Louis belonging to some of the same owners.

Having already mentioned that I like to dine in restaurants which offer gluten-free options, I loved finding and trying Fiamma, a pizza company at 405 N. Market Street. This restaurant/pizzeria prides itself that “It’s all about the dough” in their specialty Neapolitan pizzas. And I think it is. The pizza, while not inexpensive, is very good. You can build your own as long as you don’t try to modify their specialty pizzas. The price of the build your own can increase with the addition of lots of different ingredients.

A fairly new restaurant in Riverview, at 1100 Hixson Pike, called ll Primo has also quickly become a favorite of mine and lots of others. The lobster risotto dish was a very special highlight for me. Did I mention that the dish was “gluten free’”” The restaurant features authentic Italian cuisine, great service and a very attractive, albeit noisy, interior.

I made two visits to Lookout Mountain’s Café on the Corner, several weeks apart. The restaurant is currently celebrating the first anniversary of its reopening (December 10, 2015) after a fire destroyed the business. On both my visits, I enjoyed the ambience as well as the locally sourced Southern-style food, including a great gluten-free dessert.

The restaurant is very attractive, with a large out-door patio, complete with heaters for those warmer fall nights the mountain experienced until recently. There are also “high tables and chairs” for dinner seating in the bar area. A large black fireman’s boot greeted us at the door. Ruth Oehmig, the restaurant’s general manager and chef is raising money for the Lookout Mountain firefighters who battled the restaurant’s fire. The money will go for purchasing needed equipment for the firemen.

What a great way to celebrate the season, savoring good food and raising money for those who save lives and property.

By Diane Siskin


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