A Foodie's Guide to Chattanooga
Ask anyone what they think of when they hear “Chattanooga” and they are likely to answer “trains”. Chattanooga has a long history with the railroad, which began well before Chattanooga Choo Choo became a gold record in the 1940s. Once dubbed the “Gateway of the South”, Chattanooga was a central connector to some of America’s biggest cities, even before the Civil War. It’s clear that the city has kept close to their roots, taking care to preserve their long relationship with the rails. But there is more to this town than trains. They are frequently listed amongst Asheville and Austin as one of the hippest cities in the U.S. and they have a growing local food scene. With about 600 restaurants listed online, I know I will enjoy eating my way through this town.
10:00 AM I am a bit late finding breakfast this Sunday morning, but it’s not for lack of trying. My first choice, Aretha Frankenstein’s, which has wonderful reviews, is clearly not a secret. What they are, however, is tiny. There are about 20 seats total and a 2-hour wait for breakfast, so I pass for somewhere that will get me served before noon. I try a second and third choice, but both are closed on Sundays, something I discover is not uncommon with restaurants here. I finally end up at Milk and Honey on the Northside, which appears to be where the cool kids hang out. The line is out the door on my arrival and it takes a while to make my way to the front. They are a combination breakfast, coffee and ice cream place. The menu is not expansive, but I’m starving, so everything looks good to me and the prices are reasonable. I end up with the TN Ham and Apple, which is just what it sounds like - Benton’s Country Ham, Granny Smith apple, Cheddar cheese and honey mustard served on a sourdough roll with a side of fresh fruit. The food turns out to be delicious.
11:00 AM After breakfast, I head over to the Chattanooga Market. Frommers named this Market as one of the Top 10 Public Markets in America. Their website claims they have 50 farms and 130 artisans at the market. I can’t wait to check it out. The Market is located in an old industrial building on the Southside. I can see the place is packed elbow to elbow! There are food trucks at the front and the rear of the building, offering a selection of freshly prepared food, including one gentleman who is smoking possum in front of an eager crowd. There seem to be less than the 50 farms that are advertised. The farmers who are here have the same assortments of vegetables that we’d find at home, including the first produce of fall.
I do notice that many of the vendors have traveled in from Georgia, which is just a few miles away. They do have a tremendous number of artisans with everything from pillowcases to jewelry. This seems like it would be a great place to do some gift shopping!
1:00 PM After all that shopping, I decide to head over to the Blue Plate for lunch. They are located right on the riverfront across from the Aquarium, where there is plenty of people watching available. Despite being located in one of the busiest areas of town, there is no wait to get seated. The interior is very modern - stainless steel everywhere. Since I’m still thinking about my missed breakfast experience, I go for the Chicken and Pancake (pancake mix provided by Aretha Frankenstein’s). It’s served with a side of loaded hash browns, which I swear are covered in a homemade nacho cheese sauce. I practically lick the plate clean. Everything is fantastic here! I especially enjoy the small details - the waitress refills your drink from cute little glass jars instead of the old plastic pitcher you see at every other restaurant. Once again, the prices are reasonable and the place is family friendly.
2:00 PM Since I am now stuffed, I decide to take a walk across the river on the Walnut StreetBridge. The bridge is about ½ mile long and by now it’s about 200 degrees outside, so I quickly have second thoughts. But once I’m up in the air, it is surprisingly shady under the steel beams. This bridge sits nearly 100 feet above the water and the views are spectacular. It’s pedestrian only, so there are plenty of people walking, jogging and bicycling here. It doesn’t take nearly as long as I expect to reach the other side, where I’m greeted by Coolidge Park.
Coolidge Park is the greenest space I have seen since arriving. It sits right on the North Shore of the Tennessee River and has a recreational fountain (think Splashville), a 120-year-old working carousel and lots of trees and grass, plus a fantastic view of the river. There are plenty of people here enjoying the fountain - both locals and tourists alike. I cannot leave the park without a ride on the carousel, which I am amazed to find only costs $1!
4:00 PM After all this time in the sun and facing the hot walk back to the South Shore, I decide I need to rejuvenate myself with ice cream. Conveniently, Clumpies Ice Cream is located right at the park’s edge (I’m sure this is by design). Clumpies has been around since 1999. They handcraft all of their ice cream and sorbet in house. In total, they serve around 20 flavors, including Firecracker, which is made with pop rocks. Once again, the line is all the way out the door, but I’m not in a rush because they have super air conditioning, plus the wait gives me time to decide what flavor I will order. Even after much deliberation, I’m still surprised when I’m asked to place my order. In a panic, I go with mint chocolate chunk. Down the hatch it goes, brain freeze be damned. Boy, this stuff is good - so good, in fact, I’m a little sad I only ordered one scoop.
On my walk back, I take my time to enjoy the city. Chattanooga seems to be dedicated to the arts. They have a large art museum and public art displays on nearly every block. They also seem to be working hard to accommodate bicycle transportation. In fact, they offer bicycles for rent at more than 30 locations throughout the city. The self-serve stations offer rentals for one hour, one day, or annual memberships. I only witness a few people using the bike rentals, but it still seems like a great way to supplement public transportation.
7:00 PM For dinner, I decide to try out Lupi’s Pizza Pies. They’ve been voted the best pizza in Chattanooga for six years running. They make their own dough, sauce and cheese, and offer about 30 toppings - mostly sourced from local farms. The y have a large bottled beer selection, about 40 varieties, although very few are craft brews. Since I’m a garlic lover, I know I’m getting their roasted garlic on my pie. Fair warning - make sure everyone in your party is eating the garlic. They literally put 5-6 cloves of garlic on each slice of pizza. It was wonderful, but I’m pretty sure I STILL have garlic breath. Once again, the place was packed with a line out the door. You also have to find your own table, which can be a challenge. The staff recommends having a second person with you to scout and hold your table. The decor was funky and fun. Overall, it was a great way to end the night.
After dinner, I couldn’t help stopping by the Moonpie store. As a southern girl, I grew up enjoying the sweet Moonpie as a special treat. I never knew they originated in Chattanooga 100 years ago. I’m stuffed, so I don’t know how I could possibly enjoy this pie...well, maybe just one little bite...