When Jim Leff, founder of Chowhound, was sent on a road trip to get him out of the hair of the folks who’d just bought his baby, one of the places he visited was Chattanooga… and it was probably the place he bitched most mightily about.
Well, I went to the brewpub (Big River Grille) he complained about, for instance, and had a perfectly pleasant steak and beer, neither one of them adorned with excessive cheese. He is right, that it’s a big generic place in a neighborhood of generic places, and could be in any suburb anywhere in America where they like to eat meat and watch sports (which is all of them), but it wasn’t that bad. Neither was Magic Mushroom for pizza, or the Italian place (Tony’s) or the coffee/muffin place (Rembrandt’s) attached to our B&B.
But they weren’t that great, either. We spent two days in Chattanooga, which is a cute and very friendly town, which has a great pair of aquariums (aquaria?), one of them very interestingly devoted to the wildlife of the river/delta systems of the south, which has a totally charming arts district up on the bluffs overlooking the river, which has fun public art and interesting things like this (somewhat unnerving) glass walkway over a highway:
I would absolutely recommend Chattanooga, and the Bluff View B&B complex (great rooms/setting, incredibly nice people), for a weekend getaway for anybody… anybody who wasn’t hoping to eat the kind of interesting food we’d been having in Memphis and elsewhere, that is. Us, we took it as a break from barbecue, a chance to eat salad and get ourselves back in shape for the next round.
Pardon me boys—is that the Chattanooga Choo-Choo? Yes it is, at the old railway station, now a Holiday Inn.
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One reason Chattanooga didn’t detract from the food side of our trip was that we had had one of the best— maybe the best?— meals of our trip on the way there. Pigmon had urged, cajoled, implored me to make a stop in Nashville to eat at Arnold’s, a nondescript meat-and-threes cafeteria he, Trixie-Pea and Mike Sula had visited and the latter had written about for the Reader, but I had assumed it would be a major detour. Looking at the map, though, I realized that because of the mountains, we actually had to drive northeast nearly to Nashville to then head southeast again to Chattanooga. Arnold’s hardly added 20 minutes to the trip, and 20 minutes have rarely been better spent.
Sula had raved about garlic-studded roast beef, seen here carved one-handed by one of the family who runs Arnold’s, while he guided an employee by phone through the process of making a purchase at Costco. The meats were all good, the desserts (chess pie and banana pudding) were very good, but it was the threes that made the leap toward greatness— especially the greens, whose pot likker was Bordeaux-complex in its depth of flavor, smoky, porky, cognac-y.
One thing that keeps me from becoming a vegetarian is a certain deep-seated prejudice that vegetables’ flavor, however bright and satisfying, is all on the surface; you need meat to find complexity and profundity in a dish. Okay, so a big reason these greens were so good is undoubtedly bits of smoky ham down in the likker. But still, a dish like this, mostly vegetable in its flavor with ham for counterpoint, goes a long way toward proving that veggies, too, can swim in the deep end of the pool.