We’ve talked about art in one of my favorite adopted towns of all time — Chattanooga, Tenn., here and here. Now, art is good. I like art. I like people who make art, which is convenient since I work (most days) in an art museum. But when it comes to other things Chattanooga really is good at, have to put “coffee” high on the list. I’m not sure if it’s the mountain or the river or that whole we’re-cool-and-hipster-and-still-a-little-bit-country thing Chattanoogians have going, but folks there sure love and know their coffee. Me, too. At least the “love” part. Chattanooga fans surely will recognize where these two photos come from. On the left, it’s Rembrandt’s Coffee House in the Bluff View Art District, identifiable by its awesomely wonderful desserts. It’s one of those bakeries where you just stare through the glass and say “I want one of those and one of those and …” And, yes, the foam on my macchiato is a bit too foamy, but really that’s a minor complaint for such a fun location and satisfying sweetness. On the right, nobody could mistake the sturdy recycled tables and skillful foam art of Camp House Espresso, a few blocks from both the burgeoning Southside Art District and bustling downtown Market Street. The Camp House building truly is multi-purpose, housing at various times during the week a church, an entertainment venue and a clothing mission as well as a coffee house. That is sooooo Chattanooga.
It looks suspicious, I’ll admit, that my previous post was about a huge liquor store in Kennesaw, Ga., — and I wrote that more than a week ago. I do have
an excuse a reason, though: For some of those intervening days, I was hanging out with our 4-year-old grandson. Then I had to take the remaining days to recover from a marathon of playing Spider Man/Angry Birds/pirates/Bilbo-tries-to-escape-the-bad-guys-and-throw-his-ring-into-a-volcano. Every time I grandson-sit, I’m grateful that Nature eased 50ish-women out of the baby business. Thank you, Nature. You knew what you were doing.
So, back to business. This is not news but it’s worth repeating: Chattanooga, Tenn., should be on your go-to list. Looking for a weekend getaway or a family-friendly vacation spot? This east Tennessee mountain town is perfect. It’s definitely a happening sort of place for art, food, shopping and outdoor-iness. I know nothing about that last item, a whole heckuva lot about the middle two (more to come on these topics) and only a little about the first one. But enough to
be really annoying appreciate what artists do. And in Chattanooga, art literally is everywhere — from sidewalks and playgrounds to innovative museums. You gotta love a town that encourages folks to paint on its walls. Even the buses have art instead of the ubiquitous ads. Go and see for yourself. Coming up next: Chattanooga food, Chattanooga shopping and more Chattanooga art. Have I mentioned that I adore this town?
Normally I don’t get in on nationally historical & happening-right-now political events — I’m generally more of the heard-it-on-NPR type — but earlier this week I got a close-up look at the headline-making Occupy (Fill-in-the-Blank) movement while I was in downtown Chattanooga, Tennessee. The Occupy Chattanooga folks have set up their tents on the lawn of the Hamilton County courthouse, and Younger Daughter and I, being the
nosy & curious journalistically inquiring people that we are, headed over to get the full story. And the full story, as far as I can tell, is that we should eat locally and not step on the pansies bravely trying to brighten the sparse wintry landscaping. I didn’t pick up much political angst — it seemed more like a friendly campout where you borrow your neighbors’ chocolate bars to make s’mores — but I wasn’t surprised at that. See, the thing about Chattanooga is that it’s a pretty cool & laidback town where Patagonia, stand-up paddleboarding and organic coffee shops trump pearls, pantyhose and pumps. So it’s entirely fitting that Chattanooga’s version of Occupy (Fill-in-the-Blank) is low-key. But, of course, it was difficult to get the full story since it was a weekday and the site was fairly empty because the protesters were at 1) work, 2) school or 3) back home taking showers, leaving Occupy Chattanooga in the hands of an address-less man who tends the fire and watches over the tents while everybody’s gone. He happily filled Younger Daughter and I in on why the government was out to get us, augmented by comments from another talkative man on a bicycle who offered opinions as he cycled around the tents and whom we later saw riding around town, still commenting loudly to everybody and nobody. But I liked the whole Occupy Chattanooga vibe. I mean, when Imyself Occupy Chattanooga, I tend more toward Julie Darling Donuts and Good Dog beer & fries, but I’m glad there are other folks out there who are making me think about other things and reminding me that not everyone is so lucky — and not to step on the flowers.
Whenever we go to Chattanooga, Tenn., it’s difficult to leave the eclectic exuberance of Northshore food (doughnuts, hot dogs, beer, coffee, wine, biscuits, pancakes, cupcakes) for the more uptown feel of downtown eateries. But recently Younger Daughter recommended 212 Market Restaurant, which is at … 212 Market St., near the Tennessee River. And she was correct. From the strangely comforting 1980s-style decor to the exemplary service and fresh-tasting food — much of it from local farmers and ranchers — 212 Market is a winner. We ordered as we like to do — mainly from the salad, sides and appetizer sections of a menu — and ended up with yummy vegetables and well-dressed salads that blended contrasting tastes and textures together deliciously. Warm homemade bread and glasses of reisling were the perfect touches. And of course we have to check out the dessert menu, too. After all, woman cannot live on lettuce and carrots — albeit satisfying and tasty lettuce and carrots — alone. And who can resist a dessert sampler of creme brulee, cheesecake and chocolate truffle cake? I think we all know the answer to that. 212 Market also is known for its wine selection and offers a solar deck out back where dogs and bicycles are welcome. You’ve gotta love a place where dogs, bikes, wine and creme brulee mingle comfortably.
One of my new favorite places is Yellow Deli in Chattanooga, Tennessee. For one thing, it’s just fun to say. Go ahead — try it right now: “Yellow Deli.” See? You can’t say it without smiling. And you can’t eat there without smiling, either. This is the place to, literally, feed your inner hippie. I mean, I’m all for any restaurant that lists “sprouts” as an add-on to your sandwich, offers homemade granola for breakfast and would rather pour you a cup of mate instead of coffee. (The very thought of “mate” instead of coffee horrifies me, but, you know, I celebrate diversity.) Think Bob Dylan meets Sgt. Pepper and then Alice Waters invites everybody over for tea with her friend Arlo Guthrie. Or maybe that’s just my own personal fantasy. But there’s definitely a 1960s-70s vibe here, and there’s a reason for that. A Chattanooga couple founded the Yellow Deli in 1973 as “a place where people from all walks of life could come and touch a living demonstration of God’s love in those who served them.” (http://yellowdeli.com/) Things got a little rocky at times — read both the “History” portion of the website and the Wikipedia entry for varying accounts — but there’s no denying that the Yellow Deli in Chattanooga serves fresh and delicious food along with a warm and casually funky atmosphere. Both my 76-year-old parents, my 20-something-year-old daughters and my three-year-old grandson Capt. Adorable loved it — and there aren’t many places where we all feel at home. The inside is meticulously clean — an admirable feat considering all the rustic wood and handmade touches — the outside is gorgeously landscaped and the whole place is like getting a hug from your best friend. If your best friend could make a Hibiscus Fruit Cooler with sweet-potato pound cake. And don’t look for “Men” and “Women” signage when it comes to the restrooms. I think the Yellow Del’s all-inclusive sign pretty well sums it up.
Grandson Capt. Adorable turned 3 this past weekend, and his mom (my older daughter) wisely decided to celebrate by 1) a family trip to the Tennessee Aquarium in Chattanooga, where the Captain’s favorite thing was “I touched a sting ray!” and 2) a family — grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins — party with all the essentials of cake, ice cream and munchies. (Of course, it was so cold that day that we forgot the ice cream. Oh well.) I thought she was smart in forgoing the fun but insane kid-frenzy type of party they’d had for the Captain’s second birthday. “After all,” she said, “his family are his most important people.” So props to her for keeping it simple. But that’s totally them — do-it-yourself to save money and because you’ll probably end up with something better anyway. For instance, the Captain requested a Dinosaur Train (he loves that TV show) cake, and since no such decor could be found anywhere, his artist-and-art-teacher daddy printed and cut out the cake decorations on his own. Brilliant! Add the cake and his favorite people to two other of the Captain’s favorite things — blueberries and tractor rides on Grandad’s farm — and it was a perfect third birthday!
Downtown Chattanooga, Tennessee, is a seriously awesome place. I fell in love with it when I was young and my dad would drive the hour it took to get us there so we could eat at the Chattanooga Choo-Choo and then wander around the top of Lookout Mountain. Luckily, my middle brother and his family live there, so we still get to visit lots. And it’s still one of my favorite places. Chattanooga has done a stellar job of downtown renaissance and making itself into A Must-See Destination. Such as this Broad Street block that’s just up the street from the Tennessee River and the Tennessee Aquarium. This block is home to Sticky Fingers Smokehouse, the barbecue restaurant-chain that three friends who first met as seventh-graders in Chattanooga started in 1992 in Charleston, S.C. My brother and I were there to pick up wings, pulled chicken and pulled pork for my nephew’s 12-year-old birthday party, and I have to say that Sticky Fingers’ wings rate right up there — meaty, juicy and just-right-hot. I can see why my nephew requested Sticky Fingers for his birthday. (I think I’ll do the same, even though that means moving my birthday to a city four hours away. Worth it.) Another treasure on this block is Greyfriar’s Coffee and Tea Co., one of my brother’s top choices for coffee — and he knows coffee. And of course there’s more to Chattanooga than wings and coffee. You’ve got history, hiking, rock climbing, kayaking, shopping, music, art, more eating and more good times. Go check it out, and tell my brother I sent you.