Coffee Treasures in Chattanooga

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.

Sidewalks in Chattanooga, Tenn. — Metal Dresses and Magic Doors

Chattanooga, Tenn., is a town that loves its art. (And its doughnuts, but that’s a different post.) Art is everywhere here. It oozes out of museums and galleries and spills out onto walls, buses and anywhere there’s an inspiring blank space. Such as sidewalks. In the emerging Southside Art District, for example, simply walking along immerses you in all sorts of innovative artistic minds. Sculptor John Petrey, for instance, is known for his dress series, and one of his astonishing works is just standing right there. You can walk up to it and inspect it and touch it all you want. Yea, art for the people!!! And then there was this wooden door propped up against a lamp post on a sidewalk in Northside, Chattanooga’s cool hipster alter ego. Younger Daughter and I were walking to Greenlife Grocery (which we all know is actually a Whole Foods, although everybody in Northside tries to deny it) when we spotted the door and tried to figure it out. Was it art? Apartment renovation? A magic door that would lead to an alternate universe? We resisted the urge to draw on it since all we had were ink pens and lipstick and, besides, if it did happen to be a magic door leading to an alternate universe, we felt that non-engagement was the proper response.

Chattanooga, Tenn. — Art Destination

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?

Newspapers ‘R’ Us

Husband JP and I are newspaper geeks. We met at a newspaper — Sidelines, the student newspaper at Middle Tennessee State University, in Murfreesboro, Tenn. We work for newspapers — he’s actually fortunate enough to get a regular paycheck from one. We talk and post and discuss and argue about newspapers (and also whose turn it is to clean out the cat boxes and which one of us forgot to buy beer). And we buy newspapers — you know, the old-fashioned kind made of paper — everywhere we go. When we travel, our hotel room is littered with newspapers. We take stacks into restaurants (although not the really good ones). We pile them in the back seat of the car and haul them home for additional perusal. In doing all this, we stumble across some fascinating things. Such as the fact that the May 27 edition of the Chattanooga (Tenn.) Times Free Press — the Sunday of Memorial Day weekend — weighed in at an incredible 2 pounds and, when folded, was 1 1/2 inches deep. This is, we calculated, about four times bigger than your average regular daily paper and seemed mainly due to an inordinately large amount of advertising inserts. Most papers, it seemed to us, had a lighter number of inserts for Memorial Day Sunday. Anyway, this is the sort of stuff that fascinates us. Just wait until you hear our discussion on Times Roman versus Times New Roman.

Occupy Chattanooga — and Julie Darling Donuts

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.

I’d Like a Yellow Submarine to Go, Please

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.

Good Dog

I love good hot dogs, but I hardly ever eat them because, well, I think we can all agree that good hot dogs are a rare breed. So when a restaurant proclaims that it serves a Good Dog right in its name, that’s a challenge I’ve got to check out. Happily, I can report that Good Dog, in the hip and happening area of Northshore in Chattanooga, Tennessee, does indeed serve a good dog. A fantastically wonderful hot dog, in fact.  And I went for the veggie dog, too — and would rank it right up there with some of the best I’ve ever had. Probably because it’s cooked on the same grill right next to the beef dogs, but oh well. It’s the effort that counts. The menu boasts several versions of classic hot dogs (Chicago, New York Street Cart, Cleveland Ballpark) or you can order a plain dog and add whatever toppings you want. Ordering at Good Dog moves fast — there’s almost always a line — so know what you want before it’s your turn or you risk the wrath of everybody behind you. Due to the owner’s Dutch heritage, Heineken is the beer of choice here. And definitely go for the handmade frites, which are served hot and salty in a paper cone you then slip into circles that have been cut in your table. Good Dog is a condiment lover’s dream, as you can see from the photo, which shows only half of the condiment-gallery shelves. Also: When you order the frites, actually say the word “frites” instead of “fries” so you’ll seem like a regular. You’re welcome.