“There is a real gastronomic jewel in Chattanooga, Tennessee,” wrote tipster John Reed in a note we received in the early 2000s. “To my knowledge, it has never received the national recognition it deserves.” Mr. Reed went on to describe what he called the “proverbial hole-in-the-wall” that in his opinion, offered “the finest home cooking and hospitality in the Southeast.”
We were soon on our way; and once we found it, we were blowing kisses back to Mr. Reed. This is the type of place you’d not likely find just driving along. It is an unhappy part of town, across from a junkyard and surrounded by buildings that were vacated long ago. When you get lost trying to find it – and chances are good you will – don’t bother looking in the phone book to call and ask driving directions. There is no evidence of it in the Yellow Pages; its number is in residential listings, under the name of the manager’s late mother-in-law. And if you do finally locate the no-man’s-land café, you will not be able to eat a meal unless you arrive during the fifteen hours a week that it’s open for business: Monday through Friday from 11am to 2pm.
The front eating area and the kitchen are all one space, separated by a short counter with four stools. Behind the counter, manager Shannon Fuller hand-patties and grills huge, gnarled-crust, juice-dripping burgers and Mary Smith prepares meat-and-three lunches on sturdy partitioned plates. “Are you having a cheeseburger or dining off the menu today?” Shannon calls out as new customers walk in the door. The menu is small: a 5-by-7-inch piece of paper with three entrees hand-written every day above a printed list of vegetables. Entrees are such démodé items as baked spaghetti, salmon croquettes, and chicken and dumplings. Sides include turnip greens, creamed potatoes, pinto beans, butter beans, fresh corn, and black-eyed peas. The murky dark greens are especially delicious: pork-sweet, as tender as long-steamed cabbage, and heavy with tonic pot likker.
For dessert, we love millionaire pie. It is pineapple chunks, walnut pieces, green grapes, and mandarin orange slices suspended in a mix of frozen Cool Whip and sweetened condensed milk.
Curbside pickup and local delivery are available during the pandemic.