Local Somewhere Else

212I think the restaurant business is hard . . . like really hard. Hard because there's always a new, trendier place. Hard because just loving to cook is never enough and hard because people are often not very nice (just eavesdrop the next time you are out to eat and listen to how people treat servers). I know if I tried it, I'd be on Restaurant Impossible in a hot minute.

But one of my favorite restaurants in Chattanooga — where I moved from, where my parents still live and where we just got back from vacation — has somehow managed to have great food and people for more than 20 years. I think mostly because they focus on quality local foods, from local people and places. And, I kinda think that's always trendy.

212_saladAnyway, we go to 212 Market every time I'm in Chattanooga. Their menu always features seasonal, local produce. And, having been away from home for a while, I was missing my humid South Louisiana (yea, my skin was dry way up in Tennessee . . . I was shocked) and saw Cajun slaw on the fried green tomato salad. Pretty much all attempts outside of South Louisiana to do Cajun food and flavors fail, but this was really great with a little spice and lots of fresh. I followed it up with one of their daily specials (I pretty much always order stuff from a restaurant's daily specials since I think that's where the chefs get to play), the June veggie risotto with local broccoli, carrots, yellow squash, zucchini and parsnips. 

Great food is definitely not the only thing that makes a great restaurant . . . I've noticed that at the best, the owners are always around and the servers make it look easy. 212 has Sally and Shannon.

212_limeSally runs it and her mom makes all the desserts (that's her key lime tart over there . . . amazing). And every time I go, Sally is there. And Shannon. Shannon has been serving and doing a little bit of everything else ever since I started going when I was a reporter at the Chattanooga Times Free Press and my mom and I went every Friday for lunch. And we love her.

This last visit we were a little unorganized — we were out with my rascal boys at the children's museum — and decided last minute to grab lunch. And Shannon had left for the day. We hardly even knew how to order . . . Shannon just knows what we'll like. The food was still great. . . . but it's never the same without her.

So if any of my South Louisiana people travel through Chattanooga on I-75, this is an easy stop downtown, right across from the Tennessee Aquarium and a bunch of other great family activities. And while you're there, check out the tray of desserts made by Sally's mom as you walk in, and keep an eye out for Sally checking on everything and ask for Shannon's section.

chat_tn_heartCHATTANOOGA

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jamI've decided that you have to find people in your life that celebrate and understand what you're trying to do and what brings you joy.

I know, that was a little esoteric. But I've had 8 hours of driving home from visiting my sister in Dallas to think about this . . . 8 hours listening to my 3 year old play loud games on his iPad while simultaneously listening to the song Danger Zone on eternal repeat.

Anyway, back to joy. I can get bogged down in the daily drudgery/details of anything that I actually love. There are only so many days I can take putting effort into either planning, buying or making a healthy, locally-driven meal when I'm met with 6 rolling eyeballs that clearly say, "you're going to make us eat that?" I truly love good food from local places. But my boys . . . and just a busy, hectic life . . . sometimes suck the life out of my enthusiasm.

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And . . . cue sister. My little sister is one of my best allies in healthy, local food joy. She and her three beautiful girls live in Dallas (yes, God gave her all the girl people and me all the boy people — I'm still figuring out the fairness of that) and she is one of the most committed and adventurous food people I know.

Her last two girls are actually twins, and it was their second birthday this last week. So I got to hang with my girls and enjoy the camaraderie of someone who shares my food joy. I brought some local veggies and balsamic vinegar and we did a little Louisiana-meets-Texas grilling feast. We tried an amazing all-vegetarian Indian restaurant, Kalachandji’s. We cooked. We ate at her favorite local food spots. We feasted on a gorgeous split personality birthday cake by Bronwen Weber — cuz my nieces could not possibly be any more different.

And, like most foodies, she is incredibly generous and sent us off with some of her favorite local pistachio tart cherry biscotti and orange marmalade. I've already eaten one packet of the biscotti . . . . And, even more importantly, she sent me off with a renewed love of celebrating fresh, local foods. I needed that.

dallas, texasDALLAS

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honey_combOh, and because I scrapped our original dinner plans for fresh 12th Street Bakery bread . . . I had to stop at the grocery store for a few things.

What is the old saying, "Never go to the grocery store hungry"?  . . . .ESPECIALLY with kids?

So my 8 year old spotted this honeycomb from the Savannah Bee Company. Indeed it looks really cool. Supposedly you chew on the wax until the honey is out and then spit the wax out. I'm game. I love trying new, nonmeat things. So I looked quickly for a price, didn't see one and just tossed it in the mini cart as I grabbed for my 3 year old who was dashing, tripping and dancing in front of carts. Basically being psychotic. The girl behind the deli counter even asked if she could get me a cart with a child seat for him . . . . no, this is a trial run with him "walking." And we all say, the trial is OVER.

Anyway, we made it to the checkout with about five items. The woman checking us out chatted about how cool the honeycomb was. I told her I was probably paying for its coolness.

And on the way out, clinging to pscyho's shirt with the older one driving the cart, I looked at the receipt . . . wait for it. . .

$18.99

Yes, I just typed $18.99 for a roughly 5-inch square of honeycomb.

And did I turn around? No. I would rather pay $18.99 for something I throw in the garbage, then go back in the store with two, miniature crazy people. . . I think . . .

This better be damn good.

svnnh_ga_heartSAVANNAH

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