I 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.
Anyway, 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.
Sally 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.