Monday, July 19, 2010

The Foodist is on The Road!

Actually the Foodist is preparing to get off the road for awhile, but it has been an interesting food week for me in Chattanooga, Tennessee.  Chattanooga is a small city, with a growing center city core.  The city planners - showing lots of smarts, isn't that wonderful? - are building up and promoting a residential section of the city.  My experience traveling around the country leads me to believe that unless people really live in the city - not commute in for work or school each day and then leave - the city will not be able to support the things we foodies have come to love.  Things like independently owned restaurants and shops, farmers markets, and also,  "events" that keep the city alive and vibrant.

I applaud Chattanooga for taking the next steps to insure a downtown center will thrive and survive - and a tip 'o the Foodist Phillies' cap to the stimulus monies that are helping with that effort.

So, to the food.  I have been traveling to Tennessee for about eight years now, but had never visited this particular part of the state.  I have  to say, I have been pleasantly surprised with what I was able to learn about the food scene here.  "Seasonal", "Local", "Humanely raised" -  appear regularly on menus all over town and at a very interesting grocery store that we frequented for room supplies called, Green Life.  Green Life is sort of a Whole Foods clone, but smaller, carrying many more local products, and lots of young, enthusiastic staff persons.  It was fun to visit and I was able to snack and eat really good food when I ate in the room - thanks Green Life! 

Most importantly, there were a number of intriquing restaurants in the small center city area of Chattanooga - and one in particular deserves mention.  It is called 212 Market - did I mention that in downtown Chattanooga we wandered on Market, Chestnut and Broad Streets!  At any rate, this is a family owned spot that specializes in dishes prepared with seasonal, local products.  I had local fresh water trout, for example. The sources of many of the products contained in the menu items were listed on the menu AND when they weren't and I asked, our server was able to tell us - right away, without returning to the kitchen or somewhere to figure out how to answer my question.  Our server also stood at our table and chatted with us for some time (it wasn't too busy on Wed evening) about eating and shoppng local, about how food is raised, and about the efforts of this restaurant and others to keep folks informed.  We also started talking to folks at a nearby table about the film, "Food, Inc.".  Now I know for many people this all sounds like cruel and unusual punishment but you know how we foodies are - I could have talked all night!  Our server also knew that the Philadelphia area had a large, well coordinated Farmers Market system. I was blown away. 

This was all such a pleasant surprise since  looking at a room service menu in our hotel led me to believe that my access to good food was going to be limited.    I wish I had been here longer - in order to try some of the other spots - folks in Chattanooga call them "green" restaurants - and I hope to get back to do just that.

Ok - to some of the local, what I like to call, "cheese steak" equivalents.  Let me illustrate what I mean:  when I meet people in my travels and I say that I am from Philadelphia, they almost always say - wait for it - "Cheese Steaks!".  "Yes", I usually respond, "Cheese steaks".    They then proceed to tell me how they or their friend or spouse or kid - or somebody - was in town for whatever reason and they went to - wait for it again - Genos or Pats.  I swear it never changes!  IF I dig further, they don't recall one other thing they ate while in our town. How can that be?  More importantly, and with all due respect to a good cheese steak - which in the Foodist's opinion are NOT the ones served at Genos and Pats - how do we change that as the ONLY lasting impression?  On this trip I got the exact same feedback from 3 trainees in the class I was teaching - 3 out of 15!  Amazing - and, I guess, somewhat disturbing.

At any rate, back to Chattanooga's equivalents - if it/they exist - of what is sadly our most famous food.  It seems there are a few. Like all good points South, bar-b-que is big.  Ribs are the most prevalent, as opposed to pulled pork, chicken, etc.  An interesting dip concoction made of spinach, artichokes, and various cheeses is everywhere - on every menu - even on 212 Market's appetizer menu.  Everywhere.  So, I tried it in a few spots; my feeling is it is the area's version of pimiento cheese dip.  It's OK, but I wanted to season it up a bit.  Grits of course are pretty available - both as a breakfast dish and also in the low country "Shrimp and Grits" dish.  Pies seemed to be a big dessert item in town.  And better yet, Fried Fruit pies were available in many places.  I personally think fried fruit pies are a gift of the goddesses - so, I was happy to see them be so prevalent.

I guess to sum up - I have to say that I was pleased and impressed to see so many green restaurants and stores in Chattanooga - I wish that I could have been around for the weekend Farmers' Markets as well.

Maybe next time??

Where are you traveling and what are you eating, Philly Foodies??  Share your experiences with your fellow Philly Foodies!

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