Saturday, September 20, 2014 · 10:06 p.m.

Restaurant Roamin' with Roman: Chattanooga Street Tavern

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Shepherd's pie. (Photo: Staff)

Chattanooga Street was once the main route from LaFayette, Ga., to Chattanooga, creating a bustling economic center along the strip of road through the heart of LaFayette. Built in the early '30s, the Mars Theater anchored this strip, along with the train depot for the main rail line to Chattanooga across the street.

Chattanooga Street Tavern

Address
123 N. Chattanooga St.
LaFayette, GA 30728

Phone
706-620-2178

Hours
Monday-Wednesday
10 a.m.-10 p.m. 

Thursday-Saturday
11-12 a.m.

Sunday
Closed

Star Rankings
★★★★
An epic dining experience: world-class service, décor and menu options.

★★★☆
A superior dining experience: high-quality attributes you'll want to come back for again and again.

★★☆☆
A solid dining experience: great characteristics but also some minor issues.

★☆☆☆
A mediocre dining experience: may have a few good highlights but major flaws.

☆☆☆☆
A terrible dining experience: stay far away unless it's the only place left to eat to avoid starvation, and even then, question if it's worth it. 

After the Mars Theater closed in the '50s—in addition to the train depot—the district went through a steady decline over the years, culminating with the former theater being gutted in a devastating 2011 fire. With the Mars Theater District a derelict shell of its former self, local restaurateur Michael Lovelady—who also owns One-Eleven on LaFayette's main square—purchased the entire strip last year.

Aside from developing the area for boutique shops—and the old Mars Theater being renovated with a stage as a haven for local visual and performance artists—Lovelady opened the Chattanooga Street Tavern on the end of the strip as a British-style pub to help fuel this venture. 

Atmosphere and service
I arrived last Thursday night—despite the "snow"—and the district was dark, with mostly empty storefronts still under construction. The marquee for the former Mars Theater was restored, however, with the logo proudly featured on the front after being absent for so many decades.

The tavern was packed and lively, and the outdoor patio had a giant fireplace with a roaring fire. The interior was bright and fun, adorned with British sports flags and a few TVs. The servers were uniformed in tartan kilts and tam o' shanters (these "tam" caps are named from Robert Burns' epic Scots poem of the same name).

The service this evening was stellar. Not only did my server check on my table several times, but two other servers and the bartender (whom I suspect may have been Lovelady himself) all made rounds.

The menu was all over the place, from Hawaiian to Mexican to Cajun to Asian, but with British pub food being the main theme, that was my primary target. My appetizer came out quickly, but the main courses arrived at the same time. This was an instance of food coming out too fast, leading me to immediately question the quality.

Appetizer
I originally wanted to sample their beer cheese soup ($5), but they were out of it this evening. So instead, I tried the chicken version of their "ultimate nachos" ($8), topped with melted Gouda and cheddar cheeses, diced onions and tomatoes, shredded lettuce and sour cream.

According to the menu, it was also supposed to have black beans, but there weren't any in the dish. Regardless, this was a massive pile of foodstuffs. The plentiful chunks of chicken were juicy with a peppery seasoning, and the creamy, melted Gouda was a nice touch on an otherwise straightforward nacho appetizer. This could also be a hefty meal on its own.

Main courses
Next, I dove into their British fare, beginning with the fish and chips ($10), which is the epitome of British pub food. Of course, in Brit-speak, "chips" are what we Americans call "french fries"—first referred to in writing as "chips" in Charles Dickens' "A Tale of Two Cities." These fresh-cut chips were OK, lightly seasoned and not too salty, but were a wee bit soggy.

The Atlantic cod was coated in a thick beer batter and deep-fried to a golden tone, the outer layer crispy with lots of crunchy batter stragglers. The inside of the batter was very soft and delicate, though fully cooked, so this moist and flaky fish fell apart rather easily.

The "Georgia mountain tartar sauce" served to the side was sweet and tangy with onions, pimentos and pickles in its creamy base. This sauce was excellent, perfectly complementing the fish and livening up the chips.

And then I tried the shepherd's pie ($13), a traditional British dish I've discussed before.

Fish and chips. (Photo: Staff)

It had ground lamb/beef, diced onions, sliced carrots and green peas topped with mashed russet potatoes.

The skin-on potatoes were mashed to a thick consistency with heavy flavors of butter, garlic and herbs (definitely thyme and possibly rosemary). The meat and veggie mixture was strongly seasoned but a bit too salty, and its sauce needed a thickener.

Chicken ultimate nachos. (Photo: Staff)

Also, this was not really a pie because it wasn't baked, which forms a crust on the potato layer and allows the essence of the meat mixture to intermingle with the potatoes. This was simply potatoes spooned on top of meat. Nevertheless, even with its drawbacks, it was enjoyable overall.

They do not have desserts as of this writing. But the portion sizes are so large it would be tough to save room for one.

Final thoughts
I am giving Chattanooga Street Tavern 2 stars. Although the tartans were cute, the atmosphere was fun and the service was phenomenal, there were some kinks that still needed to be worked out with the food. And aside from bottled Newcastle, they had no other British imports. When trying to establish a British-style pub, so far as to have servers in tartans, they need a larger selection of British Isles ales and stouts. A proper pint pairs perfectly with a shepherd's pie—particularly a Guinness.

I truly hope Lovelady succeeds in revitalizing the Mars District to echo its former glory. But, as with the rest of the project, the vision of the Chattanooga Street Tavern has not yet fully come to fruition. However, I certainly plan to come back, and I think this renaissance of the district is a good thing for the city of LaFayette.

Roman Flis is a wandering writer, focusing on Chattanooga's food scene. You can find him at romanflis.com or on Facebook and Twitter, or you can contact him at roaminwithroman@gmail.com. The opinions expressed in this column belong solely to the author, not Nooga.com or its employees.

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