Saturday, October 25, 2014 · 11:40 p.m.

Date Night Dining: Food Works

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The idea behind this series is fairly simple: My girlfriend and I will go out to eat at a Chattanooga-area restaurant and then describe our dining experience there. Keep in mind that this is not a food review per se, but instead an attempt to relate to readers our single, one-time experience at a restaurant. It just is what it is, as they say. There will also be pictures. Lots of pictures.

About us
I am a 30-year-old voracious eater of anything weird, while my girlfriend, age 24, is the complete opposite. This makes dining for us a strange affair. I enjoy a tremendous amount of flavor and complexity, but her M.O. is "simple, no frills." These dining adventures will test both of us at various restaurants around Chattanooga. It’s been more than a year since a writer for Nooga.com visited Food Works on the North Shore. He sampled the popular weekend brunch menu, but Lauren and I decided to sit down for a gluttonous dinner after a week of moving boxes into our new apartment. We were not disappointed.

The restaurant
I remember when Food Works opened in 2006, and everybody freaked out because Chattanooga finally had a "foodie" restaurant. It was a place that felt comfortable and progressively Southern, with interesting and fresh riffs on traditional recipes. Not much has changed since 2006, and the food is as good as it ever was. Lauren commented that Food Works is one of those restaurants that gets lost in the shuffle of other newer, "hip" startups, a place you forget is even an option until you drive past and think, "I should eat there again." We were seated at a table near the door with a direct view of the kitchen. I needed a drink, and Lauren needed me to have a drink.

"The Shackleford" and "The Kentucky Breeze" are the "least-girly" cocktails on the menu, according to our server. (Photo: Staff)

The service/atmosphere
Our server was Will, a true gentleman and a consummate server. He was quick to offer his expertise and bias. I appreciate the heck out service like that. Inside, the restaurant is aging well. Considering the building was a part of Knitting Mill—a popular antique store—before it opened, seven years is nothing. Another small detail I appreciated was the butcher paper tablecloth. Food Works serves huge portions, and inevitably, part of the dinner was going to end in my lap or all over Lauren. I eat like a drunken harpsichord player. The butcher paper allowed me to eat aggressively.

The appetizer/drinks
I asked Will to suggest to me a cocktail from the drink menu. He said most of the drinks were "girly," excepting "The Shackleford" and, possibly, "The Kentucky Breeze." However, the latter was a variation of a classic mint julep and contained mint, of which Will said he was "not a fan." I ordered it anyway. Lauren, being the alcoholic I’ve always known her to be (joking!), ordered "The Shackleford," which contains vodka, ginger beer and limejuice. We also ordered a plate of bruschetta that was so large it could’ve fed three cloned copies of myself. It was also delicious, and the onions added a surprising spiciness. My drink tasted like a mint julep with a hint of blackberry, not surprising considering it contained several blackberries. Lauren’s drink was a little sour for my taste, but she seemed to enjoy it.

Four huge slices of bruschetta, served on a platter. (Photo: Staff)

The entrées
I cannot remember having more difficulty choosing an entrée at a restaurant than we did at Food Works. Everything looked delicious: four different steaks, shrimp and grits, blackberry chicken, scallops, fish, burgers and pasta dishes. And that’s omitting all of the salads, which probably shouldn’t be omitted because the salmon Caesar at Food Works is one of the best in Chattanooga. You could also make a dinner out of just a few side dishes, like braised collard greens and Yukon Gold mashed potatoes. Finally, we ordered. Lauren chose "the chop," marinated in honey and herbs and served with the above potatoes and red cabbage. Will told me the most popular item was the horseradish-crusted salmon, which made my decision easy. Both of us opted to substitute a vegetable medley for our cabbage.

The horseradish-crusted salmon is the most popular item on the menu —for good reason. (Photo: Staff)

After a brief wait, our dinner arrived. Lauren’s pork chop was savory and enormous. I forgot that I wasn’t a huge fan of horseradish when I ordered the horseradish-crusted salmon, so I was a little worried. My fears were ill-founded, though, because the horseradish only enhanced the flavor of the fish. I’m not tiny, but I had difficulty finishing my meal. To save your waistline and a few dollars, it might be a good idea to split an entrée if you can agree on something.

Dessert
Will saw me unbutton my pants and assumed we didn’t want dessert. Wrong! Although we didn’t plan to have dessert, a friend told us that Food Works has "amazingly noshworthy" desserts, whatever the hell that means. Chocolate was too rich and Lauren doesn’t like coffee, so we opted for the strawberry shortcake. Again, the portion was huge. Instead of shortcake, we got a homemade biscuit topped with macerated strawberries and Clumpies strawberry sorbet. It was also topped with whipped cream. I have nothing bad to say about this dessert. It was delicious.

No shortage of strawberries in this strawberry shortcake. Also, the "cake" is a biscuit. (Photo: Staff)

Would we go back?
Our dinner at Food Works was impressive for several reasons. First, the price-quantity ratio was heavily in our favor. Many modern restaurants have reduced portion sizes for aesthetic reasons, but somehow, Food Works maintains a modern food presentation while satisfying Southern-sized appetites. Secondly, Food Works is oddly comforting to both of us. I remember having celebratory meals there with college friends. This is also the first restaurant we ate at with visiting family to "get a taste of Chattanooga." For Lauren and myself, Food Works is not a place we would visit weekly, maybe not even on a monthly basis. However, it will always be a kind of old standby when we don’t feel particularly adventurous and need a wide variety of choices, outstanding quality and fantastic service.

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