Screen Door Café is a restaurant in Dayton, Tennessee that serves amazing, from-scratch, Southern-style food in a homey, neighborhood atmosphere.
About a year and a half ago, I wrote about a new restaurant in Soddy-Daisy that apparently a lot of people were curious about, because it kind of blew up my little corner of the internet. I don’t want to take all the credit, but my sister lives near the former location of Screen Door Café and starting on the day that I posted my original review (scroll down), it was standing room only at dinnertime.
That space was really small, though, not a lot of room for growth. After about a year of that, Screen Door Café announced that they were closing that location and that they would be reopening in a couple of months in the house formerly known as Fehn’s 1891 House. That was early this year, and Philip and I finally got around to trying it out last week.
The space is definitely much larger. The restaurant is contained within the first floor of the house, with the kitchen in the back and the seating in the other rooms. It’s a beautiful old house and Philip was itching to get a tour – maybe next time. We didn’t get a chance to talk to Gabriel on this visit. Our server was a sweet young man who called me ma’am and made me immediately snap into the reality that I was old enough to be his mama (working with high schoolers makes me have this realization on the daily). He quickly got our waters for us while we perused the menu.
It is always tempting to get the burger or the chicken sandwich here, but my job is to tell you guys about a variety of foods, I suppose. After drawing imaginary straws between the fried shrimp (with fries and coleslaw, $14) and Eva’s meatloaf (with sour cream mashed potatoes, onion gravy, and fried onions – $14) I eventually settled on the meatloaf. As you can see, it was a gigantic portion of food. I ate maybe a little over a third of that and Philip had the rest for lunch the next day. The meatloaf was moist and very flavorful (it’s made with a combination of ground beef and ground pork) and the mashed potatoes were creamy and perfectly seasoned…but the crispy onion strings definitely made this dish for me. I mean, for someone who abhors onions in their raw state, I can throw down some fried onions, and theirs are fabulous. This was a great choice.
Philip has actually never ordered one of their burgers, so he decided to go for the mushroom and Gruyere burger (with grilled mushrooms and onions plus Gruyere cheese, with one side, $9). He ordered fries as his side, which is always a good decision. The fries at Screen Door Café are hand-cut and always perfectly cooked. And their burgers are always a good decision – always a generous portion of meat, perfectly seared and served on a potato roll (my personal choice for bunnage when I make burgers at home). Plus mushrooms, grilled onions, and Gruyere? Stahhhhpppp. The burger was amazing.
Believe it or not, I have always managed to walk out of there without sampling any of their delicious desserts, though I have always heard good things about them. They are no longer showcased prominently as they were on the counter at the old location, but there is a dessert menu on each table. After grilling Philip about whether he’d rather have red velvet cake, chocolate cake, or chocolate pecan pie, we took home a slice of chocolate pecan pie for later (carrot cake, peanut butter pie, and cheesecake were also on the menu…maybe a couple of other things too, I can’t remember). The pecan pie did not disappoint…it was sweet and gooey, as pecan pie should be, and had just enough chocolate to give it that cocoa flair.
The only negative thing that I can say about this visit to Screen Door Café was that the food was a little slow coming out. I didn’t think that it was an unreasonably long amount of time that we waited, but maybe don’t go if you’re in a rush. The atmosphere is really nice and the staff was extremely friendly. Our pre-tip total was $29.50, and now that I am thinking about it I think they may have forgotten to charge us for our pie. Oops! Hopefully they’ll forgive me for not noticing if a few of you drop by and mention my name🙃.
Screen Door Café is located at 449 Delaware Avenue, Dayton, TN 37321. They are open Tuesday – Saturday, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. You can call them at (423) 777-4868. For more information, you can visit their website, screendoorcafe.com and like Screen Door Café on Facebook.
Original Post (November 2015)
I love new restaurants. I love visiting new places and telling you guys about the best new spots around that I think you should visit. Right now, Chattanooga is brimming with new, trendy restaurants that serve amazing food and I am so glad to write about those places.
What I love even more, though, is when a new place opens on my side of the world (Soddy-Daisy) that gets my pulse racing. While there are some standards out this way (Delia’s, of course, and Blue Ribbon Café, just to name a couple) I always have a little apprehension when a new place opens out here. It seems to be so rare that they actually turn out to be worth a visit, and more than once I’ve shaken my head and not written about a place…even some places that were highly recommended.
My sister lives in the Possum Creek area of Soddy-Daisy, and back in September she texted me to tell me that a new restaurant named The Screen Door Café was preparing to open in a location that had previously been a little neighborhood grocery/convenience store. She’s pretty picky about where she eats, so the sign must have seemed promising. I didn’t realize they had opened, though, until a friend posted about on Facebook it a couple of weeks ago, claiming they made the best Reuben he’d ever eaten…then admitting that his family had eaten there two nights in a row. These are people whose palates I trust, so I knew we’d have to go soon.
Early on the the Saturday afternoon after Thanksgiving proved to be a good time to go. Catie greeted us at the counter and told us to sit wherever we liked, so we sat near the window (unfortunately not close enough for good light, but oh well) where a stack of cookbooks lined the sill. I could tell that I was among my people as I checked out the collection of books that included The Bread Baker’s Apprentice and Larousse Gastronomique alongside spiral-bound church cookbooks. I tried to figure out how I could fit that copy of Bouchon Bakery into my bag but I guess theft is typically frowned upon.
Catie brought us menus printed on brown, butcher-style paper and took our drink orders. The menu is divided into several sections: Snacks, Plates, Soups and Salads, Sandwiches, Burgers, Sides, and Drinks. We quickly decided to order some fried green tomatoes (served with house pimento cheese and herb aioli) while we checked out the rest of the menu. Also on the appetizer menu are house made jerky and a pimento cheese plate with pimento cheese and grilled toast). The fried green tomatoes came out quickly. They were batter-dipped green tomatoes, lightly coated and crispy, topped with creamy, just slightly spicy pimento cheese, with a generous smear of flavorful, herbaceous aioli on the plate. Everything was well-seasoned and tasty.
I was having trouble deciding between the fried chicken sandwich (buttermilk fried chicken breast, slaw, and house made hot sauce on a potato bun) and a burger, so I asked Catie for her recommendation. She told me that the chicken sandwich is delicious but she is very partial to the burgers, and you guys know I’m a burger kind of girl. I went with her recommendation to get the pimento cheese burger, but instead of getting the lettuce, tomato, and onion that typically come on it, I got fried onions for $0.25 extra. I was not sorry. I usually buy potato buns for my burgers when I make them at home, so that was a plus right there…potato buns are just nice and soft and have a good flavor without distracting from the burger. Again, the pimento cheese was creamy and a little spicy, and the burger, which I ordered medium-well, was perfectly cooked, a little crunchy on the outside. It wasn’t greasy at all but was still juicy, which is a feat. And it didn’t fall apart at all. The fries were hand-cut and perfectly crunchy.
Philip considered the shrimp and grits, but since our friend had raved about the Reuben, which is made with house-cured corned beef, he decided he was going to have to give it a try to see if it topped the Reuben at Vine Street Market, which has been his “best Reuben in Chattanooga” for quite some time now. Well, sorry, VSM…you’ll have to be content with being a close second. This is an interesting take on a Reuben, as it is not served on grilled bread…just plain old thickly sliced pumpernickel. They use Gruyere instead of the regular Swiss you’d expect to find on a Reuben and they make their own dressing, which they call “999 Island dressing”. And with the first bite, Philip was sold. They smoke the corned beef, which was the thing that took it right over the top for Philip. When that plate was set in front of him, I was immediately in awe of the thick black crust on those thick slices of corned beef. It was amazing. Philip had fries as well.
Before we left, Catie shared the dessert menu with us. There were lots of amazing-sounding desserts available, including gingerbread cake, chocolate cake, carrot cake, banana pudding, cheesecake, and chocolate chip pecan pie (that wasn’t all, that’s just all I can remember). Desserts are all made in-house as well. As much as I would have liked to try a dessert, (a) we were on the verge of needing to be rolled out of there as it was; and (b) we had Thanksgiving pecan pie at home still. We passed.
Gabriel, who owns the restaurant with his wife, Eva (they are both chefs) came out to talk to us while we were eating. He told us that he has years of experience in fine dining and for this go-round they wanted a community, neighborhood feel to their restaurant. They’ve definitely gotten it here. The place was full when we got there and several people, young and old, came in while we were there. He showed us the smoker with all the goodies (pork shoulders and sausages, that is) packed on it…wow. He told us that they’ve already made friends in the neighborhood, including a family that invited them to share their Thanksgiving dinner.
Our server, Catie, and the other server, whose name I didn’t catch, were both extremely friendly and helpful. The staff at The Screen Door Café went out of their way to make us and other patrons feel at home. It’s a nice, homey atmosphere without being overdone…Gabriel told us that he wants it to feel comfy with a little bit of a dive feel…and the food really is excellent, comparable to any great restaurant downtown. I hope you’ll give The Screen Door Café a try!
The Screen Door Café is located at 1108 Lee Pike, Soddy-Daisy, TN 37379. They are open Tuesday-Saturday, 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. You can call them at 423-777-4868. You can like The Screen Door Café on Facebook and check out their website, www.screendoorcafe.com.