Two Ten Jack Chattanooga is an izakaya (Japanese gastropub) and ramen house located in downtown Chattanooga’s Warehouse Row.
How many of us can honestly say that we don’t remember teenage or college days slurping 50 cent packets of ramen noodles from cheap plastic bowls, struggling to get the long strands into our mouths – perhaps even twirling them on a fork – then sipping the sodium-laden broth. I cannot count myself into that group. Determined to not ask my parents for grocery money, I probably wouldn’t have survived my college days without ramen, peanut butter, Chex Mix, and over-sweetened coffee.
Though ramen consumption is a rare occasion in my life these days, when Two Ten Jack Chattanooga opened last spring, I felt a rush of excitement. It seems irrational that it took me over a year to dine there. As silly as it is, something inside of me felt like I just wasn’t quite cool enough – I’m certainly no hipster, and it seemed, based on the hype, to be a trendy, hipster-ish sort of place, the sort of place where thirty-something educators who do most of their shopping in the business casual section at Target probably look a little out of place.
But I digress. That was a ridiculous notion. I finally got over it and Philip and I hit Two Ten Jack last week with a friend who was visiting from Nashville (where the original Two Ten Jack is located in trendy East Nashville, though he had never been). I was a little concerned about a crowd during a weeknight dinner time, but needn’t have been. A steady stream of diners came through but it was not packed.
Dimly lit with high-backed booths, Two Ten Jack Chattanooga presents a true dining “experience”. Parts of the dining room are open to the inside of the shopping area, as Two Ten Jack is located in the basement of Warehouse Row in what was formerly the food court – more specifically (and recently), Southern Burger Co. and Crave. Those dining alone or with one other can also choose a seat at the bar, and standing tables are perfect for those who are truly there for a quick drink or meal. Water, chopsticks, appetizer plates, soy sauce, and cloth napkins wait on the tables for you.
Even the menus are an experience, printed and bound into their covers with string. Because we had not dined with them before, our server, Erin, took several minutes to explain each section of the menu to us, starting with small plates (tapas-style appetizers), moving through sushi offerings (maki, nigiri, and sashimi) and salads, yakitori (skewers), and ending with ramen, with which Erin encouraged us to end our meal.
Philip and Brian quickly busied themselves with choosing beers from the list. Two Ten Jack Chattanooga boasts a full bar along with a fairly comprehensive beer list, including a good selection of local beers. Both chose the Chattanooga Brewing Company Chattahooligan lager (Philip usually does not enjoy lagers but had tried this one before and enjoyed it immensely). My focus was also singular, but not on drinks. Instead, I was concerned about the crispy Brussels ($9) on the small plates menu, which had been recommended to me numerous times. Cooked to a nearly charred crisp and tossed with a salty hit of miso vinaigrette and Rice Krispies, the Brussels did not disappoint and were a perfect opportunity to practice my chopsticks skills, since learning to use chopsticks is on my bucket list. After they had ordered their beers, Philip and Brian were able to focus on food; Philip came very close to ordering the okonomi-age ($7) with tots, pork, shrimp, and okonomi toppings, but not wanting to overdo it, he decided against it. Brian was curious about the shishito peppers ($9), tossed with figs, sticky peanuts, and honey-soy dressing, topped with katsuobushi (bonito), or dried shaved fish. Erin compared the peppers to Anaheims, typically mild but one in ten is spicy. The peppers were smoked, tender and flavorful. When the bowl was delivered to our table, we were fascinated by the way the katsuobushi was moving in reaction to the heat from the peppers, almost as if it were alive. I was most enamored with the bits of chewy fig and the peanuts that had sunk to the bottom of the bowl.
Skipping sushi, we moved on to yakitori. My eye was drawn to pork belly with mustard ponzu ($5) and asparagus-bacon with sea salt ($4), with Philip ultimately choosing the pork belly. Rich, fat rectangles of pork belly, browned and a little crispy around the outside, were skewered with two thin skewers, in a puddle of sweet and savory ponzu sauce. A bite yielded a fatty rush of porkiness, with the ponzu being the perfect complement. Brian chose the avocado yakitori ($4), an avocado half pitted, warmed, and served with its center full of the ponzu sauce, a large dab of wasabi decorating the flesh. Salty, spicy, creamy…the avocado yakitori hit several senses.
On to ramen. Once Erin mentioned tonkotsu ($14), with pork broth and a soft egg, my brain could not compute any of the other options. Luckily for me, this was a wonderful decision. My first slurp of the richly pork flavored and interestingly creamy broth was so intense that I am fairly certain my eyes rolled back into my head and I immediately made Philip taste it (he concurred). A slice of chashu – marinated, braised pork belly – decorated the edge, along with menma (fermented bamboo shoots), kikurage (or wood ear mushrooms), deeply caramelized baby Visalia onions, mayu (black garlic oil), and half of a soft-boiled egg. There were some spicy hits of ginger in there too, along with, of course, the ramen noodles. I heard Erin tell the table behind us that “the louder you slurp, the bigger the compliment to the chef.” I certainly hope that the chef heard my slurpy compliments, which I was wearing on my shirt by the time I was finished (and had to mop off the table with my napkin.
Philip and Brian were both sold on the spicy crab garlic noodles ($15), a brothless version of ramen (mazemen) tossed with crab butter, black pepper, and kokuto (brown sugar). Since there was no broth in their bowls, they did not have the same slurpability issues that I did, which means that they laughed at me and my broth-stained shirt (no regrets!). The crab butter was rich and spicy, with bits of crab in it. They were not stingy with the butter, and the kokuto added a balancing sweetness to the spiciness of the crab butter. Unlike my bowl, their ramen did not include a lot of other elements.
While mochi was available for dessert, we were in no shape for dessert after that deeply satisfying meal (though I’ll admit that I did have some homemade ice cream when I got home, but that was an hour and a half later). Philip’s and my bill (for crispy Brussels, pork belly yakitori, tonkotsu, one garlic crab noodle bowl, and a beer) was $51 – certainly a little more than we typically spend, but as I mentioned at the beginning of the post, this restaurant is intended to be an experience, and it certainly is. Erin was very helpful, spending a great deal of time educating us on the menu and making recommendations, and the surroundings are unique and beautifully designed.
Our meal at Two Ten Jack Chattanooga was one of the best that I’ve had in a long time. If you have not been there, I highly recommend you give it a try.
Two Ten Jack Chattanooga is located at 111o Market Street, Suite FC4, Chattanooga, TN 37402 (in the basement of the south building of Warehouse Row). They are open for lunch Monday – Friday, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., and Saturday 12 p.m. to 2 p.m., and for dinner Monday – Friday, 5 p.m. to 10 p.m., and Saturday 5 p.m. to 11 p.m. They also offer a happy hour with snacks and small plates from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. Monday – Friday and 8 p.m. to 10 p.m. Monday – Thursday.
You can call Two Ten Jack Chattanooga at 423-551-8799 or email them at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can find their website at twotenjack.com/chattanooga. You can like Two Ten Jack Chattanooga on Facebook and follow @TwoTenJackChatt on Twitter and @twotenjackchatt on Instagram.