Wow. The last few weeks have been incredibly stressful. I can’t even describe it…you’ll just have to take my word for it. Anyway, I have vascillated between being so tired that I can’t move off the couch and needing a change of scenery. I have had seven crazy (in good ways and bad) weeks at work. I have had an on-the-job injury. I’ve had a change-of-season cold that lasted an entire week. I’ve added an hour to my commute (that’s both ways, not an hour each way). Some days feel like I’m in a tailspin.
Friday was one of those days. By 10 a.m. I was utterly exhausted. I got a text from my best friend during my “planning time” (ha! Most of my planning has been happening after school. Nature of the beast sometimes in preschool, unfortunately.) asking if I wanted to go to dinner with her and another friend. My initial response was no….I needed to go home and crash. By the time I got home Friday afternoon, though, I had changed my mind, deciding that something out of the ordinary was just what I needed. I met them at 6:30 and we set to deciding where to go, which consisted of driving to downtown and looking around. Finally we decided on Back Inn Café, as one of my friends had never been there.
I’ve been to Back Inn a few times, but not since I started Chattavore. We’ve always enjoyed it. Usually, we make a reservation because you never know when seating is going to be limited. My philosophy is that if a restaurant takes reservations, make a reservation. It’s definitely an easy way to avoid the waiting game, especially on a Friday or Saturday evening. Woe to the diner who goes to a chain casual dining spot at 6:30 or 7 p.m. on a Friday. Ugh. Luckily, we walked right up and got seated (there were people waiting on the benches across the parking lot at Tony’s). The hostess poured our waters and gave us our menus, including the regular menu, the gluten-free menu, and a drink menu. Our server came to introduce himself shortly thereafter.
Back Inn’s menu is not static, but unlike some other “fine dining” restaurants in Chattanooga, it doesn’t change constantly either. There are several items that have been on the menu for a matter of years. I have had their New York strip (crusted with Rembrandt’s coffee) and thought that it was delicious. I also enjoyed their grilled chicken salad (with Granny Smith apples) very much. They have several appetizers like Southern-fried frog legs, shrimp flatbread, and a volcano roll (tempura fried California roll). There are three salads: baby lettuce, Caesar, and wedge. We skipped the appetizers and salads, though, and went straight for the entrées (I do usually order a salad, though, and always really enjoy it). The hostess brought out a wedge of house sundried tomato foccacia for each of us with a small cup of white bean dip, and I have to admit….I could make my entire meal from this. It’s a perfect balance of salty cheese crusted on top and a slightly sweet tang from the sundried tomato. Delicious.
(Sorry for the horrible photo quality, by the way. It was dark outside and the restaurant was dimly lit. And I hate flash.)
I had a hard time deciding what I wanted. Steaks are always good, and the chicken stuffed with spinach mousseline cream was tempting as well. However, my decision came down to two entrées: the Jack Daniels maple glazed pork chop, a 12 ounce “cowboy cut” pork chop served with haricot verts (French green beans, not to be confused with French cut green beans) and sweet potato cakes, or the seafood gratin (and that is pronounced “gra-tehn”, not “grahtin”) with spinach ravioli, mahi-mahi, salmon, shrimp, bay (small) scallops, tomatoes, four cheeses, and mornay sauce. Ultimately I decided on the gratin, basically because it’s different from what I would normally choose. I am embarrassed to admit this, but I couldn’t really remember what mornay sauce was. Turns out it’s Béchamel sauce with grated cheese mixed in. Quite tasty. It was similar to a cheesy alfredo, and I really enjoyed it…although I thought the dish could have been slightly less sauced. That’s okay, though…I mean, it wasn’t like I was obligated to drink the sauce from the bowl, so I just ate what came out with the other items. The spinach ravioli was delicious and no doubt made on the premises, and I loved the shrimp and scallops. The fish was fine, but it just turned out I wasn’t really “in the mood” for fish. That’s okay. Those things happen.
My friends were both checking out the Martin House steak, an 8 ounce filet with lump crab meat stuffing, sour cream mashed potatoes, asparagus, compound butter (butter with herbs mixed in), sweet pepper pomace (basically pulp), and chive oil. The problem was that neither of them wanted the crab. When they asked our server how the crab was served, he directed their attention to the gluten-free menu, which none of us had even bothered to look at. For $2.00 less, you can actually order a “filet of beef” from the GF menu without the crab, so they both did that, one medium, one medium-well (you know me, I prefer medium-rare, but oh well!). The filets were pretty crispy on the outside, no doubt from the sear, and the insides cooked just as they requested them. I should have requested a bite, but I didn’t. Judging from the fact that they both finished their plates, I’d say it was pretty tasty. They both said that they enjoyed the steaks and one friend also commented that the asparagus was good. They also really enjoyed the potatoes; one friend said the potatoes were her favorite part and that the pomace really added to the flavor. I do wish that I had at least asked for the dessert menu so I could see what was available, but I didn’t. Shoulda coulda woulda.
Back Inn Café is not my favorite restaurant in Chattanooga, but it also is not a waste of time. It’s a pretty good restaurant, and the prices for most items are not outrageous for an “upscale” restaurant. The atmosphere can be casual or formal, whatever you need it to be. I’ve never had anything that I didn’t like here, and it holds a special place in my memories because Philip and I went there on one of our first dates many, many (well, almost 14) years ago. If you are looking for a restaurant that offers consistency and longevity, give it a try.
Back Inn Café is located at 412 E. 2nd Street, Chattanooga, TN 37403. You can call for reservations at 423-265-5033 or 800-725-8338. Check out their website and menus at http://bluffviewartdistrict.com/subpage.php?pageId=139.