Random locations around Chattanooga
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.
Roamin' the streets of Chattanooga in a gleaming white truck, Famous Nater's World Famous has been one of the pioneering full-fledged portable kitchens in the emergence of the city's recent food truck phenomenon—this fork in the road of Chattanooga cuisine began hitting the streets as recently as last year and is growing and mobilizing into a full-on hunger attack formation of mobile food units. As I continued my quest to roam the Chattanooga region for flavors of the area, our paths would collide at Miller Plaza during the free Nightfall concert series last Friday.
I arrived at Miller Plaza early to covertly stake out Famous Nater's and other trucks of the current Chattanooga street food movement—in a non-stalkerish way, of course—as they set up while M.L. King Boulevard was being blocked off for the event. It was a warm, mild evening with deep blue skies and a nice breeze, and the only smoke in the air was mouth-watering wisps coming from the mobile kitchens because of Miller Plaza's freshly enacted smoking ban. (Well, there were a few smokers snubbing the newly posted signs, not that I cared.)
If the thought of getting food from the back of a truck psychologically diminishes the quality for you in some way, rest assured that these mobile units have health inspections following guidelines just as strenuous as stationary restaurants. (Famous Nater's proudly displayed their "99" health score in their passenger-side window.) Full-kitchen food trucks have caught on recently in many major metropolitan cites with quality chefs running these operations, and I am all for it now catching on in Chattanooga. But while the ability to move the kitchen around town is beneficial, how do people find them when they get a craving for their favorite truck?
One example of how powerful social media can be is how it keeps these businesses rolling. It is essential to help drive the business—along with the driver—so people can find where the truck is and plan accordingly. Although a website is nice for showing a preliminary schedule and menu, things happen such as weather, unforeseen circumstances and changes to the menu that can be instantly communicated via Facebook and Twitter. Because any quality food truck will inevitably gain a social media following, being heavily involved with keeping their followers informed is a necessity. Famous Nater's World Famous is no exception, as their Facebook and Twitter accounts are highly active.
Famous Nater's began roamin' the Chattanooga roads last year and quickly gained prominence in the city, even being recognized nationally by ranking runner-up for mobile-cuisine.com's Rookie Food Truck of the Year. Chef Nathan Flynt has embraced the international grassroots Slow Food organization's values of "good, clean and fair food" as a healthful alternative to fast food by using fresh, local ingredients to prepare all his dishes, which also supports local agriculture. (There is a local chapter as well for those who would like to get involved.) Famous Nater's boasts that they have no fryer, freezer or microwave and that everything is freshly prepped in the truck prior to serving—with ingredients not prepackaged and processed, that does away with many questionable chemicals hard to pronounce. For those fortunate enough to have attended best-selling author Michael Pollan's entertaining lecture at the Tivoli back in April—and/or to have read his books—Flynt certainly shares much of his local, fresh food philosophy.
Because it specializes in "seasonal slow food," the menu constantly changes, banking on the skills of Flynt to provide quality dishes no matter what he is serving. My mouth was watering from looking at the menu options in rotation listed on the website beforehand, and I was really looking forward to sampling Nater's creations, so let's get back to Nightfall, shall we?
As the opening act Rick Bowers and the Saints of Main Street took to the stage, I took to the Famous Nater's line. There were only a few people in front of me, but because it was early, the crowd was still drifting in, and the line grew throughout the evening. The menu board listed two sandwiches: a pork barbeque and pork cheesesteak, each $7, along with a $2 fresh fruit soda. Though I love pulled pork, I was hoping for a little more variety between the available options, but with this menu designed specifically for Nightfall, it made sense. Because pulled pork was on the only two sandwiches available, however, it had to be very good or it would sink both the dishes.
While the band was jamming away, Flynt had his own slow jam going on in the truck with this 12-hour slow-roasted pulled pork. And that, my friends, is "slow food." Not slow in the sense that I needed to wait a long time—I was grateful to wait for about five minutes for the sandwiches to be freshly made—but for the long preparation of the components to assemble the entrées. This sweet, succulent, slow-roasted pork was dripping with juices, and it was so tender someone without teeth could probably chew it.
The pork cheesesteak was loaded with a massive mound of this pulled pork smothered in melted provolone on a steaming, soft hoagie roll. (I'm not sure if this tasty loaf was from Niedlov's because it didn't specify on the menu board, but Famous Nater's uses their artisan bread often.) And, simply, that was it. Forgo extra sauces and toppings to pile on a grand heap of pork with some bubbling melted cheese? I think, "Yes!" When you have perfectly roasted and seasoned pork such as this, that's all you need, and the cheese wasn't even needed but was a nice, creamy addition: slow-cooked simplicity at its finest. This sandwich was straightforward, lip-smackingly delicious.
That being said, the freshly made barbeque sauce and marinated red cabbage cider slaw on the barbeque sandwich were exquisitely epic. This delicious, sweet sauce was slathered on the sandwich but not smothering the pork. As I said, because the moist pork didn't need sauce to cover for dryness and flavor, it would have been a disservice to the meat to drown its excellent qualities. The stack of crispy, sweet cider slaw took the flavor and texture to another level with the soft, springy bun a flavor bounce house of its sweet and savory occupants. There is something that feels very American about getting great barbeque from the back of a truck, and Nathan Flynt would certainly be a big star at any tailgate party with this pulled pork recipe.
Slightly pickled cucumber, carrot and cauliflower were served on the side of both sandwiches. The sweet pickling solution used for these veggies was scrumptious, and they still maintained much of their fresh firmness. Although tasty on their own, throwing a couple of veggies into a few sandwich bites was a nice flavor combo with the pork and slaw.
To wash all this awesomeness down, the fresh fruit soda was a lightly sweet, refreshing oasis of strawberry and raspberry juices with a splash of soda water. As I continued to slowly sip this concoction to savor the flavor as night fell at Nightfall, I stuck around for some sounds of the headlining Honey Island Swamp Band. They broke out some bluesy Cajun jams, and I broke out some bad dance moves, while my happy tummy certainly didn't have the blues in its digestive dance of Famous Nater's slow-food groove.
I am giving Famous Nater's World Famous 3 stars for flavorful food using local ingredients of a superior freshness and quality. If this repetitive "famous" name keeps dishing out repetitively high-quality dishes—many items in their seasonal rotating menu look incredible—tourists from all over the world should put this truck on their lists of "must visits" for a true local Chattanooga slow-food jam—making Nater, indeed, "world famous."
Roman Flis is a wandering writer, focusing on Chattanooga's food scene. You can find him on Facebook and Twitter or contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. The opinions expressed in this column belong solely to the author, not Nooga.com or its employees.