811 Market St.
Chattanooga, Tennessee 37402
11 a.m.-9 p.m.
11 a.m.-11 p.m.
10 a.m.-2 p.m.
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.
The Fork & Pie Bar recently opened downtown and has created quite a buzz. The restaurant sits in a prime location on Market Street right across from Miller Plaza and is the brainchild of co-owners Jennifer Rintelman (head baker) and Michael Robinson (who also owns Brewhaus). Not only do I have an affinity for forks, but I'm also a fan of pies—particularly of the savory sort, which are rare around these parts—so the idea of me soon ending up there was as easy as pie (extremely bad pun intended).
The pie is an ancient food, invented as soon as someone figured out that mixing flour with some kind of fat and water would produce a pastry fit to cook stuff in, and many historians believe it originated in ancient Greece. According to "The Oxford Companion to Food," the English word "pie" itself is most likely a shortened derivative of the magpie bird because of the parallel of pie's random fillings with the magpie's nature of collecting random things.
Historically, most of the early pies were of the savory variety, which are wildly popular in Britain, and many sweet pie recipes that are traditional in America also originated there. Yes, "as American as apple pie" as we would like to think that it is, it's traditionally a British dish, although we made it our own and then had Hollywood do unspeakable things to it.
The Fork & Pie Bar's menu has a wide selection of sweet and savory pies with influences from many cultures, both traditional and whimsical. My server was friendly, extremely attentive and was able to answer my blitzkrieg of menu questions without hesitation. I overheard other servers also educating their tables, so this new staff seemed to be properly trained. The owner and head baker also made her rounds several times to introduce herself and make sure all tables were satisfied.
There were three appetizers available for $6 apiece, but I went for the sampler of all three for $10: hummus, cucumber tzatziki and spinach and artichoke dip, along with pita bread, tortilla chips and baby carrots for dipping and spreading.
Hummus is a Middle Eastern staple of tahini (sesame seed paste) and mashed chickpeas—even more ancient than pie, traces of chickpea domestication date back as far as 7000 B.C.E. in the Fertile Crescent. Though traditional hummus typically only includes lemon, salt and garlic in the chickpea/tahini mix, to appease the American palate, other ingredients are often added, as is the case with this hummus at the Fork & Pie Bar. This was more of a hummus salsa with a strong presence of tomato and a pepper kick. It was a nice fusion, as the chickpea paste melded well with the pepper and tomato flavors.
The cucumber tzatziki—a traditional Greek/Turkish sauce—was a cool, refreshing, yogurt-based treat. This silky version had chunks of cucumber and onion with a strong presence of dill and cayenne pepper and was a perfect cold yogurt blend to chill out from the scalding heat going on outdoors while providing enough heat of its own to keep things exciting.
The spinach and artichoke dip was a warm, creamy blend with spinach, cream cheese, artichoke hearts, onion and garlic, and it was extremely flavorful. Although these dips were all fully appetizing cultural fusions, I was really looking forward to some pies—as soon as I heard about the opening of Fork & Pie Bar, I was already gunning to check out their British-inspired savory creations.
I spent three incredible weeks in Scotland (with a brief stint in England) a few years back, and while I was over there, I sampled a variety of meat pies and pasties. As I made it a point to sample traditional dishes during the trip—yes, including haggis, but that's another story—I, of course, went for some shepherd's pie on a couple of occasions. Thus, my surefire target at the Fork & Pie Bar was to see if their $9 shepherd's pie would evoke joyous memories of castles, jolly pubs and neon green rolling hills and mountains.
Technically, the Fork & Pie Bar's version is actually a cottage pie because its protein base is beef, while a traditional shepherd's pie uses lamb or mutton (shepherds herd sheep)—though the name "shepherd's pie" is often used as an encompassing term for both pies. The Fork & Pie Bar uses grass-fed ground beef—which is more healthful, humane and ecologically friendly than grain-fed cattle—mixed with peas, diced carrots and corn. This mixture was flavorful—and my mind was hearing some bagpipes—but it needed a little more salt. If you've read my previous reviews, you know I'm picky about salt, particularly with dishes being too salty, but there's always a saltshaker nearby, so it's much better to lack salt than have too much. Instead of a pastry crust, a shepherd's (cottage) pie uses mashed potatoes, and this was a nice, smooth blanket to tuck in the bubbling minced meat (not mincemeat, that's something else involving fruit) of British Isles comfort food.
Perhaps just as American as the apple pie, the chicken potpie is very much an American staple, particularly in the South, with its roots also based in the British Isles where it is simply called a "chicken pie"—but, at least, the term "potpie" is ours. However, much like the apple pie, in the American spirit we took the idea and ran with it, and we like our gravies in the South, so this concoction was sure to be a homerun—and British cricket doesn't have homeruns, so, there …
The Fork & Pie Bar's version ($8) was most everything you would want in a chicken potpie and more: large chunks of chicken breast, potatoes, peas and a thick gravy encased in a flaky, buttery shell, but had some welcome surprises as well, such as slightly sweet coconut milk, bell peppers and a cayenne kick. The salt balance was just right with this one, and it was a masterful chicken potpie I have not experienced here or anywhere else, for that matter. This traditional Southern staple, done in a dramatic way, far exceeded my expectations.
The pies come with one side item each, so I went with the dill mashed potatoes and the avocado salad. The avocado salad was much like a solid guacamole, with avocado slices, pepper and onion, and it came with tortilla chips to dip into this dreamy mix. The dill mashed potatoes were decadent, with a delightful dill and garlic dropkick to the jaw slathering through its sour creamy consistency. These mashed potatoes were beyond good, and though I also recommend the less-starchy avocado salad, unless you are having the shepherd's pie, which already has mashed potatoes, I wouldn't pass this one up.
For dessert, I did not choose the aforementioned American apple pie, not questioning its nationality, of course, but because the $6 banana pie was calling my name. You will be hard-pressed to go to any Southern potluck and not find banana pudding somewhere in the vicinity, and this pie was based on that very Southern staple. It was loaded with fresh bananas and creamy, not-too-sweet vanilla pudding and topped with whipped cream, with a nice, hard pastry shell that could hold up without becoming soggy (like vanilla wafers often do).
I'm giving the Fork & Pie Bar 3 stars for a strong start out of the gate with creative dishes based on vibrant cultural traditions and a staff that seems educated and enthusiastic about the wide-open possibilities of this restaurant. The portions here are not as humongous as most restaurants, but the quality is well worth the price. Pies, like casseroles and soups, are largely random, innovative concoctions that can be based on traditions but wildly improvised in any number of ways—perhaps even an equation involving π—and the Fork & Pie Bar is not afraid to think outside of the crust, so a bright future could be ahead for this place.
Roman Flis is a wandering writer, focusing on Chattanooga's food scene. You can find him on Facebook and Twitter or contact him at email@example.com. The opinions expressed in this column belong solely to the author, not Nooga.com or its employees.