The idea behind this series is fairly simple: My girlfriend and I will go out to eat at a Chattanooga-area restaurant and then describe our dining experience there. Keep in mind that this is not a food review per se, but instead an attempt to relate to readers our single, one-time experience at a restaurant. It just is what it is, as they say. There will also be pictures. Lots of pictures.
I am a 29-year-old voracious eater of anything weird, while my girlfriend, age 24, is the complete opposite. This makes dining for us a strange affair. I enjoy a tremendous amount of flavor and complexity, but her M.O. is “simple, no frills.” This week, we put on our gingham shirts and Sperry Top-Siders for an evening of fine dining at Public House.
Nestled in the now-bustling activity of Warehouse Row, Public House is described by owner Nathan Lindley as a place to find the “comforts of good, solid food, while applying the principles of premium food products to a more casual dining setting.” They use locally sourced ingredients as much as possible. We were informed that The Social (the casual bar associated with the restaurant) is now serving breakfast. Lauren and I were double-dating this evening with her parents, which meant more food to try. We were seated in the middle of a room, which, if I’m not mistaken, used to be a Polo outlet. Elton John, The Beatles, Billy Joel and CCR were on the sound system.
I always try to test the server a bit, and 20-year-old Jillian passed with gusto. She was knowledgeable about the menu and offered suggestions. I also want to applaud her for being honest with me when I asked her for drink suggestions. She said, “I’m 20, so I’ve only tried a few of them.”
Lauren had water. But not just ANY water. Public House offers water in vintage glass milk bottles, which adds a touch of class to an often-forgotten portion of the dining experience. With my birthday approaching, I decided to partake in some cocktails. When I asked Jillian for the “most feminine” drink on the menu, she suggested a French 75. This “mimosa on crack” was a mixture of pineapple gin, lemon juice and sugar that was then topped with champagne. It was awesome but surprisingly powerful. When I woke up, I also tried another pineapple gin concoction called Into the White. This drink featured a frothy mixture of pineapple gin, cream, egg white and flower water. I’d probably stick with beer or a whiskey cocktail next time, but these drinks were a nice change of pace.
We asked for (and promptly received) complimentary Niedlov’s dinner rolls. These rolls were as close to perfection as any roll I’ve had. They arrived piping hot with a side of butter. We also ordered a “small plate” of roasted quail breasts, cornbread and fennel slaw. Lauren had not tasted quail before. The breasts tasted surprisingly like a tiny pork chop with fried duck skin. The fennel slaw was refreshing and, batting 1.000 with bread this evening, the cornbread was sweet and tasted identical to my grandmother’s “50-year-old cast-iron skillet bread,” which I will drive hours to taste. We were satisfied with the appetizers …
… and then we waited. The only gripe about Public House on this evening was that it seemed to take the kitchen a while to get our entrées to us. Once they arrived, however, all was forgotten. The food was delicious. Lauren ordered the fried chicken with macaroni and cheese and housemade hot sauce. I ordered the red wine-braised pot roast, mashed potatoes and braising gravy per the suggestion of Jillian. Lauren’s mother had grilled Bay of Fundy salmon with grilled asparagus and egg and olive oil vinaigrette. Her father-a vegetarian-opted for the veggie platter.
Public House fried chicken has reached legendary status among Chattanooga diners. It has a sweet batter that you typically don’t find on fried chicken that sets it apart. The baked mac and cheese is also delicious, though when combined, the dish can be a little heavy. You are served three pieces of fried chicken, which is almost a whole chicken. That’s a ton of food. My portion of pot roast was large but manageable. The meat was delicious, but the highlight was the mashed potatoes. I also sampled the salmon, which was grilled to perfection-delicious and buttery. Lauren’s father enjoyed his veggie plate but said the roasted beets with goat cheese were his favorite. Nobody had room for dessert, so we ordered dessert …
Lauren desperately wanted to try the special dessert of the evening: peanut butter pie. I’m not a huge fan of dense, in-your-face, chocolate desserts, so Lauren’s mother and I decided to split the key lime pie, which had a graham cracker crust. Both were incredible. The key lime pie was refreshing and delicious. It may have been the best key lime pie I’ve eaten. Most restaurants will pile on the meringue, but this slice had just enough without overdoing it. Lauren’s peanut butter pie tasted exactly like a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup. It was served with actual peanuts as garnish, along with a feathery cream on top that helped counteract the density of the chocolate and peanut butter. We finished the key lime but were unable to conquer the entirety of the peanut butter pie.
Would we go back?
This makes about the fifth meal I’ve had at Public House, and I’ve never been disappointed. The service is impeccable; the food great; and the atmosphere, though upscale, is casual enough that anybody should feel welcome. The price is also reasonable considering the quality of food. Our meal-including desserts and drinks-topped out at close to $60 before tip. Public House isn’t a weekly experience for most of us. But if you’re looking for a place that’s both impressive and casual, this is it. I’m also excited to try more of the specialty cocktails at The Social. I’ve heard it’s possibly the best bar in Chattanooga for young professionals. Give a pretty lady a French 75, and you never know what might happen. Anyway, yes, we’ll be back.