This column is about the experience of food in Chattanooga. I will take people out for dinner and lunch dates at various restaurants in the Chattanooga region. It is not meant to be a review per se, but an account of a one-time experience at a restaurant. Your mileage may vary depending upon your expectations.
This week, I had dinner with my old friend (the friendship is old, not the person) Celeste Lipps. The mother of an autistic child, Celeste is highly involved in aspects of the Chattanooga Autism Center and works hard to promote awareness of the disorder. After a failed attempt to dine at a crowded Lupi's, we ventured over to World of Beer for dinner and later to Ray Ray's for a handmade cocktail.
Chattanooga's World of Beer is the only location in Tennessee, but franchises are located at 55 locations throughout the country in 16 states. Boasting more than 500 beers on tap, WOB offers a hefty menu of food items, from burgers to salads, steaks to flatbread pizzas.
Celeste and I met up in a parking lot downtown (where I meet most of my dates) and entered World of Beer's boisterous interior. I like the layout of the place. Large tables offer plenty of room for diners in the covered front patio area. I've seen groups of people playing cornhole in this area before, which is different. As you move deeper into the restaurant, the seating gets more intimate and barlike. Celeste and I found a small elevated table in the back of the restaurant surrounded by football fans and large-screen TVs.
This was the first Saturday of college football season, and the occasional moans and cheers indicated somebody's favorite team was having success or failure on the field. Our server brought us an iPad that contained the menu of beers sortable by filters such as alcohol content and color. You can play with the app here. I couldn't get it to work at the table, so I ordered a Dogfish Head 90 Minute IPA from the table menu. Celeste had water. We weren't very good beer customers.
World of Beer deserves credit, though, for tapping local beers in addition to the others. Chattanooga Brewing Co.'s Hot Mama habanero beer is available on tap alongside the marquee brands.
What we didn't spend on beer, we more than made up for in the consumption of food. The appetizer menu at WOB is called "tavern shares" and includes beer-friendly items like pickle chips, mac and cheese, fish and tots, and German pretzels with beer cheese. Celeste and I agreed on the seared ahi tuna with a ginger soy dipping sauce. Everything is beer-focused, so beside the description of each dish on the menu is a suggested type of beer to complement the flavor.
The ahi tuna was seared to perfection and delicious. Our server had no idea what the dipping sauce contained (I later discovered it was a ginger soy mixture), but we both agreed it was the ideal sauce for the tuna. The pickled cucumber salad was also tasty.
Celeste read my mind when she ordered the pesto grilled chicken sandwich for dinner. The sandwich is served on toasted basil focaccia and contains beer-brined chicken, mozzarella, tomato and basil/pine nut pesto. I've visited World of Beer before for this sandwich and a few beers and have been impressed each time. As far as a national chain is concerned, this is a damn good chicken sandwich that anyone should be able to enjoy without too much of an issue. Celeste described the sandwich as "hefty" and proceeded to devour the entire thing. This food is meant to be paired with beer, and the majority of it sticks to the stomach well. Just look at this thing.
I decided to relinquish myself to the whims of our server. He suggested I order the steak frites from the tavern starters menu. I asked him to cook the steak at a medium temperature, and it arrived piping-hot and pink on a bed of broccoli. This is what I imagine a bodybuilder would eat on a daily basis—proteins, greens and garlic (for the heart). The fries were the least exciting portion. I found them ordinary and didn't finish them.
Something exciting happened in the football game and an entire table next to us cheered and high-fived each other as if they'd scored the points themselves. We took this as our cue to leave before the riots started. How would they react when the other team scored? We weren't sticking around to find out.
Ray Ray's drinks
Celeste wanted to have a nonbeer drink, so we walked a few blocks down toward the aquarium and visited Ray Ray's, next to L2 Outside paddle shop. This funky little bar/restaurant offers a line of fresh cocktails made with raw, organic fruit juice blends created on-site. We sat at the bar and Celeste ordered a basil/bourbon cocktail. These simple drinks are intoxicating (in every meaning of the word) and refreshing. I asked the bartender to make me something with whiskey, and he created a Crown Royal-based apple cocktail that I enjoyed. More importantly, both Celeste and I enjoyed the witty conversations and banter with the bar guests and employees. It had the feel of a beachside tiki bar inside, and I can't wait to go back for a proper meal.
Would we go back?
World of Beer is an excellent spot to drink beer, watch sports and have some grub. It's nonoffensive and still offers that game day mentality that lesser sports bars promote. If you like sports and beer, you'll love World of Beer. Both Celeste and I also enjoyed our brief encounter with Ray Ray's.
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