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 finally managed a visit to The Daily Ration in the former Farmer's Daughter location at 1211 Hixson Pike. The restaurant was acquired by The Bitter Alibi/The Fix Lounge owners Jason Bowers and Matt Skudlarek in April. The restaurant opened as The Daily Ration with a new menu and identity in June.
Skudlarek sent me a text back in June threatening to send me photos of the food every day until I visited. He sent none, but the point was made. In a sense, this restaurant serves as a way for the duo to shed the "bar with great food" reputation of The Bitter Alibi for a new concept of just "great food."
I met up with longtime social media friend Joel Deal and his wife, Rhonda, for a Friday afternoon extended lunch. The couple was in town for Joel's high school reunion (sort of) in Fort Payne. They used the event as an excuse to enjoy the "great people, food, coffee and beer," he said.
Joel and Rhonda already had a table snagged in the center of the dining area when I arrived. He was sipping on Velo's "Bunny Hop" drink—a cold-brewed coffee with hops—and within minutes, we were chatting like old friends.
The first thing you notice about The Daily Ration is that very little of the interior aesthetic has changed from the former setup. Both the breakfast menu and lunch menu are simple and straightforward, with offerings that are anything but. The Daily Ration is open from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday. But Thursday through Saturday, the venue also offers a dinner/cocktail menu that seems to offer a different experience than the early hours. I guess I'll have to go back.
Our sever, Lydia, was quiet and helpful. As I've mentioned before, this kind of service is the best of both worlds. Joel said Lydia was "present when needed without being intrusive," which is the definition of perfect service, in my book. Regardless of what you think about Bowers and Skudlarek as people (some people hate them, probably), the staff at all three of their establishments is top-notch.
In fact, Joel said it was Lydia who had recommended the Bunny Hop mentioned above. It was, let's say, "interesting" in flavor, one of those items you'll never regret ordering but might not seek out again.
I skipped breakfast in anticipation of a hearty lunch. There are at least six items on the lunch menu that I could eat every day of my life from here on out and never grow tired of: the Asian breakfast bowl (pork belly, kimchi, pickles, sesame seeds and an egg) and the "Sir Reuben" (corned beef, kimchi, havarti cheese and crème fraîche), to name a couple. If you're feeling peckish but not famished, you could also order items like cheddar grits, breakfast potatoes or granola.
After much contemplation, we placed our orders. Rhonda ordered the "Southern Staple," a pimiento cheese sandwich with a side of sweet potato hash. Joel went with a breakfast item, the signature Dublin hash with corned beef, roasted potatoes, Swiss cheese, onions, peppers and a biscuit. Having had the "Ba Ramen" from The Bitter Alibi at least once a month, I knew what to expect with the pork belly. So I ordered the pork belly BLT on a challah bun.
After a few minutes, Lydia returned to the table and seemed concerned to inform me that they had run out of challah bread and soberly offered to replace it with sourdough. I almost threw my silverware across the room and flipped the table before relenting to the change. Of course it was OK. I don't even know if I would've noticed the difference, but the fact that she asked and apologized is really all you need to know about the service at The Daily Ration.
Joel said his plate was "tasty and well-portioned." He had trouble finishing the hash and accompanying biscuit. "I was torn between several choices and enjoyed all the tastes I had from everyone's plates," he said.
Rhonda's pimiento cheese sandwich was pleasantly different from most sandwiches of the same ilk. It had a much creamier mouthfeel than your typical pimiento cheese sandwich. Lydia brought out an extra plate of the sweet potato hash because, she said, the chef was concerned the portion served was too small. Again, great service.
My BLT was stupid-good. I mean, you could take a used tire and put a slab of this pork belly on it and I would eat it with a grin. I highly recommend this sandwich. It'll rock your world. The real highlight of the meal for me, though, was the couscous and feta salad. I've had couscous before, but never anything as creamy and savory as this. I almost felt like I was eating caviar by the spoonful—it was that good. Kale, potatoes and quinoa are fine side items to choose, but don't ignore the couscous. It was, surprisingly, my favorite flavor of the day, and I LOVE pork belly.
Would we go back?
The big fear I think we all had was that our beloved Farmer's Daughter would be replaced with something subpar. But I'm here to tell you that with the exception of some of the standard baked goods—Joel said he missed their sweet potato cinnamon buns—The Daily Ration is just as good, if not better, than The Farmer's Daughter. Once the weather cools down a bit, I look forward to sampling the dinner menu and cocktails on the porch. Maybe Joel and Rhonda will drive back up? The Daily Ration is definitely worth a destination trip. And it's a must for locals. Great job, guys. You've done it again.
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