The rye and ginger (left) and "La Veranda" cocktails. (Photo: Staff)

This week, Monica and I desperately needed a post-holiday drink (or two), so we met up with our friends Jennifer and Walter at St. John's Meeting Place for happy hour cocktails and bites. I last wrote about The Meeting Place in 2014 (now St. John's Meeting Place), and I considered it to be one of the best, if not the best, happy hours in town. Essentially, you can sample St. John's quality menu items and delicious cocktails for a fraction of the price. Plus, the environment is far less stuffy and casual; you can enjoy yourself without feeling the need to wear a suit and tie.

From 5 to 7 p.m., Meeting Place offers "a very happy hour" with $5 cocktails, select small plates (you can't go wrong with anything), and discounts on domestic and craft beers. There are also champagne and wine specials. Of course, if you wish, a full dinner menu is available.

Especially during the middle of the week, you can often have the entire upstairs lounge to yourself. This is a hint to those of you looking for a true "date night" spot in the city. It doesn't get much more intimate and romantic than Meeting Place on a weeknight—especially the corner tables in the upstairs lounge.

The menu is constantly changing to fit the season. Special happy hour nights include Industry Night (restaurant professionals) from 5 to 8 p.m. Mondays and free live jazz Thursdays from 6 to 9 p.m. We arrived on a Wednesday night. Jennifer and Walter were already at a table.

Don't you just want to put your face in this? (Photo: Staff)

Atmosphere/service/cocktails
During our meal, we were discussing why The Meeting Place is often overlooked on many happy hour lists. I think it has something to do with a perceived "fanciness" in association with St. John's next door. Although Meeting Place is VERY NICE, I've never thought it was more elegant than, say, The Social or Matilda Midnight. The rule of thumb for almost any Chattanooga establishment is that casual is fine, but if you want to get fancy, you can do that too and nobody will bat an eye. 

The appeal of Meeting Place is the intimacy and small plates. It's one of a few places where you can enjoy happy hour and still have a quiet conversation with a group of friends around you. Our usual plan is to enjoy the happy hour menu with a few cocktails and a few shareable small plates. Monica and I ordered our cocktails first. I enjoyed the rye and ginger with rye whiskey, carpano antica (Italian vermouth) and house ginger beer. Monica ordered the "La Veranda" with byrrh (a French aperitif), tonic and grapefruit. Our cocktails were delivered in just a few minutes.

The elegant, simple margarita classico. (Photo: Staff)

The La Veranda was particularly refreshing, especially if you're a fan of grapefruit. I'm not a huge "ginger" guy—most of my whiskey drinking is either neat or in a Manhattan cocktail—but I appreciated that the mixologists let the rye whiskey be the star of the show instead of the often-cloying ginger. Our second round (and last round because I lost my debit card and Monica had to pay … whoops) were the other two happy hour cocktails. I ordered the margarita classico and Monica had the classico with cocchi rosa (a vermouth/wine aperitif), soda and orange. Meeting Place has a great margarita, and Monica said she enjoyed her cocktail. However, we were famished and the small plates beckoned.

Gulf shrimp rolls are the South's version of Maine lobster rolls. (Photo: Staff)

Small plates
They're not always on the small plate menu, but you should order the truffle fries with dipping sauce if you eat nothing else. I could exist on nothing but truffle fries until I didn't exist, dying happily of malnutrition. Although technically potatoes are a complete protein so it's possible … I digress.

The small plate menu on this night featured everything from Gulf shrimp rolls to fried acorn squash to a farmer's platter with cheese and honey to a $10 wagyu beef burger. We collectively ordered truffle fries, fried acorn squash, Gulf shrimp rolls, mac and cheese, and pork sliders. It proved to be more than enough food for the four of us without that feeling of being too stuffed afterward.

Can you really go wrong with pork belly sliders? (Photo: Staff)

The highlight for me—other than the truffle fries—were the pork belly sliders. Where has pork belly been all my life? I don't think I had it until a few years ago, and now you can get it almost everywhere in various recipes. The portion was generous for the price (two sliders) and the pork belly was cooked perfectly—like fatty, crispy bacon. Like the pork belly, the mac and cheese at Meeting Place is also spectacular. It's filled with cheese, lamb pastrami and other tasty morsel bits that offer a surprise with every bite. Mac and cheese is the perfect conduit for almost all savory bites. The shrimp rolls were reminiscent of the lobster rolls you find on the coast of Maine. I was almost transported.

We were floored by the flavor bomb in this acorn squash dish. (Photo: Staff)

Would we go back?
So many restaurants offer a happy hour that St. John's Meeting Place is often overlooked. For me, and many of my friends, Meeting Place is one of the best deals in town. You might spend $50 if you're hungry, but as mentioned above, you get to enjoy expertly mixed cocktails (or whatever you're drinking) and a sampling of some of the best food in Chattanooga. I also appreciate the relatively serene atmosphere and the solitude of the room, which can be both casual and elegant. If you've overlooked Meeting Place until now, I recommend you visit soon. 

The opinions expressed in this column belong solely to the author, not Nooga.com or its employees.