This week, I walked a whole two blocks from the Nooga.com offices on Market Street to have breakfast at Innside Restaurant at 800 Chestnut St. This is one of those old-school breakfast/lunch places that many think—as suggested by the motto on the employee shirts—is Chattanooga's "best-kept secret." And I have to agree with those sentiments. Many people I work with downtown enjoy Innside, but nobody ever talks about it. Why is that?
Innside is located in the Pioneer Building across the street from another local gem, Figgy's Sandwich Shop. Mary Haymaker, author of local food blog Chattavore, had a great visit for lunch back in 2015, so I thought I'd stop in for a late breakfast instead. In my 15-plus years of living in Chattanooga, I'd never once visited Innside Restaurant. And as it turns out, my stomach has been missing out on what may be the best no-frills breakfast available in Chattanooga. It might not be the gourmet gluttony of a place such as Bluegrass Grill, but a serviceable, proper American breakfast is nothing to scoff about.
According to Haymaker, the lunchtime burgers don't look half-bad, either. Who knew?
I decided to come to work for an hour and then leave to go have breakfast (any excuse to get out of the office). I brought George Saunders' novel "Lincoln in the Bardo" to keep me company. One of the best simple pleasures in life—and my personal happy place—is a plate of breakfast food, a steaming cup of coffee and a good book.
As you walk in the door, the eye is drawn to a giant "T" column in the middle of the room. I can only assume this is a nod to the University of Tennessee, but it could be just a T-shaped column that I'm reading too much into. Solo diners such as myself are discouraged from sitting in booths because those are reserved for two or more people. But the counter was also occupied in that not-using-the-urinal-right-next-to-another-guy kind of way, so I snagged a table in the front window and set up camp. Before I even sat down, Sandy asked me what I'd like to have to drink. You know how when you meet certain people you can immediately tell how genuine they are from the way they carry themselves? Sandy is one of those people. Even at the end of a tough midweek morning shift, Sandy was beaming and friendly.
Sandy delivered a large cup of coffee and a water. She said she'd leave me alone for a few minutes to peruse the menu. Innside offers breakfast from 6:30 a.m. until 10:30 p.m. Lunch is served until the restaurant closes at 2 p.m. During my hour or so, I saw several besuited gentlemen picking up to-go orders. That's kind of a thing with Innside; even as the breakfast rush was settling down, the team remained busy with orders. It also seemed as if everybody who came in was an old family friend. Sandy welcomed a few of them by name.
Innside offers everything you'd expect for breakfast. The affordable egg plates offer two eggs cooked to order and a variety of meats to choose from: bologna, chicken, sausage, bacon and country ham. There are omelets, loaded biscuit sandwiches, breakfast sandwiches, biscuits and gravy, and pancakes, too. I was hungrier than I expected I would be, so I decided to order an egg plate (over-medium) with country ham, grits and a biscuit. After a few minutes, an enormous plate of food was placed in front of me. Seriously, look at the spread below.
I wondered if Sandy had heard—Ron Swanson-style—that I wanted "all the country ham in the building." Nobody needs this much country ham, but "need" and "want" are two different things. Sandy brought me some Texas Pete for my eggs, and I dove into the plate. The eggs were exactly how I ordered them—slightly runny (i.e., perfect), but not messy by any stretch. Both the grits and biscuit were well-prepared and tasty. The slice of country ham was less salty than I anticipated, a welcome flavor considering the size of the meat portion. Of course, I ate it all. What, am I leaving perfectly good ham on a plate?
How have I missed out on Innside Restaurant all these years? It was right under my nose the entire time. It makes me question what else I might be missing out on in Chattanooga. Is there an underground sandwich shop just below my feet that I walk over every day? A clandestine back alley hot dog vendor with the savoriest wieners in town? A pumpkin vendor? I don't know.
Would I go back?
Innside Restaurant is only a few blocks from my office. There's no reason I won't head over throughout the week for a cheap breakfast. Of course, my heart can't handle country ham every day, but I'm always interested in a simple plate of eggs and toast. I've also been told that lunch—especially the burgers—is also underrated and under the radar. Call me a convert. One bite and you will be, too.
The opinions expressed in this column belong solely to the author, not Nooga.com or its employees.