This week, I met up with my history friend Andy Fowler for a quick, healthy lunch at Rock City's Café 7 at Lovers Leap. I was dropping off a vintage Mr. Peanut costume, and he invited me to lunch while I was in the area. My hunch that Café 7 is named after "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs" was incorrect. Café 7 is a reference to the "irrefutable fact" that you can see seven states from the Rock City precipice. I feel like a fool.
I met Andy at his office. Here's the deal with Café 7: You have to gain entry into the park in order to eat there. You can't just go to the restaurant without buying a ticket or, in Andy's case, an annual VIP "Super Rock City" pass. But a visit to Café 7 would be a great option to include in your itinerary, especially if you happen to be visiting the park. You'll not find a better lunch view than Lovers Leap.
Another issue with this week—as you'll see below—is that Monica and I are spending July doing the fashionable Whole 30 diet. Sneers ... boo ... hiss ... boo. That means I have to avoid added sugars, alcohol, grains, legumes, dairy and baked goods for the entire month without exception. I'm on my ninth day as I write this, so if you have any tips on eating out for the rest of the month, I'd love to hear them. Who has the best healthy food in town? I'm positive some of you have tried this before, right? Let me know in the comments.
We wandered through the garden paths after passing by an old-time radio setup, a tiny birds of prey amphitheater (tiny venue, not tiny birds) and a young lady selling Dippin' Dots—the "ice cream of the future." It was a miserably hot day and sweat was trailing down my back, which is as sexy as it sounds. I'm writing a dining column and I'm talking about back sweat. Apologies.
After our walk to Lovers Leap, Andy and I visited the host stand at Café 7. The restaurant is just feet away from the iconic Rock City view. I can understand why they charge admission. It really is a spectacular, magical location. Fortunately, all the tables are in the glorious shade. Our server, Haley, quickly brought us some iced tea. She was a great server, friendly and gracious enough to not talk about desserts that I couldn't eat.
Andy, a frequent visitor to Café 7 and also watching what he's eating, broke the news to me that we couldn't order "the best appetizer on the menu"—that being the housemade fried green tomatoes with pimento cheese and bread. Had he ordered a plate, I would've folded instantly. Instead, we opted for no appetizer and immediately jumped into lunch. A majority of the other diners were obviously tourists—large families, kids with souvenirs, a few casual couples.
By the way, Andy is a roving history guy whose work is documented on a site called Andy's Journeys. Many of his YouTube videos feature familiar locations in Chattanooga.
Andy and I discussed health on the drive over, and I was almost sure he was going to order something similar to my salad, but instead he went with the burger. Pardon me, it's the "Seven States Burger" with certified Angus beef, familiar burger toppings and a Niedlov's Breadworks bun. He said the burger is good, but even better if you get a fried green tomato on top. He didn't this time, nor did he opt for a side at all, such as turnip greens, housemade chips, smashed red potatoes or edamame succotash. Just the burger for Andy.
I had to play it a bit safer. The menu has some truly decadent items, such as buffalo frog legs, shrimp and grits (with Benton's bacon), and grilled chicken with "yella fever" sauce. I'm not sure, but I think that reference is a nod to the yellow fever epidemic of 1878 that killed about 150 people in Chattanooga, while others suffered from jaundice, fever, chills, hemorrhaging and more. Yummy! Put that sauce on my chicken.
My lunch was a grilled romaine wedge with Benton's bacon (you can eat bacon on Whole 30), red onions, tomatoes and a side of blue cheese dressing that I couldn't eat. Andy enjoyed every bite of his burger. His favorite burger in town is Urban Stack Burger Lounge's wagyu beef, but he said the Café 7 burger might surprise people. My salad was hearty and delicious. The Benton's bacon made a world of difference, even though it was only a few crumbles. I allowed the smell of blue cheese to waft across my plate without indulging. The salad wedge was grilled and slightly crunchy. It was a great lunch considering the restrictions, and I would order it again, diet or not.
Would we go back?
Café 7 is designed as a place for visitors of Rock City to enjoy. But locals shouldn't overlook the restaurant for several reasons. First, the food is great—which is a rare thing at major tourist attractions. It's also reasonably priced. Our meal was only $20, and both Andy and I were stuffed walking back to the car. Finally, I can't think of a more scenic view in Chattanooga to enjoy a meal. You're almost literally on top of the world at Rock City. I can't wait to go back without dietary restrictions. That "yella fever" sauce is calling my name.
The opinions expressed in this column belong solely to the author, not Nooga.com or its employees.