This week, we finally managed to sit down for what felt like a weekend brunch phantasm at Syrup and Eggs in St. Elmo. Located in the old St. Elmo Fire Hall at 4501 St. Elmo Ave., the building is the perfect venue for what is one of Chattanooga’s latest best-kept secrets. The restaurant is only open on weekends—Fri. to Sun.—for breakfast and brunch. You will wait for a table. And you shouldn’t care a damn bit about it because the food is incredible.
I used the word “phantasm” because our experience felt like we made it up in our heads … like a dream. A place like Syrup and Eggs is something you might find in the “hip” neighborhood of a much larger city. Blue Cornmeal “taco” pancakes? Egg Pie? A Bruleéd grapefruit with brown sugar, brandy … and, yes, glitter? They even offer something called Pho Real breakfast with Thai sausage, “chicky” broth, egg, mint, basil, jalapeno and rice. You’re supposed to eat Pho for breakfast. It’s a thing people do and I highly recommend it.
Anyway, Syrup and Eggs is a revelation. I hope you’ll check it out.
Brunch is a casual, communal affair designed as neither a substitute for breakfast or a replacement for lunch, but something in between that is a meal in and of itself. I don’t enjoy long brunching because brunch is synonymous with alcohol (ugh, mimosas) and getting day-buzzed on a Saturday afternoon is just a waste of a weekend day, in my opinion. You will disagree and that’s fine. Syrup and Eggs offers a breakfast/brunch without the sugary, alcoholic drinks. Instead, you get sugary foods that baffle and paw at the brain in terms of flavors. This is my kind of brunch.
Monica and I arrived at 10 a.m. to meet our new friends Alex and Katie, newbies to Chattanooga. We were also joined by our friends Hillary and Olivia, two of the funniest people I know. Alex and Katie are residents of St. Elmo and in only a month of living there, they’ve eaten at Syrup and Eggs three times. “We are totally obsessed,” is a direct quote Alex uttered as we waited in the small lobby for our name to be called. Nothing is rushed. Waiting is a privilege.
Our name was called and we were led to a table near the middle of the main dining room. As if the former fire hall wasn’t charming enough, the decor at Syrup and Eggs is, as the kids say, totes adorbs (I’m not sure if kids actually say that). The interior is a combination of Anthropologie meets thrift store funky punk. Tattoos on everybody and everywhere, but also delicate floral patterns and bright colors throughout. It’s exactly what you might imagine your weird aunt’s dining room in Portland might look like.
We wrote about owner/chef Ocia Hartley, who moved to Chattanooga from Portland, in Sept. of 2017. She remembers being 10 years old when she decided she wanted to be a chef and, specifically, to own a breakfast restaurant. Her approach is simple—hence the name Syrup and Eggs—and her specialty is unique pancakes and “dishes with eggs in them or on them.”
Hartley was working on the day we visited. She and the other employees filled coffee cups and delivered orders. The smell from the kitchen was heaven.
I recommend a communal brunch (five or six people is perfect) so you can take a bite of everybody’s meal. Of all the regular menu items—anything you get will be delicious, as our orders indicated—the real treat of the day is on a chalkboard behind the counter. The “special stack” is a daily pancake variation that can be something involving honeydew to anything else that might be available and associated with a pancake. On this day, the special was Shoofly “Pie” buttermilk pancakes with brown sugar, molasses syrup, and hazelnut crumb. Shoofly is a molasses pie or cake that originated among the Pennsylvania Dutch in the 1880s. At restaurants like Syrup and Eggs, the “special” is often more special than other places. The brain, heart and love of the chef are reflected in the dish. There was no way I was leaving without eating those pancakes.
Hillary and I both got the Shoofly pancakes. Alex ordered the Blue Cornmeal “taco” pancakes—which were weird in theory but tasted like a taco pancake. I enjoy both tacos and pancakes, so it makes sense that I enjoyed those flavors on the same plate. Who knew? Several ordered the strawberry stack. Monica got a grapefruit and an egg pie.
Our plates arrived surprisingly fast considering the hustle of the restaurant. The portions were generous and the flavors—my God—I’m glad I don’t live within walking distance of this place. My Shoofly pancakes were sweet, but due to the molasses and hazelnut combination, it was a much denser, earthier sweetness than I was used to. The pancakes, though fluffy, were almost savory with butter, brown sugar and the rich molasses flavor. They were perfect and the best pancakes I’ve had in recent memory or, possibly, ever. I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to eat my own pancakes after this. These pancakes make Aretha Frankenstein’s look silly.
Other highlights were the egg pie (fluffy and light) and the simple, but stunning grapefruit with sugar. My mom taught me years ago that a little sugar on a grapefruit is the best breakfast, so a bunch of caramelized brown sugar on it was something else. Sweet grapefruit is one of my favorite flavors. This was the sweetest.
Would we go back?
Syrup and Eggs is dangerously good. I can understand why Katie and Alex are helpless addicts. Monica and I will 100 percent return to sample more of Ocia’s creations. I hope I’ve made it clear how much I enjoyed our brunch. It was great. Keep in mind that you will wait (maybe even an hour) but it’s worth it. The prices are relatively low, too, especially without the added alcohol. You can easily get out of there under $30 for a couple. Ocia, you’re a genius. Thanks for taking a chance and congratulations on achieving your dream. We can’t wait to visit again.
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