House salad and breaded chicken. (Photo: Staff)

A few weeks ago, the Nooga.com crew took an early afternoon work lunch at Red Sauce with a few of our former UTC Communications Department professors (retired now). Red Sauce is tucked behind The Big Chill and Embargo 62 in North Chattanooga at 14 W. Kent St.

When you think of “red sauce,” most people immediately conjure an image of Italian food — maybe a big plate o’ spaghetti, a meatball sub or chicken primavera — and that is exactly what Red Sauce offers, though a bit elevated.

Red Sauce is owned by local restaurateurs Danny and Brittany Alcala, the duo behind Embargo 62 on Cherokee Blvd. and Ceniza in Ooltewah’s Cambridge Square. The location of Red Sauce is in the former Sip + Kitchen building. Remember that place? Nobody else does either.

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Observe this dramatic promo video for Red Sauce below. It’s rather sexy if I’m being honest. I’m blushing at that meatball forking, particularly:

Atmosphere/service
The Rat Pack were a group of entertainers who became friends in New York during late 1950s and 60s. The group included legends Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr., Dean Martin, Joey Bishop and Peter Lawford. A “rat pack” restaurant — where the group would hang out — became synonymous with Italian comfort food. Check out Delmonico’s in New York City for an example.

Red Sauce is a Chattanooga version of a “rat pack” restaurant. The idea is to go out on the town, have some fancy drinks, eat some good food and pretend you’re in 1960s-era New York City with your own group of scoundrels and roustabouts. At night, that atmosphere seems ideal but at 11:45 a.m. on a Wednesday the place felt completely abandoned and quiet. We were seated outside on a lovely patio. There were six of us dining together.

The interior near the elaborate bar is much more intimate than the porch. A group of employees were gathered at the bar and, honestly, seemed bored. I checked the website to make sure we weren’t desperately early at 11:45 a.m., but they had been open since 11 a.m. according to the posted hours. We were the first customers of the afternoon and, aside from one man at 12:30 p.m., the only visitors during the early lunch hours. That’s not a great sign, especially for a restaurant that has been open since October.

A meatball sub with cauliflower gratinata. Photo: Staff)

Our server took our drink orders and we looked at the menu. 

Appetizers include standard Italian eatery favorites like caprese, calamari & shrimp, fried cheese balls and antipasto. Red Sauce is known for meatballs, including the “soon to be famous” Giant Meatball stuffed with cheese and served on a house salad. There are RS Heroes (sandwiches) and a selection of lasagnas, pasta dishes and desserts, too.

Our server told us of the recent weekend brunch menu that features his personal favorite dish: the PB&J omelet. Before you retch, know that it’s actually a combo of pimento cheese (P), bacon marmalade (B) and jalapeño crème (J) on home fries, rather than a 3-egg omelet stuffed with peanut butter and jelly (Blech!). Thank God! Another brunch-only dish — Inner Fat Kid French toast — sounds delicious and more my speed: freshly baked croissant bread pudding, sliced and dipped in French toast batter, Grand Marnier espresso whipped cream and housemade black caramel syrup. Yes, please.

Crushed potatoes and a meatball sub. Photo: Staff

Lunch
The lunch specials menu is available 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. throughout the week. I assume it means the dishes are smaller portions of the dinner menu, but the meatball sub I ordered was enormous. Chloé Morrison also ordered the same sandwich. Our sides were the crushed potatoes and cauliflower gratinata (mashed cauliflower with breadcrumbs and Romano cheese). A former professor ordered a house salad with chicken. She attempted to order grilled chicken, but our server told us they were unable to do that at the time. She got breaded chicken instead because they couldn’t accommodate. She still enjoyed her meal, but why can’t they just grill up a piece of chicken for her?

None of us had cocktails at lunch because we had to go back to work. However, the drink menu seemed festive. The Red Sauce “Bad & Bougie” cocktails menu has drinks like “Isn’t She Lovely” (vodka, grapefruit, lemon juice, elderflower liquor, dry vermouth, simple syrup and cucumber) and the Brooklyn Sour (whiskey, lemon, simple syrup, sweet red wine and lemon peel). A member of our group had a conversation with the chef post meal. He said that business “wasn’t good yet,” but the area is expected to thrive with “new apartments coming soon.”

The portions are large. (Photo: Staff)

Our food was pretty good. I could eat a meatball sub like this often for lunch. With the portion sizes (read: huge), the $8 lunch special is a steal. Chloé told me she heated the leftovers of her sandwich a week later and found it to be just as delicious. She also commented on the cauliflower gratinata, which called “very good.” My crushed potatoes were tasty, but they had a lot going on and a little too much of all of it: garlic, rosemary, olive oil, salt and pepper. Nobody disliked their meal, although nobody was floored by the experience either.

Would we go back?
Red Sauce is a well-designed restaurant and concept. As intended, it’s a local bar — such as you might find in New York— where locals can drop by for a drink and appetizer before or after a night on the town. Unfortunately, patrons are choosing to spend their time and money elsewhere. Why is that? Maybe they are unaware that Red Sauce exists? Maybe there are better options close by? Again, I think the concept is fine … but just not on this side street location in what is (despite apartments) still a relatively sleepy back street in Chattanooga. I’ll be back for lunch, but at night I might tend toward the festive Cuban atmosphere of the owners’ Embargo nearby over the dim Italian vibe at Red Sauce.

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

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