The unassuming exterior of SideTrack. (Photo: Staff)

This week, Monica and I visited SideTrack at 3514 Hixson Pike. The new establishment is from the creators of local favorites Sugar’s Ribs, Boathouse Rotisserie and Raw Bar, and—the region’s best-kept secret—Canyon Grill near Cloudland Canyon on Lookout Mountain.

A former Huddle House (though you’d never believe it), the restaurant is named SideTrack because it sits next to a train track. Having visited all the sister restaurants, I think SideTrack combines the best elements of all three. They have the signature wood-fired grill flavors, exceptional cocktails and an environment that is sort of fancy, but like Canyon Grill, “fancy” really means “mountain casual” and that means whatever you want it to mean. 

SideTrack is as close to the Canyon Grill experience as any of the other restaurants thus far. I’m thrilled that SideTrack is just minutes from downtown and that I don’t have to climb the mountain to get my ground filet mignon fix. You’re going to love this place.

An enormous pile of crispy potatoes. (Photo: Staff)

We arrived at about 6 p.m. on a Wednesday. The lights were low, and the décor is reminiscent of what I’d imagine an upscale train car would have been like in 1940. The bar is to the right and has plenty of seating. Booths and tables are featured in the center of the room, and there’s an open kitchen in the back. Monica and I were seated in the intimate sunroom to the left. The room is lined with windows that can be opened wide during the warmer months. This room particularly reminded me of Canyon Grill.

Julian was our server. He was great throughout the night. Our table was a four-top, and the lighting reminded me of the gaslights from old noir films. I thought about occasionally looking at an imaginary camera in the middle distance, and in my best narrator voice, I would describe what was happening: “She ordered the steak, but was it a veiled clue? What was at stake with the steak? Was it a coincidence? Who was the man in the coat and hat? I was about to find out.” Monica does not enjoy it when I do weird stuff like that in public, though, so I kept my Mr. Noir character to myself. The lighting was fun for an intimate date, but it was terrible for taking pictures (as you can see). Julian brought us water and I ordered an unsweet tea to start the night. 

Spicy fried okra. (Photo: Staff)

The menu at SideTrack is mouthwatering. I’ve decided that anything cooked on a wood-fired grill is automatically better. You can get several things from the grill, including pizzas, chicken, steak, fish and more. If you’re a drinker, happy hour is from 4 to 6 p.m. every day and offers 50 percent off a specialty cocktail. Saturday nights are Manhattan Night if you’re considering going. There are also desserts that you’ll want to check out: tres leches cake, grownup s’mores and a seasonal berry shortcake. It’s been a while since every item on a menu seemed appealing to me. I wanted to try everything.

The food
The last time we ate at Canyon Grill was with Monica’s grandparents, who live in Cloudland. Her grandfather encouraged me to try the ground filet mignon with blue cheese. It was extraordinary. I was so happy when I noticed a similar item on the menu at SideTrack. Monica beat me to it and ordered the wood-grilled ground mignon with brandy peppercorn pan sauce and a side of grilled veggies. I ordered half a chicken with lemon, garlic and extra virgin olive oil. I also got a side of crispy potatoes, a portion that could’ve fed four people.

Ahead of dinner, we tried the spicy okra chips. If you sit at the bar during happy hour, the chips are half-off. They are well worth it if you enjoy spicy, crispy things in your mouth. I’d never had okra like this, and it won’t be the last time I do. Wow.

A lemon and garlic wood-fired chicken. (Photo: Staff)

Our food arrived quickly, and the presentation was impressive for the price. Monica’s mignon—literally just ground-up steak made into a burger—was cooked to a medium perfection. Her vegetables were also seasoned well and crunchy. My chicken had a potent lemon-garlic flavor. The crispy skin outside was succulent, and it was moist inside in a way that only a wood-fired grill can provide. The crispy potatoes—called “fried broken potatoes” on the menu—are huge deep-fried wedges with a little salt. Heaven.

Other dishes we want to try: Margherita pizza, pan-roasted snapper, Santa Fe burger (also ground mignon but on a bun with cheese and green chiles), made-to-order guacamole, and if the wedge salad with blue cheese is anything like Canyon Grill’s version, it might eventually become a problem that I have to overcome with a professional.

Monica was excited to see Harney & Sons tea on the menu. The Paris black tea is her favorite.

Ground mignon with veggies. (Photo: Staff)

Would we go back?
SideTrack is an unassuming and extraordinary little restaurant near a gas station on Hixson Pike. I was not expecting to find a new favorite place to eat on this Wednesday night. My mother will be visiting early next month, and I plan to take her for dinner or lunch or both. It feels like this restaurant has been around for years. I hope it is. This is a keeper, folks. We’ll be back soon and often.

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