July 14 was mine and Philip’s 10th wedding anniversary! To celebrate, we decided to go to one of our favorite restaurants, Food Works. It crossed my mind that maybe we should try a restaurant we hadn’t been to, but then there’s always the chance that you’re going to get a dud and be disappointed. Stick with what you know for special occasions! Here’s a picture that our server took of us:Anyway…enough with the shameless celebrating our 10 years of marital bliss! Let’s get down to business.
Food Works is a restaurant that many love, and some loathe. As for the loathers, I don’t really understand. I will say that I have ordered a couple of dishes that I did not like, but the ones that I did overshadowed those that I didn’t. Perhaps if my first experience had been a bad one, I would feel differently. I, for example, would not recommend the roasted red pepper alfredo with chicken added….but I have learned that I never like pasta dishes in restaurants that have chicken added. The chicken always tastes to me like it just came out of the freezer, so I just avoid them. I have, however, heard others say they like this dish, so to each his own. So, now that I’ve gotten that out of the way, on to the experience of the night.
Food Works takes reservations as well as walk-ups. We always make reservations just in case we happen to go on a night that the city decided to come out in droves before 7 p.m. You never know. For this night, we decided to go at 5:30. I guess we were feeling particularly elderly (remember that commercial a few years ago-it’s fun to eat at 4:30 p.m.! Anyway….). Lucky we did! From 4-6 p.m., an early bird special is available. With the early bird, each diner gets a starter, entree, and dessert for $20 per person. Not all menu items are included on the early bird menu, but there was a good selection, and we both found what we had in mind.
Philip ordered the Caesar salad (which is his standard salad order, except at Food Works-more on that in a minute) and shrimp and grits. While I generally try to change up my order when we come here, Philip ordered shrimp and grits on our first visit, and he loved it so much he has never ordered anything else. And he won’t order shrimp and grits anywhere else, for fear of being disappointed if/when they do not measure up. The shrimp and grits is sauced with a creamy, slightly spicy sauce that contains small bits of Tasso ham, and rather than spoonable grits, the grits are a cheesy, fried grit cake. I have tasted it, and it is wonderful. I won’t even attempt this at home, because I know I’ll never make the cut. The Caesar salad is good-very peppery, with ciabatta croutons cooked in butter (!) over whole leaves from romaine hearts. Once our salads came, though, Philip remembered that he usually orders the house salad, because even though the Caesar is good, the house is better.
So, now, let me tell you about my order. I ordered the house salad and the Food Works burger, medium, with cheddar cheese (if I trust my source, I always order my burgers medium. Steaks medium-rare. Mmmmmm.). The house salad here is to die for, and I always order it, even though it’s pretty expensive at $6 and I would never pay that price anywhere else. It’s mixed greens, sliced Roma tomatoes, candied pecans, and bacon with a honey-balsamic vinaigrette, and it is so good. That’s all I can say about it. I’ve never had a salad this good anywhere else. Their burger is fantastic as well, one of my favorites in town, although I was slightly disappointed that mine was more medium-well than medium, but it still tasted great, and the sky was looking pretty ominous so I wasn’t going to hang out to wait on another one. I was still happy. The bun was grilled, slightly charred even, and I thought that really added to the flavor and texture of the burger. The onions were grilled as well, or else they would have been instantly removed from my burger. The fries were nothing special-skin-on, seasoned-but very good all the same.
For dessert, Philip was torn between the creme brulee (he loves creme brulee) and the coffee bread pudding, but chose the bread pudding after (a) I reminded him that I would be making it in a couple of weeks when my aunt visits; and (b) our server recommended it over everything else on the menu. He was not disappointed. It was a GIGANTIC hunk of “Heath Bar” bread pudding (he actually brought about half of it home), warm with coffee-flavored creme anglaise (basically a custard sauce). I tasted it, and it really was delicious.
I decided on the strawberry shortcake. It was decidedly simple, basically just a biscuit with strawberries and whipped cream. The strawberries were macerated (a fancy word for marinated, maceration kind of breaks the strawberries down a little, softens them, draws out some of the juice and creates a syrup) in Grand Marnier (an orange-flavored liqueur). I could taste the orange; it wasn’t overpowering but added to the overall flavor. The biscuit was warm, which added a nice temperature contrast to the cold strawberries. The biscuits tasted good, but I’m gonna toot my own horn here for just a second and tell you that my homemade biscuits are better.
With our early bird special, we got two (usually very expensive) salads, two entrees, and two desserts (we almost always drink water wherever we go) for $40+tax+a 15% tip that was automatically added, presumably because it was the early bird special. That’s never happened before, and we did find that a little bizarre, especially since there was no line for an additional tip when the server brought the ticket back for Philip to sign. Luckily, we had some cash (a rare occurrence) so we were able to leave an appropriate tip for our server, Geoff, who did an excellent job. He was friendly and attentive without being overbearing, and he was very knowledgeable about the food. I was very impressed at the questions that he asked about specific components of each item that we ordered. Plus, he took our picture! I feel very strongly that great servers should get a tip that matches their level of service.
I meant to take some pictures of the interior. Food Works is located in the old knitting mill on Manufacturer’s Road, and I really love the atmosphere. If no one in your party has trouble with stairs, I recommend that you ask to be seated upstairs; it really does make a difference in the ambiance.
Riverside Food Works is located in the Signal Knitting Mill at 205 Manufacturer’s Road, Chattanooga, TN 37405. For reservations, call 423-752-7487. They open at 11 a.m. daily, serving lunch and dinner, as well as brunch on Saturdays and Sundays. You can read about them and view their menu on their website; they also have a Facebook page.