We got up and moving late again today, drove about 20 miles North to visit one of my sister’s friends, and then decided to eat at the City Café Diner. She’d been telling me about it for a couple of days, but I was really not prepared for the reality of one of Chattanooga’s favorite diners!
City Café Diner can be found in two locations, but we opted to go to the original downtown:
First, the City Café Diner advertisement—a video loop playing non-stop on at least a half-dozen screens in the dining room—boasts that they serve 365 menu items. Take a look a their online menu if you don’t believe them. It’s amazing! Their offerings range from breakfast to dinner, from light to heavy … but–in addition to the size of their menu–I could not believe the SIZE of the dishes they brought to our table, too.
Both of our meals came with soup, so my sister ordered the minestrone …
… and I ordered the tomato and rice soup.
Note: these are not measly little cups of soup. They’re completely full BOWLS of soup. And what soup it was! The minestrone was excellent—full of chunks of veggies and sausage, floating in a dense, rich broth—and the tomato rice was an absolute winner, too: thickened with cheese. I could only eat a small amount (saving myself for my main course) but it was so tasty I could have easily just had them box my dinner to go … and just lived on the soup!
My sis went straight for the Eggplant Parmigiana, her favorite dish on the menu:
Even if I don’t have anything else in the picture for you to use to get a sense of scale … one look at small those eating utensils are compared to that plate should give you an idea of how much food they sat in front of us in our second course.
On the other hand … when I started reading the menu, I didn’t get any further than the Broiled Stuffed Flounder with Crabmeat before I knew exactly what I was ordering.
In addition to these massive plates of food, the City Café Diner is best known for its desserts: cakes in particular!And–of course–we couldn’t miss the opportunity to take a couple of slices home with us … just so we could give them an unbiased taste … once we had a half-inch of room left after those meals! Besides–full or not–how could we pass these up:
Let’s face it, the constant bombardment of video advertising–droning on and on about Black Forest cake and Canoli Cake and Caramel Cake and Chocolate-covered Strawberry Cheesecake and on and on and on–was more than we could bear. We knew we were going to buy dessert before we spent five minutes in the place. Besides, there was no way we could walk past this case on the way to the door … without dessert to go stashed in our bags someplace.
As I told my sister, I think she must still be holding out on me if it’s taken her this long to take me to the City Café Diner. I swear, she must be building to some kind of food-gasmic crescendo with me here, because the next place often seems better than the last. City Café Diner definitely falls into that category!
My sis really enjoyed her meal, and the smell of her food wafting over to my side of the table was drool-inducing, even over my own food! I especially appreciated the near metric-ton of cheese they melted over her eggplant.
My own food was also delicious, especially the small mountain of mashed potatoes on my plate. They were easily the best thing on it: fresh-made, rough-mashed, laced with just a tiny smidgen of what tasted like fresh oregano … the gravy was good, but it was a minor player in the face of those potatoes. Likewise, if that fried okra came out of a freezer box or bag … it was still freshly made and prepared. Thanks to my gastric bypass surgery, I was only able to eat a few of them while they were hot … but have no fear: my sister and I have been munching them all evening … and they’re just as good as leftovers … even cold
When it comes to my stuffed flounder, I do have to take off some points. I asked them to skip the light wine sauce since–like the beer batter–I just don’t like the taste of wine in food all that much. Some chefs like to drown you in that sort of thing, so I asked them to just broil my fish and crabmeat stuffing in butter … which they did. And the dish was priced like it contained real crab (just shy of $16 for the plate) so I didn’t think anything about it … but when our server brought my food and I took the first forkful of crabmeat stuffing … I discovered that it wasn’t really crabmeat stuffing. It was Krabmeat stuffing … made with that fake krab called surimi, the stuff that’s really processed and reformed fish instead. Yes, they managed to make a fairly tasty stuffing out of the krab … but it’s not the same thing as crabmeat stuffing, and–given the difference between the two–I would have appreciated the head’s up. I probably wouldn’t have ordered that particular dish if I’d known in advance it was made of surimi.
The cakes? OH MY!
We opted for a piece of what they call their Seven Deadly Sins cake … and a piece of Italian Cream Cake. The Seven Deadly Sins cake was really tasty–and very well-advertised on the video screens in the restaurant–but, honestly, I was a little disappointed in the flavor. It was good, don’t get me wrong, but when you advertise something THAT decadent sounding … AND you have a separate layer for each sin … I expect to hit seven different flavors in the cake.
I didn’t. Several of the layers didn’t really have a very distinctive taste. They all just kinda tasted like a fairly sweet chocolate cake … shrugs! It was tasty and all that, just a little boring.
The Italian Cream Cake, on the other hand, was excellent! It was soft, moist, and well-flavored enough to stand up to your beverage of choice, including a distinctly cream cheese frosting that paired nicely with the sweeter parts of the cake. All in all, I could eat another whole piece ‘-)
Final score: I give City Café Diner high marks for their cakes, their mashed potatoes, and their fried okra … but the un-advertised use of krab instead of crab in their crabmeat stuffing is a big deduction in my book. That’s unforgivable, even from a landlocked restaurant … so they’ll have to make do with this B- for now. However, on the strength of their desserts alone–and those great fresh mashed potatoes–I’ll give them an opportunity to redeem themselves the next time I’m in Chattanooga