The previous Scenic City Supper Club featured Chattanooga’s urban corridors, turning downtown’s streets into supper space; the latest, however, emphasized this wild side that give the city, and supper club, the scenic moniker. The Lula Lake Summer Social celebrated the land and natural wonders that drew people here long before John Ross arrived, and that has attracted the attention of the national outdoor community in recent years. Located at the Lula Lake Land Trust, the Scenic City Supper Club team’s latest vision was a late summer night’s dream of fire, smoke, water and honeysuckle—vodka, that is.
Participants wound up the face of Lookout Mountain and on to Lula Lake, tucked back from the mountain’s western face. Guests were instructed ahead of time to wear flats and comfortable clothing, as a short walk to the falls was involved, which gave everyone a chance to work up an appetite. At the trailhead, a wooden bar was waiting, laden with the first of three signature cocktails dreamed up by Raven Alexandra Humphrey—the bartender at St. John’s—and Cathead Distillery. The first was a millennial pink “Currant Affair” with Cathead honeysuckle vodka, Lillet blanc and sparkling wine, punctuated by a bright red currant at the bottom of the glass.
The aperitif made for a convivial walk to where a wooden bridge, dotted with lanterns, crosses the river that tumbles over the first of the Lula Lake waterfalls. Across the bridge, tables stretched along a natural corridor faced by rocks, ferns and a few tenacious trees, a trail that opens up to a view of a bright blue pool fed by the falls. The tables were laden with flowers by Fox & Fern, red and white candles in vintage holders, simple napkins tied with white roses and other floral details, sparkling water from San Pellegrino, and bottles of Hoff Hot Sauce. DJ Cole Sweeton treated guests to ambient music that blended with the songs of the crickets, cicadas and tree frogs that are a part of every Southern summer.
At the opposite end of the tables, an outdoor kitchen had been set up to prep the evening’s four courses, as well as the appetizers sent out on trays to circulate among the guests. Diners enjoyed chilled rosé and Blackberry Farm saison as they walked down to the falls, conversed and savored bites of goat cheese tart with charred shishito pepper jelly, bourbon and chicken liver pâté, tomato basil doughnut holes dusted with Parmesan, and curry barbecue oysters with lemony breadcrumbs. Each hors d’oeuvre played with the familiar flavors of summer—tomatoes and peppers blistered by the August heat, oysters brightened by pungent, bright curry, the tang of fresh basil, the sweetness of late summer figs—in a way that felt new and unexpected.
The real jewel of the campsite kitchen was a fire pit ringed with stones over which many chickens were hung on chains from a large metal stand. They cooked almost rotisserie-style from the heat of the flames and were scented with the smoke of the fire. Periodically, one of the cooks would dip fronds of rosemary as long as his forearms into a bucket of marinade and sprinkle the chickens liberally with the fragrant liquid—blessing them, it looked like. It was truly a joy to watch a talented team at work in such an elemental way.
As the afternoon light drew back, guests took to their seats, introduced themselves to their neighbors and heard a brief speech from host Erik Neal about the history and significance of Lula Lake and the special talent bringing the meal together that night, including David Bancroft of Auburn’s restaurant Acre, Billy Sparks of Café 7, Randal Gresham Jr. of Easy Bistro & Bar, Kent Davis of Julie Darling Donuts, Raven Humphrey of St. John’s Restaurant, stylist Liza Greever of Fox & Fern and photographer Jamie Smialek of Our Ampersand Photography.
Then, diners tucked into a first course of smoked trout served over a johnnycake with a smear of corn sauce, a little pile of pickled onions and a generous dollop of horseradish cream. The smoky flavor of the trout mingled with the scent of the fire in the air and was balanced by the sweetness of the corn and the spice of the horseradish. It was all beautifully complemented by the slightly sour funk of the Blackberry Farm saison, the same style of beer once enjoyed by farmers in the field.
Next up was a course of small, tangy Gulf shrimp in a West Indies-style salad. The shrimp had a companion on the plate in the form of tiny sugar baby melons and tomatoes sprinkled generously with salt and dill, surrounding a bright pink rectangle of watermelon. This was served with the second of three cocktail pairings, called the “Midnight in Mumbai,” with Bristow gin, muddled watermelon, St. Germain, lime and a tangy salt and pepper rim. The tropical hue of the melon and the cocktail contrasted the neutral tones of the lovely ceramics by Annie Hanks and McQueen Pottery, along with gold utensils.
As the deep blue color of the late summer night sky settled in, the rocks alongside the tables were lit with a warm glow, thanks to Solid Rock Productions. The main course was brought out along with handsome flagons brimming with a second Blackberry Farm summer saison. The expertly roasted Springer Mountain Farms chickens had been carved and tossed in a creamy Alabama white sauce, all impossibly moist, tender and robust—the fatty, smoky flavors cut by the slightly hoppy beer. On the side was a butterbean salad with smoked bacon, goat cheese dressing, and pickled corn chow chow dreamed up by Bancroft. The beans were tender yet toothsome, all at once creamy, buttery and acidic, a blend that played nicely off the dry, cool rosé.
The true starlit night swept over the sky, and the tables’ candlelight reflected off the shiny, sugar glaze of the evening’s final course—chocolate and strawberry doughnuts created by Davis. One was a chocolate doughnut with fudge glaze, served with a little bar of chocolate on top. The other had chunks of real fruit in the fluffy, light interior and was coated with a cream cheese icing and crowned with a bright red summer strawberry. This came with a refreshing digestif, a sweet blend of Cathead vodka, Tia Maria, cold brew coffee, cream and peach tea syrup.
Fortified for a leisurely night stroll back to their cars, the guests used flashlights to find their way back, remarking on not only the quality of the meal, but the lovely natural setting. Many hadn’t been to Lula Lake before and were excited to learn about the 8,000 acres of protected land, a new network of hiking trails and the connector to Cloudland Canyon that makes it possible for intrepid nature enthusiasts to walk from downtown Chattanooga all the way to Rising Fawn. It’s a rare treat to be steeped so thoroughly in the roots of a place. This latest supper club blended setting and supper in a way that gets to the heart of what has made Chattanooga special since long before it went by that name, and what keeps drawing new talent here year after year.