Kitchen Intuition: Winter Scenic City Supper Club at the Choo-Choo

Authored By aliceodea

Sunday evening, on the the last day of January, 60 diners gathered under the dome at the Chattanooga Choo-Choo Hotel for the fourth collaborative gathering put on by a local all-star team highlighting Chattanooga’s restaurant culture-and the farmers, chefs and other craftspeople who sustain it. I was lucky enough to be one of those assembled. Each version of the Scenic City Supper Club is different, as the creatives, menu, design and venue are brought together especially for that one meal. This iteration was billed as the Winter Scenic City Supper Club: Dinner Under the Dome and was set in the the main lobby of the hotel. The evening was presented by Easy Bistro and, and executed with the help of Harvested Here Food Hub, Southern Natural Foods, Field and Flora, Blackberry Farm Brewery, and the Chattanooga Choo-Choo.

The first three supper club events were held at The Urban Lawn, Tennessee Stillhouse and Cloudcrest Farm. This was the first time the meal was served indoors, but the grand space at the Choo-Choo did not have us feeling confined. The setting had an open, airy atmosphere and also allowed for an innovation at this event: for the first time the meal was served with music playing in the background. A group called Django-pianist Michael Kendall, saxophonist Grady Dickinson, bassist David Vilches and drummer Josh Barrett-was able to create a backdrop of jazz that had a gentle, steady volume that allowed for easy conversation, but was still assertive enough to draw one’s attention with their skillful musicianship.

The meal was an incredible experience conceived and executed by featured chef Matt Bolus, owner of the 404 Kitchen in Nashville; locals Jeremy Vasterling, chef de cuisine at Main Street Meats; Rebecca Barron, executive chef at St. John’s Restaurant; and Nathan Flynt, formerly of Famous Nater’s food truck and now chef and owner of 2 Sons Kitchen, which is opening in March. Cocktails were crafted by Brian Lindsay, beverage director at Hush and Track 29.

The evening began with cocktails and hors d’oeuvres while everyone arrived and mingled. Mixologist Lindsay opened with a “Golden Spike,” with Pickers Blood Orange Vodka, Cointreau Caviar and Lunetta Prosecco. For those who wanted beer or wine, there was also a classic saison from Blackberry Farm Brewery and an Argentinian pinot noir.

An appetizer was created by each one of the chefs: a biscuit with Main Street Meats ham and whiskey jam from Bolus; a gougère with Parmesan and blue cheese foam from Flynt; Lake Majestik beef tongue pastrami on rye bread (made by St. John’s pastry chef Dane Frazier) with pickled cabbage and Thousand Island aioli from Barron; and mushrooms stuffed with lamb sausage and Parmesan velouté from Vasterling. I especially enjoyed the latter two, perhaps because I’ve been so obsessed with sauces lately.

After circulating for a bit, we sat down for the meal, which took advantage of the best of winter’s ingredients, like cabbage, leeks, mushrooms and potatoes. We began with Flynt’s frisée salad-with a bacon and mustard vinaigrette, 62-degree egg yolk and Maldon salt-magically served in a cylinder of very thin crusty bread. This was a light and tasty start to the meal, and followed with Vasterling’s leek, potato and scallion vichyssoise served with a Main Street Meats coppa chip and another delicious cocktail from Lindsay called “Famous Last Words”-made with Big Gin, green chartreuse, Luxardo Maraschino and a foam made from Domaine de Canton.

The main course of the evening came from Bolus and was a gorgeous plating of Roasted Southern Natural pork loin with a succulent topping of chopped celery and parsley with sliced almonds, olive oil and a hint of grapefruit, sprinkled with a finely grated pecorino. It was at this point of the evening when I was relieved to find that each course was extremely well portioned, because even after so much delightful fare, I still had room for the final dish. I’m not normally one for desserts, but I could not resist Barron’s Tucker Farms turnip cake with blood orange curd, white chocolate cream, pistachio and kumquat-turnip compote, which was rich without being too sweet. The dessert was paired beautifully with Lindsay’s last cocktail of the evening, called the “William Wallace,” and made with an Isle of Sky mixture, Cardamaro, fig and blackberry shrub, burnt Benedictine and bitters.

It was another spectacular collaboration from the talented people who contribute to our local food scene and another great experience for the enthusiastic diners who got to attend.

Alice O’Dea has lived in Chattanooga for over 20 years, but was raised among the mucks and dairy farms in rural western New York. She didn’t really learn to cook until midlife. When she’s not puttering around in the kitchen, she enjoys running, cycling, traveling, photography and trying to get food to grow in the backyard of her Highland Park home. You can email her with questions, suggestions or comments at [email protected]. The opinions expressed in this column belong solely to the author, not or its employees.

Updated @ 4:06 p.m. on 2/2/16.