Boathouse Rotisserie and Raw Bar
1459 Riverside Drive
Chattanooga, TN 37406
11 a.m.-10 p.m.
11 a.m.-11 p.m.
An epic dining experience: world-class service, décor and menu options.
A superior dining experience: high-quality attributes you’ll want to come back for again and again.
A solid dining experience: great characteristics but also some minor issues.
A mediocre dining experience: may have a few good highlights but major flaws.
A terrible dining experience: stay far away unless it’s the only place left to eat to avoid starvation, and even then, question if it’s worth it.
The Boathouse Rotisserie and Raw Bar sits in a prime location adjacent to the Tennessee River, right along the path of oncoming bicyclists and pedestrians on the Tennessee Riverwalk. Owner Lawton Haygood-also of Canyon Grille and Sugar’s Ribs ownership fame-secured this spot to bring “food styles from around the Gulf” alongside Chattanooga’s own prized waterway, with a few local freshwater offerings as well. There is a wide array of different cuisines spanning the Gulf of Mexico, so I wanted to see what the Boathouse had to offer-and hoped for no major oil spills (of the cooking variety, of course).
I decided to roam over to the Boathouse last Wednesday to take advantage of their $7.50 catfish special. This was easier said than done. Upon arrival, I drove around the full parking lot trying to find an empty space, pitted against several other cars of hungry people. This game of musical parking spaces lasted several rounds around the lot, trying to spy down people walking to their cars to leave.
The odds would not be in my favor in this hunger game, however, as every time a car was pulling out another beat me to the space. Eventually, I gave up and drove to the Tennessee Riverpark, parking in the first lot I came to under Riverfront Parkway. This wasn’t half bad. It was a nice, warm day, and this short stroll down the Riverwalk was pleasant-burning some calories I was about to replenish tenfold. By the time I reached the Boathouse, my party had already put their name in, waited a short wait and gotten seated during my 30-minute parking and walking escapade.
After this brisk walk, for me there was nothing quite like kicking back with an ice-cold beer and a plate of fresh Gulf oysters, taking in the relaxing nautical atmosphere the Boathouse provided in its scenic riverfront location-complete with a large, open-deck dining area overlooking the river. The huge bar was the centerpiece, with drinks being poured, mixed and shaken; oysters being chucked; and ice cubes falling from the ceiling down into an ice bucket, which was a nice, whimsical touch.
The oysters were opaque with a pleasant pool of seawater in the shell, and they weren’t gritty at all. They tasted fresh on their own, while the side of cocktail sauce provided a nice tang. I tried them with and without the sauce, both straight out of the shell and on the crackers served on the side, and they were delightful any way I went with them. The ice-cold draft beer-kept to a steady temperature with their intuitive draft beer system-was a perfect complement to the oysters, and I would have been happily content with just a few rounds of beers and oysters all evening, but I was working, y’all, and there was still much to sample.
Next, I went for the oyster’s mollusk cousin, the clam, in their made-to-order clam chowder. This chowder was rich and creamy, and the clam meat was fresh and tender, and though I like sherry, there was a bit too much, and it slightly overpowered other flavors in the dish. The potatoes were soft but few and far between in this wee portion of less-than-chunky chowder, which was tasty but not really worth the chunky $9.95 price tag, in my opinion.
The guacamole is also made to order and is done as more of an avocado salad than a sauce. It consisted of avocado slices, red onion, tomato, black pepper, lemon pepper, fresh limes and, of course, my buddy cilantro-which seems to follow me everywhere I go these days. Although it’s great that the guacamole is made to order for freshness, the drawback to this is that it doesn’t allow time for the flavors to meld together. The flavor was very good when I first tried it, but after letting it sit for a bit and coming back to it later, it was even more flavorful.
The tortilla chips served with this dish were double thick, crispy and seasoned extremely well. They weren’t greasy or salty at all. Though the guacamole is an appetizer, this would be a satisfying vegetarian main dish as well. My recommendation as a main dish is to let it come with the appetizer(s) and try it, then let it settle and eat it when everyone else’s main course comes out, and you’ll taste what I’m talking about after giving it time-though you may be hard-pressed to keep people away from it.
We ordered appetizers first, and after several attempts to order the main course, the server simply wandered off right in the middle of trying to talk to her. She was busy, and I understand that, but she wasn’t very friendly and didn’t seem very concerned with our table throughout the evening. She wasn’t awful but wasn’t great either.
After finally placing the order for the main course, it came out quickly. The first dish I tried was the “in the pink” salad with shrimp, avocado, lettuce, tomato, arugula and Louis dressing. It was supposed to have hearts of palm, but I didn’t see any. The arugula was a nice surprise, though, because it wasn’t listed on the menu, and it provided a nice, peppery component to the other fresh veggies in the salad. The jumbo shrimp were cut into juicy, bite-sized chunks, and drizzling the creamy Louis dressing throughout the conglomeration summed up to a satisfying salad.
I also tried the “voodoo chicken,” which is an old Haitian recipe. This half-chicken was a blast of flavor, with an extremely crispy outer skin spiced up with a good heat, which also infiltrated the extraordinarily juicy meat. The hot pepper sauce and sweet and sour chile sauce to the side helped to add even more of a punch when dipping into them. The black beans and rice and pineapple provided a good base and acid to teeter-totter with the capsaicin spiciness in a magical mix sure to hex any-sized hunger.
With the catfish on special on Wednesdays for $7.50, I snagged a plate of that as well. The catfish was soft, and the outer batter crust was light and flavorful both on its own and with the tarter and cocktail sauces. The hushpuppies had a bark and a bite, packed with a little jalapeño heat and a devilishly good amount of grease in the corny, moist interior and crispy, golden-fried exterior. The fries were fried in olive oil, which provided a light, non-greasy flavor, but they weren’t very hot and were slightly soggy. The slaw was simply shredded cabbage with a light vinaigrette, and it was crispy and fresh.
I was less than impressed with the “Texas dip” beef brisket sandwich. Although the Boathouse is known for its classic, wood-fired grill and rotisserie, this brisket was overcooked and thus extremely tough and dried out. The au jus dipping sauce on the side was not just a flavorful addition but was necessary to add any moisture to the meat at all. The bun was fresh and firm to take on the au jus without becoming soggy, and the Swiss cheese and green and red onions complemented the savory seasoning of the meat and au jus. It would have been a good sandwich had the dry, chewy texture not been so off-putting. It was served with the same slaw and fries as the catfish.
For dessert I tried the tres leches cake (meaning “three-milk” cake). This was a dense cake, made to hold up to being soaked in three kinds of milk-usually evaporated milk, sweetened milk and either heavy cream or half-and-half-without becoming soggy. The strong vanilla flavor was amplified with the creamy milk mixture soaked into this sponge, and the crushed walnuts and caramel gave it more of a sweet and nutty flavor.
I am giving the Boathouse 2 stars for decent food, awesome atmosphere and “meh” service, and I do think it is a bit overpriced for what it is. The weekly catfish and oyster specials are a good deal, however, and the wide array of drinks and raw shellfish at the bar would make any ship captain say, “Arrrrrrr!”
Roman Flis is a wandering writer, focusing on Chattanooga’s food scene. You can follow him on Twitter or contact him at [email protected]. The opinions expressed in this column belong solely to the author, not Nooga.com or its employees.