Beginning as a baker at Chattanooga’s former Greenlife Grocery, Charlie Loomis soon rose to the rank of executive chef, carrying his position through its Whole Foods buyout. Loomis has since moved on, opening up Elemental a few weeks ago within mere walking distance of his former stomping grounds.
313 Manufacturers Road
Chattanooga, TN 37405
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.
Keeping with the spirit of the original Greenlife, Loomis sources most of his ingredients from farms within a 100-mile radius of Chattanooga.
Atmosphere and service
Walking in the door, I was greeted by two smiling hostesses. I didn’t have a reservation-which is recommended-but they quickly found a spot for us next to Elemental’s centerpiece, a ’53 Ford tractor (unpolished and showing all the wear and tear of its hard life in the fields).
My server was quick on the draw and well-prepared to explain Elemental’s local food focus. My only quibble with the service was with the food runners, who didn’t clear away empty dishes as they brought new ones, leaving the task to our server.
I began with the boiled peanut hummus ($6). The peanuts were a good complement to the tahini sesame paste, their oils also aligning with garlic and olive oil to pound this chickpea purée with a flavorful force. The thin, housemade bread used for dipping had a hard, cracker-like consistency with seeds and herbs baked inside, giving it a distinct flavor. Lightly pickled root veggie sticks were also served to the side, including a spectrum of rainbow carrots.
Elemental also has a selection of topped flatbreads (which are the only menu options available during their last hour of service). I chose the sorghum-glazed beef with Cruze Family Farm buttermilk, Sequatchie Cove hard cheese and roasted peppers ($9).
The flatbread was baked quickly in their wood-fired oven to a springy, soft consistency, and olive oil and herbs penetrated its pores. Melted cheese and buttermilk coated the surface with creamy, sharp flavors, empowered by the sweetly savory beef strands and sliced bell peppers. The strong, enjoyable flavors of this flatbread were anything but flat.
Loomis features a “braised, glazed and farm-raised” market meat special that changes daily, and the selection this evening was a London broil of Sequatchie Cove beef with sweet potato gratin, pole beans and horseradish crème fraîche ($26).
The richly marinated beef had a juicy, pink middle and dark, peppery char along its exterior, with the crème fraîche adding cool, lightly sour notes to the slightly sweet slices. Firm bean pods bathed in this intermingling of sauces and beefy juices. The horseradish was pronounced but not overpowering the dish’s precise flavor balance.
A tower of sweet potatoes and caramelized onions housed a strongly spiced, sweetly savory, buttery starchiness. I was floored with this fantastic side dish and would order it on every visit if it were a permanent menu item.
The roasted roots entrée ($18) was a culinary embodiment of the four classical elements: earth, fire, air and water. Flame-heated air had bestowed earthy carrots, turnips, rutabagas and fennel bulbs with a smoky char and soft consistency. These sweating root veggies soaked in a deep pool of caramelized onion ale broth, which had a strong herbal essence and a powerful, rich flavor. This broth also saturated the small pepper dumplings, imbuing these soft morsels with its divine properties. Lightly braised kale and smoked pecans also accompanied this dish’s flavors.
The crème brûlée ($6) had a base of coffee-infused custard with blowtorched, caramelized sugar crystals encasing the top. This was a well-executed crème brûlée, perfectly capping off a meal that was truly the real deal.
I’m giving Elemental a strong 3 stars, pushing 4. The service was great overall, and the atmosphere was comfortable and inviting. Loomis is expertly juggling this region’s abundance of local culinary elements.
Roman Flis is a wandering writer, focusing on Chattanooga’s food scene. You can find him at romanflis.com or on Facebook and Twitter, or you can contact him at [email protected]. The opinions expressed in this column belong solely to the author, not Nooga.com or its employees.