Last week, I roamed back over to the North Shore area, this time with my agenda set on the Northshore Grille. Although I had been to this restaurant a few times and wasn’t particularly thrilled, I hadn’t been in a couple of years and wanted to see what was up with it now.
16 Frazier Ave.
Chattanooga, TN 37405
5 p.m.-2 a.m.
11 a.m.-2 a.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.
Atmosphere and service
The garage door-style windows in the front were open on this nice, mild evening, allowing a refreshing breeze into the restaurant. It gave the feeling of sitting outdoors while being indoors and created a nice view of the busy North Shore sidewalk directly outside the large bar area-which is an interesting spot for people watching. There is also a large patio area in the back of the restaurant.
My server was friendly and seemed to be having fun cracking jokes with us while also staying attentive to the table. He informed us that there was a new menu that they had just launched, which was quite a bit different from what I remembered.
Northshore Grille has been known as a hotspot late-night hangout, and it appeared the menu was now targeted more toward bar food, with nothing costing more than $10. Many of their more expensive entrées were no longer present on the menu, and it pretty much focused on finger foods, salads, burgers and sandwiches. They also had a large beverage menu with various house concoctions, beers and wines-which they’ve always had.
With a recommendation from my server, I went for their new Cincinnati chili fries ($6.95) for the appetizer. Cincinnati-style chili is known for its flavor blend of chiles, cinnamon, allspice, cloves, cumin and chocolate (kind of like some moles) and is often served over spaghetti. Its thin, ground beef consistency also makes it a good chili for chili dogs and chili fries.
Thus, Northshore Grille’s version of this rich chili was savory-spiced with a small tinge of sweetness, smothering a bed of crispy-yet-soft, hand-cut fries. It was topped with diced white onions for a bite and jalapeños for a kick, with shredded cheddar melting into the steamy chili mix. This appetizer was packing some heat, nicely spiced and satisfying.
When we ordered the barbecue chicken salad ($7.95), we specified “light cilantro.” Although cilantro is my bro, as I’ve said many times, we just wanted to make sure the kitchen didn’t go overboard with it-no offense, cilantro, my buddy. But if this was light cilantro, they must normally pile it on in heaps.
The cilantro was served with lettuce, rotisserie chicken, black bean corn relish, red onions, jack and cheddar cheeses, and dressed with ranch and Montgomery Inn barbecue sauce. The chicken was moist and flavorful. The dressing was sweet, savory and creamy, with the relish giving the salad a rich cumin, sweet corn and hearty black bean flavor and a bit of chile heat. This salad had a lot going on, and it worked-and cilantro was there to DJ the flavor mix with only a few instances of overstepping in its extremeness with some dubstep or something.
Next, I tried the chicken Caprese sandwich ($7.95), which had pan-seared chicken breast topped with pesto, balsamic reduction, mozzarella, lettuce and both fresh-sliced and sun-dried tomatoes. It was served on lightly toasted, springy ciabatta bread. This sandwich, with its huge chicken breast and mounds of toppings, was tall and difficult to eat unless you have a really big mouth (literally, of course)-although a tall sandwich loaded with toppings isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
However, it is a bad thing to lack flavor, and this sandwich most certainly did. With my first bite, it actually surprised me that it tasted so bland compared with how it looked. The main culprit was the chicken breast, which did not appear to be marinated or seasoned at all during its preparation process. It really obscured the pesto, tomatoes and balsamic reduction covering it, which weren’t strong enough to overcome the dull, albeit juicy, flavor of the chicken breast’s interior.
Although the sandwich wasn’t very exciting, the onion rings I had with it were a circular flavor dance with incantations of “yum.” These rings of powerful flavor were coated in a nicely seasoned thick Brooklyn Brown Ale (according to my server) batter, which was deep-fried crispy on the outside with a fluffy interior surrounding their sweet onion circumference.
I also sampled “the Southerner” 9-ounce cheeseburger ($8.95) with barbecue pork, bacon, barbecued onions, Carolina Gold barbecue sauce, lettuce and tomato on a bun. The sauce was mustard-based, providing a light, bittersweet tang to the meats. The bacon was thick-cut and crispy, the pork was moist and the burger was juicy. This was a good burger, although the typical burger bun left a bit to be desired-it would have been better to house a good flavor mix like this in something more creative than a run-of-the-mill bun.
On the side with this dish, I tried their “spud puppies.” These fried hashbrown cake balls were well-seasoned with a strong onion and spice flavor. The interior was both soft and chunky, with the outer crust fried to a crispy, golden hue. These were like tater tots all grown up and making their potato parents proud.
For dessert, we sampled the peanut butter pie ($4.95)-although we were only brought two spoons for three people. Its peanut butter cream filling with chocolate crust was topped with a rich chocolate sauce and crumbled peanut butter cup pieces. It was very sweet and extremely rich, so I only had a few bites, but it was a nice balance of peanut butter and chocolate in multiple forms making up its composition.
I am giving Northshore Grille 2 stars. It wasn’t terrible but wasn’t particularly fantastic, either. My server was friendly and attentive-on this visit, but I’ve had some bad experiences in the past-and the food was OK. It was better than your average bar food, though, and as a bar, it has a lively late-night atmosphere-especially on the weekends-with a good view from its open front to watch people stumbling down the North Shore strip and drunken women finding their run across Frazier Avenue hilarious.
Roman Flis is a wandering writer, focusing on Chattanooga’s food scene. You can find him on Facebook and Twitter or contact him at [email protected]. The opinions expressed in this column belong solely to the author, not Nooga.com or its employees.