published Friday, June 17th, 2011

Sweet Basil is a hidden treat

IF YOU GO

Where: Sweet Basil Thai Cuisine & Sushi Bar, 5845 Brainerd Road.

Phone: 423-485-8836.

Website: www.sweetbasilthairestaurant.com.

Hours: Lunch, 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Monday-Friday. Dinner, 5-10 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 4:30-10 p.m. Friday, noon-11 p.m. Saturday, noon-10 p.m. Sunday.

Price range: Meals, $8.95 (fried rice with chicken, beef or pork)-$17.95 (Jumbo Shrimp Masaman and Ka-Proud-Lamb).

Sweet Basil Thai Cuisine & Sushi Bar and I have shared a neighborhood for more than two decades, but my 2-mile trip there last week was only my second visit.

It won’t be my last.

I’m no connoisseur of Thai food, but I know good flavor when I taste it. That’s what I found at Sweet Basil in Brainerd. The nondescript restaurant is housed in a standard-looking strip mall where Brainerd Road crosses South Chickamauga Creek opposite Brainerd Village.

The plain exterior belies the tasty treats inside.

My party was seated on arrival, despite a pretty good crowd, and it was a nice touch when our waitress arrived with our water as we sat down. She then unfolded our white linen napkins and placed them in our laps before explaining the night’s specials.

THE MENU

Two from our three-person party took advantage of the evening’s special of two selected entrées — we chose a subtle but spicy green curry chicken and full-flavored spicy basil leaves with pork — and an appetizer ($19.95). We picked a Thai salad as the appetizer on special, and I added a cup of Tom-Yum-Kung Soup ($3.75) to my meal. The third entrée was an ample and addictive, spicy, crispy duck ($15.95) dish. That was teamed with a Thai salad, which comes with fresh greens and a tasty “classic” Thai peanut dressing that added just the right blend of nuttiness.

The menu includes a selection of five meals such as Pad-Thai ($11.95) and Curry Fried Rice ($9.95) under the Thai Noodles and Fried Rice category and a couple of vegetable dishes. There are 19 entrées listed, with 10 dishes under the Entree heading ($9.50 to $11.50) and nine more dishes in the Chef’s Special category ($13.50 to $17.95).

The menu denotes the level of heat with one to four peppers, with one being “mild” and four being recommended for “addicts and Thai nationals.” We opted for the two-pepper level and found it left the tongue and lips tingling but not on fire.

The spicy green curry chicken had tender chicken, bamboo shoots and green peppers in a subtle sauce with sneaky heat. The spicy basil leaves with pork had a richer, punchy flavor and similar heat in a zippy chili sauce that worked well with the pork. The crispy duck, also spicy, consisted of pieces of breaded bird with cooked sweet basil leaves on a bed of lettuce. Our party agreed the crispy duck pieces were delectable.

THE SPACE

The restaurant’s single room is somewhat understated, with plain beige walls and stained bead board spruced up with tables set with white linen under plastic tops.

Stemmed drinking glasses added elegance.

We didn’t try the sushi bar, mostly because we didn’t know it was offered. Maybe next time.

Windows were shaded from the hot June sun and the southward view of Brainerd Road traffic. There was plenty of parking, and getting in and out was easy with a traffic signal.

THE SERVICE

The place was busy when we arrived and filled to capacity not long after we were seated. Even with all the tables filled, the wait staff was efficient, pleasant and attentive. On several occasions, our waitress seemed to appear just as a drink glass got low, and she otherwise was unobtrusive.

We got our first course in minutes and were served our main dishes within 15 minutes of ordering.

When we finished, our waitress took a little longer to get our check due to an ice accident. But she quickly cleaned up the mess with a nod and smile to let us know we weren’t forgotten.

THE VERDICT

Sweet Basil’s food overall was fresh, well-spiced and matched the descriptions on the menu. I think we’ll be confident in branching out to more dishes. Alcoholic beverage choices include beer and a full wine list. The prices for the chef’s specials seemed a little expensive, but then they are examples of the chef’s best work.

All in all, the plain exterior is excellent camouflage for the treats waiting inside.

about Ben Benton...

Ben Benton is a news reporter at the Chattanooga Times Free Press. He covers Southeast Tennessee and previously covered North Georgia education. Ben has worked at the Times Free Press since November 2005, first covering Bledsoe and Sequatchie counties and later adding Marion, Grundy and other counties in the northern and western edges of the region to his coverage. He was born and raised in Cleveland, Tenn., a graduate of Bradley Central High School. Benton ...

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