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Sweets that are worth the drive all by themselves
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Sunday, April 22, 2012    |    By: Susan Pierce (Contact)
Strawberry Patch Cake at the Acropolis, front, is also available in a sugar-free version, back.
Strawberry Patch Cake at the Acropolis, front, is also available in a sugar-free version, back.
Photo by Angela Lewis.

There are several Chattanooga restaurants that now have second- and third-generation managers running these family businesses.

It's only natural over years that some restaurants become synonymous with signature dishes. Here are five desserts from family-owned restaurants around the region that are house favorites.

Acropolis Four Stars Grill

2213 Hamilton Place Blvd.

History: For 60 years there has been a Teddy Kyriakidis running the kitchen of the family restaurant. After immigrating to America in 1951, the elder Kyriakidis opened his first restaurant in New Jersey. When the family arrived in Chattanooga in 1982, he opened Little Athens in East Ridge.

In 1995, the Kyriakidises moved to Hamilton Place Boulevard and opened Acropolis Four Stars Grill. The younger Teddy Kyriakidis, who grew up working in the family business, joined his dad in 1999 after graduating from college.

The dessert: Teddy Kyriakidis says the Acropolis is famous among its diners for its Strawberry Patch Cake.

"It's strawberry cake with strawberries and cream cheese in the layers and a light whipped cream frosting," he said.

The cake is also offered in a sugarless option.

Countryside Cafe

8223 Mahan Gap Road, Ooltewah

History: In 1976, David and Imogene Green opened The Kreme House. For years it was the only sit-down restaurant along Old Lee Highway in Ooltewah.

In 1990, the Greens took their business further out into Ooltewah and opened Countryside Cafe at the intersection of Ooltewah-Georgetown and Mahan Gap roads, about seven miles from Interstate 75. Both restaurants were known for home cooking.

Their daughter, Marlene, and her husband, Ponder Geren, joined them in 1992, along with another daughter. Now the Gerens and their two sons run Countryside, which marks its 22nd year in business in May.

The dessert: On any given day at Countryside, 12 to 18 desserts will be listed on the menu, and more than half are pies. All pies are homemade each morning, said Mrs. Geren, with more made as needed during the day.

But even with that many servings on hand, Geren said it's hard to keep up with the demand for coconut cream pie. Each slice begins with an inch-thick creamy layer of pudding topped with a 3- or 4-inch cloud of meringue.

"We hand-cook the pudding, but the secret is the tall meringue. We tell people you have to beat those egg whites exactly right to get it that tall," she said.

Fehn's 1891 House

449 Delaware Ave., Dayton, Tenn.

History: Joe and Freida Fehn opened the first Fehn's Restaurant in 1930 in Riverview; now a third generation of the Fehn family is running the family restaurant in Dayton, Tenn.

Joe and Freida Fehn were joined in the family business by their sons, Bob and Al Fehn, after they returned home from World War II. The brothers turned the Fehn's location, at that time on the banks of the Tennessee River, into a local landmark. On Friday nights, it wasn't uncommon -- in fact, diners almost expected -- to see the line of folks waiting to be seated extending out the front door.

When Bob and Al Fehn retired in 1984, their sons, Don and Bill, opened the next location of Fehn's on Highway 153, which they ran for 15 years. Now Don Fehn and wife Colleen operate Fehn's 1891 House in Dayton. The establishment combines the family name with the fact it is housed in a local landmark that was built in 1891 by Dayton Coal & Iron Co.

The dessert: Many Chattanooga cooks have tried creating recipes to replicate Fehn's macaroon pie but to no avail. Some say the secret ingredient is saltine crackers, others almond extract.

Colleen Fehn says it's "the real whipped cream that we whip here. That adds a lot to the whole experience."

Fehn's macaroon pie has been homemade for 50 years, she said. "In fact we hand-cut the dates, and I separate three dozen eggs to make the meringue every time I make a batch," Mrs. Fehn said.

"People tell us they drive to Dayton just for macaroon pie. It's sweet and crunchy and chewy and a little salty at the same time. It is unique."

Mount Vernon

3535 Broad St.

History: Cindy Messinger, who runs Mount Vernon Restaurant with husband Jeff, is also a third-generation link in a family restaurant dynasty. Her parents, Gus and Myrtle Tombras, opened several restaurants at the turn of the 20th century. The Mount Vernon opened its doors in 1955.

Three years later, Mrs. Messinger's parents, Worry and Helen Evans, joined the Tombrases along with Natalie Humphreys. The Messingers joined the family business 35 years ago, she said.

The dessert: Cindy Messinger said it's not uncommon for travelers along I-24 to detour to the Mount Vernon on their way to and from Florida just to pick up an amaretto pie.

The Messingers created the recipe for this cream pie with Ida Kate Davis after the couple tasted a similar pie while traveling. The pie infuses the flavor of amaretto liqueur in a rich cream filling, poured into a crust made with a pecan and butter-based dough. It's topped with fluffy whipped cream and slivered almonds.

"We would have to close the restaurant if we ever ran out of amaretto cream pie," joked Mrs. Messinger. "I have a lot of people who come get it for birthdays instead of cakes. We've even put it on dry ice and sent it out for special occasions such as 50th and 70th anniversaries."

Blue Ribbon Cafe

9705 Dayton Pike, Soddy-Daisy

History: Dianne Cosper opened this Soddy-Daisy restaurant in 2003 with her husband and two daughters. Now the three women run the family business, which is housed in a renovated automotive garage. The lift that formerly raised cars is incorporated into the cafe's decor and now supports platters of food.

"It's in the side dining room," said Cosper. "So we propped it up and made a table out of it."

The dessert: Diners don't mind the 16-mile drive from downtown to Soddy-Daisy when they know Italian cream cake is at the end of the trip.

The cake batter, with its mild cherry flavoring and coconut, makes a dense but moist cake. It's iced in a cream cheese frosting flavored with toasted pecans.