published Friday, July 27th, 2012

Market Street Tavern pricey, delicious

You know you're in a tavern when the sun reflects off the bar's thick wooden varnish, dazzling your vision in the otherwise dusky atmosphere.

Market Street Tavern appears to have survived and thrived after its move from Miller Plaza across the street to the 800 block of Market Street.

The solid wooden bar anchors the long restaurant, which seems focused as much on dining as it is on drinking. Local food is the star of the show, with ingredients sourced from nearby farms and Chattanooga-area retailers.

The new location appears smaller than the original, but the restaurant still offers a large selection of hooch and has fancied up its foodstuffs.

THE MENU

IF YOU GO

Where: Market Street Tavern, 850 Market St.

Phone: 634-0260.

Website: marketstreettavern.com.

Hours: 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Monday-Friday, noon-midnight Saturday.

Price range: $2 (domestic beers, 4-7 p.m.)-$15 (shrimp and grits).

Market Street Tavern isn't the type of pub that shoves chicken fingers and fried pickles at customers who are there more for the libations.

Instead, the chef transforms basic entrees into exciting mouthcapades.

Among those is the chicken salad sandwich ($8), which adds toasted walnuts, golden raisins and red onion to spice up a Southern favorite that never gets old.

Any of the items can be paired with one of the many adult thirst quenchers available at the well-stocked bar.

Market Street Tavern features a balanced wine list with favorites such as Barefoot Moscato and Lonely Cow Sauvignon Blanc, and a few I'm glad to see such as the Gascon Malbec and the Relax Riesling. Most glasses are in the $6.50 to $8 range.

Many beers are on tap at any given time, and bottles of craft beer from A to Z are available for a reasonable $3.75 to $5.

Domestics are $2 during happy hour, which runs from 4 to 7 p.m.

THE ORDER

Our open-face meatloaf sandwich ($10) was covered with barbecue sauce and a generous helping of caramelized onions. This masterpiece of modern cuisine, made with meat from Sequatchie Cove Farm, comes with the popular -- and sometimes sold-out -- sweet potato fries or a heap of regular seasoned fries.

It was delicious.

However, it also was a meatloaf sandwich that cost $10. Paying $10 plus tax for meatloaf just felt wrong, even if the accompanying fries were among the best in town.

Before the main courses, the Link 41 sausage ($9) -- four small links served on a bed of sweet potato hash or perfectly seasoned, lightly fried potatoes -- left me wanting more. But at $9 for an appetizer portion, it cost as much as an entire meal at nearby eateries.

The chipotle chicken ($10), which included Benton's bacon and roasted chicken breast smeared with mouthwatering sauces on a sandwich bun, also was a wonderful treat as well as a healthier option.

There aren't really any bad choices on the menu -- save one.

The cornbread salad ($8) was confusing.

Though the list of ingredients -- romaine lettuce, tomato, roasted corn, poblanos, red onion, cornbread, Sequatchie Cove Cumberland cheese, bacon, chipotle buttermilk dressing -- sounded enticing, it was neither truly salad nor truly cornbread. It was more of a lettuce mush.

THE SERVICE

Market Street Tavern's servers were attentive and helpful. Other restaurants should send their staff here to learn how a restaurant should be properly managed.

Case in point: The restaurateurs at Market Street have figured out how to stop wasting time with water glasses. They just give the table its own jug of water to pour as guests see fit.

Servers also gave suggestions on menu items, communicated about changes in the kitchen and were generally more helpful than you'll find in other restaurants in the same price range.

Food came quickly, and the whole process from sitting down to standing up took less than an hour.

THE SPACE

The new Market Street Tavern feels smaller than the old location across the street. It's boxy and not very wide -- sort of like eating in a hallway.

That being said, the owners have taken time to lend a unique feel to the space. A wonderful neon sign hangs above the bar. Wood trim abounds, which adds a homey feel to the place.

The bar is a lively sight to behold, with all manner of bottles and glasses ready to jump off the shelf and into the hand of Chattanooga's working stiffs.

THE VERDICT

Just a few feet from Miller Plaza, Market Street Tavern is more than just a menu, a collection of servers and a shelf of beverages. It is a gathering place.

Though it's not new, it has been largely reinvented in the course of its move from one side of Market Street to the other.

A lot of the changes work, though a few do not.

The food was wonderful, and the service was gracious and quick.

I'd go again in a heartbeat, but with the economy the way it is, I can't justify the expense.

Especially since Mom is making meatloaf tonight.

about Ellis Smith...

Ellis Smith joined the Chattanooga Times Free Press in January 2010 as a business reporter. His beat includes the flooring industry, Chattem, Unum, Krystal, the automobile market, real estate and technology. Ellis is from Marietta, Ga., and has a bachelor’s degree in mass communication at the University of West Georgia. He previously worked at UTV-13 News, Carrollton, Ga., as a producer; at the The West Georgian, Carrollton, Ga., as editor; and at the Times-Georgian, Carrollton, ...

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