published Thursday, March 14th, 2013

Elemental brings farm to table, but you have to ask for details

Elemental’s farm burger is made with locally sourced, grass-fed beef butchered and ground on-site.
Elemental’s farm burger is made with locally sourced, grass-fed beef butchered and ground on-site.
Photo by Tim Omarzu /Chattanooga Times Free Press.
IF YOU GO

Where: Elemental, Two North Shore, 313 Manufacturers Road, Suite 119

Phone: 423-648-9160

Hours: 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Tuesday, Wednesday and Sunday

Price range: $5 (appetizers, Deviled Eggs Trio or Kale Two Ways)-$24 (roasted pork dinner)

You have to ask if you want to learn about all the unusual, exciting, interesting things they're doing at Elemental, a new farm-to-table restaurant in North Chattanooga near the Whole Foods Market.

Elemental buys an entire grass-fed steer from Cloudcrest Farm in North Georgia and butchers it in-house on Mondays when the restaurant's closed.

Its cocktail ice cubes are free of air bubbles and dissolved gases, which is meant to make them melt slowly so they don't dilute the drinks. They're made in a top-of-the-line Kold-Draft ice machine -- possibly the only one in town.

Elemental just started fermenting its own miso. But don't order miso soup just yet -- the first batch won't be ready for a year, because that's how long the fermentation process takes.

You won't learn any of that by reading the restaurant's menus, website or Facebook page. You have to ask the knowledgeable and friendly wait staff.

The food is good at Elemental. My only beef with the restaurant during two lunchtime visits is that the menu is coy about exactly what ingredients are used.

For example, the I-75 cocktail lists only these clues: vodka, muscadine, grapefruit, champagne.

Does that mean muscadine grape juice? Muscadine wine? What kind of vodka?

Turns out, according to the wait staff, the I-75 cocktail uses Snowy Creek vodka distilled in Nashville and muscadine wine from the Georgia Winery in Ringgold. Its name is a clever play on the classic French 75 gin cocktail.

THE MENU

Because the emphasis is on farm-to-table, the fare is seasonal and will change.

The one-page lunch and dinner menus are minimalist. They share three categories: small plates, flatbreads and sides. Lunch diverges with a sandwich category, while dinner is anchored by mains.

Ask, ask, ask your server for such details as where the food comes from and how it's prepared.

Asking questions is how I learned about the specialty cocktail, the David Carradine, a delicious, tart blend of the Japanese citrus drink yuzu, George Dickel rye Tennessee whiskey, honey syrup and bitters.

Appetizers start at $5 for the Deviled Eggs Trio (lunch) and Kale Two Ways (dinner) to $10 for chicken salad lettuce wraps (dinner). Sandwiches during lunch cost between $8 and $10. Dinner main courses range from $18 for vegetarian dishes to $24 for roasted pork.

Cocktails cost $12. The 31 varieties of beers run between $4 and $5.75. The 25 red, white and sparkling wines available by the glass range from $6.50 to $12. Bottles of wine range from $28 for a chardonnay to $165 for Phifer Pavitt Date Night, a Calistoga, Calif., cabernet sauvignon made by Ringgold, Ga.-area native Suzanne Phifer and her husband, Shane Pavitt.

THE ORDER

Desserts aren't on the menu, either. The waitress happily described them, though, and I ordered The Ollie, an extremely tasty $4 chocolate-covered, coconut ice cream bar on a stick named for the chef's young son. It's made by Milk & Honey, the waitress said, which is a gelato shop set to open Friday, March 15, near Taco Mamacita on North Market Street near Frazier Avenue.

The David Carradine drink and The Ollie bookended lunch, which started with the $5 deviled eggs. Two egg halves were adorned with bacon from Benton's Smoky Mountain Country Hams in Madisonville, Tenn., and two had smoked trout from Pickett Trout Ranch in Dunlap, Tenn., and faux fish roe, or eggs, made in house of pickled mustard seed. Highly recommended.

Lunch's main course was a $10 grass-fed farm burger with smoked cheddar that was cooked just right.

An earlier lunch was simpler: a tasty, $9 pulled-pork sandwich and an $8 glass of Cline Cellars Cashmere, a Sonoma Valley, Calif., red wine blend of Grenache, Syrah and Mouvedre.

THE SERVICE

Very attentive and engaged. The restaurant swarms with wait staff, all of whom were quick to take away an empty plate or fill my glass with the restaurant's distilled, reverse-osmosis water. The staff is knowledgeable and willing to answer questions and volunteer information (such as mentioning the water is distilled, reverse-osmosis).

THE SPACE

An old Ford tractor sits in the middle of Elemental, paying homage to the farm-to-table theme. Ditto for the heavy-duty scale stashed in a corner. The floor is concrete, and the seating is a mix of stools at high tables and wicker-seated chairs at regular tables. The Two North Shore complex is new, and windows are large and plentiful. It's a nice space. Good enough for U.S. Sen. Bob Corker, who was having lunch there with his mother recently. They're nice, friendly people, by the way.

THE VERDICT

I'm a fan of Elemental and the whole farm-to-table concept. I'm baffled why they're not proselytizing and promoting more of what they're about. If you ask questions, though, the staff is happy to provide answers. So ask, ask and ask some more.

Contact staff writer Tim Omarzu at tomarzu@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6651.

about Tim Omarzu...

Tim Omarzu covers Catoosa and Walker counties for the Times Free Press. Omarzu is a longtime journalist who has worked as a reporter and editor at daily and weekly newspapers in Michigan, Nevada and California. Stories he's covered include crime in blighted parts of metro Detroit and Reno, Nev.; environmental activists tree-sitting in California's Sierra Nevada foothills; attempts by the Michigan Militia to take over a township¹s government in northern Michigan. A native of Michigan, ...

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