IF YOU GO
Where: Aubrey's, 275 Ocoee Crossing, NW, Cleveland, Tenn. (directly behind Chick-fil-A on Keith Street)
Hours: 11 a.m.-10 p.m. daily
Price range: $9-$26
University of Tennessee sports fans may already know about Aubrey's, a chain of eight neighborhood restaurants mostly around Knoxville.
Our bargain hunting along U.S. 11 during the Antique Alley Yard Sale didn't take us that far north. We called it a day in Cleveland, Tenn., where Aubrey's opened a location in 2011.
The parking lot was full, which usually means a wait for a seat on a Friday night. But the restaurant has a large main dining room as well as separate bar seating and a spacious outdoor patio. We were shown to an inside table as soon as we walked in.
This was our first time at Aubrey's, so we needed a few minutes with the menu. Several selections will grab your attention just by their names: Hail, Caesar! salad, Rooster Grill chicken sandwich, Thunder Road burger, Haystack and Rattlesnake pasta dishes.
We weren't quite hungry enough for appetizers, though they looked promising. The eight options range from a double serving of Aubrey's thick-cut potato chips, served with a buttermilk garlic dipping sauce ($6), to filet bites, grilled cuts of beef tenderloin over tobacco onions, served with a horseradish remoulade ($13).
There are several soup and salad options ($3-$13), and six of the seven salad dressings are homemade. Among the main dishes, there are 11 burgers and sandwiches ($9-$12), four pasta dishes ($11-$12), fish, chicken and steak entrees ($12-$26) and even a full rack of barbecue ribs ($22).
Desserts include Aubrey's signature Chocolate Turtle Cake, apple walnut cobbler and Key lime pie.
Wines are served by the glass or bottle. Most bottles are in the $20-$30 range, with the priciest a Keller Estate La Cruz Vineyard Sonoma Coast pinot noir at $75. Price per glass for the 30 or so varieties ranges from $4 to $10.
The menu's Southern Specialties options appealed to the three of us: me, Mama and Aunt Bob. They both ordered the pulled barbecue pork platter, slow-roasted pulled pork atop a slice of Texas toast ($10).
I was ready to try the Boston scrod ($14), just to say I'd eaten something called scrod. But Tyler, our server, recommended instead the peanut-crusted catfish served with lemon caper sauce ($13).
Capers? Who doesn't like a good caper? We'd been on a caper since early in the day, so ending with the edible kind seemed like a good idea.
The catfish fillets were the size of small chicken tenders and came five to a plate. The peanut coating added a slight crunch but didn't taste overly peanutty, a plus in my book.
Really, it was the sides that made the meal. I ordered smashed new potatoes and parmesan spinach. The potatoes were smooth and creamy, even with bits of peeling mixed in. The parmesan spinach was extraordinary. You can find creamed spinach on other menus, but the parmesan gave this a warm undertone that was truly delicious. One of the best sides on any menu anywhere.
With their barbecue, the geezers (it's a term of endearment in our family) had coleslaw and baked potatoes, both tasty. They especially liked that the potatoes were served with enough butter to last through the whole potato.
Portions were generous, and we all needed to-go plates for our leftovers.
We were greeted immediately upon entering by the two hostesses at the door, and one showed us to a table. We had just settled into our seats when Tyler arrived to take our drink orders. He left a plate of wheat bread and butter to munch on while we waited for our food. He was friendly and helpful.
Most impressive, though, was the camaraderie among the servers. In some restaurants, tables that aren't theirs are invisible to the rest of the wait staff. At Aubrey's, other servers passing by refilled the coffee cup or whisked away empty plates and tea glasses. It implies that teamwork gets the job done, and it's nice to see it in action.
Aubrey's is a clean and modern space. Large windows surround most of the dining room, some offering views of the umbrella-topped tables on the patio. The bar, which is just off the main entrance, is glass-enclosed, which keeps the rest of the dining room quiet. The wine cooler in one corner of the restaurant looks state-of-the-art and holds an impressive array of bottles. The kitchen is open, though we were seated too far back to watch the cooks at work.
There are nods to nostalgia, too. On its menu, the restaurant promotes a commitment to home-style cooking through the use of locally grown fruits and vegetables. The wall above the kitchen is lined with assorted canned goods, and large chalkboards hang from the ceiling in the dining area to promote favored brands such as Hellmann's, Lipton and Sunkist.
We would happily try Aubrey's again. It's a little pricier than we're used to paying, and a day of yard-sale shopping made a $24 ribeye seem all the more expensive. But food this good makes you want to try other dishes. And next time, we're saving room for dessert.
Contact staff writer Lisa Denton at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6281.
Lisa Denton is deputy features editor and content editor of Current. She previously was a lifestyle, entertainment and region reporter/pod leader for The Chattanooga Times, which she joined in 1983. Lisa is from Sale Creek and holds an associate’s degree in journalism from Chattanooga State Community College. Contact Lisa at 423-757-6281 or email@example.com.