published Thursday, November 7th, 2013

Dayton Coffee Shop is small-town dining at its finest

The Sunday buffet at Dayton Coffee Shop includes such classics as chicken and dressing with gravy and cranberry sauce, coleslaw, green beans and a yeast roll.
The Sunday buffet at Dayton Coffee Shop includes such classics as chicken and dressing with gravy and cranberry sauce, coleslaw, green beans and a yeast roll.
Photo by Luis Carrasco /Chattanooga Times Free Press.
IF YOU GO

• Where: Dayton Coffee Shop, 280 Second Ave., Dayton, Tenn.

• Phone: 423-775-6156

• Hours: 5:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m. Monday-Friday, 10:30 a.m.-3 p.m. Sunday

• Price range: $2-4 (burgers and sandwiches)-$6.75 (Sunday buffet)

• Payment: Cash or check only

The first time I tried the Sunday buffet at Dayton Coffee Shop in downtown Dayton, Tenn., I took the advice of friends who eat there all the time and ordered the child-size portion of my chicken and dressing. And it was plenty. Really it was.

But it still didn't stop me from grabbing my fork and asking," You gonna eat that?" not once but twice, when Mama and then Aunt Bob didn't clean their plates.

Was I really that hungry? Probably not.

Would it have been a crime for the Geezers to leave such good food behind? Definitely yes.

THE MENU

The Dayton Coffee Shop is the quintessential small-town gathering place when the locals want a meat-and-veggies lunch washed down by a bottomless glass of sweet tea.

Monday through Friday, the restaurant offers six meats and at least 15 vegetables daily. You get your choice of a meat and two sides for $6.50.

Each day also has a designated special: stuffed peppers on Monday, meatloaf on Tuesday, lasagna on Wednesday, chicken and dumplings on Thursday and catfish on Friday.

The Sunday buffet offers nine meats and 16 vegetables, including a divine sweet potato casserole that could double as dessert. The meat-and-two price rises by just a quarter, to $6.75, on Sunday.

Meals are served with a choice of hearty yeast rolls or sizable slabs of cornbread.

There are also several sandwich and burger selections, as well as an expansive breakfast menu, including pancakes, omelets and biscuits, offered weekdays only.

Dessert choices on the day of our visit included four kinds of pie, egg custard among them, as well as cobblers, chocolate cake and bread pudding.

THE ORDER

I rarely pass up the chance to feast on chicken and dressing, so my second trip for the Sunday buffet meant the same tried-and-true favorite. I ordered green beans and coleslaw for my sides, along with a roll.

The three adults at the table were sharing spoonfuls from our plates with a 2-year-old, so I ordered the adult portion, figuring leftovers like I'd had the last time were unlikely.

As I'd expected, the food was again outstanding, and the portions were plentiful. The green beans were well-seasoned, the coleslaw was crunchy, and cranberry sauce came on the side without being requested -- as it should.

The chicken and dressing, covered in gravy, was just as tasty the second time. My only quibble is that it wasn't served piping hot. Either the steam table in the kitchen had lost its steam or the food sat on the plate too long before it came to the table. On the bright side, we didn't have to blow on the food to share it with the baby.

I thought about chocolate cake for dessert but decided I was too full to really enjoy it. The peach cobbler my mom wanted had already sold out. My daughter ordered a slice of pumpkin pie, a seasonal choice that came with a generous dollop of whipped cream. The slice looked like a full quarter of the pie. It was a large enough portion that she was willing to share a couple of tasty bites.

THE SPACE

Considering the number of people the Dayton Coffee Shop packs in, it's a fairly small space. The main dining room has booths lining two walls and four-tops filling in the rest of the room. There's a small dining room in back with larger tables and a few two-tops.

The decor includes a large Ten Commandments plaque on one wall, opposite a memorial wall of Rhea County veterans' photos. Mounds of snapshots and newspaper clippings are grouped beneath the glass at each table.

Don't be surprised if diners glance up from their meals when you walk in. They're just looking to see if they know you.

This is small-town dining at its finest.

THE SERVICE

We weren't sure whether to seat ourselves, but our server approached when she noticed our uncertainty and seated us at the closest table. Our drink orders were filled immediately, and the food arrived in minutes.

There were three young ladies who checked on us, and they were all friendly and helpful and (best of all) smiling.

THE VERDICT

The Dayton Coffee Shop is a landmark. You can tell that the locals love it by the way they flock in for Sunday dinner. And the staff makes you feel like a regular even if you're not ... yet.

Contact Lisa Denton at ldenton@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6281.

about Lisa Denton...

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 ldenton@timesfreepress.com.

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