Fans of the casual meat-and-three restaurant Southern Star have enjoyed the down-home fare for more than a decade at that eatery's locations downtown and on Signal Mountain. Those looking for the same dedication to regional cooking in a more upscale setting have, since early this year, had a distinct new option at Seventeen Ninety on Signal Mountain.
Developed and run by Southern Star owners Rick and Nancy Adams, Seventeen Ninety dresses up Southern cooking with more adventurous recipes and a dressier atmosphere than Southern Star without completely abandoning its charm and friendly nature.
Seventeen Ninety takes its name from Signal Mountain's elevation of 1,790 feet above sea level, and the restaurant is located at 1238 Taft Highway next to the Signal Mountain location of Southern Star.
Seventeen Ninety is open for dinner Tuesday through Friday with a variety of new dishes nightly.
Where: Seventeen Ninety, 1238 Taft Highway.
Hours: 5-9 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday.
Price range: $6 for some appetizers to $22 for the 8-ounce steak filet.
Alcohol: Beer, wine.
The menu at Seventeen Ninety changes frequently based on what fresh ingredients are available and in season.
The menu is in some ways a fine-dining version of Southern Star fare, but there are some similarities in the emphasis on local produce and Southern cooking. A few items did make the transition from the Southern Star menu, most notably the fried Apalachicola oysters.
Steaks are fresh cut, and chicken, pork chops and seafood were also on the menu on a recent visit.
Appetizers included fresh calamari, lobster corn chowder, artichoke spread and fresh-cut chips with melted blue cheese.
The beverage menu includes a respectable beer and impressive wine selection for such a small, out-of-the-way restaurant. There were several quality foreign and domestic wines available by the glass, and the bottled wine list offered even more choices.
The order: On a recent visit, I started with the calamari, which was fresh, well-prepared and served with a sweet chili sauce that was an interesting change from the marinara sauce that often accompanies calamari.
For the main course, I had the 8-ounce steak filet in a peppercorn sauce with a roasted potato, carrot and turnip medley. The steak was generously cut, cooked well and prepared as ordered, and the peppercorn sauce added to the flavor of the meat without being overpowering.
The Adamses have done a good job of creating an upscale dining space from a basic shopping center storefront. The decor is nothing like that found at the Southern Star, which gives the dining experience at Seventeen Ninety a refined and classy feel.
Dark walls feature black-and-white photos, and the tables and high-backed booths are candlelit, making the restaurant a nice choice for a date or small gathering of friends.
Blinds would have been nice in the early evening, as the evening glare broke the mood somewhat until the sun went down. But overall the space makes for a nice dining experience.
Servers were friendly and attentive, keeping the water glasses filled and offering good advice on the menu. Any questions about the preparation of the food were answered in a knowledgeable and helpful fashion.
The kitchen area is open to the dining area, so you can see the care and attention that goes into the preparation of your meal.
The trip up Signal Mountain may seem like a long drive for a meal, but the travel time isn't that bad from the downtown area, and the fall colors traveling up and down the mountain make the trip very pleasant.
And for those who live on Signal Mountain, Seventeen Ninety is a nice addition to the area restaurant scene, giving residents an upscale dining experience close to home.
While drawing on the basic philosophy of Southern Star, Seventeen Ninety provides a classy take on regional food. It's worth checking out.