Bethlehem Center, a faith-based nonprofit organization headquartered in Alton Park, has been many things to many people in 91 years of offering spiritual enrichment, education, economic and leadership development, and other social services to people throughout Chattanooga.
Now it also can say it has hosted a restaurant.
Some "entrepreneurial locals," according to a news release from the organization, have started The Beth Bistro as an "all you care to eat," weekday quick lunch spot.
Where: Bethlehem Bistro, 200 W. 38th St.
Phone: 266-1384, ext. 32.
Hours: 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 11 a.m.-8 p.m. Friday.
Price range: $1 (drinks)-$6.99 (buffet).
Since one price ($6.99) gives you everything available on the buffet, there are not a lot of choices to be made. However, there is a different meat selection each day -- beef steak with onion gravy on Monday, chicken and dressing on Tuesday, meatloaf on Wednesday, fried chicken on Thursday and beef barbecue brisket on Friday. Fried white fish is available every day; it's offered as diners begin the line and delivered upon cooking.
Sides offered each day are green beans with potatoes, macaroni and cheese, baked beans, salad bar and a "vegetable special." On the day my brother and I visited, it was mashed potatoes.
Drinks ($1), which include coffee, tea, lemonade, soft drinks and bottled water, are the only other cost to be considered.
I loaded my plate with chicken and dressing, a hamburger steak patty, mashed potatoes, macaroni and cheese, and green beans with potatoes. I decided to forgo the salad and rolls and did not opt to order any fish.
It was a platter of good, old-fashioned comfort food. I ate each item separately to savor the flavor. None of it was bland, testifying to the care taken to prepare each item.
Of the items I ate, the hamburger steak patty -- I'm not usually a fan -- was particularly good and appeared to be hand-patted and flavored rather than frozen, heated and smothered in gravy. I'm a sucker for well-seasoned green beans, and theirs definitely were (if a tad bit soggy perhaps because of the small potato pieces).
For dessert, we were offered lemon cake or chocolate cake. My brother ordered lemon and I ordered chocolate, and we sampled each other's. The cake is served only in small slivers, according to a staff member, because only a little bit extra needs be added to what can be a more-than-substantial meal. Both were tasty.
Although diners serve themselves cafeteria style, staff members are eager to serve you drinks, get refills, clear away plastic plates and the plastic ware and serve you a dessert sliver. General manager Charmaine Goins even stopped by to see how we were enjoying our lunch.
The Beth Bistro is housed in a classroom-like space of Bethlehem Center. In addition to the buffet itself and drink area, there are eight tables that seat six people apiece. A clear, plastic table cover is placed over cloth placemats for ease in cleaning. The dining space, in general, is nothing special -- a concrete-block room -- but staff members keep it clean, bright and inviting. A private room is also available for business lunches, according to the news release.
With an emphasis on quick-in-and-out, good and plentiful food and friendly service, The Best Bistro could become a South Chattanooga place to be. On our visit, most of the tables were occupied at some point, and everyone seemed to leave well fed. I'll definitely return, especially if I'm in the mood for some loosen-your-belt, ready-for-a-nap comfort food.