¦ Where: Fresh Pot Cafe, 5425 Highway 153, Suite 4B, Hixson.
¦ Phone: 423-805-3773.
¦ Website: www.facebook.com/freshpotcafe.
¦ Hours: 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Monday-Saturday, 11 a.m.-7 p.m. Sunday.
¦ Price range: $4 for salads to $13 for the New York strip.
A co-worker has been singing the praises of the Fresh Pot Cafe on Highway 153 in Hixson for several weeks.
"Great food and a lot of it," he's repeated many times.
And though he's talked it up, I still had expectations that it was a noodle or Asian restaurant. Maybe it's the name. Preconceived ideas about a place can be a bad thing, and while I was surprised at the menu, I was not surprised by the quality. My buddy was right on the money and maybe even a little too conservative. The food was really good. Not inexpensive by any means, but the meal I had was delicious, and there was indeed plenty of it.
This isn't one of the largest menus I've ever seen, but it is one of the more eclectic. Chicken Noodle Soup is offered as a soup of the day every day. On the day of my lunchtime visit, there was also Salmon Bisque. I started debating my first hard decision before I had even sat down.
Then it got tough. Fresh Pot offers six salad selections including Sauteed Kale Salad Mix, Strawberry Spinach Salad and a Lettuce Wedge Salad. I love all three, and they also have a Caesar, mixed lettuce and a chicken salad, and you can add blackened or grilled salmon or grilled chicken. All are $4 except for the chicken salad, which is $6.
Sandwiches ($8 and $9) include chicken salad, turkey, roasted beef, Louisiana crispy fish, grilled chicken and spicy shrimp.
The pasta listings are spinach ravioli ($12), linguine ($8.5) and penne ($6).
The entree offerings are where things got difficult for me. The five choices are New York Strip ($13), Shrimp and Crispy Grits ($12), Salmon ($12), Pork Chop With Maple Pecan Glaze ($13) and Chicken or Beef OVERSET FOLLOWS:Stew ($8.50) I considered ordering one of each, plus the bisque and one of the salads, but that seemed excessive.
Apparently, I wasn't the only one having difficulty deciding. Three men who came in just after me were having trouble deciding on just one thing as well. They asked the waiter if they could sample the bisque, and he happily obliged. They finally settled on the chicken salad and roast beef sandwiches for their entrees.
My waiter, who was also the host and the kitchen help, told me the Shrimp and Crispy Grits, as well as the chicken salad, were the most popular items, so I went with the former.
He brought my soup ($2.50) and my water almost immediately. Served with a few garlic croutons, the soup was delicious with just the right consistency and flavor. It was a hit at the other table as well.
Presentation is an important part of enjoying food, and I was pretty knocked out when my entree arrived. The grits are formed into quarter-moon shapes and lightly fried. They are placed symmetrically around the plate with the colorful mixture of baby shrimp, tasso ham, corn, red pepper and green onions served in the middle.
A little cream is mixed with the tasso ham renderings to create a tasty sauce that perfectly complimented everything.
The only thing that might have made this dish perfect, instead of really good, would have been using jumbo shrimp instead of baby shrimp.
You could taste the freshness in the corn and the ham and the peppers in every bite, and they were perfect with the grits and the sauce.
The sandwiches were a big hit at the table next to me as well.
For dessert, you can choose between creme brulee or bread pudding with raisins, vanilla ice cream and Jack Daniel's sweet cream sauce.
My host/waiter greeted me at the door and was courteous and attentive during my entire visit. He was knowledgeable about the menu and answered all of my questions.
I went for lunch, arriving just before noon, and I was the first customer of the day, it appeared. There were just four of us in the place, so it's difficult to place too much judgment on the service, but it was very good.
Fresh Pot Cafe is located in a strip mall surrounded by restaurants that specialize in cheap pizza (Cici's), Mexican (La Bamba), Chinese (Formosa) and Japanese (Ichiban) cuisine. You face a takeout counter upon entering, but ordering is done at the table for dine-in meals.
Seating is at booths along the long L-shaped hallway space that is next to the kitchen. Decorations are sparse with a few tasteful landscape photographs from Ecuador hanging on the walls. The single rose in a glass on each table was a nice touch.
It is clean and open but perhaps a little understated for the quality of food and the price range.
We too often want to label things to help us understand them easier, and while the Latin music on the sound system and photos from Ecuador led me to want to label Fresh Pot as an ethnic place, it is not. It is not simply a sandwich place either.
I would say that it is a restaurant that has figured out how to make really good food, whether it is a pasta dish, a simple turkey sandwich or a more ambitious entree like the shrimp and grits.
It's a place that has something for almost every palate.
Contact Barry Courter at email@example.com or 423-757-6354.