EDITOR'S NOTE: This is one in a series of reviews featuring our staff's favorite places to dine. They are either go-to spots we frequent for good service and conversation, the favorite dishes we order over and over or the one-of-a-kind Chattanooga restaurants that make us love our Scenic City that much more.
I choose the Carter Street City Cafe Diner for good food on a budget — and you get a lot of it. In fact, City Cafe is known for its big servings. Most single servings come so large they could feed two people, and numerous menu options cost less than $10.
I've gotten a chicken sandwich wrap with bacon, fried okra, cole slaw and a pickle — all for under $10. On another day, I ordered a turkey burger with lettuce, tomato, onions and fries. The meal, $9.24, came with two patties, so I got two pieces of bread from the free bread basket served at dinner and made another sandwich for later.
City Cafe serves more than 450 menu items. That includes everything from a cheese omelette ($5.75) to grilled chicken quesadillas ($9.95) to baked meatloaf ($12.45). There's also spaghetti with meatballs (9.95) and seafood such as a 12-ounce broiled Norwegian salmon cooked in wine sauce ($16.95).
City Cafe is known for its desserts. One web site, Foursquare Labs Inc. lists City Cafe locations on Lee Highway and Carter Street as the best places in the city for cake ($6.50 per slice).
The day I stopped in on Carter Street, I chose a large chicken-spinach soup ($4.20) and small Greek salad ($4).
› Where: City Cafe Diner, 901 Carter St. and 7641 Lee Highway in Chattanooga; 919 25th St. in Cleveland, Tenn.
› Hours: Open 24 hours a day, seven days a week
› Prices: $1-$22.95
› Alcohol: None
› Phone: 423-634-9191, Carter Street; 423-485-8222, Lee Highway; 423-790-7469, Cleveland
› Online: citycafemenu.com
The soup menu changes according to the day of the week. Creamy chicken-spinach soup day is Thursday. It's among the best chicken soups I've tasted at any restaurant.
I've ordered at other eateries expecting the same satisfaction and felt deprived. Elsewhere I got a bowl of chicken broth so thin I could sip it through a straw. At City Cafe, the chicken-spinach soup is so good and hearty my plastic spoon stands up in it. Sprinkle a few crackers on top and it's like spinach-chicken pie. It's thick soup with good chicken and strands of spinach mixed in it.
The Greek salad comes in a colorful bowl garnished with two chunky tomato slices and two rice-stuffed grape leaves. The bowl is filled with Romaine lettuce, onions, black olives, green peppers and feta cheese chunks sprinkled with oregano. The zesty smell of garden-fresh veggies seasoned the air around my table before I took my first bite.
Customers ordering the same meal to go appear to get more food for the same price, because the salad comes in a square Styrofoam container that's filled with the same veggies included in the smaller bowl, just more of them.
Fun, old-school, 1960s' tunes like the Supremes' "Back in My Arms Again" send good vibes to customers the moment they enter the diner. It's a classic, American, family-friendly diner with lots of tables.
Framed autographed pictures of nationally known celebrities deck the interior walls. Magnificent cakes and pies shine through showcases near the door. Neon lights and jukebox set an atmosphere like a scene from the television show "Happy Days." It was the perfect stop after taking my son and his friend to see the downtown Christmas lights.
I came around 1 p.m. after the noon rush, so there was no wait for a table. I was seated immediately at a booth. The waiters and waitresses are always nice. I've seen the manager give warm hugs, shake hands, do all he can to let customers know the restaurant appreciates their business. The staff is great, but it's not the place to come if you're in a hurry. Even if you are seated the moment you arrive, it may take longer than expected to get food.
I like this place. The food is good and I can eat for under $10. I always leave full and sometimes I have enough food left for another meal. I've ordered the soup-and-salad combo so much that some waitresses anticipate my order before I speak.
The service can be a little slow for someone on a strict lunch schedule. But when I call in for carry-out, time is never a problem. And on days when I can sit down and enjoy the environment, this is a great place to be.
Contact Yolanda Putman at email@example.com or 423-757-6431.