In a former life, or so I'm told, Sonya Reagor spent her days with muffin tins, so many muffin tins, as the owner of Chattanooga Cupcakes. These days, she has more than cupcakes on the menu and a much bigger assortment of kitchen tools.
Three years ago this month, she opened Cloud 9 Cafe & Desserts at Eastgate Town Center. In the earliest incarnation of Cloud 9, she focused solely on desserts, made in a commercial kitchen she was leasing. When the chance came to take over an adjacent cafe, she was game for the challenge.
› Where: Cloud 9 Cafe & Desserts, Eastgate Town Center, 5600 Brainerd Road, Suite FC8 (on the Tuesday Morning side of the mall, closer to I-24 than to Brainerd Road).
› Phone: 423-902-6915.
› Hours: 8 a.m.-4 p.m. Monday-Friday.
› Price range: $4-$7.
"I had never really thought about running a cafe," she says, "but I was already paying rent. We literally opened with three sandwiches, chips and drinks."
The lunch menu has since expanded to 10 sandwiches, plus wraps, salads, baked potatoes, hamburgers, hot dogs, chicken tenders, nachos and soups. Since April, Reagor has started opening earlier and added a variety of breakfast sandwiches, along with biscuits and gravy, pancakes and grits.
I stopped by for lunch this past Monday. I was pleasantly surprised to see that a whole sandwich and a cup of soup cost just $7.50. It wasn't until I added a $4 slice of cheesecake that my tally went over the $10 mark. Still, it seemed appropriate that I would need to bust out Andrew Jackson on Presidents Day. The seventh president never stays in my wallet for long anyway.
The buzzwords at Cloud 9 are "fresh and homemade," and Reagor attests it's true. "We do make everything from scratch," she told me later.
The 10 sandwiches on the menu are the kind that need hands-on attention to do right, whether they're prepped in advance (chicken salad, tuna salad, pimento cheese) or cooked to order (hamburger, BLT, fried bologna).
The baked potatoes come topped with various levels of cheese, bacon and chili. The most unusual offering is the Veggie Potato topped with three kinds of cheese, tomatoes, green onions, black olives, roasted red peppers, sour cream, butter and chives.
There are three combinations of salad greens, and any of the specialty salads (chicken salad, tuna salad, pimento salad) can be added by the scoop. Pasta salad and potato salad round out the offerings.
Diners also can choose such short-order fare as hot dogs from the grill, hand-cut french fries, tater tots and onion rings.
There's a wide variety of homemade desserts, including cake by the slice, cheesecake, pie, cookies, brownies and tartlets. Reagor says the slices are a good way for customers to try out the offerings if they're thinking of ordering a whole cake. Desserts, after all, are still her specialty.
There are as many variations on chicken salad as there are restaurants that serve it. I'm a big fan of this Southern staple, so it's rare that I find a version I wouldn't eat again, but there are some I prefer over others. I'd put Cloud 9's chicken salad on the preferred list, mostly because of its texture.
For me, chicken salad tastes best when the chicken is finely chopped or even shredded. Otherwise, you get big chunks of chicken that's not fully incorporated with the other ingredients.
Cloud 9's starts with a pulpy chicken and mayonnaise base that's mixed with red grapes, raisins, celery, onions, sweet relish and other seasonings. The end result is a delicious blend of flavors and textures. Among the add-ins, only the grapes and raisins were truly noticeable. The other ingredients simply added subtle flavor.
I ordered it as a sandwich. It came on a big, flaky croissant with lettuce and tomato.
The surprise star of the meal was the taco soup, a spicy blend of black beans, corn, peppers and beef topped with a gooey layer of cheese. The woman behind the counter suggested sour cream and nacho chips to go with it. There was a 25-cent upcharge for the sour cream, but its coolness was a perfect counterpoint to the spice. Delicious.
After trying the taco soup, I want to go back for the Southwestern chicken wrap, which has fresh grilled chicken, corn, black beans, Rotel tomatoes and cheddar cheese blended with a chili lime sauce, all grilled in a flour tortilla. But heads up if you're watching the clock at lunch. The menu says this one takes eight minutes to fully heat. Sounds like the perfect option to try with Cloud 9's online ordering.
My chocolate cheesecake was dreamy. One bite of this masterpiece — chocolate crust, chocolate filling, chocolate chips and chocolate drizzles — left me wishing for some quality alone time to finish it off.
Cloud 9 is one of a handful of restaurants in Eastgate's food court, and all share a common dining area. Some of the other places have a walk-up counter, but Cloud 9 has a door to enter and order.
The counter space at the cash register is nestled between display cases holding the day's desserts and a few grab-and-go sandwiches and salads. On the far end are a display rack for potato chips and a cooler for canned drinks and Gatorade. Closer to the entrance are fountain drinks, tea, a Keurig coffee brewer and an assortment of condiments, napkins and utensils.
It's small but not cramped. There's room to move around and grab what you need.
Since you eat in the food court, most of the service at Cloud 9 is do-it-yourself. But you do interact with the order taker.
On my visit, she helpfully recited the soups of the day since I hadn't noticed the list on the chalkboard sign as I came in and described my two finalists to help me choose between them. The Chicken and Wild Rice was hearty, she said, and the taco soup would be spicy. I opted against the heartier soup, since I already had a sandwich coming. She was right about the taco soup. It was spicy, but not overly so.
Eastgate Town Center is home to several state and corporate businesses, medical practices and retailers whose employees can easily find a quick and tasty meal at Cloud 9.
But to limit this place to that small population of workers is to do a disservice to anyone else who's out and about in the Brainerd area on a weekday. If you're anywhere near the vicinity, you'd be wise to point your compass toward the divine fare at Cloud 9.
Contact Lisa Denton at email@example.com or 423-757-6281.