After opening its doors in Soddy-Daisy in 2015, Screen Door Café reinvented itself in January by moving to a historic house at the foot of Dayton Mountain surrounded by lush horse pastures — the perfect setting for its luscious Southern menu and a relaxed lunch date.
The restaurant is several blocks away from Highway 27 and Dayton, Tenn.'s downtown business district. But that isolation helps customers step away from what passes for hustle and bustle in Dayton and slip into a more relaxed frame of mind that is just the beginning of a great meal.
The Screen Door Café occupies one of the more interesting buildings in Rhea County. The Civil War-era house has been home to, among other things, a Catholic school, offices and other restaurants, such as Fehn's 1891 House. Several rooms on the first floor serve as dining rooms. In one room, a small part of the Catholic school's chalkboard has been preserved. The kitchen is in the back, almost giving diners the feeling of being at a sit-down reception.
Walking into this historic house and eating in smaller rooms allows diners to have a more intimate experience. My wife and I spent a wonderful hour at lunch away from our jobs and were able to focus on each other and, of course, the food.
The Screen Door Café doesn't have an extensive list of appetizers, but it does have several interesting choices. Fried green tomatoes ($5), low-country crab dip ($7) and a pimento cheese and grilled toast plate ($5.50) set the menu's Southern tone. However, there are some pleasant surprises, like the Soul Rolls ($6), which are egg rolls filled with barbecue, collards and Hoppin' John that come with barbecue duck sauce.
The soup and salad menu is more robust, with choices such as Kale Caesar Salad, Greek Salad and Apple Chicken Salad. Prices for salads range from $3.50 for a small house salad to $9.50 for the Apple Chicken. The Screen Door also offers a soup of the day, to which diners can add a grilled cheese sandwich for $4 for a great light meal.
› Where: The Screen Door Café, 449 Delaware Ave., Dayton, Tenn.
› Hours: 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday
› Prices: $6-$14
› Phone: 423-777-4868
› Online: www.screendoorcafe.com
The Screen Door serves a variety of sandwiches, including Fried Green Tomato BLT, barbecue and a tomato "Jam"wich, which layers fried green tomatoes, tomato jam, tomatoes, boursin cheese and pickled red onions on black rye.
Hungrier diners have the option of fried catfish, a barbecue plate, a New York strip steak and a chicken liver dinner. The Screen Door also offers shrimp and grits, meatloaf and fried shrimp among other full dinners.
The restaurant prides itself on its burgers, including unique offerings like the pimento cheese burger and the Screen Door Burger, which is topped with pulled pork barbecue, pimento cheese and fried onions.
I've had the Screen Door's barbecue before, and will gladly return for it. However, the daily special prime rib sandwich was too good to pass up.
Thinly sliced prime rib was topped with house spicy horseradish, arugula and pickled red onion. My lunch date rarely passes up a chance to have pimento cheese, so she opted for the grilled pimento cheese. Grilling the pimento cheese made it gooey, rich and delicious.
Knowing how filling our sandwiches would be made us skip appetizers. But we saved room for dessert. Although chocolate cake and a chocolate pecan pie were on the menu, we made the right choice with the peanut butter pie. It was rich, thick, boasted a graham cracker crust and was topped with chocolate ganache. We will return just to get another slice. The restaurant also sells whole pies if you order ahead.
Our waitress kept our glasses full, patiently answered all our questions and was enthusiastic about the Screen Door Café, its food and its history.
I think I speak for a large portion of Rhea County when I say the Screen Door Café is a welcome addition to the local culinary scene. The barbecue itself is worth the trip, and the food is lovingly prepared.
Even in an area with a lot of places specializing in Southern food, the Screen Door Café sets itself apart with creativity and making everything in-house from desserts to barbecue and sauces.
Contact Gilbert Strode at firstname.lastname@example.org.