I've written reviews on hundreds of Chattanooga restaurants, but it's hard to pick the best.
I love chicken at Champy's, the cheese fondue at Melting Pot, the fish tacos at Blue Plate Diner, steaks at Hennen's, the pizza at BiBa's Italian.
I also like almost everything at St. John's Restaurant, 1278 Market St., and now I feel validated.
OpenTable, Inc., a leading provider of free online reservations for diners and guest management systems for restaurants, has just released its list of the Top 50 restaurants in the United States for 2010. St. John's made the elite list.
I'm not surprised. For the past two years, St. John's chef Daniel Lindley has been a James Beard finalist in the Best Chef in the Southeast category. That's no easy feat.
Finalists are up against a number of chefs in the Southeast, and with all the good restaurants in larger cities, including Atlanta, it's something to brag about.
But Lindley takes awards in stride. He stays busy with his two restaurants in Chattanooga, St. John's and Alleia, located at the corner of Market and Main streets.
He talked to me about St. John's being named one of the top-50 restaurants in America.
"It's such an honor to be on this list," he said.
Owning two restaurants must be stressful, I offered, and he agreed, adding that if it weren't for an team of workers, including Josh Carter, general manager at St. John's, it couldn't happen. "I have an amazing team," he said.
In my experience, St. John's has an incredible atmosphere that works to make any meal a memorable experience.
On a side note, the Melting Pot in Myrtle Beach, S.C., was also on the list. I doubt it's any better than our own Melting Pot, 2553 Lifestyle Way. I highly recommend it. Like St. John's, it's on the pricey side. If you can't afford a full meal, just order a drink and appetizer to experience the ambiance and incredibly good flavors you'll find at both restaurants.
The only other eatery on the list within a couple of hours from Chattanooga is Bones in Atlanta. If you're going skiing near Boone, N.C., try the Gamekeeper. It's on the list, too. If you're in Memphis, check out Erling Jensen The Restaurant. It's the only other restaurant in Tennessee on the list. Once again, that says a lot for St. John's.
You can check out the entire list of restaurants at www.opentable.com/bestoverall.
Chattanooga Market was the first of several markets to offer locally grown fruits, vegetables and meats. It was then followed by Market on Main. Last year, a market opened at Grace Episcopal Church in Brainerd. Last summer, another opened at St. Alban's Episcopal in Hixson.
In a story I wrote last year about the market at Grace, local farmer Alex McGregor said farmers markets benefit any community.
For the 20th year, Chattanooga will host the Southern Sustainable Agriculture Working Group's annual "Practical Tools and Solutions for Sustaining Family Farms" conference.
Preconference activities are January 19-20. General conference happenings, January 21-22, include sessions on organic growing, grass-fed beef cattle, marketing strategies and more. There's even a session on planning for retirement once you have to stop farming. The conference concludes with a Taste of Tennessee dinner and silent auction. Registration can be made the day of the conference. For a complete list of conference activities and class prices, log onto www.ssawg.org.