Sitting in the clean, white glow of floor to ceiling windows you inhale delicate, ginger scented whorls of steam that rise in the crisp morning light out of a bowl of impossibly creamy rice, heaped with meaty, sesame speckled shiitakes and wilted kale. Both the greens and mushrooms are fresh out of the ground and have been grown right here in Chattanooga.
In between umami bites, you sip a latte from Copacetic Coffee made with beans whose flavor tells the story of their journey from ground to ground. It's winter, and this is breakfast at The Farmer's Daughter, a new café in Riverview that's in the business of shattering the myth that great, sustainable food is expensive, fussy or inaccessible.
The Farmer's Daughter
1211 Hixson Pike • 423-355-5372
Housed in a repurposed filling station across from the old Greenlife, The Farmer's Daughter is the newly opened farm to table café owned and operated by husband and wife Anne Keener and Mike Mayo. In a time when phrases and words like "farm to table," "local," "seasonal" and "sustainable" get thrown around like slogans, it's important to note that in this instance it is not at all marketing jargon. You would be hard pressed to meet two people with more heart for not only the local food economy but for the local economy at large than Mike and Anne. When you eat at The Farmer's Daughter not only will the soup you sip be made from fresh, local produce but the bowl you sip it from will be made by a local potter and the art gracing the walls as you eat will be made by a local artist. It is a place built by and for Chattanooga, a place that really shows what brilliant resources we have right here at home-both culinary and creative.
With its modern, white cinderblock walls and reclaimed wood, its matte gold pendants hanging over a long hardwood bar that peers back into the kitchen and its open shelves displaying the work of a local potter-the entire restaurant is the fruit of endless hours of their labor. From painting to menu planning to sourcing ingredients to Mike busting through the old, thick concrete with a sledgehammer during a Tennessee summer, they did the work to make this idea a reality themselves.
The bringing of this restaurant to fruition was the real blood, sweat and tears deal, and all of that hands-on hard work shows: it's a calm, light-filled space, a place that fosters slowing down for a moment to enjoy the simple yet refined homemade meal before you.
The Farmer's Daughter was born one bleary-eyed morning while Mike and Anne sat around the breakfast table with friends brainstorming ways to incorporate the things they're passionate about-gathering around the table (they've been hosting "underground suppers" around town for the past four years), supporting small agriculture, enriching the community and local economy, and conscious consumerism-into a small business.
After tossing around a few ideas, they landed on the logical conclusion: they'd open a café. And so they did. In actuality, The Farmer's Daughter was born long before they ever formed the idea into words that morning over coffee. You see, Anne is in fact The Farmer's Daughter. She grew up at Sequatchie Cove Farm, her parents' farm, where she learned how to do everything from milk a cow to harvest produce. More importantly she absorbed a deep understanding and passion for food in its season, the sustenance yielded by the Earth's cycles year after year. Whether you're a biologist or mystic, there is still something holy about the miracle that is the earth bearing our food and our bodies then transmuting that food into life, into breath and blinking, laughter and song.
This special reverence for the miracle of sustenance and the art of cooking that one learns on a farm is the making of a truly great cook. After leaving the farm she went on to get a culinary education at the Ballymaloe Cookery School in Ireland, a culinary school that also practices the ethos of local, seasonal eating. After leaving there, Anne travelled to Oaxaca, Mexico in search of "the mole of the mountains." She has since done numerous stages at restaurants across the country, and now she uses that experience to create an ever-changing menu based on the availability and season of ingredients.
Thinking globally but sourcing locally, you can find everything from a pimento cheese sandwich made with Sequatchie Cove's Cumberland cheese and Sweetwater Cheddar to the Tokyo Bowl, a warm mélange of ginger broth, greens, shiitakes and sesame. For lunch you can venture to have a bowl of Udon noodles or go for a chicken salad sandwich made with moist, roasted Hoe Hop Valley chicken, crisp apples, fresh herbs, toasted pecans, housemade mayo and bread and butter pickles, all served on toasted Chattanooga sourdough from Niedlov's.
What you'll find on the menu is simple, inexpensive fare made extraordinary by the quality of ingredients, creative and intelligent culinary details and a from scratch approach. The world of difference between a housemade mayo and mayo from a plastic jar need not be explained to anyone who has tasted both. A simple dish like Riverview Farm black beans and rice is elevated with tangy, pickled green tomatoes, nutty Cumberland cheese and a crisp seasonal slaw. See that beef chili on the menu? That is no ordinary beef chili, rather it is chili that hearkens to that mole of the mountains Anne went in search of all those years ago. Composed of slow braised beef, tender white beans, a touch of sorghum, and Olive & Sinclair chili spiced chocolate, it is complex, warming and perfectly composed. There is nothing rote about it.
The menu features many exciting products from the farmers and artisans of the region from Georgia olive oil to wild harvested sumac to 100 percent local meat-all animals are grass-fed and free-foraged without antibiotics or growth hormones. And perhaps one of the most amazing things about their menu? You can get a green salad, cup of chili, sandwich and a side of potato salad all for under $15. And it's all local, sustainable and made by a seasoned chef. That is the brilliance that is The Farmer's Daughter. Affordable sustainability and conscious consumerism are the keys to a bright future for our fair river city, and that's exactly what they're serving up in each flavorful plate of thoughtful, clean food.