I've never been a huge fan of celebrity restaurants, whether it's a place owned by a famous chef, musician or actor. But Nic & Norman's, which opened in December in the last remaining space at the Chattanooga Choo Choo, may have changed my mind.
The restaurant is co-owned by "Walking Dead" actor Norman Reedus and director and special-effects guru Greg Nicotero. Their first eatery opened to much fanfare in 2016 in Senoia, Georgia, outside Atlanta, where much of the series is filmed.
Offerings on Nic & Norman's menu might best be described as upscale bar food. There are burgers are aplenty, along with Philly cheesesteak fries, mozzarella sticks and the like. I call it upscale because the rest of the menu - Whiskey Citrus Salmon, choice-cut rib-eye, Coca-Cola-braised pork shank and other dinner entrees - is far from typical bar fare.
It was here that my never-ending search for a good veggie burger ended. For years I've been looking for a good veggie burger, but most are nothing more than a frozen patty on a wimpy bun. Not so at this eatery. The mixture of black beans dressed with soy ginger sauce, avocado and spinach was outstanding, though a little messy. My only complaint was that there's not a lot to bind the patty together, so it does tend to fall apart. But that's what forks are for. Rather than onions, the veggie burger is topped with pickled beets. I'm not a fan; those went to the side.
Burgers, whether it's a bison burger, BBQ burger, fried chicken burger, Big Fish burger or Mexican burger, come on buns branded with Nic & Norman's logo and skewered with a giant toothpick - quite clever.
Servings are generous. The Cobb salad easily is enough for two. The burgers, made with a proprietary blend of ground chuck, short rib and brisket, are generous. And don't get me started on the brisket mac and cheese. This is comfort food at its best.
Our party of four arrived at noon on a Friday, the height of the lunch hour. This is a downtown restaurant, and with everyone still working from home, it was virtually empty, so we had our server's undivided attention. I would imagine that come sundown, business is brisk in the large bar as well as in the dining areas.
I didn't know what to expect. Would Nic & Norman's be like a scene from "The Walking Dead?" Would servers be in costume? Would there be zombies hanging from the ceiling? None of that. Yes, there were a few signs indicating the owners' careers in the zombie business, but a few photos and a motorcycle from the set were about it.
What was interesting was the contrast of decors. The interior is very rustic, almost Western, with lots of repurposed wood and black leather booths. But overhead hang crystal chandeliers.
The space is quite large, with a ceiling high enough to accommodate a balcony dining area in addition to a large dining area below.
If you go
* Where: Nic & Norman’s, 1386 Market St. (at the Chattanooga Choo Choo)* Hours: 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Sunday-Thursday, 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Friday-Saturday* Alcohol: Full bar* Price range: $8-$26* Contact: www.nandnchattanooga.com, 423-708-8361
The original terrazzo floor from 1907 is exposed and restored, and the flooring upstairs was recovered from another area of the building and refinished. A portion of the new ceiling has been left exposed, showing the old wood ceiling. Care has been given in blending the old with the new, showing some of the building's historical provenance.
The well-stocked bar runs almost the entire length of one side of the space and offers barstools, banquette seating and individual tables.
An entrance off the back of the restaurant leads to a few tables outside with views of the Choo Choo's gardens and train cars.
Nic & Norman's adds another dimension of food and style to the Chattanooga Choo Choo. It's a restaurant that's been in the making for a while now, with work halted due to COVID-19. It's a welcome addition to the Southside restaurant scene and a solid side hustle for its owners.
Email Anne Braly at firstname.lastname@example.org.