If you go
› Where: 287 First Ave., Dayton, Tenn.
› Phone: 423-775-1800.
› Website: Monkeytownbrewing.com.
› Hours: 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Friday, noon-10 p.m. Saturday, Noon-9 p.m. Sunday.
› Entree price range: $8-$20.
› Alcohol: Full bar.
When I moved from Dayton, Tenn., some 20 years ago, local options for dining out consisted of a half-dozen chain eateries, one midsize restaurant specializing in country-style cooking and a handful of popular small cafes and truck stops.
In the ensuing years, whenever I've returned to visit, I've always marveled at the progress the town has made. A growing retail base and liquor by the drink are giving Dayton residents reason to stay home to shop or have a meal instead of trekking to Chattanooga or Cleveland. And a full calendar of bass fishing tournaments is drawing big crowds to the city these days, bringing an influx of tourist cash and new construction, including a hotel that recently opened to meet growing demand.
The town that once hung its hat on being the scene of the classic legal showdown between Clarence Darrow and William Jennings Bryan over John T. Scopes' teaching of evolution has grown. The city's food scene has grown, too. Local spots like Cumberland Cafe and Jacob Myer's Restaurant on the River have strayed from the predictable and taken dining in Dayton to new heights in recent years.
Enter, the aptly named Monkey Town Brewing Co., which dramatically raises the bar.
Housed in a former furniture shop on a side street off Market Street, Dayton's main downtown strip, Monkey Town Brewing Co. has a modest facade, but inside is a different story. The place is roomy and has a modern feel with rustic touches throughout. Polished wooden tables beckon diners, and lots of vintage photos of the city and posters and art advertising its "Monkey Town" past adorn the walls.
One of Monkey Town's main selling points, though, is its full bar and house-made craft beer. Patrons not stopping by for food can sit at the large L-shaped bar toward the back of the room and across from its brewing works, which are prominently on display through a bank of windows. They also have a patio area for live music and events when the weather warms up.
We started off with a half order of Irish nachos — potato chips, corn beef, bacon, cheese and sour cream ($6.25) heated to perfection. This savory appetizer is a unique take on traditional nachos. Monkey Town's homemade beer cheese, served with a variety of dipping options ($6), and fried green tomatoes ($5) were also recommended by our server.
I was disappointed to learn that the restaurant was having problems with its fermenter, so no house-made beer was available on this visit. I ordered a Goose Island IPA as I contemplated tempting menu options like Peach Chicken ($14), Duo Filet Mignon ($19.25) and Sautéed Shrimp and Grits ($14). Monkey Town offers Pick Two ($6) and Pick Three ($8.50) options for diners who wish to sample the menu. We ended up ordering a Pick Two consisting of a half quesadilla and half chicken avocado wrap and a Pick Three with Greek salad, half Reuben sandwich and half BLT made with fried green tomatoes .
In varying degrees, it was all good to great. The salad — romaine lettuce, onions, black olives, feta, cucumbers and Italian dressing — was expertly prepared and a refreshing complement to the other dishes. The quesadilla was good, but not remarkable. About what you'd expect from a basic cheese quesadilla. For an extra charge, diners can add chicken, shrimp or steak, which would really jazz it up, I'm sure.
The real winners on this visit were the other three items.
The Reuben, made with the classic lineup of corned beef, sauerkraut and Thousand Island dressing on marble rye bread, was delicious. The corned beef was chopped just right, and the bread lightly grilled to create one of the best Reubens I've ever tasted.
The chicken avocado wrap was a nice surprise. Composed of grilled chicken, diced avocado, chipotle ranch, lettuce and tomato on a flour wrap, it was delicious as well. The perfectly ripe avocado and the slight heat of the chipotle ranch really make this wrap.
Last but certainly not least, combining fried green tomatoes and BLTs — two of my favorites — is a stroke of culinary genius. This sandwich was as good as it sounds and sums up the creative spirit of Monkey Town's menu.
Our server, Jory, was helpful in explaining some of the dishes and was attentive throughout the visit. Everything we ordered was served in a timely manner and at an appropriate temperature.
Monkey Town is a win for Dayton and could certainly hold its own in Chattanooga — no small feat. All the elements are there: creative, well-prepared menu; extensive drink selections; good prices; and a fun, casual environment. My next trip back to the city will most likely include a detour through Monkey Town.
Contact Chris Zelk at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6244.