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Station House of LaFayette's Crab Cakes special, left, and French Chicken Salad Croissant. (Chris Zelk)

LaFayette, Ga., which bills itself as the "Queen City of the Highlands," is about 30 miles south of Chattanooga. For those in the Chattanooga area who have never visited, it's a sleepy little town of around 7,000 residents, where ubiquitous fast food and meat-and-threes are dining staples, just like most other small towns in this area.

It's not the sort of place you'd ever expect to find imaginative fusion cuisine served in a stylish bistro setting, but that's exactly what I found early one recent evening upon visiting Station House of LaFayette on the city's west side.

THE SPACE

Station House occupies a historic building in the city's arts district, which also includes the Mars Theatre and a couple shops on the edge of town. A lot of care and attention to detail clearly went into restoring the structure.

If you go

› Where: Station House, 123 N. Chattanooga St., LaFayette, Ga.

› Hours: 11 a.m.-3 p.m. and 5-9 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday

› Entree price range: $8-$20

› Alcohol: Draft and bottled beer, wine

› Phone: 706-996-8031

› Website: station houselaf.com

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Station House of LaFayette's Portobello Mushroom Stuffing tapas. (Chris Zelk)

High ceilings, rustic furnishings, exposed brick, teardrop lighting and eclectic trinkets and plants decorate the space. There is also an adjoining dining room that leads to a covered patio, complete with brick fireplace and potted flowers galore. Five large paintings of Lookout Mountain landscapes by Rising Fawn, Ga., artist Beth Bradford adorn one wall of the main dining area.

THE MENU

Proprietor and chef Chailada Hanchanlash, a native of Thailand, has assembled an enticing array of French, Italian, Latin and Asian cuisines for Station House's menu, which includes about 12 dishes each for the tapas and entrée offerings.

The tapas menu boasts a lot of seafood and salad choices including Shrimp Spring Rolls ($7) and Chaithai Salad, which is served with a homemade Thai peanut dressing ($7). We decided to try the Portobello Mushroom Stuffing tapas ($6) — one large portobello cap stuffed with grated Parmesan cheese, red bell pepper and Italian seasoning. This savory meal-starter was baked to perfection and topped with a light Parmesan crust. Lots of flavor but not too heavy.

Items like the Blackened Salmon with Thai Basil Sauce ($15) and the Ribeye Steak with sherry demi-glace, roasted mushrooms, asparagus and mashed potatoes ($20) beckoned invitingly from the entrée menu, but after much deliberation we opted for the day's special — Crab Cakes ($15) — and the French Chicken Salad Croissant ($8). Each was served with mixed house greens, garnished with toasted sliced almonds, feta cheese and sun-dried cranberries and served with a tasty balsamic vinaigrette dressing.

The crab cakes were easily among the best I've ever tried. Chunky crab meat and an assortment of spices artfully blended, slightly crispy and served with homemade tartar sauce. The only downside was that the two crab cakes could have been a bit larger or perhaps a third should have been included.

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Station House of LaFayette's French Chicken Salad Croissant. (Chris Zelk)
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Station House of LaFayette's Crab Cakes special. (Chris Zelk)

The French chicken salad croissant was delicious. Though prepared following the typical chicken salad blueprint of chopped, cooked chicken, mayo, celery, tarragon and grapes, the main distinction from others I've had was how fresh all of the ingredients tasted. And the French butter croissant was extremely light, with a consistency that practically melts in your mouth.

Hanchanlash takes a creative approach with her dishes and their pairings, always emphasizing fresh ingredients.

The chef visited our table at one point and told us about the desserts, eventually talking us into trying the crème brûlée. Glad she did. Definitely the best I've ever had. It was so fresh, the caramel top was still warm from the flame.

THE SERVICE

Our server, Chana, was attentive throughout the visit and accurate with the entire order. All dishes arrived in a timely fashion and at appropriate temperatures.

THE VERDICT

The quality of this dining experience was a pleasant surprise, and I look forward to coming back to explore the menu further. Scenic City area foodies who like to hop in the car in search of new dining adventures would do well to try the Station House.

The GPS will likely suggest U.S. Highway 27 to get there from Chattanooga, but do yourself a favor and take the road less traveled — Georgia Highway 193 south, then Georgia Highway 136 east. You'll be treated to sweeping, pastoral views of Northwest Georgia replete with rolling green hills, dense forests and farmland as you cruise the winding two-lane highway to LaFayette.

Email Chris Zelk at czelk@timesfreepress.com.

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