EDITOR'S NOTE: This is one in a series of reviews featuring our staff's favorite places to dine. They are either go-to spots we frequent for good service and conversation, the favorite dishes we order over and over or the one-of-a-kind Chattanooga restaurants that make us love our Scenic City that much more.
There are a handful of local coffee shops I keep in rotation for a morning drink, but when I need a real breakfast, too, Mean Mug in the Southside is my go-to stop. Everything from a simple biscotti to the many hearty, full meals are reliably delicious and well-done.
The coffee shop is a cozy, narrow space with an exposed brick wall and high ceilings. A long bench along the main wall is dotted with small tables, each with a second chair and plenty of space to camp out with a laptop. A few other tables offer seating for bigger groups, and the service counter has barstool seating perfect for nursing a cup of coffee before heading into work.
There's also a vintage couch and chair with a coffee table in an alcove at the front door, a great place to people watch out of the picture window. A side door leads to an outdoor patio tucked between two buildings, insulated from much of the noise of busy Main Street.
If you go
› Where: Mean Mug Coffee House, 114 W. Main St. and 205 Manufacturers Road, Suite 109
› Hours: 7 a.m.-7 p.m. Monday-Saturday, 8 a.m.-2 p.m. Sundays
› Entree price range: $4.50-$7.50
› Alcohol: None.
› Phone: Southside, 423-825-4206; North Shore, 423-498-1557
› Website: meanmugcoffee.com.
The back door offers access to a tiny gravel parking lot or the pay lot behind Clyde's on Main. Parking out front is still meter-free, and I can usually find an open spot within a block, an important perk on a weekday morning.
I'm a big fan of breakfast places that offer something more creative than standard fare, and Mean Mug has numerous dishes that fit that bill.
My favorite is the Paleo Breakfast ($6.50), a protein-rich plate centered around a mound of kale tossed in a Dijon vinaigrette. Topped with a hard- or soft-boiled egg and served with a sliced Roma tomato, half an avocado and a couple of pieces of thick-but bacon, the entire dish is sprinkled with pumpkin seeds and dukkah, a house-made Egyptian spice blend so tasty that I'd be thrilled to buy jars for my home kitchen.
I highly suggest opting for the soft egg, even though it takes several more minutes to prepare. The flavor of the runny yolk blends perfectly with the tangy mustard in the dressing. It's an unexpectedly good combination.
The only negative experience I've ever had with this dish is that sometimes the avocado isn't just right. I'm sure it's impossibly difficult to have perfect avocados every day, and I like this meal so much that I'm willing to chance it.
Sticking with a theme, the Egg & Avocado Toast ($5.50) also tops my list. It's two large triangles of thick wheat toast with smashed avocado, sprouts, feta, hard- or soft-boiled egg (I go with hard on this one) and dukkah seasoning on top. The feta and spices make it better than similar dishes I've had elsewhere, and it's way more food than it sounds like it would be.
The same can be said for the Breakfast Biscuit, which at $4.50 is what I consider one of the best breakfast deals in town. Mean Mug's biscuits are huge and flaky, and they're even better when sandwiched around a generous serving of scrambled eggs, American cheese and bacon or sausage. I enjoy it with a side of house-made strawberry jam.
Among other offerings are waffles ($6), steel-cut oatmeal ($5) and a Veggie Grits Bowl ($7.50) that I've heard great things about but have never tried. And Mean Mug always has an assortment of quiche — meat, veggie and gluten-free options every day.
If lighter fare floats your boat, the display case offers a tempting selection of baked goods, from muffins, scones and enormous apple butter cinnamon rolls, to lovely containers of chocolate chia pudding that are easy to take to go. If you're lucky enough to be there on a strawberry-Nutella muffin day, go for it. I promise you won't be disappointed.
Customers order at the counter, and there are always numerous people making coffees and delivering plates to tables. They're quick to clear your space once you've finished, but it never seems like they're trying to run you out. I normally get my food to go, calling in my order about 10 minutes before I think I'll arrive. They have a second register dedicated specifically to call-in orders, which lets you skip what can sometimes be a long line. If you're in a rush, I highly recommend taking advantage of this option.
For me, Mean Mug is the best bet for a reliably great breakfast served alongside quality coffee. Plenty of people must agree with me, as the coffeehouse has recently opened in a second location on the North Shore at Signal Mill next to Whole Foods. It offers the same menu in a beautiful, roomier space. Either location is worthy of a morning stop.
Contact Sara Jackson at firstname.lastname@example.org or 757-6594.