If you go
› Where: Whitebird, 102 Walnut St.
› Hours: 7-11 a.m. breakfast, 11 a.m.-4 p.m. lunch, 5:30-10 p.m. dinner, open daily
› Prices: $2 for slice of toast to $115 for three-course dinner with beverage pairings and a chef’s visit to your table
› Alcohol: Full bar
› Phone: 423-713-5900
› Website: www.whitebirdchattanooga.com
I remember, as a young boy, riding in a car across the Tennessee River on the Walnut Street Bridge just before it closed. When the bridge was closed to traffic in 1978, the assumption was that it would soon be knocked down and become another piece of Chattanooga's lost history.
However, the downtown renaissance began shortly after, leading to the Tennessee Aquarium, a revitalized Coolidge Park and an influx of downtown tourism. That wave led to an effort to save the Walnut Street Bridge, built in 1890, and make it into a pedestrian walkway connecting the North Shore with Bluff View Art District and downtown.
Thousands stroll across the bridge each day, which has attracted new businesses looking to profit from visitors to the Scenic City. The latest is the Edwin Hotel, a newly built boutique hotel right by the bridge, and its in-house restaurant Whitebird, which boasts a menu termed "Appalachian cuisine evolved."
The new Edwin Hotel is beautiful to see with big windows and an entrance opening onto Walnut Street just steps from the bridge and Hunter Museum of American Art. It's perfectly located for tourists desiring to be within walking distance of all the downtown attractions.
The Whitebird restaurant, located just off the hotel lobby, is bright and inviting with large picture windows offering views of the Tennessee River and the Walnut Street Bridge. The dining area is well lit, with plenty of seating and a long bar area.
Entrees have an authentic feel with their Southern influences on a higher-end menu. Dishes such as Rabbit & Dumplings ($26) as well as Pulled & Pressed Pork ($29) show an Appalachian inspiration, while Verlasse Salmon ($26) and Cavatelli ($22) show a bit of range to the menu.
Side items certainly show a Southern flair — succotash, grits and mac and cheese being prominently featured.
The restaurant also offers two family-style meals for two. The Whitebird ($48) is a whole Poulet Rouge chicken with honey and tea lacquer and mushroom fricassee. The 48-hour Roast Beef ($58), which includes 32 ounces of Edenthistle Farms chuck, is flavorful with Dijon mustard, persillade crumb and au poivre sauce. Both meals come with two sides.
The lunch menu is simpler with burgers, sandwiches and a selection of side items and salads. The restaurant also serves breakfast daily with a variety of pancakes, eggs, meats and omelettes.
The menu is not large, but offers plenty of variety for different tastes. Prices are higher than many downtown restaurants — but not out of the norm for mid-high-end dining — and worth the price for the ambiance and the food served.
In addition to the Whitebird restaurant downstairs, the Edwin also features The Whiskey Thief, a rooftop bar with amazing views, great drinks (including a $500 scotch) and a nice area to relax after a day of seeing the sights in Chattanooga.
For a quick lunch, I chose to sit at the bar and get a taste of what Whitebird had to offer. The pork chop sandwich ($14) was served on an English muffin with pickled hot peppers, Duke's mayo and shredded lettuce. The sandwich was the perfect size for a midday meal and was very tasty and tender.
Served in a cast-iron bowl with fries that had a bit of a spicy kick, the order made an enjoyable lunch that was reasonably priced.
It was a quiet midweek afternoon, so the service was more than acceptable, with drinks kept refilled and questions about my food ensuring that I was happy with my lunch.
Of course, the real challenge for any restaurant is the busy weekend dinner service. I look forward to going back for an evening meal to see how service holds up under those conditions.
The Whitebird is a nice addition to the downtown upscale-dining scene. The menu offers a new take on regional fare, and the location and space are amazing. With the attached Edwin Hotel, this new restaurant should do well, and they have a menu that will keep locals and out-of-town guests happy.
Contact Jim Tanner at JFTanner@gmail.com. Follow him at twitter.com/JFTanner.