Credit chef/owner Marcus Garner at Wine Down Ooltewah for continually coming up with clever ideas and interesting dishes to keep diners coming back to the Cambridge Square restaurant to see what's new on the menu.
His latest creative endeavor is Wine Down's TV dinner —a childhood flashback for baby boomers that he has improved upon with delicious comfort food.
After seeing a Facebook post making the rounds about Wine Down's new entree, I stopped in last week.
Wine Down offers nine appetizers ($7-$10), 10 entrees ($12-$24), a couple of salads and a soup of the day. But there are always specials of the day on a blackboard above the bar, and that's where I usually find the dishes that intrigue me the most.
I've had Wine Down's "Lobstah" Roll (cold Maine claw and tail meat), Crispy Brussels (delicious sauteed Brussels sprouts with an unexpected creme fraiche drizzle) and the Grown Up Grilled Cheese (four cheeses and housemade jam on sourdough), and I can recommend them all.
But I made this trip expressly for the TV dinner.
If you go
* Where: Wine Down Ooltewah, 9431 Bradmore Lane in Cambridge Square
* Hours: 5-9 p.m. Monday, noon-9 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday, noon-10 p.m. Friday-Saturday, 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Sunday brunch
* Price range: $22 for TV dinner
* Alcohol: Full bar
* For more information: 423-531-9463
* Online: https://www.winedownbar.com/
For Millennials, Generation X and everyone else born since TV dinners were introduced by Swanson in 1953, the original dinners were a meat and two sides served in a divided aluminum tray that was heated in the oven. (It would be a couple more decades before microwave ovens were common household appliances.)
TV dinners came in a choice of four meats — meatloaf, Salisbury steak, turkey or fried chicken — with peas and a scoop of frozen mashed potatoes.
Wine Down has taken the meat-and-two and run with it. On my compartmentalized TV tray were two thick slices of veal/pork/beef-blend meat loaf topped with a savory brown sugar and ketchup sauce, a serving of peas cooked with country ham, Robuchon-style potatoes and a 2-inch by 3-inch brownie.
The juicy meat loaf exploded with flavor in the three-meat blend, and was honestly one of the best I've tasted. The buttery mashed potatoes were obviously homemade, as evidenced by occasional sections of peel and some small lumps in the serving, and the brownie released a rich, fudge flavor to end the meal on a sweet note.
The only disappointment was the peas, which were so bland as to be virtually flavorless. Although there were pieces of country ham visible in the serving, they weren't apparent in the taste.
One could make a fair argument that $22 for this TV dinner is a tad high. But when I add in Wine Down's always-friendly service and food I look forward to tasting on every visit, I'm comfortable with the amount.
My server informed me that the TV dinner entrees will change every seven to 10 days. I'll be watching to see what's next — probably something even Mrs. Cleaver would have been proud to serve Ward, Wally and the Beaver.
Contact Susan Pierce at email@example.com or 423-757-6284.