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Fried catfish at Aubrey's is lightly battered and served with lemon-caper sauce. It comes with one side.

If you go

› Where: Aubrey’s, 502 Northgate Mall Drive

› Hours: 11 a.m.-10 p.m. daily

› Price range: $7-$14 (appetizers); $4-$14 (soups, salads, sandwiches and burgers); $12-$28 (steaks, chicken, seafood and pasta)

› Phone: 423-541-2895

› Online: aubreysrestaurants.com

As have many who live in Hixson and points north, I've watched eagerly as Aubrey's came to life from the ground up. For years, the Hixson restaurant scene has been overshadowed by all of the eateries going up around other parts of town — Hamilton Place and downtown, specifically. So, on Aubrey's opening day, against my better judgment as I knew the place would be crowded, I set forth at 4 p.m. — well before the madding, hungry dinner crowd would most likely arrive. That was the perfect time to find out if I agreed with all the wonderful reviews I'd read about this East Tennessee chain.

THE MENU

Aubrey's prides itself on a menu that holds a wealth of homemade flavors, beginning with the dressings that garnish salads, such as the strawberry salad with sweet honey vinaigrette, and Granny Smith Steak Salad with your choice of dressings (try the tangy blue cheese.)

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Fish tacos at Aubrey's made with grilled salmon fillet topped with cheese, pico de gallo and chipotle cream. Southwestern chicken chowder, the soup of the day, was brimming with chicken, corn and Southwestern seasonings.

The menu has a decidedly Southern twist. I mean, it doesn't get much more Southern than fried catfish, Carolina crab cakes or fried chicken smothered in gravy. But Aubrey's has done a nice job beefing up its menu with several steaks, certified Angus rib-eyes and fillets among them. Prime rib is available Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights.

The menu also features a number of chicken, pasta and seafood dishes, like citrus-glazed salmon ($18); hickory chicken with cheddar cheese, scallions, and barbecue sauce over rice ($15); and Haystack Pasta with grilled chicken, mushrooms and linguine in a creamy mushroom sauce ($13).

THE ORDER

While the menu isn't huge, there is enough variety to make decisions a little difficult. I settled on my go-to fish tacos — salmon, in this case, topped with cheese, pico de gallo, chipotle cream and avocado — though in my case, the avocado was missing. Aubrey's grilled salmon tacos are made with a nice piece of fillet, a welcome change from fish tacos made with fish bits.

Sandwiches, burgers and other entrees (except pasta dishes) come with one side, and house and Caesar salads are $4 extra. My fish tacos were paired with the soup of the day, Southwestern chicken chowder, not a typical side dish for fish tacos, but in keeping with the Tex-Mex theme I had going. The soup was excellent — creamy and chock-full of tender chicken, corn and Southwestern seasonings.

When catfish is done right, you know it. Aubrey's fried catfish has a light batter that doesn't overwhelm the delicate fish. It was among the best catfish I've had around here. It's served with lemon-caper sauce, which is actually tartar sauce, but better with capers, lemon juice and some dried dill. Aubrey's should bottle that sauce.

THE SPACE

Aubrey's is a new building from the ground up that offers a large dining area with seating at tables, several with banquette seating. Booth seating is another option.

The bar area is at the entrance with booths, high tables and seating at a well-stocked bar with five large-screen TVs overhead, all tuned to different sporting events and talk shows.

Floor-to-ceiling windows surround the entire dining/bar area letting in natural light and views of Northgate Mall and busy Highway 153. But if you look beyond that, you can see the mountains of the Cumberland Plateau and maybe catch a nice sunset if your timing is right.

THE SERVICE

The first few weeks a restaurant opens are a time for combing out the kinks and for servers to learn the rhythm of the business. That's what I expected to find, but was wrong. Service was seamless, if not a bit too quick. I was about halfway through enjoying a nice glass of cabernet when our orders arrived. Looking back, I should have asked our server to wait a few minutes before turning in the order, but we had arrived at a slow time so it was no surprise that we were eating dinner posthaste.

THE VERDICT

The opening of Aubrey's, plus its new next-door-neighbor, Panda Express, offers hope for the growth of restaurants in Hixson. As expected, by the time we walked out of Aubrey's around 5:15, the parking lot was packed. A line of three cars was vying for my parking place as I pulled out. Though a chain, it's a Tennessee chain with good food — and that makes this restaurant a place I'm likely to return.

Contact Anne Braly at abraly@timesfreepress.com.

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