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Staff Photo by Susan Pierce / Tavern Mac & Cheese with Chicken, Blackened Mahi and Fish & Chips, clockwise from top.

This is a story of restaurant redemption; two meals from one location that were 180 degrees opposite in experience.

Two friends from college and I went to try out the new — well, new to us — Mike's Tavern in Hixson, which opened in late spring.

When I walked in at 6 p.m. that Thursday night, the place was rocking with full tables of large groups and lots of laughter-filled conversations. My first impression was "This is where the neighborhood comes to party."

 

THE SPACE

Mike's is a new restaurant on Highway 153 with the ubiquitous gray walls, open ceilings, exposed ductwork and concrete floors. It's one large room divided by a partition that separates the bar from the dining area.

 

If you go

* What: Mike’s Tavern, 5211 Highway 153, Suite 103

* Hours: 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Monday-Saturday, 10 a.m.-10 p.m. Sunday

* Prices: $3 sides-$18.50 Flat Iron Steak

* Alcohol: Full bar

* Phone: 423-541-3615

* Online: https://www.mikestaverntn.com/

THE MENU

Mike's serves pub food such as five burger choices among its 10 sandwiches ($10-$13), wings ($11), brisket nachos ($11.50) and quesadillas ($9), but with some surprising upscale additions such as crab cakes($12), roasted red pepper hummus ($9.50), blackened mahi ($17) and Chicken Scallopini ($15).

There are six dinner entrees ($12-$18.50), 10 appetizers ($7.50 - $12), soups, salads and four desserts.

 

THE ORDER

We ordered the Fish & Chips ($12), Blackened Mahi ($17) and Tavern Mac & Cheese with Chicken ($12). The only one of us pleased with her order was the one who got the mac and cheese. The curly cavatappi pasta was coated in a housemade cheese sauce topped with a healthy serving of grilled chicken. It was such a large serving that no sides were needed to fill one up.

My friend's mahi did not have the deep spice flavor of blackened fish. You could tell by looking that the fish was so dry that not even the pineapple salsa garnish could help its flavor. It was served with a generous helping of yellow rice and a vegetable of the day.

The breading of my fish and chips was so thick and overspiced in what I believe was paprika, that it brought on a coughing fit. The fish sticks were flat, orange in color, overcooked yet somehow still gummy. When I asked our server if the fish was always this spicy, he was obviously surprised and responded, "It's not spicy at all."

The fish sticks came with a ramekin of slaw and side of fries, but I opted to sub green beans for the fries. The beans were julienned, cooked with strips of onion and were adequate.

Deciding to just peel back the batter on the fish sticks and eat the fish, I found there was minimal cod inside, and what there was wasn't flaky as it should have been. In all, an epic fail.

But everybody has an off day and deserves a second chance. So I went back for a second visit before making any judgment.

This time when I walked in at 6 p.m. on a Monday night I was one of only three tables of diners, although the bar was full. I again ordered fish sticks, and they were picture-perfect. And no, they did not know who I was nor that this was a do-over.

The waitress sat a plate of five, plump, golden fish sticks before me that tasted as delicious as they looked. I literally could not have asked for better. They made that crisp "pop" when I cut into them, were flavorful but not overseasoned, and the meat inside was thick and flaky. It was textbook perfect, and I was so glad I had given Mike's another chance.

 

SERVICE

On both visits my servers were friendly, kept drinks topped and repeatedly stopped by to check on any needs. No complaints.

 

VERDICT

So there is room for improvement in consistency of food prep, but perhaps that had something to do with the restaurant being slammed with customers one night, and not as rushed on the second visit. But Mike's seems to have already built a steady clientele and is on its way to becoming a favorite neighborhood pub.

Contact Susan Pierce at spierce@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6284.

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