When someone asks if I want to do something after work, I first consult my calendar — of daily specials at my favorite restaurants. No matter which day it is, I'm sure to have a suggestion. From happy hours to weekly events like Ladies Night or Burger Night, I pride myself on being able to scout out a good deal, a penchant I no doubt picked up from my mother. (Thanks, Mom.)
The mere existence of a restaurant special does not equal a good deal. Happy hours, for example, are not all created equally.
When it comes to Ladies Night, the best I've found so far is Food Works'. As evidence of this, when I visited with my mom and younger sister on a cold, rainy Tuesday, the restaurant was fairly busy and women made up a large majority of the clientele, their purses and laughter spilling over the tables upstairs and down.
Food Works' atmosphere is comfortably contemporary. It feels refined without being stuffy.
Exposed brick is abundant, accented with richly colored wooden chairs and white tablecloths topped with brown butcher paper. Local art punctuates the space.
I'm not sure when, but the quartz-topped bar area got a fairly recent upgrade with new geometric floor tiles and orb pendant lights.
Similarly, the deck outside — which welcomed quite a few diners as they waited, especially for brunch on the weekends — is now an expansive covered eating area with ceiling fans that I can't wait to make use of this summer.
If you go
› Where: Food Works, 205 Manufacturers Road
› Hours: 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Sunday-Thursday, 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Friday-Saturday
› Prices: $6-$30
› Alcohol: Full bar
› Phone: 423-752-7487
I'd classify the food as upscale American, though the menu's recent reworking now spans a wider variety of dishes you'd expect to find, which aren't all American.
Alongside entrees like Black Angus New York strip served with demi-glace and truffle fries ($27) and horseradish-crusted salmon with braised red cabbage ($18), there's a Cuban sandwich ($12) and Chicken Picatta ($17).
The "American" portion is also more of a melting pot, with dishes like the 10-ounce BBQ Pork Chop ($19) and brisket tacos ($11) incorporating Korean barbecue sauce.
And there's a greater emphasis on seafood now. Examples include the crab-stuffed flounder with lemon beurre blanc and sweet-pepper grits ($22) and grilled swordfish topped with mango salsa and served with black beans and rice ($19).
Ladies Night offers half-price appetizers (limit two per person), in addition to $5 glasses of house wine and the evening's specialty cocktail. Needless to say, that's where I tend to stay when ordering.
I've tried most of the apps on the menu. My standbys are not only delicious, but enough to feed a crowd: calamari flash fried with banana peppers and served with aioli and marinara ($11 full price), and spinach and artichoke cheese dip served with hot pita wedges (normally $11). I love the unexpected juxtaposition of the slightly tart banana peppers shaped like the meaty calamari rings, and the spinach dip is super-creamy with hunks of artichoke, served bubbling in a cast-iron skillet.
This time, however, I decided to mix things up a bit. I simply cannot resist Food Works' spinach dip, which is one of the best I've had full-price or not, but in addition, I opted for the Riverside Crab Cake ($12) served with black bean-corn salad, salsa verde and pickled onion.
The crab cake is not really ideal for sharing, in my opinion — both due to its insanely good flavor and its size — but it did come as two small crab cakes, so if you're a small group, go for it. The crab tasted sweeter than most, without any of the grit and gristle that can sometimes find its way into crab cakes. And the salsa and salad added a new dimension and slight smokiness that played wonderfully with the meat.
My biggest marker of service on special nights like this is whether I can get my money's worth, which ultimately equates to explaining the deals offered and keeping my glass full. I've always been pleased with the service I've received at Food Works. They've even traded out an unsuccessful appetizer order after the menu added some new ones unfamiliar to us. I told you my order was painstakingly honed.
Whether you're looking for a good meal or deal, Food Works is high on my list.
Contact Jennifer Bardoner at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6579.