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Photo by Susan Pierce / Diced chargrilled chicken is tossed with Brown Bag's homemade teriyaki sauce for this $8.50 entree that came with choice of two sides, which were grilled asparagus and red-skin mashed potatoes.

There's a lunch spot on Gunbarrel Road that's one of East Brainerd's best-kept secrets: Brown Bag. Perhaps that's because it's only open three hours on weekdays (11 a.m.-2 p.m. Monday-Friday). Or perhaps it's because most folks think of Brown Bag for catering, and don't realize they can dine in as well.

But I found on a visit last weekend that Brown Bag has delicious lunches with service as quick as any fast-food joint.

 

THE SPACE

Brown Bag is located on the end of the Gunbarrel Road center that houses Xfinity, Mission BBQ and Bad Daddy's Burger Bar. It's a long, narrow room with the ubiquitous open ceilings, exposed ductwork, pendant lights and concrete floor.

Its very spartan design is equaled by its no-frills dining. Customers walk up to a counter, place their order, seat themselves and their orders are brought out to them on paper plates with plastic silverware. I had barely gotten seated when my food arrived. Then you toss your plate in the garbage can when you leave.

 

THE MENU

The dine-in menu offers two price points: $8.50 or $9.50. For $8.50, diners pick their choice from sliced marinated chicken breast, grilled chicken sandwich with provolone on toasted ciabatta roll, chargrilled chicken teriyaki or a veggie plate of three sides. Protein choices for $9.50 are marinated grilled flank steak, grilled steak sandwich with provolone on a toasted ciabatta roll, salmon burger or grilled fish tacos.

If you go

› Where: Brown Bag, 1924 Gunbarrel Road

› Hours: 11 a.m.-2 p.m. Monday-Friday

› Price range: $8.50 or $9.50 to dine in

› Alcohol: No

› Phone: 423-413-3383

› Online: brownbagnow.com/chattanooga/

Both entree prices include any two of the nine sides offered.

Choose your entree, pick two sides and drink, then take a seat. It really is that simple.

Brown Bag opened in Knoxville in 2009 when Peter Brown noticed that catered meals were usually premade sandwiches with chips, and nobody served simple, healthy meals for a reasonable price. So he started a catering business dishing up healthy foods made daily using locally grown products when possible.

I had to laugh when I asked the girl working the counter how much heat/spice there was in the jalapeno corn casserole.

"It depends on who's making it today," she answered candidly. Yes, that's certainly made from scratch daily.

Not feeling too adventurous, I went with Brown Bag's signature red-skin mashed potatoes, grilled asparagus and teriyaki chicken. The potatoes were delicious, just like mama's. The half-dozen asparagus stalks were flavorful and fork-tender. The teriyaki sauce was a little heavy on soy, but the generous serving of chopped chicken was quite tasty.

 

VERDICT

I was pleasantly surprised at the quality of my meal at Brown Bag.

While Brown Bag is a quick lunch stop, and known for its catering, I think its strong point is what a boon it could be to busy moms who need a quality entree for dinner, but don't have time to cook.

Brown Bag sells 1/3 pan of chicken (enough to feed six) for $15. Just add a couple of veggies and dinner is done. Actually, it's probably enough for two nights' dinners because these are hefty helpings.

I remember those days of coming home in the early evening after my boys' games, when they would be famished and dinner needed to be on the table NOW. A carry-out from Brown Bag would have been the solution. The only drawback is that working moms need this assist the most, but they can't get there during the narrow 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. window.

On my next visit, I already know I'm getting the fresh baby spinach salad, which I saw at a nearby table. The colorful, enticing salad began with a layer of baby spinach piled high with fresh berries, Mandarin oranges, Parmesan cheese and Craisins with poppyseed dressing served on the side.

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

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