When writing multiple restaurant reviews each year, it's easy to become jaded. It's hard to find something new and exciting — it's easy to feel you've been there, eaten that.
That is, until I tried dinner at the new 1885 Grill in Ooltewah. It was an exciting combo of delicious food and lively atmosphere with a neighborhood hangout vibe. I was so impressed and excited about this restaurant's opening, that I had my younger son on the phone before I'd even pulled out of the parking lot to tell him "You have to try this!"
The restaurant is a brand new, two-story building that sits perpendicular to the square in Cambridge Square. Both floors have outdoor seating (a patio on the main level, covered balcony on the second), which will add an additional 80 seats when warm weather arrives.
And it appears they'll need that extra space. On the Wednesday night my friend and I visited, it was slammed; and each night since that I've been up to the square, 1885 is hopping.
The restaurant advertises itself as Southern coastal. Fresh, bright flavor is the hallmark of that style.
So the menu offers a wide variety of seafood: seared scallops ($10), crab cakes ($11), shrimp and grits ($15), shrimp and crawfish etouffee ($16), salmon and trout (each $18).
But landlubbers are by no means left out. There is Southern fried chicken or grilled Springer Mountain Farms chicken (each $16), pork chop ($18), ribeye ($30) and filet mignon ($28) among the entrees.
Additionally, there are "handhelds," which include two burger choices, Cuban, oyster po' boy or filet cheesesteak ($9-$15), as well as 12 sides and a kids menu.
If you go
› Where: 1885 Grill Ooltewah, 9469 Bradmore Lane in Cambridge Square
› Hours: 4-9 p.m. Mondays-Wednesdays, 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Thursdays, 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 10 a.m.-9 p.m. Sundays; brunch served 11 a.m.-2 p.m. Saturday and 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Sunday
› Prices: $5-$30
› Alcohol: Yes
› Phone: 423-531-1885
› Online: https://1885grill.com/
Having heard the praises of 1885's pimento cheese, my friend and I ordered the pimento cheese and fried okra appetizer ($8) to start the meal. This is not your mama's orange-colored, grated-cheedar-cheese concoction. We were served a creamy, melt-in-your-mouth blend of cream cheese, sharp white cheedar cheese, minced pimento and jalapeno along with a secret ingredient that we couldn't coax out of our server. It was simply addictive. It's served with grilled pita wedges and lightly breaded fried okra. It was more like a party dip than a sandwich spread.
We both loved it so much, my friend asked if they packaged it in bulk so we could get a to-go order, which we did.
We could hardly put that app aside when our meal arrived. I tried the fried flounder ($12), because if there is any dish that is a test of fresh, bright flavor it's breaded seafood. The flounder passed that test.
Two large filets were very lightly dusted in a panko breading that did not obscure the fresh flavor under breading or oil. The fish was so light and flaky, it was fork-tender. It came with three hush puppies and a side of cole slaw, for which I subbed sauteed green beans. In all, a delicious meal that didn't weigh heavy on the stomach.
My friend's Cajun Chicken Pasta ($14) was served with a blackened chicken breast resting on a swirl of linguine. The linguine had a light coating of Creole cream sauce that she said gave a hint of tomato taste; and the chicken had a kick, but wasn't heavily spiced.
We had four servers during the course of the meal. One took our drink order, another brought them out. A third took our food order and a fourth helped bring those dishes out and later checked back to see if we needed anything further.
I watched this tag-team style taking place at tables around us as well. As mentioned, the restaurant was filled to the max and servers were literally sprinting from table to table at times to keep everyone feeling as though they had their full attention. Despite this harried workout, the servers remained friendly, smiling, joked with diners and helped make the noisy room just feel like a big party.
And the room was noisy with its high, open ceilings and concrete floors.
When my friend asked about the to-go pimento cheese the first time, the waitress said she didn't think that was an option. But my friend persevered and asked the guy who brought out our meal, who said he'd not had that request before but would check. Sure enough, he came back to our table and said they would do it if we bought a pound, which we did and split. I appreciated his willingness to try to accommodate us — that's good customer service.
I've been to the St. Elmo 1885 and nothing stands out in my memory from those visits.
But the delicious food, friendly service and especially that pimento cheese, I'll remember for awhile and return to Cambridge Square for more.
Contact Susan Pierce at email@example.com or 423-757-6284.