CORRECTION: This story was updated at 3:49 p.m. on Wednesday, March 18, 2020, to remove a sentence about walking over a footbridge. That area is private property and not part of Top of the Rock.
Do you go for the food and stay for the view? Or is it the other way around — come for the view and stay for the food?
Whichever the case, you'll get an amazing taste of both at Top of the Rock, just a half-hour drive from downtown Chattanooga in the Jasper Highlands community of Marion County.
A 2-mile road climbs the side of the Cumberland Plateau to reach Top of the Rock, an eatery perched at the top of Jasper Mountain, dominating the skyline. You'll find it right outside the gates to Jasper Highlands.
Its exterior of wood and mountain stone blends beautifully into the natural setting. Expansive floor-to-ceiling windows across the front of the dining area bring the outside in, offering eastern views of the mountains and the Tennessee River as it twists its way through the Grand Canyon of the Tennessee far below. A covered porch across the front of the restaurant gets you even closer to the view.
Top of the Rock is open for Sunday brunch and dinner, and Monday through Saturday for lunch and dinner only. The brunch menu features several Southern favorites such as shrimp and grits, biscuits and gravy or a breakfast grilled cheese sandwich you can order with a side of crispy hash browns. Salads, wraps, sandwiches and the popular Mountain Smash Burger with house-made pickles and peppercorn mayo round out the lunch menu.
Dinner hour opens the way for a creative round of appetizers, seafood, steaks, chicken and pasta dishes. A full bar features a good list of cocktails; a selection of wines, albeit not extensive; and a nice list of craft beers.
Dinner on a recent Friday night was all about seafood at our table, starting with cocktails and chili-peach shrimp lightly fried and coated with a sweet chili sauce that had the faintest bite of heat.
Pecan-crusted trout is a house favorite and comes topped with an interesting sauce that tricks the taste buds with chopped pecans, sugar and allspice rather than the traditional brown sugar-pecan mixture. Another sauce of spiced beurre blanc coats the trout, as well, making a nice contrast of flavors covering the filet.
Sometimes it's what's not on the menu that tempts the palate. Such was the case for the dinner special offered on this particular evening: basil pesto linguine with shrimp and scallops.
Chef Tony Bethune has created a dish with the perfect balance of herbs and spices to make a creamy pesto that clings to pasta cooked to a perfect al dente stage, plump shrimp and tender scallops. The special has become so popular, it's now offered several times a month. Just ask your server.
In an age in which many chefs are choosing to season dishes to their liking, leaving salt and pepper off the table, you'll find shakers on the tables here. It may sound like no big deal, but I like the fact that I can choose how to salt and pepper my dinner, rather than leaving it to the judgment of someone else.
In the case of our dinner, a little sprinkling of salt heightened the flavor of the pasta, as well as the farro pilaf served with the trout. It's just one of those things to which you don't give much thought until you need it.
If you go
› Where: Top of the Rock, 1584 Jasper Highlands Blvd., Jasper, Tennessee
› Hours: 10 a.m.-9 p.m. Sunday (brunch served until 3 p.m.), 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Monday-Wednesday, 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Thursday-Saturday
› Price range: $8.95-$11.95 (lunch), $8.95-$29.95 (dinner)
› Alcohol: Full bar
› Phone: 423-939-9037
› Online: https://topoftherockbrewery.com/
No complaints here. Though the restaurant was filled to near-capacity, our food was delivered without wait. Our server was very attentive, almost intuitive knowing what we needed before being asked. A carafe of water brought to the table let us take care of our own refills.
It appears since opening in October 2019, the restaurant's cooks in the kitchen, bartenders and servers are working as a team.
Top of the Rock adds a new dimension of dining to the town of Jasper, but Chattanooga, too. With all of the mountain settings around the area, I can think of only one other that offers views as dramatic as those found at Top of the Rock.
The restaurant has managed to wrap a memorable experience into a delicious bundle of flavor in a casual setting while Mother Nature paints a breathtaking picture of the Tennessee Valley.