Heading into events like Riverbend, which shuts down all street traffic surrounding the downtown concert grounds to allow for the influx of revelers, I've always said, "When you can walk in the middle of the street, it's a party." Getting to dine in the middle of the street is even more exciting.
I'd heard of the Scenic City Supper Club in the way you hear about exclusive establishments where the entrance fee is being beautiful, rich or famous. Tickets to the quarterly pop-up dinners are notoriously hard to get. In fact, the club event I attended on Cherry Street, Party in the Passageways: Spring Block Party, sold out within a day. It was the largest event in the two years since Erik and Amanda Niel, the husband-wife duo behind Easy Bistro and Main Street Meats, started the club. Previous meals have sold out in minutes.
Each event is held in a different location around the Scenic City and features a different lineup of well-known chefs. Venues have included places like the rooftop terrace of the Loveman's building, under the Chattanooga Choo Choo's dome and amid the wooded setting of Cloudcrest Farm in Rossville, Ga. The menus are always suited to the setting, the chefs' specialties and what's in season.
Community, not competition
Adam Evans, former executive chef of The Optimist and Brezza Cucina in Atlanta
Erik Niel, executive chef and owner of Easy Bistro & Bar and Main Street Meats
Lawton Haygood, grillmaster of Boathouse Rotisserie & Raw Bar, Canyon Grill, SideTrack and Sugar’s Ribs
Jake Cornish, chef de cuisine of Main Street Meats
Dane Frazier, pastry chef of St. John’s Restaurant
Joe Winland, owner and brewer of Heaven and Ale
Brandy Cross, bartender at Easy Bistro
Flowers by Petaline Floral
Chattanooga Whiskey with strawberry allspice, Angostura, ginger beer and lemon (by Brandy Cross)
Cured mullet with English peas and fried garlic benne seed oil (by Adam Evans)
Grilled oysters Rockefeller featuring ramp butter, Main Street Meats bacon, watercress and Asiago (by Lawton Haygood)
Rye cracker topped with pickled ramp pimento cheese (by Dane Frazier)
Main Street Meats bacon rillette atop a charred baguette with pickled ramps and kimchi powder (by Jake Cornish)
Smoked Pickett’s trout served with strawberries, ramps, peas, squash blossom, hibiscus labneh and rhubarb caviar (by Jake Cornish)
Wood-roasted pork tamale cochinita pibil wrapped in banana leaf and served with grilled ramp-tomatillo salsa (by Lawton Haygood)
Grilled and olive oil-poached swordfish served with marinated spring vegetables and glazed oxtail marmalade (by Adam Evans)
Blueberry cheesecake sundae with toasted almonds and a blueberry macaron (by Dane Frazier)
The meals offer not only the chance to try something new, but to meet new people. The crowd was not entirely what I had expected given my "must be in the know" assumption regarding the tickets and their $150 price. It was a much more eclectic gathering — a mix of young professionals clad in spring dresses and shorts, and presumably more established seniors in suit jackets and full makeup. After milling around Cherry Street enjoying artful appetizers, the easy-sipping specialty cocktail of the evening and checking out the art installations enlivening the surrounding alleyways, we were seated at a long family-style table. All 150 of us.
At first, the conversations were mostly those of neighbors seated next to each other; most likely people who had come together. As the beautifully adorned plates and paired beers were brought around, conversations began to flow over the rustic boxes bursting with delicate blooms which lined the center of the probably 100-foot-long table. I managed to end up across from someone from River City Company and someone from the Tomorrow Building with whom I'd made a connection during the cocktail hour, and as plate after plate was delivered, I shot them giddy glances.
That type of ambiance is exactly what the supper club's co-founders were going for. Everything — down to the tables and servingware — speaks to the club's mission of "community, not competition." Each element represents a partnership with local craftsmen and businesses, which supply almost all of the necessary ingredients.
I don't always have the most discerning palate, but enjoying a meal, especially al fresco, is one of my greatest pleasures. Dining, to me, is an experience. It's about all the elements: atmosphere, company, conversation, flavors and, of course, the food. The Scenic City Supper Club delivered on all fronts. I normally wouldn't have ordered many of the items in store for us that evening, but I might have to reconsider should, say, swordfish surface on another menu. Our selections had a decidedly fishy slant, but with none of the waterlogged flavor I've come to associate with (and which has turned me off from) most. Instead, the mild flavors of the swordfish and trout played subtle complement to the more familiar flavors of freshly roasted vegetables or picked strawberries. I don't think I saw a single plate leave the table with more than a bite left on it. While I'm not necessarily a dessert girl, I am a cheese girl, so the blueberry cheesecake sundae with toasted almonds and a blueberry macaron was the standout for me. Its silkiness felt more like custard, and went down just as easily.
Each plate was paired with a complementary beer. Having been to a specialized beer dinner at Main Street Meats where the focus seemed to be more on the suds than the grub, I didn't think these drew out the complexities of the accompanying dishes as much, but they were definitely tasty and well-paired. I did wish there was the option of wine pairings, but I imagine that could get very expensive very fast. In trying to do the math in my head, after seeing all that goes into each event, I figured they at best break even. The cost to transport or compensate the featured visiting chef, along with the professional servers, musical talent and sound and lighting guys, as well as to purchase all the real ingredients for a satiating meal doesn't seem to leave much wiggle room. My assumption was confirmed by one of the servers I knew as I thanked her on my way out. "It's about the experience," she told me, referring to the host of local chefs who collaborate to bring the Scenic City something deliciously unique. And I couldn't agree more.
To stay in the know and hopefully score tickets of your own, connect with Scenic City Supper Club on Facebook.