Photo by Anne Braly / Joan Marie Worsham ups the ante on breakfast by using fresh ingredients and catering to specific dietary needs.

Remember when Momma said that breakfast is the most important meal of the day? Turns out, she was right.

"I recommend people eat something within the first three to four hours of waking," says Danielle Townsend, a registered dietitian with Primary Healthcare Centers.

Even something as small as a piece of fruit, a granola bar or a piece of whole-wheat toast with a tablespoon or two of peanut butter is enough to get your metabolism up and at 'em and give you the energy you'll need to face the day.

Some people aren't hungry as soon as they roll out of bed. And for those dealing with portion control or overeating, paying attention to hunger signals is important. However, Townsend says, it's important to eat something every three to four hours throughout your waking day to maintain mental clarity and sustain energy.

"You can't achieve a long-term healthy weight by not eating," she says.

And it all starts with breakfast.


Best Breakfasts Bets

Joan Marie Worsham arrives at work around 3 a.m. to begin the day's baking. By 5 a.m. she's just about done with loaves of white bread, trays of cinnamon rolls and baskets of biscuits — all the trappings of the mouthwatering breakfasts served at Bluegrass Grill.

Joan Marie and husband Jonas Worsham, a priest for St. Tikhon Orthodox Church, opened their fourth restaurant and second Bluegrass Grill on Chattanooga's Main Street in 2007, just when the area was beginning to breathe new life.

The idea of opening a restaurant specializing in breakfast was nothing new to them. They'd done the same thing on the outskirts of San Francisco's Tenderloin District in the 1980s with Raphael House. They moved to Memphis and had repeated success when they opened Brother Juniper's, followed by a move to Kodiak, Alaska, where they opened The Captain's. Then Charlottesville, Virginia, was blessed with their culinary success with the opening of their first Bluegrass Grill, a breakfast venue that's still going strong, Worsham says.

Breakfast in Chattanooga was once a meal served primarily in greasy spoon cafes and fast food establishments. By 11 a.m., the menus would switch from biscuits and gravy to burgers and fries. That all changed with the opening of restaurants like Bluegrass Grill and others following the trend toward farm-to-table fare and offering healthier choices, as well as fulfilling the need for social interaction.

"Breakfast is a good time for meetings," Worsham says.

Before the social distancing caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, gatherings of businessmen, students, church groups and others meeting in the early mornings were a common sight, dining on perhaps the local eatery's most popular entree: a classic breakfast of eggs made to order and served with bacon, sausage or ham; home fries; and a biscuit.

But just as the clientelle served at Bluegrass is diverse, so is the menu.

"A restaurant has to have the ability to offer a variety of choices," Worsham notes, adding that her menu includes items that are gluten-free as well as some vegan offerings, and some that are both gluten-free and vegan.

"It gets kind of crazy," Worsham says. "But our menu is based on the things we like to eat."

And just as important as realizing the dietary needs of patrons is the importance of using the freshest ingredients possible. "That makes all the difference," she says. "Go to a fast food restaurant and ask them where there shortening is. They won't have it. Their biscuits come in already made and frozen.

"The public is waking up to this and looking for healthy choices. And there's plenty of room in town for people who do it right."

Here are some others in the Chattanooga area who, like the Worshams, are "doing it right":

* Maple Street Biscuit Company, 407 Broad St. and 2114 Gunbarrel Road. Southern breakfasts begin here with homemade biscuits and gravy. Or you can go overboard with The Squawking Goat, a flaky biscuit filled with goat cheese, fried chicken and housemade pepper jelly.

* Aretha Frankenstein's, 518 Tremont St. This funky restaurant has a cure for everything that ails you, including its famous buttermilk pancakes and breakfast burritos.

* The Daily Ration, 1220 Dartmouth St. Weekend brunches are something to look forward to here, with blueberry pancakes, white-cheddar grits and breakfast burritos to pair with a pitcher of mimosas or a spicy bloody mary.

* Frothy Monkey, 1400 Market St. Break your fast with some of this spot's Southern favorites, like a bowl of cheesy grits with arugula, tomato jam and prosciutto; or try the traditional Farm Breakfast with eggs cooked to order, Broadbent bacon or sausage, breakfast potatoes and toast.

* Niedlov's Bakery, 215 E. Main St. Their almond croissants are the things of which memories are made, but don't forget to take home a loaf of sourdough bread. It doesn't get much better.

* Blue Plate Diner, 191 Chestnut St. Breakfast is served all day here, so sleep in and then go for the chicken and pancake platter with pancakes, fried chicken, loaded hashbrowns and hot maple syrup.

Some mornings call for eating in, though — as in, at home. If that's the case, here are some healthful alternatives to a breakfast of sugary cereal.

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Photo by Anne Braly / Bluegrass Grill has become a Chattanooga breakfast institution since opening in 2007.


Bluegrass Grill Gluten-Free Pumpkin Muffins

Makes 16 muffins

What you need:

1 cup light olive oil

2 cups brown sugar

2 teaspoons vanilla

2 (15-ounce) cans pumpkin puree (not pumpkin pie filling)

3 cups tapioca flour

1 3/4 cups teff flour

1 teaspoon guar or xanthan gum

4 teaspoons baking soda

1 teaspoon salt

What you do:

1. Preheat oven to 375 F. With a whisk, cream together olive oil and brown sugar. Add vanilla and both cans of pumpkin until well blended.

2. In a separate bowl, whisk together flours, guar or xanthan gum, baking soda and salt.

3. Mix wet ingredients into the dry ingredients, stirring until smooth.

4. Spray muffin tins. Top with a little extra brown sugar — just for looks — if desired. Bake for 20 minutes, then reduce oven temperature to 300 F and bake for another 10 minutes.


Spinach-Cheese Breakfast Strata

What you need:

16 ounces chopped frozen spinach, thawed

3 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 large yellow onion, chopped (about 2 cups)

3 garlic cloves, minced

11 slices (about 8 cups) Italian bread, cut into 1-inch cubes

1 1/2 cups coarsely grated Gruyère

2/3 cup finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

9 large eggs

2 3/4 cups half-and-half

2 tablespoons Dijon mustard

1 3/4 teaspoons salt

3/4 teaspoon black pepper

1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg

What you do:

1. With a clean kitchen towel or paper towel, press as much water from the spinach as possible.

2. Melt butter in a large sauté pan over medium heat. Add onion and cook, stirring frequently, until soft and translucent, about 5 minutes. Add garlic and spinach and cook 2 minutes more. Set aside.

3. Butter a 9-by-13-inch baking dish. Spread 1/3 of the bread cubes in the dish and top evenly with 1/3 of spinach mixture, spreading as evenly as possible. Sprinkle with 1/3 of each cheese. Repeat layering twice, ending with cheeses.

4. In a large bowl, whisk the eggs. Add half-and-half, Dijon mustard, salt, pepper and nutmeg. Whisk until well combined.

5. Pour custard mixture evenly over the strata. Cover with plastic wrap and chill for at least 1 hour or overnight.

6. Preheat oven to 325 F. Bake strata, uncovered, until puffed, set and golden brown all over top, 1 to 1 1/4 hours. Let stand 10-15 minutes before serving.


Fresh Peach Smoothie

Makes 2 smoothies

What you need:

1 cup peach or apricot nectar

1 cup sliced fresh peaches

1/2 cup fat-free vanilla yogurt

4 ice cubes

What you do:

1. In a blender, combine all ingredients. Cover and process until blended.

2. Pour into chilled glasses and serve immediately.