Whistle Stop Cafe redefines the term "the other side of the tracks." Slightly off-center from Ooltewah's primary business district that runs along Apison Pike, this charming cafe has been open less than a year and has already attracted bumper-to-bumper traffic, if you'll excuse the railroad slang.
Yes, Whistle Stop has fried green tomatoes. You can't name a restaurant Whistle Stop and not have that wonderful Southern specialty, thanks to the book and subsequent film of the same name. But they're made a touch fancier topped with smoked Gouda pimiento cheese and sweet pickles.
The remaining menu is soup, salads and artisanal sandwiches, such as The Conductor, an Italian sub-like sandwich on ciabatta; Main Street Meatloaf with bacon, crispy onions and cheese on ciabatta; and the Pullman, a choice for vegetarians with tomatoes, mozzarella, pesto and sun-dried tomato aioli on sourdough.
Whistle Stop is best known, though, for its over-the-top hand-crafted milkshakes with great names — The Best Is Yet To Come Cinnamon Churro, Don't Be Cruel Chocolate, Splish Splash Strawberry Cheesecake. Get the picture? Word to the wise — these are very popular and are made to order, so order one for dessert when you order your meal and you won't notice the waiting time for dessert while you eat your entree. That's especially nice when you have young ones in tow.
Of note is Whistle Stop's mission to feature locally made products. The pimiento cheese for its fried green tomatoes is made by The Chef and His Wife; doughnuts come from Tasty Donuts; Little Debbie snack cakes are used in the milkshakes and the beer is local.
We tried the Cranberry Salad with chicken ($11); a Banana Boat sandwich (peanut butter and banana) and chips from the kids menu ($5); and one Rockin' Robin Rainbow milkshake ($13).
The salad was plentiful and packed with cranberries, walnuts and some goat cheese along with thick, tender slices of chicken on the side. I would have rather had a mix of lettuces than all arugula in the salad, but that's just a matter of preference. It was still delicious, with a sweet/tangy homemade balsamic vinaigrette, and I ate every bite down to the last cranberry.
Kids' sandwiches are made on the same bread as adult sandwiches, and as much as I love artisinal breads, they're on the tough, chewy side for little teeth. I think a softer bread would have been easier to swallow.
Now, for the piece de resistance, the raison d'etre, the masterpiece of summer desserts: a Rockin' Robin Rainbow milkshake. This colorful creation is made with cotton candy ice cream topped with cotton candy, rainbow Airheads, unicorn cake on a stick, plus a lollipop and whipped cream in a glass rimmed with sprinkles. It was a sugar rush for sure, but perfect on a hot summer afternoon.
If You Go
* Where: Whistle Stop Cafe, 5503 Main St., Ooltewah
* Hours: 11 a.m.-2 p.m. and 5-8 p.m. Tuesday-Sunday.
* Notable menu items: Fried green tomatoes (the signature dish), $10; wondrous, multi-ingredient milkshakes, $7-$15.
* Alcohol: Craft beers and red and white house wines.
* Phone: 423-280-1500.
* Online: www.ooltewahwhistlestop.com
Whistle Stop is all vintage — the building itself sits just a stone's throw from Ooltewah's original depot, and though it's of new construction, it appears to have come from a different era. Inside, custom tile work and light fixtures add to the vintage feel. Outside, picnic tables fill a patio adorned with a police car, circa mid-20th-century, and, for fun, you might pick up a rousing game of cornhole.
The multilevel restaurant features tables on the second floor with vintage video games and a rooftop with additional seating and a small putting green (as an ode to owner Melissa Cain's dad, pro golfer Gibby Gilbert II).
The crew manning the tables is efficient at more than just serving. Orders were backed up for milkshakes, so our server took it upon himself to make our milkshake, and what a good job he did, bringing it out right as we were finishing our entrees. No waiting — nonstop service, if you will. That was sweet — and so was that milkshake.
Walk, ride, cycle or jump on a train car — they still run the track right outside — and make your way to Whistle Stop Cafe, a very nice addition to the growing Ooltewah market.
Contact Anne Braly at firstname.lastname@example.org or annebraly.com.