212 Market remains one of the city’s best and most innovative restaurants
By Mike McJunkin
Some people are simply ahead of the curve. They have a passion for an idea or a way of doing things that is not just out of the box, but may even run counter to the accepted wisdom of the day. Twenty-five years ago, while the food world was buzzing about pummelos, the Mediterranean diet, and lifting the ban on imported Parma ham, Sally, Susan and Maggie Moses were busy reclaiming and renovating an old Studebaker dealership in downtown Chattanooga to create their new restaurant, 212 Market. The idea was simple—build a relaxed atmosphere where passionate chefs could create high-quality food from fresh, local ingredients. This was before most people had heard of Alice Waters, before Lee Jones had donned his trademark red bowtie and overalls, and certainly before the term “farm-to-table” had made its way into mainstream culinary lexicon. 212 Market was farm-to-table before farm-to-table was cool.
Over the years, 212 has quietly accumulated a trove of awards for their commitment to sustainable, local foods prepared in a responsible and conscious way. From becoming Tennessee's first certified green restaurant to extensive recycling of virtually everything in the restaurant, 212 is a model for responsible restaurant practices. Of course, this means locally produced meats, vegetables, cheeses and grains are featured heavily across the menu. Familiar local ingredients such as Pickett's Ranch trout, Cloudcrest Farms beef, Eagles Rest bison and Sequatchie Cove cheeses are served alongside the freshest locally farmed vegetables, and items from 212 Market's own garden, such as herbs, tomatoes and even berries.
Ultimately, however, all of the accolades and awards are secondary to the food that comes out of the kitchen, and 212 Market's food has consistently been some of the best in the city. Their menu changes seasonally to reflect the availability of fresh, local ingredients while maintaining Chef Moses's signature style throughout. In spite of the seasonal changes, you can count on certain favorites to carry over from menu to menu, such as their delicious 212 Pecan Chicken Club. This sandwich puts a twist on the traditional club by coating a juicy chicken breast with Georgia pecans and sliding it inside a flaky croissant with smoky bacon and melted provolone cheese. The nuttiness of the pecan-crusted chicken against the buttery house-made croissant, tangy Dijon mustard and bacony bacon is everything you love about a club sandwich but elevated into something even tastier.
My most recent visit was for lunch with one of the Pulse's intrepid interns. He was a bit concerned that a meal at 212 would require a jacket and a second mortgage. This could not be further from the truth. While 212 Market has certainly hosted its share of special occasion dinners, anniversaries, and business luncheons in their beautifully decorated space, both the lunch and dinner menus have a wide selection of choices to accommodate even an intern's budget and casual dress is not only appropriate, but no one even batted an eye at his cargo shorts and Tony Hawk-esque shirt.
We started our meal off with the Mediterranean platter—a generous assortment of hummus, quinoa tabbouleh, marinated artichokes, olives, feta, warm pita bread and a nice rosemary vinaigrette. At six bucks for an appetizer-sized platter, it was a great deal and a perfect opener to the meal. It seems that no matter how many items I look at on 212's menu, I am always drawn to the house-made Spinach and Walnut Ravioli with its tender grilled ratatouille-style vegetables and bright, fresh basil pesto. This time I was determined to break free from my ravioli habit and try something new, so I went with a half order of Fried Green Tomato Mixed Green Salad and the Mahagony-Glazed Calamari while Mr. Intern went the light lunch route with a beautiful Spinach Salad.
My fried green tomatoes were crispy and golden on the outside, soft and warm on the inside. They were topped with house-made tomato serrano jam and feta cheese, which lent just the right amount of heat, sweet and tang to round out the dish. When I took my first bite of Mahagony-Glazed Calamari, I heard a choir begin to softly sing in the background. The menu description for this dish is brief, but the flavors are bold and complex, engaging all of the taste receptors on the tongue at the same time. The glaze was slightly sweet, bringing out the natural sweetness of the calamari while complementing its brininess. The calamari was topped with just enough pickled onion to get a sliver with each bite, adding a wonderfully subtle sourness that cut through the sweetness and umami for balance. The calamari was served on a bed of arugula that added a peppery bite to the party and caused the imaginary choir I heard in my head to come to a soaring crescendo.
As I sat savoring my calamari through barely opened eyes, I spotted Mr Intern having a quiet moment over his spinach salad. Besides being a beautifully presented, generous portion of spinach, bacon, spiced pecans and gorganzola cheese with a light dressing of hazelnut-orange vinaigrette, the salad was reasonably priced at only five dollars, so Mr. Intern could enjoy his lunch in a stunningly decorated restaurant without the haunting feeling he was eating his rent money.
We decided to split their dessert d'jour to end our meal. This was a tres leches cake made with Coco Lopez, topped with a fluffy meringue and served floating in a pool of una leche. Now it was time for a nap, but sadly we had to retire back to the office instead.
212 Market has been a fixture in the Chattanooga restaurant scene for almost 25 years with top-shelf, chef-quality food and a farm-to-table philosophy that predates the term itself. Whether you're simply looking for a delicious meal, want to ensure your comestibles come with a side of environmental responsibility, or both, 212 Market has been and continues to be a Chattanooga dining landmark.
212 Market St.
11 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Mon-Thur, 5 p.m.-9:30 p.m.
Fri-Sat, 5 p.m. - 10 p.m.
Sun, 5 p.m. - 9 p.m.