The word “passion” gets thrown around quite a bit these days when it comes to food. Everyone who picks up a chef’s knife or strains a veloute wants to talk about their “passion for food,” but if you want to see what a true, lifelong passion for food looks like, look no further than 212 Market.
In 1989, Sally and Susan Moses, along with their mother Maggie, decided to open a restaurant featuring local foods in downtown Chattanooga. This was well before the downtown renaissance and a full three years before the Tennessee Aquarium opened its doors. The phrases, “farm to table,” “sustainability,” and “organic” were decades away from becoming a part of the average Chattanoogan’s lexicon, and fine dining in our city meant a steak of unknown origin accompanied by a butter-laden baked potato. But the Moses’s had a passion for quality, farm-fresh ingredients and a steadfast belief that Chattanoogans would respond to world-class food prepared from the finest local ingredients. Twenty-three years later, that passion for quality is not only present in every dish, but has grown into a force that leads by example, with a menu that is arguably the most local, sustainable and eco-friendly in the city.
In the past, I often equated 212 Market with fine dining, special occasions, or impressing an important date. But as Chattanooga’s palates changed, the restaurant changed with them. The atmosphere is casual yet refined, while still feeling very warm and approachable. These days I’m as likely to throw on some jeans and pop in for a Dogfish Head IPA and bison burger as I am to pull on a sport coat and settle in for a three-course meal with a wine pairing.
Chef Susan Moses and her team have struck the perfect balance between menu favorites that Chattanoogans have come to know and love, while utilizing the region’s bounty of fresh, local and seasonal ingredients to create a variety of stunning daily specials.
On my most recent visit to 212 Market, my date and I planned our entire meal in the car on the drive over. I intended to start with grilled Georgia quail breast on Fall Mills polenta and warm bacon vinaigrette, then move on to an Eagles Rest bison ribeye au poivre with mashed potatoes and Sequatchie Cove blue cheese compound butter. My vegetarian dining partner was eager to hear what fresh, local vegetables were available for their daily vegetarian selection while we both tried to keep our excitement in check as we pondered what the bread pudding or crème brûlée de jour would be that evening.
However, as soon as menus were placed into our hands, all of our best-laid plans went beautifully awry. I decided to start the meal off with an Eagle’s Rest bison spring roll made with spicy housemade kimchee and a sweet chili dipping sauce, while my friend curled up with a hot bowl of umami-packed miso-cabbage soup.
On cue, the entrées arrived just as we were finishing our starters. The cornmeal-fried Pickett’s trout that I chose for my main course was spectacular. Chef Moses breads a generous filet of Pickett’s trout with Falls Mill cornmeal (one of the last remaining water-powered mills in the state), fries it to crispy perfection, and serves it alongside local stone-ground cheddar grits and fresh sautéed kale. The fish is then topped with a creamy crawfish remoulade that brings the dish together like a Southern gospel choir having church in my mouth.
My date was in flavor heaven as she tasted her way through the “February Veggies” plate of sautéed Brussels sprouts, parsnips and carrots that were cooked to tender perfection and served over an herbaceous basil-parmesan risotto. The bright tastes of the vegetables contrasted against the creamy risotto to create a dish even a dedicated meat eater would love.
Although we clearly didn’t need dessert, once we saw the collection of sweets being offered we capitulated and split a piece of Green Tomato cake with cream cheese icing. This moist and mildly sweet indulgence was the exclamation point at the end of an already memorable meal.
212 Market has been the leader in serving exceptional, local food to crowds of Chattanoogans and tourists alike for two decades. Their passion for food is more than a catch phrase; it has been a way of life for the Moses family for 23 years and counting.
212 Market - 212 Market St., Chattanooga, TN, (423) 265-1212
Lunch: 11 a.m. - 3 p.m.
Dinner: M-TH: 5 p.m. - 9:30 p.m., Fri-Sat: 5 p.m. - 10 p.m., Sun: 5 p.m.- 9 p.m.