Chattanooga: 21st Century hip with Southern hospitality on the Tennessee River

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CHATTANOOGA, TN, July 6, 2017 – Forget everything you thought you knew about this city’s food and culture. Chattanooga, Tennessee is undergoing a renaissance of sorts and transforming its industrial past. Today, you’ll find trendy, hip, and sustainable eateries and world-class attractions in a city that still retains its Southern charm and hospitality, the roots upon which it was founded.

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For a small town, Chattanooga has more than its share of unique and, in some cases, one-of-a-kind or quirky attractions. The Chattanooga Bakery is home to the Moon Pie, the beloved marshmallow and graham cracker confection originally conceived in 1917 as a snack for coal miners. Traditionally, this is enjoyed with an ice cold RC Cola.

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Other claims to fame include The Walnut Street Bridge, one of the longest pedestrian bridges in the world; the Lookout Mountain Incline Railway, the world’s steepest with a 72.7% grade; the Chattanooga Choo-Choo lobby, which houses the largest freestanding dome in the world; and the only towing museum found on the planet. The latter might seem like an odd choice, but this was the city that birthed the tow truck industry in 1916.

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However, these notable attributes are just a prelude to a few of Chattanooga’s major attractions. The Tennessee Aquarium is one of the largest freshwater aquariums in the world, and their enormous complex includes two buildings with displays and exhibits that rival any competing facilities. These include alligators, otters, penguins, river giants, jellyfish, a reef tank with colorful and exotic fish, a butterfly garden, and the world’s only Twitter savvy electric eel— Miguel Watson (@eelectricmiguel). The aquarium has also partnered with celebrity chef Alton Brown to create the Serve and Protect sustainable seafood program.


Located just across the street from the Aquarium, the IMAX® 3D Theater is where you can enjoy six stories of movie magic. It is one of the few around the country using the IMAX next-generation digital laser projection system to enhance the viewing experience.

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Not all of the attractions here are located above ground, and while visiting, you must see Ruby Falls, the deepest commercial cave and tallest underground waterfall in the United States. Discovered by Leo Lambert in 1928, the falls were named after his wife Ruby. After he excitedly shared his discovery with her, Leo brought her back with him to explore the cave— on her hands and knees in a dress. Not surprisingly, he named the caves after her.

The tours run in groups and follow narrow passages highlighting unusual rock formations that Lambert found along the way. At the end, you will be rewarded with a spectacular, LED-lit, 145-foot waterfall 1,120 feet below the mountain. Ruby Falls is also the first attraction in America to receive Green Globe Certification for environmental sustainability.

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While cities such as Nashville, New Orleans, and Chicago are well-known for their music scenes, Chattanooga has just added a new attraction that is sure to put it on the melody map. Songbirds Guitar Museum houses the largest private collection of rare and vintage guitars in the world. The pop culture exhibit features some 300 guitars of all ages and styles out of a total collection of 1,500. These include acoustic, electric, jazz, and bass. The most expensive ones are housed in “the vault”, which you can see for a separate add-on price. The Fender Stratocaster (1954) Sunburst with matching headstock, for example, is easily worth a million dollars.

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The Chattanooga culinary scene is equally as impressive with scores of independent eateries keeping pace with local revitalization efforts. The Flying Squirrel Bar is owned by the neighboring Crash Pad, the world’s first LEED Platinum Certified (the highest level of environmentally friendly achievement from the U.S. Green Building Council) hostel in the United States. Located in the hip and trendy Southside District, the restaurant is an art form in and of itself with reclaimed wood, a large swivel door, and an open window connecting diners to the outdoors. Locally sourced ingredients are used in their menu, which includes house cut fries, duck confit tacos, and ramen— one of the chef’s personal favorites.

Across from the aquarium, Easy Bistro & Bar is located in the 100-year old building in what was the world’s first Coca-Cola bottling plant. Award-winning chef Erik Neil uses local farmers and suppliers, whenever possible, to create dishes such as braised brisket with confit potatoes or even specialty raw oysters gleaned from the Gulf and East and West Coasts.

 

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Main Street Meats is a popular spot for lunch and dinner and the butchers know how to make the most out of every cut of meat. Let your taste buds savor their finely cured salami, French-style pâté, and smoked sausages or their specially blended, juicy burger.

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For an elegant, fine dining experience, make a reservation at St. John’s Restaurant, the city’s first farm-to-table restaurant. Having won several wine spectator awards, their knowledgeable staff and sommeliers will guide you through the best pairing options for your meal. The menu does change based on the seasonal availability of ingredients, but if available, start with Kenny’s Roasted Pork Belly with sage sausage gravy and blueberry jam ($13). From their summer menu, choose the popular Pickett’s Ranch Trout with duck fat potatoes, Delano Farm’s cabbage, romano beans, and banana pepper aioli ($25).

One thing that you will probably notice while dining at these eateries is the excellent service from the very knowledgeable wait staff. Many are long-time local residents who are quite proud of their heritage and are invested in furthering Chattanooga’s culinary prowess.

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Still relatively unknown, Crabtree Farms, is a non-profit urban sustainable farm in the city. Amazing fresh produce is grown on their 22 acres where they also offer cooking and education classes. One of their main goals is to raise awareness about the use of locally grown food in everyday cooking.

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Of course, Chattanooga has its share of sweet temptations such as Clumpies Ice Cream Co. They use a high butterfat content to create their smooth and creamy sensations, which are hand-crafted daily. Consequently, it isn’t uncommon for lines to form around the block for their cool confections. Try their Sweet Corn Blueberry or the Curious George made with ripe bananas and a swirl of peanut butter.

Southern charm is well intact here, and it isn’t uncommon for total strangers to warmly welcome you and tell you what they love about their city. With a revitalized urban community, top-notch attractions, and a thriving culinary scene, Chattanooga is becoming much more than the sum of its parts.

FTC Disclosure: This was a sponsored visit; however, all opinions herein are the authors.

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Ron Stern
Ron Stern, aka: The Global Gumshoe is passionate about excellence in hospitality and tourism. He writes full features with a focus on luxury, cuisine, hotels, resorts, tourism and travel destinations. His articles have appeared in national and regional magazines such as Shape, Cruise, Frequent Flyer, AAA Motorist, Visit Los Cabos Guide, Destinations West, Key Biscayne and La Jolla Today. Other articles have been published in newspapers (print and online) such as The Chicago Tribune, Orlando Sun Sentinel, Bismarck Tribune, The Jamaican Observer, the Coloradoan and travel trade magazines. Ron’s other contributions have been noted by PBS, Mobil Travel Guides and his photography has been used extensively by entities such as tourism boards and public relations firms. He has traveled extensively and is the author of five books. Ron's motto: "uncovering the sole of travel" humorously captures his spirit of walking the world travel beat as a gumshoe detective, always looking for a story.