Hamilton Herald Masthead


Front Page - Friday, January 7, 2022

River City: The adventurous are well-rewarded at Tata’s Grill

The doner sandwich at Tata’s Grill in East Ridge. - Photo by David Laprad | Hamilton County Herald

My new year’s resolution for 2022 came to me in a flash. I didn’t resolve to lose weight, promise my dad I’d call more or swear off bad episodic television. Rather, I decided to stop putting off trying new things.

I made this decision not while standing on a scale, talking with my aging father or watching “NCIS: Birmingham.” (No, it’s not a thing, but don’t think CBS won’t go there.)

Rather, I made this declaration the moment after I bit into the doner sandwich at Tata’s Grill.

Tata’s isn’t new; it’s been around for more than a year. But I wouldn’t be able to count the number of times I passed by the unassuming Ringgold Road strip mall the grill calls home and thought, “I need to try that place,” before I finally did.

I’ve been missing out. And if you haven’t eaten there, you’re still missing out.

Owned by Amir Crnalic, a native Bosnian who’s lived in East Ridge for 25 years, Tata’s is all about meat. If you’re a vegetarian, you’ll be relegated to the last page of the menu, which contains a small assortment of salads, extras and sides. But if you’re a meat lover, well, there’s a lot to love.

Not only that, there are many menu items you can’t experience elsewhere. That’s because Tata’s is the only Bosnian grill in the greater Chattanooga area. (It’s likely the only Bosnian grill within one tank of gas of Chattanooga, but I haven’t done a survey.)

Tata’s Facebook page (www.facebook.com/TatasGrillBosnianCuisine) provides a helpful primer on Bosnian food. The “About” text states common ingredients include red peppers, tomatoes, onions, white cheese and meats.

The menu at Tata’s suggests the same, with the gyro, for example, containing beef and lamb meat, as well as lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, onions and homemade tzatziki sauce.

But the menu goes further by featuring several intriguing ethnic foods that will have you digging into Google on your phone or motioning for Delano, Crnalic’s son, to come to your table and provide an explanation.

The description for Tata’s Cevapi is one such example. Pronounced “tche-va-pee,” it’s a dish made with homemade beef sausage links and lepinja (a Serbian flatbread) and served with kajmak (an unaged cheese), onions and ajvar (a roasted red pepper sauce).

If you’re unfamiliar with Bosnian food, a few of those words will likely be new to you. They were to me, but they sounded delicious anyway.

They tasted delicious, too.

After browsing the menu, I asked Delano (who goes by “D”) what he’d suggest for a first-timer torn between the Cevapi and the Doner. He suggested the latter and included a caveat: “It’s big.”

Was he ever right. The Doner arrived wrapped in red-and-white checkered paper that barely contained half of the sandwich. Even better, a toothpick was ironically poked into its middle in a playful wink at its beastly size.

If you’re used to ordering sides with your sandwiches to fill up, that won’t be necessary at Tata’s.

The Doner could easily feed two, but in my case, it satisfied one ravenous patron. Consisting of several slabs of a special mix of beef and lamb, as well as lettuce, tomatoes, cucumber and onions, and slipped between two generous slices of lepinja, it was the chef’s kiss.

The meat in particular made a tremendous impression. Warm, tender and seemingly packed with skillfully curated spices, I can still recall the flavor three days later and am craving more.

When I do return to Tata’s, I’ll likely face another crisis of indecision, as the grill’s “About” text on Facebook promises “plentiful and delicious ... meats of extraordinary quality.”

Normally, I’m skeptical of marketing copy, but Tata’s food matches its promises. This was true not only of the Doner but also the Gulas, or goulash, a beef stew made with undisclosed seasonings and served with mashed potatoes or rice and a side of grilled Bosnian-style bread.

My lunch companion chose this dish, which arrived before my Doner and turned into an appetizer for me as I tore off bits of the bread and dipped it in the stew.

I recommend this tactic for extending your meal only if you have an accommodating or mildly hungry meal companion, as it became evident I was taking too many liberties with her food and risking a jab of her fork.

If the Doner and Gulas sound appetizing, they touch merely the surface of what Tata’s offers. Not only does the grill’s menu devote two pages to these and many other meat dishes, Crnalic frequently prepares specials and posts them on Tata’s Facebook page.

If the photos that accompany this article don’t convince you to try Tata’s, maybe the mouthwatering photo of Crnalic’s potato and beef musaka, posted Dec. 31 on Facebook, will send you their way.

While there, you’ll enjoy not only exceptional food but also the kind of service you might expect at a posher establishment. In terms of decor, Tata’s would be at home on “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives,” but Delano speaks with his customers as though they’re at a fine establishment.

Just ask him to describe the ingredients in the dish you want to order and then sit back and smile at his cultured and gracious description.

You might smile again when you pay the bill. Although my meal at Tata’s was easily my most memorable food outing in months, I spent less money for both my companion and me than I have for just me at more than one of Chattanooga’s new and trendy restaurants.

You might be done making new year’s resolutions, but Tata’s is worth extending your list. If you don’t resolve to begin trying new things in 2022, at least decide to try them as soon as you can. I believe it will boost your expectations for the coming year.