Even as stores throughout Chattanooga pulled down their Christmas decorations and threw their holiday stock into the discount bins early last month, they began filling their windows and shelves with Valentine’s Day décor and product.
Out went Rudolf and his red nose and up went the heart-shaped boxes filled with chocolates and rows of cards offering romantic platitudes.
With December barely over, one could be forgiven for wanting just a few months without any holiday-associated stress. But this is no time to ignore reality because the last thing a date wants to hear on Valentine’s Day is, “What would you like to do?”
A date night in Chattanooga can take on many forms, be it a stroll on Walnut Street Bridge, listening to live music or taking a dance class. But an evening out enjoying some of the delicious food the city’s restaurants have to offer is always a sure bet for Valentine’s Day.
There’s no lack of options, either, as Chattanooga is home to a broad range of dining establishments. Whether a couple wants to sample some international cuisine or simply enjoy a classic American meal, the city has something for everyone.
The only challenge facing those who will be choosing a restaurant is finding one that can provide an especially romantic evening. To help alleviate this particular pressure point associated with Valentine’s, here are 12 of Chattanooga’s most romantic restaurants.
Read about them all before making a reservation, as there are some surprising choices.
Back Inn Café
412 E. Second St. Valentine’s hours: 4-10 p.m. 423 265-5033
Back Inn Cafe takes items from different cuisines around the globe and uses them to craft unique takes on southern style dishes.
In terms of ambiance, Back Inn Cafe is housed within a colonial revival-style mansion. This provides quite a bit of character and historic charm. With rustic wood paneling and a working fireplace, the library can be very cozy, while the upper sunroom has large windows that overlook the Sculpture Garden and Tennessee River, providing amazing views at night.
This Valentine’s Day, Back Inn Cafe will be doing a nice five-course wine pairing dinner at $75 per person. The courses include an amuse-bouche (Cucumber Tuna Mignoette), an appetizer (Pan-Seared Duck), a soup (Vietnamese Pho), a salad (Grilled Pear) and three entrees (Grilled Beef Tenderloin, Pan-Seared Sea Scallops and Vegetable Ramen).
Each course will be paired with a different wine to complement the flavors and profiles of each dish.
Back Inn Café will also offer several romantic add-ons including a chocolate bouquet, actual flowers and chocolates made by their French chocolatier. These can be placed on the table to truly set the mood for a romantic dinner.
Back Inn Cafe is located in the rear of Bluff View District, across the street from Bluff View Inn. Free parking is available.
1278 Market St., Valentine’s hours: 5-9:30 p.m., 423 266-4400
No list of the romantic restaurants in Chattanooga would be complete without St. John’s. Couples from around the world come to the restaurant to take pleasure in the quality, quiet ambiance and the attention to detail for which it is famous, making it an ideal choice for Valentine’s.
St. John’s serves regional American cuisine from executive chef Rebecca Barron in an elegant, historic setting. This remarkable dining experience can be complemented with an extensive and eclectic selection of wines.
The setting itself would make for an interesting story to tell a Valentine’s date. The restaurant is located in the former St. John’s Hotel building. Built at the turn of the 20th century, the flatiron building evolved over the years from hotel to brothel to abandonment.
After being condemned and nearly torn down in the 1990s, local architect and preservationist Thomas Johnson purchased the building and began to restore it.
In anticipation of an influx of reservations, St. John’s will be celebrating Valentine’s Saturday, Feb. 11-Tuesday, Feb. 14. The restaurant will be offering a four-course tasting menu option for $75 per person and a wine pairing option for $35 per person.
The menu will include a number of specialty items including bison, veal and caviar. St. John’s will also be offering a shared dessert plate for two with items like house-made cookies and chocolate-covered strawberries.
Valentine’s is the busiest day of the year at St John’s. To see (and taste), make a reservation before the seats are filled.
2321 Lifestyle Way, Valentine’s hours: 11:30 a.m.-10 p.m., 423 602-5900
A restaurant can say many things about the person who chooses it. Taking a Valentine’s date to Ruth’s Chris says one has excellent taste in food and decor.
The most surprising thing about Ruth’s Chris is the way it pairs simplicity with sophistication. Its recipe for steak is no secret: salt, pepper, custom-aged USDA Prime Midwestern beef and a dollop of butter after plating is about as simple beef steak can get.
But it’s the clever touches along the way that elevate the steak at Ruth’s Chris: the executive chef who watches every piece of meat with a skilled eye; the patented broiler that sears the outside and leaves the inside juicy and rare; and the 500-degree plate that continues to cook the steak and keep it warm after it’s delivered to the table.
If someone enjoys steak, taking them to Ruth’s Chris is better than flowers, better than chocolate and as good as saying, “I love you.”
For couples who have everything in common but their taste in food, Ruth’s Chris also offers seafood, chicken and vegetarian plates.
These and other dishes can be paired with a variety of award-winning wines and handcrafted, vintage inspired cocktails.
Ruth’s Chris offers more than great food; it also provides an elegant setting for a date. The plush chairs, stylish décor and ample elbow room between tables go a long way toward setting a romantic mood and allowing for an intimate dining experience.
Although Ruth’s Chris is pricey, it’s worth every penny. It’s also worth the drive to Hamilton Place, where it’s attached to Embassy Suites on Lifestyle Way.
1100 Hixson Pike, Valentine’s hours: 5-9:30 p.m., 423 602-5555
The formality of fine dining is well and good, especially on special occasions. But there’s plenty of room on Valentine’s for simple food in a relaxed setting. Couples wanting to take a more casual route to romance have an excellent option in Il Primo.
Il Primo specializes in American Italian cuisine. Influenced by the classic recipes from Italian communities in the Northeast, dishes such as meatballs, lasagna, bolognese and risotto are built from scratch using carefully sourced, fresh ingredients.
There’s a catch to eating at Il Primo on Valentine’s, however: the restaurant doesn’t take reservations. Instead, Il Primo does assigned seating. Much like being placed on a waiting list after arriving at a restaurant, patrons can call ahead and receive a seating time. They must then arrive on time.
While this might be risky for Valentine’s, given how busy Il Primo expects to be, the payoff could be worth the roll of the dice. A couple could start with a delicious antipasti and then move on to either a mouthwatering butternut squash risotto with sea scallops or the Pork Scallopini with capers and butter. Really, anything on the menu would serve as a nice reward for making it to the table.
Il Primo offers another intriguing option for Valentine’s: take and bake. With a one-day notice, patrons can pick up salad, dessert and ready-to-bake pasta and have lunch or dinner ready at home in minutes. The only drawback is the to-go meals don’t come with Il Primo’s warm and relaxed American-Italian ambiance.
For that, would-be diners will want to put Il Primo on their speed dial and begin practicing for the big day.
193 Chestnut St., Valentine’s hours: 5-10 p.m., 423 634-5160
Hennen’s is a shoo-in for any list of the most romantic restaurants in Chattanooga. Located in the heart of downtown next to the Tennessee Aquarium’s IMAX 3D Theater, the restaurant offers an elegant ambiance built on a 2,400-bottle wine cellar located in the middle of the main dining area.
Hennen’s is an upscale restaurant specializing in fresh seafood and certified Angus steaks prepared using fresh and local ingredients.
The sweet ginger calamari is a popular starter, as are the French onion soup and BLT salad. Seafood selections vary depending on availability, but include several staples (mussels, salmon, shrimp, trout, scallops and tuna) elevated by delectable in-house recipes.
From the Prince Edward Island mussels, which come served in a spicy jalapeño bacon broth, to the stone seared salmon, which is served over creamy spinach risotto and finished with a lemon date emulsion, there are plenty of great choices.
The same can be said of Hennen’s steak and other entrees, which include pan roasted duck breast coated with a maple soy glaze, roasted pork shoulder with butternut squash puree, braised beef short Ribs over herb-mashed potatoes and green beans and more.
Hennen’s also features a full bar with an extensive list of cocktails. YouTube videos by Spirited Travels show the bartender preparing an orange peel Manhattan, Key lime pie martini and peach mango martini.
Valentine’s is one of those evenings one wants to go well, like an anniversary celebration or a proposal dinner. Judging from a non-scientific local survey, Hennen’s offers a smooth and relaxing dining experience. From prompt seating to the service, which one participant described as being “effervescent,” Hennen’s is said to be “a truly amazing experience from start to finish.”
Reservations are not just recommended; they’re a must. Also, while patrons can use the open parking lot across from the entrance on Chestnut Street, validated parking is available in the deck accessible on Aquarium Way.
Easy Bistro & Bar
203 Broad St., Valentine’s hours: 5-10 p.m., 423 266-1121
In a restaurant scene as all-encompassing as Chattanooga’s, carving out a niche is no easy task. But Easy Bistro & Bar offers something unique in Scenic City: superb French bistro dining.
The food at Easy Bistro is best described as delicious yet affordable classically prepared cuisine. Rooted in regional ingredients and accompanied by warmth and hospitality, there are no fussy meals at Easy Bistro, just perfectly prepared steaks, fresh seafood, roasted chicken, authentic raw bar oysters and crab legs – all served in the dramatic urban interior of a century-old building that was once the world’s first Coca-Cola bottling plant.
Liquors infused with unique flavors by Easy Bistro’s bar staff are used to create one-of-a-kind cocktails, as well. The wine list highlights reds and whites that showcase both traditional quality and new taste trends.
While valet parking and on-street parking are available, Easy Bistro is located just outside the Chattanooga Downtown Electric Shuttle Terminal. Couples can board the shuttle anywhere along its route and then walk out of the tunnel to Broad Street and take a left.
For creative cuisine that won’t drain the wallet or purse, Easy Bistro would make for a perfect night out on Valentine’s.
25 E. Main St., Valentine’s hours: 5-10 p.m., 423 305-6990
If one’s intention on Valentine’s Day is to impress, then a meal prepared by a James Beard Foundation-nominated chef at a restaurant in Chattanooga’s rejuvenated Southside neighborhood is a good start.
The chef is Chattanooga native Daniel Lindley and the restaurant is Alleia. Lindley uses ingredients imported from Italy and produce delivered from local farms to fashion Italian-inspired cuisine that incorporates regional flavors.
A dinner at Alleia might start with bacon wrapped dates or hand-dipped ricotta bruschetta, move on to a soybean or grilled romaine salad and end with bacon wrapped quail breast or wood-fired pork shoulder. Alleia’s also offers seven types of house made pasta and pizza baked at 750 degrees in a custom brick oven.
While the food is sure to impress, the ambiance will seal the deal. Alleia captures the warmth and comfort of a traditional trattoria (a semi-formal Italian-style eating establishment) while breaking new ground in modern restaurant design.
Trimmed in 300-year-old wood taken from the Harrington Building, Alleia sports a custom-made banquette that stretches through the center of the main dining room, offering guests a 360-degree view of the restaurant.
The porch at Alleia features a generous wraparound banquette, climbing jasmine and views of Lookout Mountain. While undeniably romantic, its availability during the usually chilly month of February is questionable.
The story of Alleia is the story of Lindley, who discovered his passion for cooking as a teenager.
After working in local restaurants, Lindley cooked aboard a hospital ship in Europe and West Africa. When he returned from overseas, he moved to Westchester County in New York, where he worked for a pair of renowned chefs before returning home for the opening of St. John’s in 2000.
Lindsey began thinking about launching an Italian restaurant in Chattanooga’s historic Southside in 2004. Alleia, the fulfillment of that dream, opened its doors in 2009.
Offering a rustic but elegant dining experience soaked in the spirit of Italy, Alleia is an easy choice for a romantic evening.
122 E. 10th St., Valentine’s hours: 5-9 p.m., 423 710-2925
Offering global cuisine in the heart of Chattanooga, Terra Máe translates to “mother earth,” a name that captures the far-flung inspiration of the restaurant’s upscale fare.
The menu at Terra Máe isn’t dictated by region or style; no spice is off limits and no dish is too exotic, says Seija Ojanpera, the owner.
“We are restrained only by our imagination and our adventurous spirit, our favorite flavors and those we’ve yet to discover,” she says.
Ojanpera bought Terra Mae and the hotel where it resides – the Stone Fort Inn – in 2015. Following months of renovations, Terra Mae reopened its doors with a fresh look inspired by the glamour of old Hollywood as well as a new menu full of international flavor.
Terra Máe will set the mood on Valentine’s weekend with a special dinner prepared by Executive Chef Hardin Cowan. The meal will include three courses with wine pairing for $150 per couple.
The first course is lobster salad, Johnny cakes (a cornmeal flatbread) and local greens. For course number two, Cowan will serve a prime chateaubriand (a meat dish cooked with a thick cut from the tenderloin filet), foie gras and baby bok choy. Dessert will bring red velvet cake and chocolate covered strawberries to the table. The regular Terra Máe menu will also be available.
Add-ons will include fresh flowers and a three-rose bouquet with a personalized card.
With its bright, vibrant decor and bold menu, Terra Máe offers a different kind of Valentine’s experience some couples will find intriguing.
212 Market St., Valentine’s hours: 5-9:30 p.m., 423 265-1212
In recent years, more and more restaurants in Chattanooga have started focusing on using locally produced ingredients for their dishes. As awareness of the economic, environmental and health benefits of purchasing food from regional sources has swelled in the city, buying local has grown from an emerging movement into a full blown trend that defines the Chattanooga dining experience.
None of this is new to 212 Market, though. Founded in 1992 by sisters Sally and Susan Moses and their mother, Maggie, the restaurant has been serving contemporary American fare featuring local foods from area farms and suppliers for 25 years.
Led by Susan, the team of chefs at 212 Market creates seasonal and daily menus while an onsite bakery produces a variety of breads and desserts. Susan is a member of nonprofit Slow Food and has cooked as a guest chef at the James Beard House in New York, giving her a background that ensures an exceptional farm-to-table experience.
From its grass-fed burgers to its Pickett’s Ranch trout, and its Chattanooga Whiskey BBQ Jumbo Gulf Shrimp to its Eagle’s Rest Bison Spring roll, there are plenty of reasons to love the food at 212 Market. But the warm interior dining room in which these meals are served completes the experience and would provide a comfortable setting for a romantic meal.
While many of the Valentine’s meals at Chattanooga restaurants include fine meats, poultry and fish, 212 Market would be a good choice for a date who prefers to go meatless. Plenty of vegetarian and vegan options are always available, as are gluten-free offerings.
Just like a restaurant can say a lot about the person who chooses it, a dining establishment can tell a date how their companion feels about them. Taking an environmentally conscious companion to dinner at 212 Market opens the door to talk about the restaurant’s green practices, which include recycling, sending leftover to the Chattanooga Food Bank, using solar power and providing electric car chargers in the parking lot.
It might not sound like the most romantic fodder for dinner conversation, but it will speak volumes to a date who cares about such things.
Tapas & Wine
105 Frazier Ave., Valentine’s hours: 4:30-10 p.m., 423 634-0238
Located one block from Market Street on Frazier Avenue, Terra Nostra is a tapas and wine bar offering cuisine from around the world.
In Spain, tapas include a variety of cold and hot appetizers. Patrons can order many different tapas and combine them to make a full meal.
Efren Ormaza, owner and executive chef, and his wife, Gema, brought this concept to Chattanooga in 2002 when they opened Terra Nostra. Today, their globally-inspired menu takes patrons on a journey through Spain, Italy, France, North and South America, Asia and the Caribbean.
At Terra Nostra, there truly is something for every palate. From luscious vegetarian dishes to delicious meat options that include filet mignon, Iberico ham and freshly-caught seafood, their vast menu is rivaled only by their extensive wine list. Like 212 Market and other local restaurants, Terra Nostra uses local and organic ingredients.
Terra Nostra exhibits many of the qualities required for a romantic meal. The decor, which includes colorful Latin American paintings by Gema’s sister and metal work by a local artist, complements the deep-red painted walls and stands out in the understated lighting. Soft jazz and other soothing background music complements the furnishings and add to the ambiance. Finally, the ability to share plates allows for a cozy and snug dining experience.
Terra Nostra is taking reservations for a romantic Valentine’s meal called “Love at First Bite,” which they will be serving Feb. 11-14. Although Efren and Gema are still working on the menu, they guarantee its food and wine specials will delight.
Two Ten Jack
1110 Market St., Valentine’s hours: 11 a.m.-9 p.m., 423 551-8799
While some consider Two Ten Jack to be an unorthodox selection for a romantic meal, its slightly exotic, adventurous feel make it an ideal choice for couples looking for a different kind of romantic evening.
Two Ten Jack is a Japanese-inspired pub featuring artisanal ramen, skewered and grilled items, sushi, salads and other Japanese-inspired foods that incorporate local Southern ingredients. With dishes ranging from fried rice with country sausage and onsen egg to Japanese fried chicken, Two Ten Jack offers a cross between a true izakaya experience and the best Southern comfort foods.
While Two Ten Jack has an outstanding selection of starters, called small plates, their shining star is their ramen. Although the name of the dish might summon images of plastic cups filled with microwaved noodles, the ramen at Two Ten Jack is worlds removed from the college dorm staple.
Each noodle is handmade and cooked individually and brought to the table swimming in spicy, mouth-watering broth, vegetables, meat and boiled eggs.
To cool the tongue after a bowl of ramen, Two Ten Jack offers mochi, a rice-encrusted ice cream that tastes as good as it sounds.
The beverage program at Two Ten Jack features craft and rare Japanese beers, cocktails on tap, sake, shochu and Japanese whiskey.
Two Ten Jack is located in the subterranean level of Warehouse Row and offers free and paid parking. (First come, first served.)
Beast + Barrel
16 Frazier Ave., Valentine’s hours: 3-10 p.m., 423 805-4599
At first glance, Beast + Barrel might seem like another out of the ordinary choice for a Valentine’s meal. With décor fashioned out of fake animal heads and repurposed barrels, the atmosphere was not designed to inspire romance.
But looking beyond the quirky furnishings to the food, Beast + Barrel offers the kind of cuisine that will impress dates who love local fare.
Beast + Barrel offers elevated pub food made entirely from scratch using as many local ingredients as possible. This includes an impressive array of house-prepared meats ranging from salami and ham to beef pastrami and cured salmon.
One can pair these and other selections with various artisanal cheeses and a glass of wine. Craft beers and cocktails are also available for those who prefer to go in a different direction. (One must at least glance at the bar’s Prohibition era-style cocktail menu.)
For dinner, Beast + Barrel provides an assortment of casual and upscale dishes. From the Beast Burger (eight-ounce burger, house sausage, house bacon, fried egg and condiments on a challah bun) to the steak and eggs (pan-seared ribeye topped with bearnaise sauce, caramelized onions, two butter-basted fried eggs and smoked potatoes), meat lovers will feel like they’ve died and gone to gastro heaven.
Just as important, one can enjoy a meal at Beast + Barrel without breaking the bank. While some entrées do exceed $20, most are priced in the teens.
The décor at Beast + Barrel might not set hearts aflame, but the staff takes food and drink seriously. With delicious handmade goods and friendly faces, Beast + Barrel offers great value.