Hamilton Herald Masthead


Front Page - Friday, July 7, 2017

River City Roundabout: Sip Coffee + Kitchen

All it took to win me over at Sip Coffee+Kitchen was one bite of the BLT.

It usually takes more. I’ve rarely formed an opinion about a restaurant before finishing a meal or at least trying another dish. But the new North Chattanooga eatery won me over that quickly.

I went in famished and ordered the BLT off the lunch menu. A few minutes later, the sandwich looked tasty as the server placed it in front of me along with a bag of chips.

Contained within two slices of grilled multigrain bread were three or four strips of Benton’s bacon, smoked gouda, a thick slice of fried green tomato and arugula, all topped with rosemary tomato jam.

As you’ve probably gathered, it tasted as good as it looked.

The best part: I could taste every ingredient. Nothing overwhelmed anything else and the sandwich didn’t have so many components that it lacked personality. It was simplicity elevated to perfection.

But it was just a BLT.

Even though the use of a fried green tomato was an inspired twist on the classic, a chef can’t stray too far from the core ingredients without losing his or her way.

So, I looked over the lunch menu and noticed a trend: most of the items contained about four or five ingredients – and they all sounded mouthwatering.

The Prosciutto Bagel Panini crosses the finish line with six ingredients: a tall pile of shaved prosciutto on an everything bagel with arugula, sun-fried tomato pesto, shaved red onions and sprouts.

The shaved chicken and apple panini would be no more cumbersome on your palate. Imagine biting into a mouthful of shaved grilled chicken, prosciutto, fresh apple slices, sharp cheddar cheese and maple Dijon on multigrain panini bread.

There’s plenty more on the lunch menu, including a daily soup, salads (the pecan-crusted goat cheese salad sounds appetizing), vegetarian options (like the kimchi fried cauliflower rice) and the playfully titled Adult Lunchable, which consists of a selection of meats, cheeses, vegetables and a fresh baked cookie. (Take that, Oscar Mayer!)

But that’s not all. Sip serves all three meals every day of the week except Sunday (when it serves only brunch) – and each menu item was created by Chef Nick Goeller, whose resume includes the late 212 Market Restaurant and Tupelo Honey Café.

So, I decided to try to replicate my lunchtime experience during breakfast and dinner. To avoid any bias in the wake of enjoying the BLT, I intended to approach each meal with a critical palate and judge its quality in an impartial manner. Or, at least that’s what I said to myself before laughing.

Sip opens at 6 a.m. on weekdays, good news if you like to get a jump on things. Early risers don’t have many dining options that early, as many breakfast places open at 8 or even 9 a.m. I’m sorry, but if you’re opening your doors at nine o’clock, I’m already elbow deep in work. (Sip unlocks its doors at 8 a.m. on Saturdays and 9 a.m. on Sundays.)

Even fewer in number downtown are places that excel at breakfast. Aretha Frankenstein, also located on the North Shore, is one; Maple Street Biscuit Company is another. And now Sip belongs on that list.

Unlike lunch, the rich aroma of brewed coffee fills the indoor dining area during breakfast. It’s a nice mood-setter.

Although Sip doesn’t have a barista on staff, it does have a machine that produces a variety of espressos, lattes, cappuccinos, macchiatos, mochas and so on. The coffee beans themselves come from Chattanooga Coffee Company on Broad Street.

At the top of the breakfast menu is the avocado toast, which comes topped with avocados, pickled onions, crumbled bacon and a fried egg. It sounded good but I wasn’t feeling it.

After moving my finger down past the Smoked Salmon Bagel, the Bacon Nutella Waffles, the Green Eggs and Ham (which features pesto-scrambled eggs) and the Banana Bread French Toast, I stopped at the Paleo Breakfast Skillet.

It’s one of the best bang-for-your-buck dishes Sip offers. For $6, you get a bed of zucchini, yellow squash, roasted red peppers, kale, red onions and chili-dusted sweet potatoes topped with bacon and two baked eggs, all drizzled with romesco sauce. That’s more than five ingredients, but those vegetables make the dish.

So, did the creamy yoke that spread over the rest of the ingredients when I broke the egg.

I was pleased with my choice until I saw someone eating the Eufaula Alabama Redneck Breakfast, which comes with Conecuh sausage, eggs, pimento cheese grits and house-made biscuits.

Next time.

My daughter, a vegetarian who occasionally eats fish and a foodie to her core, joined me for dinner. Propelled by my enthusiasm, she was as eager to experience the evening meal as I was.

As with every meal, we were given the option of dining inside, where several tables for two are set up, or on one of the two covered patios.

One has tables for up to several diners and the other feels more like a lounge for enjoying Sip’s mixed drinks, wines or beers.

Housed within a former drive-thru bank, Sip is not spacious. But they make good use of the space they have, with elegant upgrades to the structure, upscale but down-to-earth décor and seating for several dozen guests.

If you want a fine dining experience, including a pleasant atmosphere, Sip is up to it.

Adding to the ambience Thursday through Saturday evenings is live music. One of the featured singers this summer is Amber Carrington, who appeared on season four of “The Voice.” She’s testing her own material and performing covers during her sessions at Sip.

When the weather is right and the sun begins to dip below the North Shore skyline, Carrington’s voice and uplifting music are the perfect complement to the food.

Not that any of the dishes need the help.

When my daughter saw the pistachio-crusted salmon, which is served with fingerling potatoes, cucumber salsa and fresh grilled asparagus, she decided our evening out would be one of her rare fish nights – and she loved every bite.

I ordered a house salad and the Backwoods Bama Wings – and I loved every bite, too.

Tossed in Alabama white barbecue sauce and served with buffalo dip, the jumbo chicken wings were outstanding.

The skin was crunchy, the meat was tender and the chef had achieved the perfect balance of flavors. Like the BLT, it was simplicity elevated to perfection.

We ended the evening with servings of White Chocolate Cranberry Bread Pudding, which I selected off a desert menu that’s pure decadence.

Were there any hitches during what I can only describe as three superb dining experiences?

Breakfast is affordable, especially given the ample portions, and dinner seems priced right, but lunch cost more than I would normally drop on a sandwich and a bag of chips – even a sandwich as good as Sip’s BLT.

But that’s me. Your mileage might vary. For me, lunch at Sip will be an occasional treat. Likewise, Sip might have a few kinks to iron out in the evening.

My daughter and I were lost in the shuffle of a busy Friday night, with people who arrived after us being waited on and served before our order was taken. But this was probably a glitch.

Either way, Sip’s general manager Rick Dillard says his team is working to identify the areas which need improvement and tackle them head on. (Any issues are minor at worst.)

One thing well in hand is parking, which is available in the adjacent garage. Also, for people who like to grab a quick coffee or bite to eat, Sip’s drive-thru window is being repurposed to begin providing on-the-go service during breakfast and lunch in the near future.

Based on three meals experienced during different times of the day, Sip is providing great food wrapped within an enjoyable dining experience.

Owner John Wise, who opened Southside Social and is known for his downtown luxury apartment projects, can be proud of what his team has accomplished.

After all, winning over a foodie with one bite isn’t easy.